Becoming a Thought Leader: How To Build Thought Leadership And Become The Go-To In Your Field
The explosion of web content and social media platforms over the last few years has made thought leadership more attainable than ever. With numerous, wide-reaching avenues available to write, post, and share expert advice and how-to’s across the internet, achieving the vaunted “thought leader” title is no longer the sole province of TV personalities and Fortune 500 executives.
In fact, with so many online opportunities out there, the doors are wide open to nearly all business leaders and brands with the right thought leadership strategy and the will to make it happen.
But to really position yourself as one of the foremost informed opinion leaders in your space and seize on the trappings that often come with it – speaking invitations, TV guest appearances, column-writing opportunities, etc. – it’s important to know how and where to start.
Achieving thought leadership status doesn’t happen overnight. And having a simple but solid thought leadership roadmap in place is essential to establish credibility and shape the valuable perspective customers, peers, and professionals consistently turn to first for answers.
So, how do you build a thought leadership strategy that sets you apart in your particular niche? It starts by knowing the basics.
How To Become a Recognized Thought Leader
There is no cookie-cutter approach for creating an effective thought leadership strategy. How you become a thought leader can vary widely based on your business, industry, and position in your given field, as well as your goals and level of ambition.
That said, there are some basic guidelines for building authority and creating killer leadership content that amplifies your industry presence and influence.
Know your goals (and your audience)
Serious thought leadership strategies begin with set goals on what you want to achieve once you get there. Becoming an industry thought leader in itself is a significant achievement. Yet, it’s ultimately the clear-cut objectives defined at the outset that focus your efforts and help you leverage that status to your advantage.
Thought leaders usually have a number of goals in mind when executing a thought leadership marketing strategy. Some of the more common objectives among brands and business leaders include:
Strengthening brand loyalty among existing customers
Once you’ve laid out your thought leader strategy goals, it’s crucial to define your target audience. This includes anyone you’re aiming to communicate with, influence, and inspire through your thought leadership content, including but not limited to:
Prospects and potential leads
Marketers and marketing department managers
While casting a wide net helps spread brand awareness and advocacy, defining specific targets is crucial to your efforts. Clear targets give your high-quality content the focus to reach those unique segments and move the needle among those you value most.
Analyze thought leadership in your space
What is the thought leadership situation in your niche? How are those thought leaders making an impact? Researching the type of thought leadership coming from competitors, peers, and others across your field can provide valuable insight into what’s working and the best ways to communicate with your audience.
Depending on your niche, you may find thought leadership content in company blog pages, industry publications, news sources (digital and offline), social media channels, online forums, conferences, webinars, and more. Sifting through these resources can provide a much better understanding of trends, topics, innovative ideas, and emerging themes across your industry. It can even provide a few topics to explore as you throttle up your strategy.
Additionally, this research phase allows you to acquaint yourself with the thought leaders making the biggest splash in your niche. Once familiar with your industry’s primary influencers, you can gather intel on what they’re doing well and apply those same techniques to your own approach.
Importantly, it’s essential to carefully analyze any previous materials or communications you and your organization have issued in the past. Assessing old blog posts and articles ensures new thought leadership content remains consistent and avoids contradicting previous positions. It also helps you steer clear of controversial takes that may injure trust with existing customers.
Identify the thought leaders that will carry your strategy
Do your thought leadership efforts center on increasing your own authority, your company’s, or both? Either way, it’s critical to determine the thought leader or leaders who will develop and create content that moves your strategy forward.
Some thought leaders have the time, energy, and capability to develop high-quality content on their own. And if you’re one of those with the capacity to do so, you’re already a big step ahead. But for leaders without the time to create content and successfully influence audiences on their own – or who are focused on building thought leadership at the company level – it’s important to identify those that can.
Who can you designate to execute your strategy and develop continually inspiring thought leadership content?
Company CEOs, executives, and other senior managers. Many firms and entrepreneurs turn to the c-suite to develop high-profile, reputation-boosting content.
Subject matter experts (SMEs). Whether from inside your company or elsewhere, partnering with SMEs lends your thought leadership content significant authority right from the start.
Content specialists. Talented in-house and freelance writers can be an excellent resource for brand-bolstering thought leadership articles, blogs, and social media outreach.
Selecting the right people to lead your efforts means knowing what your brand story and values are, and finding those with the buy-in and authenticity to communicate those ideas in a compelling way. To maximize effectiveness, it helps for thought leaders to:
Believe in the professional or personal brand they’re promoting. If they aren’t aligned with who or what you stand for, things will likely fall apart fast.
Demonstrate knowledge and passion for the subject matter. Effectively conveying subject matter expertise and passion for the topic is the best way to maximize your influence, particularly across the business world.
Have solid industry credentials. Demonstrated experience in writing, public speaking, events participation, webinars, etc., helps establish credibility among those you’re aiming to reach.
Develop and harness brand loyalty. While building a large and loyal following can take time, it can help solidify your brand as a reliable, trustworthy resource of information.
Dig in and develop your content marketing approach
Now that your thought leadership goals and content team are set, it’s time to kick your content creation process into gear. Developing thought leader articles for your website and high-authority business and industry sites is generally the best place to start, and can help set the stage for other thought leadership opportunities (videos, public speaking events, webinars, etc.) down the line.
As you outline your thought leadership content marketing strategy, your main focus should be on article placement and content topics. Finding the right article placement opportunities is key to maximizing your content’s reach, while content topics help determine how you frame and market your expertise.
Thought leadership article placement
Article placement is the process of locating high-authority content outlets like industry blogs, thought leadership forums, and other guest posting opportunities to feature your pieces and strengthen your credibility. Securing suitable online venues for your content can provide a content marketing lift that boosts visibility, reach, and authority almost as soon as that new blog post goes live.
Article placement options may vary widely depending on your industry and specialty. Still, a number of high-profile outlets are available with nearly universal application for aspiring thought leaders and business leaders. For those who qualify and maintain membership, such sites can be a thought leadership godsend, delivering a steady stream of elite-level visibility, brand awareness, and quality lead cultivation that is hard to find elsewhere.
Some of the more notable thought leadership placement options (for individual and business article placement) include:
Content production can’t get rolling without the right topics in mind. When it comes to researching topics for your thought leadership campaign, it’s important to keep three key factors in mind: 1) your expertise, 2) your goals, and 3) your target audience. These will help center your content strategy and ensure proper alignment with your target customers and long-term objectives.
Finding new ways to present or spin industry trends and expertise can be a challenge. That said, there many great ideas for keeping your thought leadership efforts fresh and interesting, including:
Industry statistics and data sourced through your organization
Internal research and unique insights from in-house subject matter experts
Relationships and collaborative efforts with influencers, partners, and SMEs
A unique perspective that bucks industry trends or norms
Insight pulled from unique personal and professional experiences
Trending issues affecting your industry
With the right topics and thought leadership outlets in hand, your content creators are ready to carve out articles that not build credibility among audience members, but position you as the go-to in your field.
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