It’s common to feel an instant wave of negativity when you hear the word “thought leader.” It has become a watered-down, overused and nearly meaningless term.
It has been co-opted by the world of big business and over-hyped by marketing gurus. So, let’s cut it down to size, shall we?
What’s Thought Leadership?
I like to define thought leadership as “the ability to drive action by generating, communicating, and delivering insights that decision-makers value.”
It’s a type of content marketing whose main objective is to influence how people think and make informed decisions.
Thought leaders aren’t always the obvious choice. They don’t have to be executives who head up large organizations or experts in a particular field. But they employ certain strategies that place them in direct contact with their audience, thus allowing them to impart wisdom to others.
7 Real-time Examples of Thought Leadership in Action
- IBM—Every piece of content the marketing team puts out has a specific purpose related to the Big Data initiative launched in 2012. By publishing articles and videos that are both educational and entertaining, the team behind this push has been able to keep Big Data at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
- Cisco Systems—Right now, Cisco is live-streaming a “telepresence” event with astronauts on the International Space Station. Using video conferencing technology, company experts will discuss what life is like in space and how we might achieve long-term sustainability for life beyond Earth. Through this event and articles and podcasts, Cisco demonstrates its thought leadership in the realm of big data by bringing together experts from across the industry to present new ideas and insights.
- NTT Data—With an impressive array of thought leadership platforms and initiatives, this IT services company has created a network of industry leaders to share their knowledge with the rest of the world. It has successfully built influence with these partners while demonstrating its expertise in risk management, cybersecurity and technology consulting.
- RegMed Investors—The company behind this blog and newsletter, a stock research firm focused on the pharmaceutical industry, uses thought leadership as its primary approach to attracting new subscribers. The company’s CEO focuses his writing on the intersection of technology and medicine.
Through his work, the company’s CEO has become an expert in healthcare IT investment trends, where he’s in constant touch with a network of like-minded experts.
- Accenture—This consulting firm has built its brand through content marketing initiatives spotlighting its experts. It does this by publishing newsletters, webinars, and white papers to showcase what each leader in the field is doing and how their work can also benefit others.
- SAP—This company hosts an annual forum for women in technology. It’s a global event that brings together hundreds of leaders across the industry to network and discuss their findings on trending topics. The conference has become a valuable resource to those who want to stay abreast of major issues facing women in tech.
- TED—TED has built a brand around its extensive library of professional talks and presentations. The company started as an exclusive group that convened yearly in California to discuss cutting-edge ideas, so it is no surprise that many thought leaders are among the ranks of TED alumni.
What Can Small Businesses Learn From These Successful Thought Leadership Campaigns?
- Do your homework. Make sure you are confident in the message that you’re sending out into the world before you hit publish. It’s the only way to create a consistent presence and build trust with your readers. If someone can’t trust your information, then that can only mean you’ll have a hard time convincing them to buy from you.
- Know what makes you unique. So much of business is about giving people what they’ve already seen before, but that strategy won’t help you attract and retain customers as a small business or solo entrepreneur. Instead, develop a personal brand that emphasizes your values and creates something new for your audience. That will help you stand out amongst competitors and keep your business growing.
- Provide value—The goal of any thought leadership campaign is to promote yourself in a way that builds trust with your audience. One way to do this is by sharing valuable information that you know they’ll enjoy. The information has to either appeal to their interests or challenge them intellectually. If they see you as an authority on the subject or someone who can be trusted for advice, they’ll automatically learn to trust your brand.
- Collaborate with other experts—One of the most effective ways to reach new customers is to partner with others and connect your work to theirs. By collaborating with other brands, you can help expand your reach and build an even larger network of readers.
How Small Businesses Can Integrate Thought Leadership Into Their Marketing Campaigns
- Share your knowledge—One of the most effective ways to build a positive reputation online is by sharing what you know with others. You don’t have to be a leader in your industry, or even an expert, to share thoughts and opinions that offer value to readers. That’s part of the beauty of thought leadership; it gives you a chance to share your unique and valuable perspective on any topic.
- Look at the big picture—One of the best things about online marketing is that it gives you control over your brand’s image in a way that traditional advertising cannot. You get to decide what gets published, who sees it, and how much information you want to share. You can even choose the keywords phrases you’d like to be associated with and improve your SEO.
