It seems like there are certain influential individuals that we encounter throughout life who tend to stand out. For me, looking back it was like they all had something in common. They weren’t just smart people, they were wise. They not only knew their industry inside and out, but they also had insight and new ideas that left an impression on those they encountered. And in retrospect, they could easily be named thought leaders.
According to Wikipedia, a thought leader is “a person or an entity that is recognized by peers for having progressive and innovative ideas.” Thought leadership isn’t just another name for content marketing. Thought leadership is strategic and brings big ideas and new insights to the table.
So why should you care about thought leadership? Although the term thought leader has gained a certain buzz around it, there are merits to the title that are worth noting that typically result in business success for the individuals described this way. The challenge of becoming a thought leader can seem like a daunting task, but there are some tactical moves you can make to become a thought leader in your industry.
Stick to your guns
For starters, stick to one specific area of expertise. Instead of trying to be “everything to every man,” this is the time to take a step back from your business and identify the niche market that you’re in. The goal is to then become the go-to person for your specialized industry.
Voice your opinion
Once you identify your industry, form an opinion about the issues that are relevant to it. Your views don’t necessarily have to be radical, but you do have to have them. When you think about the types of people that the media approaches for interviews, they tend to be people who can speak to a certain topic with a firm opinion. This can also come in the form of being able to answer questions to industry challenges, looking ahead at industry trends or challenging old ways of thinking and perceptions. By voicing your opinion, you build leadership by driving the conversation and becoming an authority on the topic.
Build an online presence
Now, more than ever, people need to be able to find you online. When they find you, they also want to see an online presence that coincides with the image that you’re creating elsewhere. It’s a good idea to begin by developing social media profiles, such as Google Plus, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Social forums like Quora also serve as a place where you can voice your expert opinion and industry peers affirm your credibility. These are some of the easiest avenues to voice your opinion and expertise on topics. Writing and regularly updating a blog that covers topics that are important to your niche market is also a great way to voice your expertise in your industry. You can also work with your friendly PR firm (wink, wink – that’s us!) to develop press releases, secure contributed articles, editorials and interviews with key publications. These almost always end up online and can result in a third party (the publication) deeming you a credible source and further extending your thought leadership.
Another technique to gain credibility is to apply for and win awards. Many times award applicants are asked about their community, industry and civic involvement. Instead of scrambling to fill in accolades as the award comes up, become active in your community now. Research the best awards for your industry and don’t forget to monitor the deadlines!
Speaking publically is a valuable tool to build authority and name recognition among peers. It’s the chance to be listed among some of the other top influencers in a certain area. To break in to the speaking circuit, local chambers of commerce and trade organizations are “low hanging fruit” events that don’t bring the pressure and stress that larger events can garner. It’s also a great idea to speak at trade shows that focus on your industry. Ideally, the attendees will be the same niche audience you are trying to reach, making it the
perfect place to extend your thought leadership or gain customers. It goes the same way for trade shows as it does for awards. Find the events and monitor their speaking deadlines! They can easily sneak up on you and many times are more than six months before the show.
In summary, the thing to remember is that even though implementing great tactics is well, great – the most important part is staying on track with the strategy behind them. A recent article in Fast Company explains it well. “Thought leadership should be an entry point to a relationship. Thought leadership should intrigue, challenge, and inspire even people already familiar with a company. It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships.” Although they don’t guarantee overnight success, implementing these tactics over time can be catalysts to help businesses and individuals gain a foothold in their markets. In the end, thought leaders have become their brand’s ambassadors and can ultimately increase brand affinity.