Thought leadership continues to grow as a Google trend. The term itself maybe more than fifteen years old, having been coined by business expert and author Joel Kutzman in the early 1990’s, but it is still as relevant or even more so in today’s social media age. Today we call some of our thought-leaders social media influencers or expert authors.
Who is a thought leader
A thought leader is a futurist; someone who has a grasp of the subject matter in the present and can accurately predict trends before they happen. To quote marketing and tech expert Beth Kanter, a thought-leader is also someone who drives conversations online and otherwise, and can influence perceptions and shape thought-processes.
According to a bunch of other experts, thought leaders can –
Offer intelligent insights and well-formed opinionsAttract loyal followersChallenge and modify existing opinionsFoster and build relationshipsCommand respect and authority in a nicheDrive desired action
They’re also widely know for their unique ideas and thoughts that can have an impact on society as a whole. People may define thought leadership in different ways, but all the definitions reinforce the fact that thought leaders are capable of influencing their audience.
Thought leaders can be anybody. Influencers in your niche, your C-suite executives, teammates or you.
Why thought leadership should matter to your business
Thought leadership marketing isn’t a new concept, but few understand what it means for a business. The following are signs that this tactic is already being embraced by the biggest organizations.
According to IBM, every new social relationship is worth $948 in annualized revenueAccording to Corporate Visions, 74% B2B buyers choose the company that was first to provide insight and value to further their buying visions66% of marketers surveyed by Chute said social media influencers formed an integral part of their marketing strategies in 2016Forbes has over 1500 unpaid expert authors and publishes over 7000 pieces each month
Today’s media and market are noisier than ever, and businesses need thought leaders to provide them access to niche, targeted markets. Additionally, thought leaders can –
Position your brand as a leading authority on social mediaEstablish trust with your target marketBuild and nurture invaluable relationships with key peopleIncrease brand awarenessIntroduce your brand to consumers in natural, non-commercial conversationsImpact buyers in the pre-purchase, research phase
There are other nuance benefits that thought leaders probably lend to businesses they represent. You can understand them better by measuring the impact that yours create for you.
What makes for a social media thought leader
Before we delve into strategy and tactics, let us explore the characteristics or skills that needed to position yourself, or someone else as a thought leader on social media. You could begin by developing the following.
An understanding of marketing – A thought leader understands how marketing works and can weave his/her communication on social media to direct action that fulfils marketing goalsA grasp of subject matter in your niche – To become a go-to source for information in your niche, you must first be updated on the latest happenings and have an understanding of important conceptsA unique perspective – To lead, you must have a world-view, and a unique one at that. To be a thought leader, you have to stand apart from the crowd and have a new and insightful way of looking at important issues in your niche.Influence – The ultimate aim of thought leadership with respect to marketing, is influence. A thought leader needs to be capable of influencing audience behaviorCredibility – This goes without saying. Credibility is an important aspect of buying into a brand. Establishing this on social media is an absolute necessityCharisma – Thought leaders need to be charismatic to build and keep large followings engaged
How to establish yourself as a thought leader on social media
There are three esential steps in establishing yourself as a thought leader. You begin by defining your expertise, and follow it up by picking the right platform and building a presence on it.
Step 1: Define what you will contribute as a thought leader
Your contribution has got to be unique, to attract attention from your target audience. Ask yourself the following questions to understand what sets you apart from everyone else –
What do you do better than anyone else?
What are your core values?
What do people frequently commend you for?
There are four basic thought leadership personalities that you could assume when building a presence on social media, according to Beth Kanter. You could be more than one of them, but that might lead an identity conflict. For the best effect, pick one personality to strongly portray.
Conversationalist – Someone who initiates conversations on with fans, peers or experts.
Example – Gary Vaynerchuk [Twitter – @garyvee]Amplifier – Someone who re-shares content created by other influencers, brands and fans
Example – Ed Leake [Twitter – @EdLeake]Content curator – Someone who collates the best content in a niche, summarizes it, and shares it with followers
Example – Madalyn Sklar [Twitter – @MadalynSklar]Responder – Someone who is active on communities and answers questions asked by members in that community
Example – Vipul Naik [ Quora – Vipul Naik]
It is a good idea to clarify your area of expertise and role before you begin to build your presence on a social platform or community.
Step 2: Choose your platforms carefully
Establishing thought leadership takes time, it is not an overnight effort. If you plan to invest time and effort to this end, you shouldn’t do it on a platform that might disappear in a year or two. At some point, digital “experts” deemed that email was dead. According to a study, 24% of Americans feel they check their inboxes “way too much”.
