Thought leadership isn’t something that you can just add to your resume despite the fact that many job applicants do so. Mashable quoted author Lauren Hockenson on thought leadership, ‘It’s not enough to be good at what you do; a thought leader is meant to be the greatest form of praise, geared towards someone who is on the absolute cutting edge of their industry or making big enough moves to warrant the distinction.’
Thought leaders drive innovation, evolutionary changes, revolutionary advances and paradigm cultural shifts. These thought leaders can come from many backgrounds, cultures and educational levels, but they have one thing in common – the ability to excite, compel and promote at an astonishing level. Thought leaders are game-changers who can redefine conversations, turn industries upside-down and alter history. If you want to really succeed in your career and become a respected expert in your field, becoming a thought leader is essential.
What Is Thought Leadership?
Thought leadership has always existed in one form or another since the first caveman,or cavewoman, invented the wheel. What’s relatively new in thought leadership is that corporations have begun to embrace thought leadership as a viable strategy for demonstrating leadership, differentiating a company and coming up with out-of-the-box thinking. Thought leadership doesn’t rely on proven technologies but on creative innovation. In the words of playwright George Bernard Shaw: ‘You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”’
Benefits of Thought Leadership
Thought leadership takes command of trends and uses them to best advantage by creating strong brands, locating and working with influential industry influencers and building networks of like-minded associates. Thought leadership offers the following business benefits:
- Better reputation management
- Targeted and efficient public relations
- Ability to position a company as an industry leader
- A content pipeline that generates sales leads and conversions
- Engaging prospects for sales, employment and other initiatives through social media channels
- Improving search engine optimisation, or SEO, results
- Creating better content and targeting audiences more accurately
- Differentiating your company
- Reinforcing your branding strategy
- Increasing profitability by streamlining internal processes and increasing work quality
People who take the time to listen actively, observe, learn from others and question assumptions are well-positioned to use a thought leadership strategy in business processes. Thought leaders are well-informed, creative, innovative and capable of connecting ideas from multiple sources and apply them to the needs of the marketplace. This demonstrates true leadership instead of just following the latest trends. Thought leaders drive new trends instead of following them.
What Thought Leadership is not
Thought leadership isn’t expertise in a given subject no matter how accomplished you might be. That qualifies as technical skill; thought leadership is something more – a new way of looking at facts and figures that results in innovative ideas. Of course, positioning yourself as an expert is a good first step in becoming a thought leader, but true leadership isn’t about you and your accomplishments. Other people care about things that matter to them, so thought leaders are adept at encouraging people to think in different ways, gain new insights and adopt funny or contrary concepts.
Thought leaders don’t worry about being cool. Thought leadership isn’t about celebrity or becoming a household name but about providing value to a select group of stakeholders.
Using Content as Currency to Position You as a Thought Leader
Thought leadership uses a different kind of currency – sharing content with associates, peers, customers and industry mavens. Some leaders have yet to accept that content has become of crucial importance in today’s competitive business environment. One study found that an astonishing 78 percent of consumers seek to build relationships with individuals who create useful content.
Relevant content is also one of the top three drivers that persuade people to follow individuals and brands. Creating useful, thoughtful content delivers the following business advantages:
- Authoritative content boosts credibility.
- Content helps to target customers, industry influencers and key decision-makers.
- You can use content to craft or refine your core business image.
- Relevant content boosts SEO rankings.
- Carefully drafted content differentiates your brand from competitors’ marketing efforts.
- Thoughtful articles can drive industry change.
- You can use content to establish your credentials as an expert in your industry.
14 Tips on Becoming a Thought Leader
You can become a progressive leader with the right thought leadership strategy. The work can’t be accomplished overnight or within any predefined timetable, but keeping your thoughts focused on innovative ways at looking at marketing and products, generating quality content that delivers value to readers and staying abreast of market forces are good first steps.
The following 14 tips can help you in your journey to a thought leader:
1. Pick Your Subject
You can’t become a true thought leader unless you know your subject intimately enough that you can change the rules. It’s not a good idea to tinker with machinery if you’re in a spaceship and dependent on its life support systems for survival, and the same is true for business processes. You can change the rules only if you know your subject matter intimately and can predict the likely consequences of any changes that you make.
2. Know Your Audience
Thought leadership is more about serving the needs of your audience than in satisfying your own imperatives. You’ve got to understand your audience, listen to people and empathise with them.
3. Make People Feel Smarter
‘You can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink’ is a classic saying, but you can guide animals and people toward marking favourable decisions based on self-interest. When you identify new ways of looking at things, you nurture people along to come to the desired conclusion using their own mental processes. That makes people feel smarter, and they’ll think you’re smart for showing them alternative solutions to common problems. If you can add value, solve problems or convince people to change their opinions, you’re beginning to understand the basics of thought leadership strategy.
4. Give Away Your Ideas
The best thought leadership strategy involves being generous – with your time, ideas, money, advice and skills. Thought leaders share their ideas with key constituencies instead of selling or trading them for money or other advantages. A prime example of this phenomenon is the open source community of coders and software developers who share their software free of charge to the IT community. This is an excellent forum for aspiring thought leaders in IT to establish their credentials and build networks of contacts. Facebook was non-commercial for many years before it became monetised. If you develop intriguing ideas, there will always be time to monetise your innovations later.
