“Thought leader” is a term that has been thrown around a lot in recent years. While derided as Orwellian jargon by some, thought leadership plays a key role in digital marketing as a useful way to connect with your audience and establish yourself as an expert in your field. This guide will discuss what a thought leader is and how to become a thought leader on social media.
What is a thought leader?
A thought leader has their finger on the industry’s pulse. They share trends and news, make and form connections, have industry expertise, and share their opinions and start discussions. In other words, they’re a knowledgeable, forward-thinking expert who people can turn to for advice.
Thought leaders are similar to social media influencers. Both use personal branding to build their business and make connections. Whereas influencer marketing revolves around the influencer’s lifestyle, however, thought leadership strategy revolves around the thought leader’s knowledge and expertise.
People become thought leaders to build brand recognition and establish credibility. The end goal of thought leader marketing is to grow your business by building community and establishing your voice as an authority.
The role of social media in thought leadership
Social media provides an immediate link between yourself and your audience. By posting shareable, interesting social media posts, you can find and grow your audience, network with other people, and stay relevant. The option to share or comment on other people’s content further builds your network, as you interact with other experts and show others what you know.
This is easier said than done. Aside from creating quality content, you also have to appeal to your audience and maintain visibility among the competition. The first important step to take in that direction is finding the right social media platform.
How to determine the right social media platform for thought leadership
To tweet or not to tweet: a question that has plagued mankind since the platform launched in 2006. The answer lies in where your target audience is and how you want to use social media.
Different social media platforms have different purposes and focuses. Joining the wrong platform leads to a disconnect between what you’re posting and what the audience on that site want to see. So, before you open an Instagram account because it’s what everyone else is doing, it’s important to know your goals. What thought leadership content do you want to post? How do you want to portray your brand?
The advantages and disadvantages of each social media platform
Here’s a quick rundown of the major social media platforms and how you can use each.
Great for connecting with other industry leadership, LinkedIn is a place where B2B posts and thought leadership content can flourish. However, it’s used more by industry professionals and businesses than customers.
In sum: a powerful tool for networking in your industry, not so much for selling to customers.
According to Statista, Facebook is still the biggest social network in the world, with over one billion active users. The large user base makes extensive reach possible. The more people, the more opportunity to find your audience. In addition, Facebook Pages allow you to foster community and interact with customers in a closer setting.
A fast-paced, text-based platform, Twitter is ideal for spreading information quickly and getting in touch with your audience. This can be great for asking your audience questions or replying to their comments and concerns. Additionally, you can host polls, network by retweeting other people’s content, and show expertise by writing Twitter threads about a topic.
On the downside, tweets are limited to 280 characters. Moreover, unlike Facebook, Twitter has no groups feature. Tweets with lots of hashtags tend to perform poorly as well, so it can be difficult to find and build your audience.
Still, Twitter is a powerful tool for sharing your personality, resources, and opinions.
The second most popular search engine behind Google, YouTube is definitely in vogue. Video platforms are good for posting informational, educational content. YouTube is a flexible site; videos can be of any length and cover nearly any topic. This gives you room to go in depth on a niche subject, show your personality through a vlog, or post webinars and recorded livestreams.
On the downside, creating videos is a lot of work, often for little return. YouTube’s algorithm can bury videos. It helps to have a presence on other social media to promote your channel.
Pew Research found that 40 percent of adults in the United States use Instagram, making it one of the most popular social media channels. Its Stories feature (which it took from Snapchat, and which exists on Facebook and LinkedIn as well) allows users to post content that disappears after twenty-four hours. This is helpful for time-sensitive content, like announcements, polls, and behind-the-scenes looks at your projects. On Instagram, you can also share other users’ posts to your story.
One downside of Instagram is that users’ feeds are sorted by its algorithm. Consistent posting is necessary for visibility. Content theft can happen, as accounts steal photos to reupload as their own. In addition, Instagram is entirely visual outside of captions. If your content focuses more on text, this platform may not suit your needs.
