Anyone can be a thought leader. All you need is a) thought and b) leadership. However, neither one of these is all that easy to acquire when you think about what thought leadership is all about. People follow and build relationships with thought leaders because they consistently provide interesting, helpful ideas. So, you have to come up with original, relevant thoughts fairly frequently and put them out there where people will find them. Let's look at some things you can start doing right now to accomplish the mission.
There's probably no better way to gain thought leadership than to write great blog posts connected directly to your personal brand. No, I don't have my own blog, but I probably should. Focus on your area(s) of expertise, and mix up your posts with opinion pieces, how-to's, surveys, industry assessments, lists of great resources and reviews of products you use to get your job done. Mix it up with videos, selfies, candid photos—whatever works. Give people a sense of what makes you tick. If you want to delve into politics and create rants about things you hate, that's up to you, but remember that you, the personal brand, will be strongly connected with your professional standing and even your job. Me? I like bloggers with a bit of an edge. I like Jason Falls' No-BS approach in his Falls Off the Rocker blog. One of these days I'm going to follow suit with my own spin on things. Don't forget to promote your personal posts in your personal social networks, but it's not a good idea to use the company profiles for this purpose. You aren't the company, even though you may own it.
A close second behind a personal blog is being a frequent contributor to your company blog. Now you should probably dial back some of the personality you exhibit in your personal posts and stay within the company guidelines. Show your expertise and try to help others in your industry learn how to be more successful, while demonstrating what you and your company have accomplished. Work with your Content Team to find a voice that's natural for you and fits your company's persona. Mix it up with some video posts, interviews (both of you and by you) and podcasts. Also, don't go off the rails too much when it comes to topics. Keep them relevant to what your customers are looking for. How often should you or your company post? There are some great stats for that here.
Once you've established a nice baseline of popular posts at home and at work, you can strike up relationships with other bloggers and editors of blogs. Start by subscribing, reading (of course) and regularly posting comments that add value to blog threads. If all you ever say is "great post," that won't get you far. Find the elements of each post that resonate with you most and add your own experience or new ideas. Blog authors and other commenters will take notice and hopefully engage with their own responses. If you do this regularly, but not in an obviously spammy way (like commenting on every post), you may gain their attention and a social follow-back or even a subscription to your blog. Now you're justified in reaching out directly with some great ideas for guest posts, and with sustained excellent writing, you may become a regular author.
Another great way to gain a following, plus all of the nice trimmings like inbound links and lead conversions, is to get your personal blog and company posts picked up by well-known syndication sites, like Business2Community.com. To get on a site like B2C, you need to apply, follow their guidelines, and write great blog posts. Kuno has multiple authors whose posts are picked up and published there regularly, and B2C has republished more than 230 of mine in recent years. It's not bad for SEO (duplicate content), because Google recognizes authoritative syndication sites and even rewards you for that kind of recognition. In the past year alone, syndication sites have delivered more than 15,000 visits and 600 leads to the Kuno Creative website at a higher conversion rate than organic search.
If you can write a blog, you can write a book. Start by figuring out what you're really passionate about, and write about that. You can collect snippets from your blog posts, do some research and put it all together in a coherent framework. Write for your readers. What do they need to know from you? What will the World have missed if you had never written a book? Now you're going to need some commitment and discipline to get it done, so carve that out of your busy schedule. eBook or traditional? Free or monetized? I would write the book first, then see what makes sense. Here's a good how-to for writing ebooks.
I know, you're spending all of your time blogging and writing that book, so there's no bandwidth left for social media. Nonsense. Learn how to use a social publishing app like Buffer or HootSuite, and if you're a HubSpot user, definitely make use of the Social Publishing and Monitoring tools. Promote your personal, company and guest posts on your personal Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ profiles. Make sure your Google+ authorship is set up on both your personal and company blogs for SEO. Use as many channels as make sense for your personal brand and company focus.
This one's tough for most of us. Which sites? How often? What should I say? There are no hard and fast rules. To gain thought leadership, stick with the basics. If you know a lot about inbound marketing, for example, post early and often (4-5 times a day at least) on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. On those channels, share blog posts you find interesting and relevant. It's a good idea to read and comment on them first. That will double your exposure to potential followers by updating both social media and the blogosphere. Again, what you say counts, so be interesting and helpful. On Facebook, be yourself, but don't be too much of yourself if you happen to be crude and use vulgar language most of the time. To me, Facebook is all about personal communications, so if you don't want to talk about work, don't sweat it. I love the way Shelly DeMotte Kramer posts on Facebook. I don't know where she finds the time, but I find the time to read her stuff. In all of your channels make comments and likes on threads that interest you and may interest your followers. Same rules as in blog comments. Say something when you have something to say.
I get a lot out of participating in LinkedIn Group discussions on topics that interest me. I try to add value by asking thought provoking questions and responding to other members' questions. As Aaron Anders says, "always be helping." Don't join too many groups. There isn't enough time in the day to visit more than one or two. If you focus on 2-3 groups with substantial memberships and regular visits by some heavy hitters in your industry, you can build a substantial list of new followers and even generate some business. Do not, under any circumstances, post or autopost (from HootSuite etc.) your personal or company blog posts in a LinkedIn Group. You will probably be kicked out of the group and lose those connections. Other good places to join in conversations include Quora, Google+ and specific forums set up for your industry. Just Google to find them.
You can't just write your way into thought leadership. At some point, you need to make that knee-shaking public presentation. You should relish and seek out these opportunities, because they are one of the fastest ways to gain a strong reputation in your business and often lead to new relationships, both personally and professionally. If you're on your way to thought leadership, there's no question about your knowledge and experience. Leverage those into making great presentations. But content isn't enough. The best presentations are beautifully designed, well thought out and engaging. Kipp Bodnar gives a great summary of The 10 Commandments of Giving a Perfect Presentation.
It starts in the sales process and works its way through client engagements and even post-engagement discussions. YOU ARE THE PRODUCT. Not your deliverables and metrics. The advice and strategy you deliver in each and every meeting, phone call or email is what your customers pay for and what they expect. The degree to which you knock their socks off is what determines how well the engagement goes and how long you retain them. Don't ever take a play off and don't miss meetings if you can possibly avoid it. Add value every time you open your mouth.
This one should probably be No. 1, but if I had led with it, you probably would have bounced. It sounds trite, but your personal integrity is everything in every relationship, online and off. You have to mean what you say and say what you mean, but you always have to do what you say you are going to do. Your integrity can't be contrived. You have earned it since the first time you shook hands with someone when you were a kid. Lead with your integrity.
You are now a thought leader, and I look forward to following your progress. If you do all of these things you are already there. If you do some of them, you're on your way. Either way, you are on the right track to becoming successful in everything you do. Do I sound like Tony Robbins? Hey, where's my $1,000,000 consulting fee?
photo credit: Randy Stewart