What is Thought Leadership & How to Hone Your Skills

What is thought leadership? It’s a question that has troubled business owners and entrepreneurs for years. The definition seems to expand year after year, while the term itself has blown up in search engines across the internet. Everyone wants it. So how can you get it?

What is Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership is the ability to influence an industry. Thought leaders don’t just have opinions about their industry. They are the opinion. They stay on the beat of current trends and are the go-to source for others within their industry. When a thought leader speaks, people sit up and take notice. Thought leaders challenge the status quo, and begin powerful trends that others follow. Through their content and presence they command authority on industry-related topics.

Thought leaders don’t just have opinion about their industry — they are the opinion

What Has Happened to Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership today has lost some of its powerful meaning. The market is flooded with self-proclaimed “experts” and “gurus” — whether they have the goods or not. This, unfortunately, has watered down the term in some people’s eyes.

What can you do when you are the genuine article? When you have the real knowledge and expertise of your industry that sets you apart. Can you break through the noise of other “thought leader pretenders”? Yes you can — by incorporating thought leadership PR into your strategy.

Let’s look at how you can do this.

5 Key Ways to Boost Your Thought Leadership Strategy and Break Through the Noise

1. Choose a Quality Photo That Promotes Thought Leadership PR

Your photo is a natural part of your thought leadership PR. One photo is sometimes all it takes for people to draw conclusions about you and your business. You want it to represent your authority, but also your natural personality. This shouldn’t be a last minute upload from your phone’s photo library. Choose your photo carefully.

There are of course professional photographers who specialize in thought leadership photo shoots. But this doesn’t mean that you need top-dollar professional lighting and photography equipment. Just make sure you have a clean headshot that represents the natural you with an air of authority.

Here are some general guidelines to follow as you choose your thought leadership photo:

Make it a headshot. Your photo should include your face and shoulders. Don’t make it so far away that people can’t make you out, or too close for comfort.

Dress professionally. Your outfit will say a lot about you. This doesn’t mean you should dress “stuffy.” Make it clean and professional, but also stylish.

Stay current. You want people to see you as you look now — not what you looked like 10 years ago.

Smile. You don’t want to come off as cold or distant. A natural smile will add a welcoming touch to your thought leadership photo.

Be consistent. You want people to recognize you by your photo. Make it consistent throughout your social media profiles, website, and other thought leadership material.

Start out with a variety of photos — including different backgrounds, outfits, and poses — to see what you like. Test the waters by trying a few of your final contenders out on your social media audience before you make your final decision.

A thought leadership photo should represent your authority, but also your natural personality .

Take this example from author and content marketing strategist Robert Rose. Right front and center on his website, you see a photo of him at a speaking engagement. He is professionally also use a variation of this photo.

Robert Rose - What is Thought Leadership?

2. Craft a Solid and Recognizable Message

If you’re a thought leader, you no doubt already know your stuff — you are after all an expert in your industry. But how you craft your message can either promote your expertise or deflate it.

Choose a point of view that sets you apart from others in your industry — this means knowing what you are against as much as what you are for.

Express yourself clearly, and create a distinctive and consistent voice in all your material that sets the tone you want. This voice may be poised and dignified, or maybe it’s laid-back and friendly. Whatever voice you choose, make sure it fits you.

Your message doesn’t have to be anything new or earth-shattering, but the way you present your message matters. Let’s face it. You won’t be the only “expert” in your industry, but you can stand out from the pack.

3. Develop Your Public Speaking Skills

Yes, you have the knowledge and expertise as an industry authority — but you a need the skill-set to back that up. How do you communicate your authority? If you don’t back up your message with the right tone and communication, it will fall on deaf ears.

Speaking engagements are a key component to any thought leadership strategy. But many people quake at the thought of being in front of a large group of people. If this is you, you’re not alone. The best advice is to start small — with small-scale speaking engagements. This will help you to refine your public speaking skills, and work your way slowly up the scale.

You want to get on the stage and own it.

Consider the example of Gary Vaynerchuk, an authority in the realm of social media and leadership. He is well-known for his public speaking roles, as evidenced by the prominent photo on his homepage. His laid-back stage presence, along with his conversational tone, really captures the attention of his audience, and engages them through his Q and A sessions. This skill has helped him become an indisputable thought leader.

 Public Speaking is a hallmark of a great thought leadership strategy

4. Be Authentic

In a world where trust is a precious commodity, authenticity goes a long way in establishing thought leadership. Everything you do — from your presence on social media to the content you publish — should speak to your authenticity.

Connect with your audience. You can do this whether your audience is 50 people or 50,000 people. Size doesn’t matter. You have power to draw people to your message simply by being authentic.

5. Deliver Quality Content

Content, whether blog, video, or another format, is an ideal place to showcase your thought leadership credentials.

Do this by thinking out of the box. In every industry, there are generic topics that are done to death — everybody has written about it, and they all say the same basic thing. If you want to be a thought leader, stray off the beaten path and deliver a fresh perspective on industry issues.

Create high quality content in a variety of formats, and for all stages of a buyer’s journey. Blog posts and infographics are great educational content to introduce people to your business and industry. White papers and eBooks go deeper and address more complex issues that others in your audience may have. Include a good mix of content that will satisfy your audience as a whole.

Don’t forget to leverage visuals, such as images, infographics, or video, within your content. Visual content goes a long way in connecting with your audience, and keeping them engaged on your content.

IBM’s Institute for Business Value has been named #1 in thought leadership 6 times in a row. The reason? Its content. IBM delivers superior, quality content of all sizes (with plenty of it) and address a myriad of issues that affect its audience.

IBM Thought Leadership Content

A Few Key Points to Remember…

  • Choose pictures that clearly represent you and build confidence in your thought leadership abilities.
  • Craft memorable messages with a distince point of view.
  • Hone your public speaking skills through practice at smaller speaking engagements.
  • Stay authentic throughout your message and content — let your true values and personality take center stage.
  • Develop a solid database of content that showcases your thought leadership capacity, with a variety of short-form and long-form content.

Thought leadership isn’t just a watered-down concept. It is possible to attain indisputable thought leadership status with a solid, well-planned thought leadership strategy.