Thought leaders are influential, trusted experts who shape and drive conversations in their field.
Thought leaders are influencers. They’re the ones you see on TV commenting on the latest news. They’re the prolific bloggers who everyone links to and reads. They’re the ones on social media sparking conversations, answering questions, and sharing their experiences.
If you’re still wondering why thought leadership is important, one of the biggest benefits is that you gain more control over your own destiny. You can establish yourself as an expert in the areas most important to your business, shape conversations in your industry, and build a favorable, trusted reputation for your business.
HOW TO ESTABLISH THOUGHT LEADERSHIP
There are many different paths, but here are four of the most common pillars:
1) Create content.
Choose a medium and own it, whether it’s YouTube, a podcast, a blog, an email newsletter, Instagram stories, or another platform more appropriate for your audience.
See what others are publishing and what’s missing from the conversation. Publish consistently, build an audience, and tap into others’ audiences as well by contributing articles to influential outlets, whether a trade publication or larger business media like Entrepreneur or Forbes.
That contributed content places your thoughts in front of potential new readers and customers, expanding your audience. Promote your content on social media to further amplify it.
Pro tip: There’s a lot of content out there. How can you make yours stand out?
2) Share your expertise with the media.
When media opportunities arise, some topics will be right in your wheelhouse. Others you might have to stretch a bit to bridge back to your expertise and what your business does. But don’t try to stretch too far.
Don’t waste a reporter’s time by saying you can address the topic, then only provide vague soundbites that don’t specifically address the story being reported on, just to insert your messages. Provide value to the media and benefit from strong media relationships.
Want to be the go-to expert reporters contact in the wake of a breaking story? It starts with smaller opportunities, good sound bites, pithy opinions, and demonstrated expertise.
When you’re a good resource, able to analyze events in your space, reporters will remember you and seek out your opinion.
3) Seek out speaking opportunities.
This is one of the best ways to get in front of targeted audiences as an established expert.
Find appropriate conferences in your space and submit a speaking proposal that chronicles a case study, addresses a specific pain point, reveals new research, undercuts a common misconception, or otherwise shows your audience something new and interesting.
This is a great way to network, show the results of your work for customers, and open up content opportunities: Encourage attendees to live tweet photos, questions, and quotes during your presentation, and later you can adapt your slides into a blog post, article, or webinar.
4) Answer questions and engage on social media.
Pick your platform depending on your audience. Should you be writing, sharing, and commenting on LinkedIn? Or is Twitter where your followers congregate?
Wherever is best (and it may be multiple networks), join the conversation. Share insights (whether your own or a link to someone else’s), connect people, weigh in on a relevant question or debate.
Everyone has a slightly different style, so experiment, observe the influencers you admire or want to model yourself after, and find your voice.
WHAT THE BEST THOUGHT LEADERS DO WELL
In each of these endeavors, you should strive to:
- Provide value. Don’t sell your company or your products. Answer your customers’ questions, teach them to do something new, give away your best advice.
- Find your voice. All the top thought leaders have a way of speaking and writing that’s all their own. Just from the style of it you can tell exactly who wrote it or said it. This doesn’t need to be carved in stone from day one, and will evolve over time, but think about how you say things just a bit differently than anyone else and develop that voice.
- Have an opinion. You have to take a stand. The middle ground doesn’t entice most media and their audiences. Tell reporters what you believe and why you believe it. Show your work and reach your opinion responsibly, but plant your flag.
- Do great work. To rise to a thought leader doesn’t even necessarily require promotion. It does require great work. If you consistently do great work and you’re changing the world, people will take notice.
BECOMING A THOUGHT LEADER: GET STARTED NOW
Unfortunately, this isn’t an overnight process. That’s why it’s so important to get started now. Jump into a Twitter conversation. Submit a speaking proposal. Write an article that you can contribute to an influential publication you read. Ace that first interview with a reporter.
Those first steps become second steps. If you keep bringing something new to the table, momentum builds. You become recognized. Your business becomes recognized. By the time you’re a thought leader, you’ll have established a competitive advantage that helps you shape conversations in your industry, attract customers, and grow.