What does it mean to be a thought leader and why is it such a strong platform from which you can build your own brand or that of your clients? These days it feels almost impossible to read about strategies and tactics for career advancement without reading about the importance of becoming known and recognized as ‘a thought leader.’ Just what that means is open to wide interpretation.
We think one very solid definition is: A thought leader is someone who’s recognized and trusted in your field or industry as having invaluable insight and expertise and who engages, even captivates, audiences so they keep coming back for more. It puts you in a position from which you can mentor and advise a large audience by guiding the discourse and making the most of your platform. The more you become recognized as a thought leader, the more you’ll be seen as someone with whom people want to network with and do business.
As Uncle Ben says in Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Think you have what it takes to be a thought leader? We have some tips and tricks to get you in position.
Know Your Audience
Being a thought leader means having a keen understanding of the audiences with which you want to connect and having the ability to tailor your message accordingly. You must take the time to understand the conversation, how it is being driven, and where it is headed to put yourself in a position to influence it going forward. So, how do you get your message out there once you’ve done all your homework? Create a media list comprised of traditional reporters and social influencers, develop a pitch based on the brand you defined, and convince them your message will resonate with their audiences.
Create Compelling Content
You’ve defined your brand and you know your audience but now you are wondering how to keep them engaged. The information you are providing must be valuable to your audience. Like most strategic questions in public relations and strategic communications, the answer is through the development and deployment of consistently compelling content. Use all your owned channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook and make sure you format your posts accordingly. After all, you want the content you create to be shareable as a way of engaging your audience and extending your reach. Create campaigns that allow you make your mark on discrete, timely issues during the short term while making sure they create a cohesive and holistic brand over the long term. Finally, use a digital property like a website or blog to catalog your content and assign tags or keywords to make them easy for your followers to find.
Define Your Brand
The best way to define your brand as a thought leader is to passionately and convincingly demonstrate your mastery of the relevant topics that are important within your field. News website Axios’ brand is Smart Brevity. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s brand of philanthropy is “engaging in deeply rooted, dynamic, and complex issues.” Senator Elizabeth Warren has been able to stand out from the crowded field of 2020 Democrats with a policy heavy platform. As these examples show, you must meaningfully contribute to the conversation in a compelling way because the last thing people want to hear about you or your client is more of the same.
To be a thought leader you must establish your unique value proposition you can offer and drive it home with the people you wish to influence. Additionally, you must be consistent to be considered a reliable and trusted leader. Be sure to proactively be defining your brand every day.
Get Out There
There is something to be said about being in the right place at the right time. Is an organization holding an event that will convene the people with which you want to connect? Make sure you are in that room or, even better, speaking to them as part of the formal program. Is there an external event like a development in the news or an industry related day that is observed each year? Make sure you are contributing to the conversation with a social media campaign, publishing a timely op-ed, sitting down for an interview, or organizing an event to generate earned media opportunities. Being a thought leader means you must be willing to put yourself out there by committing the time and energy necessary to build a thought leadership platform that puts you at the top of the list for someone looking to inform themselves or their followers.
Build Something Bigger
Make your thought leadership a two-way street. Engaging others means it’s not just about what you send out into the universe, it’s making the most of your ability to identify quality content and amplify it as well. If you want to be shared, you need to be a sharer too. Do you belong to industry groups or professional associations? Make the most out of them by building your network and engaging your peers by finding ways they can help you as well as the ways in which you can help them advance their own goals. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.
By Michael Schiano, Senior Account Executive