We’ve all heard the phrase “thought leader,” and most likely understand the concept. But to reiterate, a thought leader is a person or organization others deem as an authority in certain areas (i.e., marketing automation, lead generation, etc.). This kind of recognition often makes someone or something the go-to source for a specialization.
And though being a thought leader might seem like a lot of work, the benefits of positioning yourself as one are invaluable, especially in today’s competitive landscape. We live in the age of the self-educated buyer. But how do you think buyers educate themselves? By researching or finding content created by thought leaders.
However, the questions remain: How does one become an “expert” in his or her field and how do they illustrate their expertise? My short answer—content marketing. Now, before you utter something like “I don’t have time to create white papers or blog posts all the time,” let me explain—content marketing doesn’t always have to involve long-form content. In fact, “bite-sized” pieces can drive engagement, as well—and are often preferred.
Now you may be thinking, “I’m not a strong writer,” or “I don’t enjoy writing.” Let me emphasize that you don’t have to always write if you don’t want to. Host a webinar or podcast on the topic you want to examine. Or have someone on your marketing team (preferably with a strong writing background) interview you on the subject and write an article or blogpost about it. In fact, the majority of my writing career has involved interviewing and working with thought leaders on a variety of topics. Simply sitting in a meeting surrounded by stakeholders debating their next strategy can also make for thought-leadership content. Sometimes it’s just a matter of leveraging what’s already available to you.
As a thought leader, it’s important to radiate passion and a unique perspective on your industry. Thought leaders should demonstrate commitment to helping and leading others toward a new vision. It also helps to have a proven track record of success in your specialization.
The Bare Essentials You Need to Become a Thought Leader
A Variety of Content
If you’re considered a thought leader, you probably already have a blog. But it’s important that it covers relevant and timely topics. Also, you should publish regularly and feature insight and outside resources to add credibility.
It’s also important thought leaders express their expertise in a variety of other ways; no one piece of content is appropriate for every audience. Consider creating a variety—white papers, eBooks, case studies, infographics, webinars, videos, etc.
And don’t be afraid to push the envelope— thought leaders cannot be apprehensive to try new things or think outside the box, especially with their content. (Read more on that in this post by Lisa Gulasy.)
A Social Media Presence
Your content must be easily accessible. Enter social media. You may not need a Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter account, but if you don’t have any of the main platforms, you’re missing out on engagement and seamless promotion of your content. Did I mention it’s free? When you create your content, keep your promotion strategy in mind then plan and schedule your posts on the social media networks you use.
Willingness to Syndicate and Contribute
According to Neil Patel of Quick Sprout, “Content syndication networks have come on strong in recent years.” Thought leaders can’t afford to miss the opportunity to share their content—especially when it’s impactful and typically free. Who doesn’t want to expose their content to a broader audience? After all, educating your industry is the main premise of being a thought leader. To learn more about content syndication, check out Patel’s excellent guide on sharing content.
As for contributing to publications, you may have to pitch the ideas at first until you gain traction with their audiences and readers. But once you do, it’s likely you’ll garner the rapport you need to become a frequent contributor.
A Unique Perspective
Being a true thought leader goes beyond being considered an "expert" and sharing your content. At the end of the day, you need to have something to say. There is a lot of content out there and, in order to break through the clutter, your message must be relevant and interesting.
Perhaps you think B2B marketing needs to have a more customer-centric approach. Your unique perspective could be about the success metrics you used to support your argument.
Or maybe you think marketers are too focused on the features of their products rather than the value they deliver. Your take on the matter could suggest marketers lead with the value proposition.
No matter what the subject is, your content should bring something to the table your audience can't get just anywhere.
To exemplify a true thought leader, you must have a healthy balance of original, innovative thoughts and the ability and desire to lead. Not sure if you have what it takes? Check out this guide on how to become a thought leader in your industry.
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