We’ve seen them on television, read their blog posts and watched their presentations. Who am I talking about? Thought leaders: those highly respected people who have built loyal followings as experts in their field.
There’s a reason, beyond ego, why some people want to become the voice for their profession. Quite simply, thought leadership extends a brand. Once people see that you have honest-to-goodness authority in your realm, you gain their respect—and their business.
Path to Leadership
So, what does it take to build a reputation and following as a thought leader? At the barest minimum, you’ll need the following:
- Substantial credentials and experience in your profession. Are you a senior-level professional with years of experience? Have you seen it all and done it all? Your wisdom, created from years of experience, will set you apart. Use your credentials and accomplishments to give momentum to your thought leadership campaign.
- Peer respect. Without the respect of your peers, you won’t have much of an audience. You don’t have to have pope-level adoration, but if your peers see you as an innovator or a general, they’re more likely to share your content on their own blogs, across social media and in day-to-day conversations with other workers.
- A strong point of view. It’s true: A strong point of view shows leadership. It also helps make compelling content. There is, however, a difference between having a firm opinion and being controversial. Controversy might deliver short-term gains, but a strong, factually backed point of view will help you build a bigger and better audience.
- An audience for your point of view. If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? More appropriately, if you’re talking about something that no one cares about, will anyone pay attention? Do your research. Are people discussing your favorite topics on social media, on message boards or elsewhere? If you’re thinking too broadly—or too narrowly—make adjustments until you hit on a buzzworthy subject.
- Time and resources to build a following. Self-promotion plays a tremendous role in thought leadership. How tremendous? According to marketing guru Derek Halpern, a successful blogger and thought leader needs to follow an 80/20 formula. That means that you should spend 20% of time writing posts, and 80% doing—you guessed it—promotion. This might be a bit high of a commitment for some people, but if you’re serious about thought leadership, promotion is going to take up a lot of your time, period.
- Willingness (and time) to create high-quality content. We’ve officially moved away from the old-school, SEO-bait content that was merely intended to climb the ranks of search engines. Today, social media is the primary content vehicle. This means you’ll need to craft really special content—from videos to ebooks to guest blogs to presentations—in a steady stream. There’s no point in creating excellent content on an irregular basis. You want to build on the momentum on each piece of content, and keep the attention of your audience as long as possible.
- The ability to position your content with an elevator pitch. When disseminating content, you’ll need to whittle down what you’d like to say to a sentence or two. Consider these facts: 55% percent of visitors, on average, spend less than 15 seconds on a website. Videos are even worse. Most people spend just 10 seconds watching a video before moving on. You have to break down the core of your content and focus your “pitch” if you want it to catch the attention of your audience and build a following.
Becoming a successful thought leader is well worth the effort, giving you name recognition, bringing in sales and boosting your brand. If you have a well-thought-out plan to lead the pack, challenge the status quo and change the conversation, thought leadership is definitely in your future.