- Select a blogging platform—It’s important to put time and effort into building a successful blog from the beginning. You first have to develop an editorial schedule that helps you create content consistently. You also want to work on how you’ll be promoting the blog to get more readers.
- Identify your main topic and stay focused—It’s easy to get sidetracked when you start blogging regularly. That’s why you should choose one primary topic that the majority of your posts will revolve around. Once you have your niche, you can build trust with readers by consistently supplying them with content.
- Use images —It’s an effective way to boost blog engagement and get more readers clicking through your site. There are many different graphics types, such as infographics, charts, photos, and graphs, that you can use to illustrate points on the subject at hand. If you have time and resources, create your own images to stand out from the crowd and attract more customers.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback— Asking for feedback doesn’t always feel natural, but it’s an essential part of the thought leadership process because it helps you learn from other people in your niche. Your customers and peers will often give you great suggestions on how to improve your blog.
- Promote yourself—One of the best parts about having a blog is that it’s an effective way to spread your brand around the web. It also helps to build trust with potential customers and increase search engine exposure and visibility.
- Get more readers—The best way to make sure your blog gets in front of new customers is to use social media. You can share posts on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and Google+ to help spread the word about your content. If you have an active community on any of these sites, you can also use them to promote your blog.
- Develop a content strategy—Your blog is only as good as the quality of the content you regularly produce. That’s why it’s important to develop a well-thought-out plan before you ever publish your first post. You never want to put out any content that doesn’t add value for your potential readers.
- Work on relationships—It’s important to leverage your blog as an opportunity to build relationships with other industry leaders. You never know when a colleague might give you a great piece of advice or introduce you to someone who will help your business.
- Don’t be afraid to fail—If you try something new and it doesn’t work out the way you expected, don’t let that discourage you from trying again. You never know if a blog post might go viral the same way you can never be sure if a new idea will work or not.
- Be consistent—Consistency is the most important part of the thought leadership process. It will help you build trust with potential customers and keep them coming back to your site for more updates on the subject at hand.
- Track your progress—It’s important to track how you’re performing with each blog post. Are people clicking through to your site? Are they taking the time to leave detailed comments? It will help you understand what needs improvement, what is working, and what’s not to know what action to take.
- Share quotes and comments—Quotes and comments from other industry leaders in your niche can help you show authenticity. It also gives readers some new things to explore when they check out your site.
- Avoid spam—You don’t want to put up any content that will make people leave your blog and never return. That’s why it’s important only to publish high-quality content that you have ascertained offers value to your readers.
- Have fun—One of the best things about blogging is that it’s a lot of fun. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you will never be as successful as you’re supposed to be.
- Be accurate—You don’t want to blog about anything that isn’t true or honest. The more customers trust you, the more they’ll find your information valuable.
- Know what makes a great post—Certain things make a successful blog post. And must we mention that it’s not the same with every industry?
- Write with passion—If you don’t have a personal connection to what you’re writing about, then don’t expect your readers to fall in love with it either.
- Make sure you understand the topic well—Research is extremely important for any thought leader. If you lack the necessary knowledge, you might end up putting out incorrect information and hurting your credibility.
- Research similar topics—It’s important to understand where you fit into the blogosphere. You want to make sure that you are differentiating yourself from everyone else in your industry. The point is to try and make sure that you’re offering unique value, different from anyone else in the industry.
- Read the comments—It’s important to note your readers’ reactions when they read your content. You might find some key insights into what you can do to improve your content.
- Be active on social media—You don’t want to post once and forget about it. Try to stay in touch with your readers.
- Use social media tools—It’s a good idea to use platforms like Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule your post and be consistent with your publishing.
- Understand what is most important—You might be tempted to write about every piece of advice you have, but it might be better only to pick a couple of ideas and delve into them fully. People will enjoy reading your blog more if they feel like they can get something valuable out of it.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help—If you have trouble accomplishing anything, it’s best to reach out and get some guidance from someone who has had success with it in the past.
- Have a point of view—You don’t have to agree with everything that is going on in your industry but try to stay true to your values and beliefs when you present information on your blog. It will help you avoid sounding like a pushover or a hater, which won’t bode well with some of your readers.
