People will often call us for our PR services because they have the goal of becoming thought leaders. Thought leadership is one of those terms that is liberally sprinkled about but often lacks a clear definition.
I thought I’d use this blog post to provide a clear answer to the question, “What is thought leadership — and how do you become a thought leader?”
What Is Thought Leadership?
Thought leadership means being an expert source and a reliable industry authority. Thought leaders have their finger on the pulse of trending issues, and contribute meaningfully to their industry. They are known to deliver consistent and exceptional results that build them a solid reputation as the go-to aficionados of their field. As a result, they have loyal fans and followers and are sought after for their insights.
Thought leadership does not happen overnight, with the publication of an article or the achievement of hundreds of new social media followers. It’s a gradual process that involves a steady buildup of credibility. Think of it as It as a lifetime journey that is fueled by industry passion and patience.
The good news is that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room or an all-time expert to become a thought leader. There are specific steps you can take to get on the thought leader track.
Let’s examine the 6 essential steps you will need to take in order to become a thought leader.
It’s not pedigree. It’s not where you went to school. Thought Leadership means you provide the best and deepest answers, to your customers’ biggest questions. –Michael Brenner
How to Attain Thought Leadership Status in Your Industry
Step 1: Establish Your Own Personal Brand
Your personal brand is what sets you apart from everyone else. It is a combination of your personality, reputation, history, and expertise. Your personal brand needs to be separate from your company brand — remember, you want to establish your own expertise and reputation.
A robust social media presence goes a long way to developing your personal brand. Leverage your social networks to showcase your unique personality, start conversations around hot-button topics, and share educational content that differentiates you from your peers.
Step 2: Start a Blog
A blog is one of the best ways to establish and maintain thought leadership. It is an ideal place to write and share content about industry news, events, and trends. A blog builds confidence in your readers that you are an expert, and that your products and services are built upon your expertise.
The key to a thought-leadership-quality blog is to be on the cusp of trending issues when they occur, and be ready to offer your point of view on each. To that end, you can use content sites like Alltop and BuzzSumo to see what is currently on the minds of people in your industry.
Long-form content also contributes to thought leadership. Create longer posts of 1600-1800 words that showcase an in-depth knowledge of your industry. Be sure to create various forms of content, such as eBooks, infographics, and videos to satisfy the diverse needs of your audience.
In order to consistently deliver high-quality content, develop a content strategy that leverages several different types of content and broaches a wide variety of topics. Once you have an established, insightful blog, you can widen your audience by guest blogging for popular industry publications.
Many B2B buyers will read thought leader content in trade publications and then Google people, companies and topics to drill down. –Lee Odden
Step 3: Get Involved on Social Media
A solid social media presence is at the core of modern thought leadership. Social networks give you the stage you need to share your content, create conversations and amplifies your voice across the globe.
Don’t forget about social sites like Quora where people search for answers to specific questions. It’s a ready platform to provide your own expert point of view. Not only can you answer questions there but also direct people to your blog for more expert advice on similar industry topics.
Step 4: Accept Speaking Engagements
The prominence associated with public speaking engagements provide a degree of street cred that lends itself nicely to thought leadership.
Are you not yet on the radar for speaking engagements? You can change that with a few simple steps. Choose the industry events or workshops that you would like to speak at — start local and small at first for the best chance of success. Then suggest a compelling topic that you’ 3comfortable speaking about at the event.
As soon as you accept a speaking engagement, start spreading the word. Share the event and your role in it across your social networks, and invite people to join you there. When the day finally arrives, be prepared to market your speaking. Get a video of it, and afterwards upload that video to YouTube and your other social networks.
Step 5: Get Mentioned in the Press
Media mentions can tremendously boost your ranking as a thought leader. So how can you get the attention of the media? One way is to sign up for an online service like HARO (Help A Reporter Out), which connects you with journalists who are interested in talking to people in your industry. If you want to truly break out of the gate, consider hiring a PR agency or a consultant.
Step 6: Be a Genuine, Giving, and Helpful Person
Thought leadership is not a one-way street. If you approach it with the single-minded idea of what you can get out of it, you won’t succeed. Instead, plan to give as much as you receive. Don’t forget the “leadership” portion of thought leadership. Offer your audience real value in every interaction — whether it’s during a speaking engagement, on your social networks, or in your blog.
Knowledge and expertise are only part of the puzzle. A true thought leader will also engender loyalty and respect through his or her authenticity, generosity, and helpfulness.
Thought leadership is an earned status. You should never call yourself a thought leader. Allow others to attribute that title to you. Give yourself a chance to earn that title through your knowledge and innovations. People will most likely reject you as a thought leader if you presumptuously assume that role too soon.
It’s not having access to the information that gives you the edge, it’s your ability to convert information into wisdom that does. –Peter Winick
Key Points to Remember…
- Thought leadership means being a trustworthy source and the go-to authority in your industry.
- A regular B2B blog with consistently helpful, expert information can help establish thought leadership.
- Social media networks are an essential place to share thought leadership material.
- Never underestimate the power of being genuinely helpful in all your dealings, online and off.
So, what is thought leadership in your industry? Form your own strategy, and patiently work toward this worthy goal.
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