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Thought leadership is considered by some to be just a buzzword and that’s a shame. It is in fact an effective marketing strategy if done right.
So, let’s start by agreeing on what thought leadership is.
A thought leader is someone who stands out in their industry thanks to their informed opinions, unique points of view, and insightful analysis that they share in ways that are beneficial to others.
Thought leadership is an achievement that is valuable to both individuals and businesses. It builds your personal credibility as an expert within your industry while it simultaneously creates customer affinity for your company and powers your brand’s persuasive capabilities.
The biggest mistake people make is thinking that thought leadership is general content marketing. Thought leadership is an approach to content marketing.
As such, thought leadership does not push product whereas general content marketing aims to sell. As a thought leader, you rarely mention your company’s offerings. Instead, you focus on industry challenges, identify upcoming trends, and cover untapped topics. Let readers come to their own conclusions about the suitability of your products and services. Show don’t tell.
If you’re with me thus far, read on.
Thought leadership does not happen overnight. It requires an investment in a number of initiatives at fairly regular intervals. If you’re interested in starting down that path, here are some things you should be doing.
Nine thought leadership initiatives to start right now
Focus on your niche
Getting to your position has probably meant you’ve had to acquire numerous skills in varied positions. But this is no time to be a jack of all trades. To become a thought leader, you must be a master of one. Focus on what you know best and home in on that message consistently.
The narrower your focus, the faster your ascent to leadership. The reason is simple. Going narrower always allows you to accumulate experience and insight faster. This accelerates the process and improves your impact. Don’t spread yourself too thin across too many topics or your efforts will not have the desire effect.
Maintain a blog
Perhaps the best way to establish and uphold your image as a thought leader is with a blog. Not only does an active blog reward you and your company with a more credible industry presence, but it also gives your company additional business benefits such as better search engine optimization.
Contribute to other people’s blogs
To further legitimize your industry expertise, seek out other bloggers who are already thought leaders in your industry to have them host one of your blogs. Being a guest blogger not only expands your reach but gives you additional authenticity.
Similarly, it’s also good to host other thought leaders’ content on your own blog as it too will give you credibility by association.
Publish long-form content
Whitepapers, eBooks, and (depending on your role and audience) webinars are a great way to showcase the depth of your knowledge in your domain of expertise. Long-form content like this supports richer dialogue and the room to exercise your industry chops. It’s a great way to communicate that your knowledge runs deeper than 750 words.
Nothing infers authority and trust on what you have to say than getting your content published by a reputable media source. Even getting yourself quoted is terrific word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing.
Having a PR company is invaluable for getting your content in front of publishers but there are other ways to go about it. There are editorial sites that will happily take on good industry-leadership content as well as associations with newsletters that are always looking for good content. Ultimately, you want to show up wherever your audience is.
Join the conversation
Being an active participant on social media can be invaluable. Responding to the posts of other industry leaders gets your name in their feed. It also encourages participation; many times this leader will return the favor, responding to, liking, or sharing your posts, which again expands your reach and creates a positive association in the minds of your audience.
Social media is a reciprocal world; if you want to attract consistent engagement, you have to consistently engage.
Provide meaty content
One of the best ways to establish authority on your topic is to produce deep research on the subject. You must present a depth of knowledge that no one else has.
Here’s why: The Internet is full of generic blog posts that offer listicles of “top tips” without much detail or whitepapers that rely on research from already published articles, making them more frustrating than functional. To become a true thought leader, you must provide value to your audience through unique content that comes from your research, experience, and wisdom.
Promote your content
Producing thought leadership content and not promoting it is like creating a whitepaper and leaving it on the board room table. No one will see it.
If you already have a great big following – congratulations! Your content is in good hands. If your dad is your most loyal follower, you may want to grow your audience. LinkedIn Ads are especially useful tools as they allow you to promote your content to a highly targeted audience. There are also sites that host paid content, which, while less valuable than editorial sites, are still effective in broadening your reach.
Speak at conferences and events
Taking center stage at live, face-to-face industry events are often invaluable for curating thought leadership. Most events are pay-to-play – meaning they will cost you money – but many are well attended by your target audience.
It’s best to start with a track session to introduce yourself to your industry’s speaking circuit and work your way up to a solo spot (or even a keynote) once you’ve gained more experience and respect as a speaker. Always be sure to make your presentation educational and non-promotional to achieve maximum credibility. You’ll likely encounter people within your organization who feel a presentation without a product pitch is squandering corporate resources. This is short-sighted and doesn’t build customer trust or a good reputation.
A great resource to reference (especially in defense of a thought leadership presentation) is Jeremy Donovan’s “How to Deliver a TED Talk”, which is a step-by-step guidebook on how to craft a presentation that resonates with your audience and how to master your delivery of it.
I can’t say it enough. Thought leadership content that is promotional in nature doesn’t connect with audiences. In fact, it typically annoys them. As soon as you start promoting yourself, your company, or your products, your audience will tune out and you will lose any trust you’ve already built.
You want to produce content that is genuinely geared toward educating, entertaining, and/or inspiring people about important topics in your industry.
Keep in mind
If you walk away with one thing from this post, let it be this: Thought leadership is not something you do but a byproduct of what you do.