- Include a photo—Your blog is more likely to be shared if it has an engaging image that captures readers’ attention. It doesn’t have to be of you or anything. Instead, make it interesting, attention-grabbing, and relevant to the post at hand.
- Update your blog regularly—You don’t want to bombard people with new posts, but you want them to know that you’re planning to supply them with high-quality information consistently.
- Reflect on the past—Looking back at previous posts can be an excellent way to see something worth re-sharing. Your readers might forget about all of the helpful advice you have already given them, but some may be worth repeating on your blog.
- Create a signature—Try to find a few things that you can add at the bottom of each post so that people can recognize when they are reading something from you. It will also help with branding and traffic.
- Read other blogs in your industry—By doing so, you can find out who the top thought leaders are right now and how they approach blogging.
- Have conversations with your readers—You will learn a lot about what they want to hear from you on your blog.
- Learn how to use the analytics—You want to keep a close eye on the data you receive to know what your readers are responding to most favorably and if there’s any room for improvement.
- Use podcasts or video—Audio or visual content is much more engaging than written posts.
- Stay up-to-date—Keep up with the news and trends that are happening in your industry. While at it, you want to focus on giving people something that they can’t get anywhere else.
- Include a call-to-action at the end of each post—Encourage people to comment, ask questions, or share their thoughts with you.
- Follow standard writing tips—Make sure that your writing style sounds professional (even if you come across as a thought leader) and that it is easy to read.
With the advent of the internet, it is now easier than ever to become a thought leader. All it takes is effort and some savvy strategies for creating content that will help you stand out from your competitors.
7 Benefits of Exerting Your Thought Leadership Online
Let’s talk about the why — why would anyone want to exert their thought leadership online? That’s the million-dollar question that we plan on tackling today:
- It is a great way to share your expertise with an audience—By establishing yourself as a thought leader in your chosen industry, you will be able to share your unique insights and experience with others.
- It helps generate business—By showing people that you are an expert in your industry, they will feel comfortable inviting you into their professional space.
- It creates authority—When we see someone who is an expert in their field, we are more likely to follow what they have to say than if we had no idea who they were or what they’re involved with.
- It builds credibility—As you become known as a thought leader in your industry, it also becomes easier for others to see you as an authority on the topic.
- It can help increase traffic to your site—If other people see you as an expert, then they would want to dig for more of your content. While things like your logo and text may initially catch their eye, the articles you write make them hang around for longer.
- It is an excellent way to get more followers—With the right approach, you should attract scores of potential fans/followers to your website.
- It can help you become known—When people become familiar with you as a thought leader in your industry, they are more likely to trust and rely on you when they need something.
If you are looking for a way to expedite your goals, then exerting your thought leadership online can be a great place to start. You don’t have to do much for your business to grow and thrive.
Keep in mind that there is no such thing as being too generous with your knowledge — as long as there’s someone who can benefit from what you know, feel free to share it. Now, go forth and exert!
Who Should Consider Adopting a Thought Leadership Approach?
Thought leadership is a great option for just about anyone who wants to advance or progress in their career. However, it is especially valuable for the following group of people:
- Entrepreneurs—If you are looking to create and grow your own business, then using a thought leadership approach can be incredibly helpful. Not only will it help you get found online, but it will also help you establish your authority in your industry.
- Salespeople—If you are a salesperson, which most of us who work from home happen to be, then exerting your thought leadership online can be a great way to help propel your business forward and increase its success rate.
- Social media experts—If you already have an online presence, then exerting your thought leadership online will help you to make that presence even more effective.
- Bloggers—If you already have a blog, exercising your thought leadership online is a great way to improve and diversify your business.
While these are the primary people who should consider exerting their thought leadership online, you might also want to note that there is no reason anyone else couldn’t benefit from using this approach. Just because you aren’t running your own business or trying to make sales doesn’t mean that you can’t use this approach in a way that will help you to get found online or advance your career.
What to Post?
Now that you know why it is a good idea to exert your thought leadership online, you need to figure out what to put online. You will probably want to choose one content type that fits your expertise and focus your efforts on that. While you are free to choose the content type that you wish, here are some of the best options you have:
- Blog posts—If you already have or intend to create a blog, you might want to consider using it as the primary platform for exerting your thought leadership online. Blogs are an excellent way to create and share your content with the world.