MySpace isn’t what it was back in the day, and RSS failed to “take over the world”. So, it is a good idea to do your due research before committing to any platform(s). Pick a platform that –
Actually has your target audience. Don’t be deluded by a platform that has only your misguided peers. Study the demographics of each possible platformIs likely to beat the social media heat and stick it out for the long runSupports your brand requirements (for instance, if your focus is on community marketing, you may want to choose Facebook and LinkedIn over Twitter or SnapChat
Step 3: Be seen and establish your expertise
There are a number of tactics that you could use to begin setting yourself up as a thought leader.
Observe and emulate other influencers – you could discern what’s working for other influencers in your niche and apply those tactics to your approach. Notice which communities they are a part of and which ones they get the most traction on. Learn how they started off and work those insights into your plan.Attend offline networking events – look for opportunities to speak. Network and build relationships with people offline to supplement your efforts online.Answer questions left unanswered – most marketers focus on answering common questions that consumers ask by rewriting what others have already published. Few venture into the unknown to answer tougher questions. With data mining and conversations with customers, you can identify unique and unanswered questions and work on answering them to catch the attention of your target audience.Get published often, and on authoritative sites – you could begin by self-publishing on LinkedIn and Medium before you pitch to publications like Forbes and Inc. Create a target list of blogs and move your way up from the easiest to the hardest target. Get published regularly so you can attract a group of regular readers. Write in-depth posts on important industry issues with your unique perspectives and insights.Steer clear of selling – this is particularly important in the initial phases when people are just getting to know you. Backing a brand right from the start can cause distrust and make your audience less receptive. You can add subtle suggestions to your content after you have built a presence for yourself on social. Most successful thought leaders write about industry and societal news and trends, and stay away from overt selling.Make yourself look approachable – experts are generally considered unapproachable and distant. You can add a personal touch to everything you share to endear and connect with your audience. Use personal anecdotes to communicate insights and useful information. Be candid, but with enough reserve to be seen as a professional.Listen – it is crucial to listen to your peers and fans, because as a thought leader, you are never done learning and there is always something new to add to your collection of ideas. Listening is also an important part of building a loyal following and initiating valuable relationships.Keep an eye out for opportunities – one of Arnand Mahindra, Mahindra Chairman’s followers once tweeted his horror at a gang rape incident and suggested that the company create an app with GPS tracking that can send an SOS message during an emergency. Mahindra responded to the tweet with the app, and the gesture was well received by the online community. Keep an eye out for opportunities where your company can help fulfil an important need.Participate in key conversations – influence comes from an engaged and enthusiastic following. To build such a following, you need to set time aside to interact with your audience. Successful thought leaders wholeheartedly share their knowledge and opinions with followers. It doesn’t have to be exclusively on your primary platform. You can converse with people anywhere (social networks, communities, blog comments) and direct them back to your primary platform.Keep yourself updated – industries are forever evolving. As a thought leader, you need to have an opinion about the latest developments in an industry so you can contribute to conversations and write about it on industry blogs. Being the first to talk about it can earn you extra-props. Further, you need to be aware of the micro-forces are work in your industry so you can predict industry trends and solve actual problems. You also need to be in-tune with marketing dynamics, so you can leverage them to expand your influence.Be consistent in your efforts – work may force you to ignore your thought leadership building efforts from time to time, but you can’t let that affect your consistency because it is necessary to build a powerful personal brand. You can seek help from your team, or use an app to take come of the work of your plate. You can use a social media scheduling and content curation app to keep your posting consistent, even when you are too busy to work at it.Speak at every given opportunity – there’s something about an in-person presence that can’t be matched by an online presence. When given the opportunity, make sure to speak at events that your target audience frequents. Reinforce your core value wherever you speak, so your audience will remember you for it.Giveaway valuable insights and ideas for free – you can create different types of engaging content for social media like ebooks, blog posts, guides, podcasts, videos and infographics and deliver them to your audience. The more valuable and premium your content is, the more authoritative the brand you establish. By giving away ebooks, you can not only earn your audience’s favor, but also add them to your email list and eventually sell to them.Share your story – once you have established a presence on social media and built a following, you can share your story of how you achieved what you did. People love it when leaders reveal themselves in small ways. It could be that you’re also a baseball fan, in addition to being a financial consultant, or that you love golfing on the weekends. When you inject personalized tidbits of information into your writing, people begin to connect with you and relate to you on a whole different level.Measure your impact and refine your approach – it is important to measure the cause-effect relation of every piece you write or event you participate in. Social media analytics tools can help. You can use them to measure your reach, engagement and identify your best posts to replicate their approach in the rest of your content.
Thought leadership is first about educating and last about selling. While your intent maybe to expand your brand awareness, you can’t go in focusing on those outcomes. Work at providing your audience with unseen and intelligent insights and helping them overcome real barriers in their careers and the rest of the benefits will follow.