Thought leadership is a term that is often thrown around, but it's more than just a trendy buzzword. Positioning you or your company as a thought leader can yield significant benefits.
Thought leaders are recognized as the foremost experts in their field. Their opinions and ideas on news and emerging trends, the moves of others and the future of the industry are highly regarded as the benchmark for many decision makers. As a result of being seen as a thought leader, potential customers may be inclined to come to you for products and services. The media may rely on you for comments on behalf of your industry. Furthermore, being a recognized authority can ultimately translate into sales and position you well for growth.
So who wouldn't want to be a thought leader? And how do you become one in your field? Here are some key tips for professionals and business owners looking to carve out their place as thought leaders:
1. Blog. Blogging showcases your knowledge and creates valuable content that attracts traffic to your site. This helps to build awareness and a relationship with prospective customers, clients and decision makers based on ideas to consider about topics for which they have a confirmed interest. Wordpress is a popular platform and easy to use. Set up your blog and your editorial calendar (what you'll blog about/when) at the same time with a commitment to blogging once a week.
2. Create e-books and white papers. This content showcases in-depth knowledge and entices website visitors to subscribe in order to access the information. By offering a valuable piece of content in exchange for their contact information you can continue to share insights and solicit feedback that informs your future content creation. These items are subsequently shared through various social networks thereby growing your profile as an authority. To begin this process, identify the areas for which you have the expertise to create a "how-to" guide. Offer information that is enduring while incorporating timely examples. Once created, the link and a call to action to download the e-book should be placed on every relevant page of your website. Using the contact information that was submitted in order to download the e-book, you can then carry on a dialogue with a captive audience and continue to define yourself as an authority in that space/on that topic.
3. PR and media coverage. Earned media is the signal that what you are doing or saying is newsworthy. Obtaining coverage of new initiatives, launches, and products adds profile and builds your caché in the public eye. Earned media is much more trusted than owned or paid media. It's worth the investment to outsource this to an expert. You can be a thought leader and still outsource part of the effort to communicate that fact.
4. Speak at conferences. Every time you put yourself in the role of presenter or panel speaker for conferences you are building your authority as the go-to for those looking to glean new learning and best practices. Especially when the conference speaks to your industry, it takes confidence in your own knowledge and expertise to take on that role. If you establish yourself as being assured of your authority, others will confirm it through word of mouth and insider discussions about those speaker events. Look for opportunities by researching conferences by geography, topic, industry or associations with which you want to connect. When speaking, err on the side of giving people more -- not less -- so they walk away impressed, give good reviews, and buoy your reputation as a desired speaker.
5. Make yourself available through Q & A sites. Whether it's an online industry forum or LinkedIn, professional chats are an ever-increasing avenue to get your thoughts and opinions seen. An open willingness to take part and respond shows assured knowledge and provides another way to engage with those looking for someone with answers to help guide them. When answering these questions, help guide people to more definitive third party sources of information that will back up your point. Not only does that show you can be a valuable guide to additional resources, it makes you look even more authoritative. It demonstrates that you do your reading and your research and that you've made the effort to acquire the knowledge you have.
6. Twitter chats. Every day, thousands of Twitter chats take place bringing people from all across the globe together, online, in real time, to discuss topics of interest. Whether participating or hosting, Twitter chats offer an excellent opportunity to showcase not just ideas but the ability to collaborate and engage openly on those ideas. Prospective customers, clients, colleagues, employees, partners, media are all on Twitter and you have the opportunity to impress any of them in a way that can lead to a bottom line outcome for you and your business. Align yourself with an existing weekly chat that has good participation and connect with the hosts to seek guest opportunities. Your own e-mail lists of prospective clients are a great resource to help garner an audience on Twitter; giving them a heads up to participate and a chance to build further engagement.
7. Publish news early. Sharing news is vital on social media channels to carve out your space as an authority; it shows you're on top of what's happening. But being among the first to do so is key. Anyone can retweet the headline from today's paper. Share it early and go the extra mile to find and share emerging news from less prevalent sources – keep in mind time differences and get your news from sources that may be ahead.
8. Expert commentary on breaking news in your field. The latest launch, merger, acquisition. There are always changes and those are just the facts. What about the impact and the future it bears? Offer your expert commentary to key media as the news happens. Offer thoughtful input and practical tips to address changes or exploit opportunities; this is where your trusted PR experts come in handy. Additionally use these opportunities to fuel a blog and leverage those posts on your website and social media channels where they often get additional pick up. Remember, don't just share the news – add value – say what it means to your current/prospective clients.
9. Connect with other thought leaders. Comment on blogs or in LinkedIn groups within your industry. It will help get your name out there on topics that current and prospective stakeholders are interested in talking about and your comments will also be found in Google searches of your name. If other thought leaders are talking to you and about you that translates to a level of success by association.
10. Be a mentor. Offer your support to those coming up in the field. Whether it's in the form of informational interviews, reviewing a proposal and providing feedback, speaking at postsecondary institutions or sitting on program advisory committees. By growing your presence as a source of influence and inspiration others will seek out your advice, input and professional service and spread the word about your authority.
Positioning yourself or your company as a thought leader will not happen overnight. It takes time and commitment to establish and grow your reputation as an industry leader, but when the end result is a positive impact on your bottom line, it's well worth the effort.
Jeff Quipp is an expert on inbound marketing. He is the founder and CEO of Search Engine People Inc. (SEP), Canada's largest digital marketing firm, which has been on the PROFIT 200 ranking of Canada's Fastest Growing Companies for the past five consecutive years