- White papers—If you want to exert your thought leadership on a specific topic, then creating white papers that discuss the issue at hand is an excellent option for doing so. You can use these in various ways, including sharing them online or sending them out in email blasts.
- Webinar/website presentations—If you want to put your name and face online while also adding a visual component to your exertions, then webinars and video-based content can be an excellent choice. While you will need a little extra equipment to pull it off, it’s well worth the investment.
- Video series—If you want to create a few videos on a specific topic, this is another option that can help you exert your thought leadership online. You may even want to consider podcasting as well.
- Ebooks—If you have had people ask you about a certain topic or if that is the type of information you are looking to give away, then ebooks can be an excellent way to provide your knowledge and, at the same time, help others.
- Workshops—If people ask for in-person workshops with you, it would be wise to create one for them. Not only will it help others, but it also serves as a great platform for you to demonstrate your expertise.
How to Know if It’s Working?
If you want to be able to gauge the effectiveness of your exertion efforts, it is important to take note of several metrics:
- Traffic—If you are publishing blog posts and want to monitor the traffic they are generating, Google Analytics is a great way to do so. This software program can help you track your visitors to determine how popular your content is becoming.
- Influence—You may also want to keep an eye on how much influence your exertions are having. It can be done by monitoring how many people share or comment on your posts. Besides, it will give you a good idea of how popular your content is with others.
- Sales—If you have created white papers, ebooks, webinars, video series, or workshops, then monitoring how many sales you are getting is a great way to see how effective your exertion efforts are becoming.
- Employment—If you have shared any of these materials to help others find employment, keeping an eye on the opportunities that your exertions generate will be important.
- Awards—You may also want to consider tracking how many awards you receive for your exertions as well.
Should You Partner With Others?
If you ever find that exerting your thought leadership online works for you, then it may be a good idea to partner with other professionals in the same or similar fields. As these individuals begin to use your content, you may find that it brings more exposure to your exertion efforts. It also allows you to reach new and different audiences than you wouldn’t have otherwise.
You, however, want to choose the right partners, as working with the wrong ones could prove detrimental to both parties in the end. If you are unsure of how to go about finding the right partners for your exerts, then keep these guidelines could come in handy:
- Ask the people you trust—First and foremost, it helps to turn to the people you know and ask if they could recommend someone. If they can point you in the direction of someone who has a similar message or philosophy as you do, then you might have found the people to partner with.
- Check the competition—You can also check out your most successful competitors and see if they are partnering with anyone else in their field as well. If they are, then you may want to follow suit.
- Contact a few people—Another way is to find a few people in your field and contact them to find out if they are doing so. If they aren’t, then you may have found a potential partner to work with instead.
- Pay attention—You can also pay close attention to other similar competitors or partners and see which ones will be viable choices for you to partner with.
- What is their list of credentials—One of the most appealing aspects of working with other professionals you respect is that you want to associate yourself with them. If they have something impressive in their resume, such as being a published author or having a prestigious job, you will likely want to work with them.
- What is their list of accomplishments—If they have several accolades or recent awards, it may be because they are also making an effort to exert their thought leadership online.
- Check their website—One of the best ways to find out whether or not someone is exerting their thought leadership online is to check their website.
Is Partnering Effective?
While partnering with others may be effective in some instances, there are other times when individuals should do the exerting themselves. One of the biggest advantages of working alone is that all of the information is directly from you. If another person contributes, then it becomes less likely that your target audience will take you seriously.
Another problem with partnering is that if the efforts aren’t working for either party involved, staying motivated and energetic about the exertions can become difficult. As a result, potential partners may also be discouraged and lose interest in the partnership.
Since there are ways to tell whether or not partnering is effective, you should think about how it will benefit your exertion efforts and whether or not it is worth doing. To do this, try asking yourself these questions:
- Is it a good idea to partner with this person? —If they are reputable and have similar interests as you, then the partnership might benefit both of you.
- What do I stand to gain? —If you have a lot of personal experience and think it would be beneficial for your partner, it may be an effective idea to form a partnership with them.
- Is the project worth pursuing? —It is also important to consider whether or not the project is worth doing and whether or not it will benefit your business.
- Does partnering have any disadvantages? —If it is going to be difficult for the two of you to work together, then it may not be effective to form the partnership in the first place.