A company with a reputation for dependability, consistency and quality services or products will win consumers’ business. Your company and the people within it should be seen as the leading experts in your industry, whether that be sales, marketing or, in AG Salesworks case, both. The faces of your company (for example, co-founders Pete Gracey or Paul Alves for AG), need to become thought leaders, challenging the status quo and writing books. However, claiming to be a thought leader doesn’t make you one; others need to recognize you as the leading guru in your industry. Becoming a thought leader is harder than you think.
First, let’s take a look at the origin of the term. “Thought leadership” was coined in the 1990s in an article in Strategy+Business about industry professionals. The term became so popular that it eventually became its own entity, encompassing not only leaders but even small businesses. Although the term has morphed over the years, I like the definition from Thought Leadership: how to differentiate your company and stand out from the crowd. According to author Craig Badings, thought leadership is “the action of promoting novel points of view that reframe the way stakeholders (employees, customers and others) think about their key issues, helping them towards new insights and solutions.”
The key word here is novel. Thought leadership not only humanizes a company image, allowing customers to connect with a person rather than an arbitrary brand, but it also offers new perspectives and ways of thinking about an industry. And it’s not only about having these ideas: it’s about presenting them, too, in a variety of different ways. Thought leaders These may write blogs on behalf of their company, tweet, post on LinkedIn or Facebook, even Instagram or Vine. They are often sought out for advice, and are known to be so passionate about what they do that they just need to share it with the world. So is it achievement that makes a thought leader? Or savvy social skills? Novel ideas? I think it’s a combination of all of the above. The following bullet points may help you cultivate your own definition of “thought leader:”
- Decide your own personal philosophy. Your perspective is what will distinguish you among other thought leaders in your industry. Ruminate about what you stand for before spewing content.
- Be accessible. Seek connections with your audience through social media, email, or phone calls, so you can share your experiences, talk about your industry and provide value to others. Find out where the people in your industry are online and join groups related to your field, adding to the conversation and building authentic relationships.
- Start writing. In marketing terms, produce content. Engage via blog posts, eBooks, guides, Slideshares, tweets, etc. You’ve discovered you have opinions; you’ve found your community online; now share your thoughts.
- Curate content. Share other thought leaders’ articles on social media, or mention them in your writing. Readers will appreciate that you referred them, and those other writers might recognize you as a fellow thought leader. Go the extra mile and include comments about the article, furthering the dialogue about whatever issue is at hand.
- Engage with others. Picture yourself at a cocktail party. You don’t want to be that person who’s always talking him- or herself, dominating one-way conversations. Embrace dialogue, even if that means responding to conflicting viewpoints.
- Address customer concerns. Develop content geared to answering customers’ questions and share it with them. Anticipate any future concerns and make an effort to let the community know that you’re listening.
- Maintain your social media presence. Having a professional social media presence across multiple platforms increases your accessibility. Each social network could have its own blog post about it, but make sure you have access and are consistently posting on the three most popular: Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
- Be consistent. Update your content consistently, and make it clear that you’re here for the long haul, not because you want to encapsulate the buzzword “thought leadership,” but because you’re passionate about the industry and about providing value to others.
- Challenge others. Adding to conversations in your industry is all well and good, but you need to express your own opinions and challenge others as well. Present alternative ideas, and prove that they actually make sense. Stick to your values regardless of people challenging you back.
- Meet and greet. Go to conferences and seek to speak or meet new people. Get on TV (or make your own podcast), or feature as a guest speaker at an event. Thought leadership isn’t all about promoting yourself, but it’s an important factor.
Now, I don’t want everyone to think I’m presenting a clear-cut formula for becoming the next thought leader. It’s more hard work than anything, and you can do all of the above and still not be recognized as a thought leader.
But that doesn’t matter, because thought leadership is not only about being the next guru. It’s about leading the conversation and challenging others to think about trends or issues in your industry. It’s a long-term commitment to providing real value and education to your consumers and larger audiences. If you’re passionate enough about your industry, you won’t be thinking about only becoming a thought leader. You’ll want to present your ideas, engage with others, and educate the people around you. Thought leadership then comes when you least expect it.
It’s tough, and only truly innovative people are seen as thought leaders in their industry. But eventually, the more recognition you get, the more people will want to learn from you. The future of thought leadership should be, as always, changing how people think about a concept and challenging others across a variety of platforms.
How would you define thought leadership?