People often come to a PR agency because they want to become “thought leaders.” “Thought leadership” is one of those terms thrown widely about, but it 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 for delivering consistent and exceptional results and have established a solid reputation as an authority in their field. As a result, they have loyal fans and followers and are sought after for their insights.
Becoming a thought leader doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process that involves a steady buildup of credibility. Think of it as a lifetime journey fueled by 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 leadership track.
Let’s examine the six essential steps to becoming a thought leader:
Step 1: Establish your own personal brand
Your personal brand sets you apart from everyone else. It is a combination of your personality, reputation, history and expertise. Your personal brand should be separate from your organization’s brand. You want to establish your own expertise and reputation.
A robust social media presence goes a long way to developing your personal brand. Use your social networks to showcase your unique personality, start conversations around hot-button topics and share educational content that sets you apart 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 your reputation as an expert.
The key to a high quality thought leadership blog is to be on the cusp of trending issues and be ready to offer your point of view on them. To that end, use content sites likeAlltop and BuzzSumo to see what is currently on the minds of people in your industry.
Long-form content also contributes to thought leadership. Write longer posts of 1600-1800 words that showcase an in-depth knowledge of your industry. Be sure to create diverse forms of content, such as e-books, infographics and videos, to satisfy the differing needs of your audience.
To consistently deliver high quality content, develop a strategy that uses several different types of content and addresses a wide variety of topics. Once you have an established, insightful blog, you can widen your audience by guest blogging for popular industry publications.
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 amplify your voice across the globe.
Pay attention to 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, you can 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 provides a degree of street cred that lends itself nicely to thought leadership.
You’re not yet on the radar for speaking engagements? You can change that with a few simple steps. Choose industry events or workshops you’d like to speak at. Start local and small at first for the best chance of success. Then suggest a compelling topic that you’re comfortable speaking about.
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 your presentation and upload it to YouTube and your other social networks.
Step 5: Get mentioned in the press
Press mentions can tremendously boost your ranking as a thought leader. How can you get the attention of the news 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 thinking single-mindedly about what you can get out of it, you won’t succeed. Instead, plan to give as much as you receive. 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 also engenders 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 it through your knowledge and innovations. People will most likely reject you as a thought leader if you presumptuously assume that role too soon.
What is thought leadership in your industry? Form your own strategy and patiently work toward this worthy goal.
Wendy Marx is president of Marx Communications, a B2B inbound marketing and PR agency that turns small- and medium-size businesses into industry thought leaders. A version of this article first appeared on the B2B PR Sense blog.