Financial benefits are fine in their place, but you can’t become a thought leader unless you commit to really helping people. These people can be customers, suppliers, colleagues, fellow workers or other stakeholders whom you wish to impress. The paradigm changes that digital marketing generated in business focus exclusively on providing value instead of using heavy-handed selling techniques. If you want to build an audience who will eventually convert, it’s critical to get their attention by providing real-world value.
5. Get Noticed by Other Thought Leaders and Industry Influencers
It’s critical to get noticed by your targeted audience, industry influencers, media outlets and other thought leaders. This may take some time, but perseverance will eventually attract notice. It’s important to choose the right social media platform for your posts and content and to create compelling content that resonates with your targeted audience. You can attract attention by commenting intelligently on other content, following key influencers and networking with other thought leaders.
6. Produce High-Quality Content in the Right Context
Content is critical in establishing your thought leadership qualifications. You need to analyse how to reach your targeted audience and what material to use. If you’re targeting C-suite executives, you’d use different language and concepts than those required for getting the attention of customer service supervisors or skilled labourers.
7. Be Consistent
Establishing thought leadership requires diligent and consistent efforts. You can address different audiences with special content, but your content should always follow consistent rules that targeted audiences can follow.
8. Comment Regularly on Relevant Content
If you want to be considered a thought leader, you’ve got to comment on the content produced by other thought leaders. You can agree or disagree with other ‘experts,’ but you should always do so by adding value to the discussion. Don’t say that another idea won’t work – provide an alternative plan that solves the problems. You can challenge ideas that are impractical and support those ideas where you concur with the author’s conclusions. Regardless of whether you support or oppose an idea, you’ll definitely attract attention from the thought leader who proposed it.
9. Get Social
Thought leaders always stay current on industry and social media trends. Your thought leadership strategy might focus on blogging regularly, writing whitepapers, producing videos or tweeting like Donald Trump. It’s vital to interact with your core audience and keep track of their posts, comments and reviews.
10. Embrace Technology
You’ve got to be familiar with the latest technology applications if you hope to become a thought leader. The following applications are part of my personal content marketing stack. But be aware that new technology can quickly make any app obsolete.
- Buzzsumo: This tool helps you find key influencers and the most shared content over the Internet.
- Google Analytics: Google’s industry-leading analytical tools enable you to measure website and content performance.
- SEMRush: This comprehensive research tool allows you to analyse keywords, high ranking pages, domain analytics and SEO.
- Outbrain: This app helps you promote content in a targeted manner.
- Marketing Automation: Cost effective apps such as ActiveCampaign, Autopilot, Mautic, and others make it easy to automate your marketing messages and content.
- Slack: This app facilitates real time messaging across numerous devices in your office and among your network contacts.
- Tweetdeck: Research influencers, schedule tweets & track brand mentions and hashtags, across multiple Twitter accounts.
- PR Newswire: Distribute news releases to a global media database of more than 700,000 journalists and blogger contacts
- Atomic Reach: This content scoring system analyses content based on quality and relevance for specific audience segments.
- Grammarly: This app bring clarity to your writing by identifying common mistakes in sentences such as illogical structure, grammatical errors and overuse of adverbs.
11. Push Limits and Boundaries
Every innovation pushes established limits and boundaries, and a successful thought leadership strategy requires this kind of aggressiveness. It’s easy to continue doing business as usual, but it takes a visionary leader to push the boundaries into new territories.
You’ve got to promote your positions as often as possible while marketing with subtlety. When marketing ideas, you can promote your position more aggressively than when marketing products or services.
13. Measure and Optimise
Thought leadership, which is intangible, can be difficult to measure. However, it’s critical to try to do so if you want to refine and optimise your message. You can monitor results with technology applications, social shares, comments, republication of content, content accepted for syndication, backlinks, media citations and requests for interviews. If you’re not generating buzz, then you might need to refine or change your content strategy.
14.Be Prepared to Escalate
As your reputation grows, you’ll find that people will ask you to answer questions, give keynote addresses, publish articles, write advice columns or even write a book or e-book. You might be recruited to give an expert opinion in a video format – such as a TedTalk at http://www.ted.com/. It’s critical to be prepared to meet these obligations because this level or notoriety is exactly what you’ve been hoping to accomplish.
Buy or Build Thought Leadership: Your Choice
You or your company can begin enjoying the benefits of thought leadership in one of two ways: buying or building content. You can write articles yourself or hire in-house content editors, producers and designers to create original articles, videos, blog posts and white papers. Those efforts qualify as a building-type of thought leadership strategy. The other option is to outsource thought leadership materials to professional firms and expert content producers.
Regardless of your thought leadership strategy, you’ve got to take a strong interest in the content that’s produced to ensure that it aligns with your thoughts, attitudes and content goals. It’s also important to analyse your results to see if your content efforts are generating the desired effect. For example, if you want to attract more customers with your ideas, you need to track how much time people spend reading your content and what actions they take immediately after finishing. Your desire here is usually sales or lead conversions. If you’re trying to build an industry reputation, there are other ways to track your responses including social media buzz, industry responses, blog comments and press coverage. Even negative press coverage can prove beneficial when you’re trying to generate controversy over established methodologies.
Business growth no longer relies on traditional advertising methods. Corporations and entrepreneurs can use thought leadership strategy to nurture customers, stakeholders and industry influencers to share their core values, creative business strategies, case studies and thoughtful analyses in extraordinarily accessible formats.
And if you’d like to take a shortcut to Thought Leadership Stardom you can always follow Pat Kelly’s approach below!