Forum sites like Quora and Reddit are good for Q&As and Ask Me Anything threads (AMAs) to demonstrate your expertise. Answering users’ questions will establish you as a credible figure. However, some forums have rules against self-promotion, so be sure to follow those. And if you do give advice or answer questions, of course, make sure the information you provide is correct.
Does your thought leadership strategy include podcasts? Consider audio platforms, like Spotify, BuzzSprout, PodBean, or SoundCloud.
Finding the best social media platform for your industry
To narrow down which platforms to use, conduct a buyer persona. Understand where your target audience is and what content they want to see.
Next, decide what content you will make, and find the social media platforms best suited to that. Don’t, for example, try to launch your blog on Instagram or post comedy sketches to LinkedIn.
As you do this, take your business goals into account. Do you want your social media presence to start conversations or share information? Are you interested in networking with industry professionals or talking to consumers?
These factors, when taken together, will help you decide the best social media platform to use.
Best tactics to position yourself as a thought leader on social media
It’s one thing to label yourself a thought leader and another thing to prove that you are one. To be a successful thought leader, you must provide quality content, engage your audience, and build your network.
Dos and don’ts
- Don’t call yourself a “thought leader.” A self-proclaimed thought leader can sound arrogant or push your audience away…especially if you’re still building your audience.
- Do post original content alongside content from outside sources. Try interviewing a subject matter expert or connecting with influencers to expand your network.
- Don’t repeat what everyone else is saying. Generic information is neither helpful nor interesting for your audience.
- Do have a clear message and state your opinions. Although it’s tempting to play it safe, being a thought leader is about having a strong voice.
- Don’t be disrespectful. It’s one thing to have a strong voice and another thing to be rude. Callous or unkind content will hurt others, alienate your audience, and damage your reputation.
- Do be genuine. Though thought leadership marketing is about building your business, it’s also a way of bringing valuable content to your audience.
Work smarter, not harder
Optimize your social profiles so people can find you; in addition, regularly publish quality content. To help, plan a content calendar. Vary your content so it’s not all the same. Share content from other people.
Furthermore, network with others in the industry. You can invite a guest expert to write a blog post or sit down for an interview. Later, that person might even promote some of your work.
It’s important to have a specific, focused social media strategy. Consider working with a team or hiring a professional to manage your social media accounts. Delegate specific tasks (e.g., you might outsource social media writing to a team that conceptualizes and creates posts for you). You can automate other tasks and manage social media with apps that schedule posts or provide detailed analytics.
Join only the platforms that you need to join, and make use of your time on those platforms. When you do join a platform, don’t be a passive user. Instead, jump into discussions, join groups, or follow hashtags.
Not every post or comment you make has to be extremely profound. If you liked an article someone shared, it can be enough to comment something that you liked about it. What’s important is to be active. This will help you get to know others on the platform better and for them to get to know you.
Social media strategies to become a thought leader in your niche
Social media is key for building influence—when combined with the right strategy. Engage with your audience and other thought leaders, consistently post great content, and use multiple platforms to grow your audience.
Using multiple social media platforms for thought leadership
Didn’t this article just say not to join a bunch of social media platforms?!
Yes. However, most people have multiple social media accounts. By posting across multiple platforms, you can reach a broader audience and repurpose content from platform to platform.
You can also use social media to drive engagement and incorporate that into new content. For example, you might ask your audience on Twitter if they have questions about a specific topic. Then, you can answer those questions in an in depth white paper, blog post, or Twitter thread.
Network, network, network
One easy way to think of networking is likening it to making friends and showing others that you care about them. Consider these options:
- Following and engaging with similar accounts and thought leaders you want to emulate
- Replying to comments and asking your audience questions
- Running polls, giveaway, livestreams, and other events
- Sharing others’ work
- Making appearances through guest blogging, giving interviews, or presenting at an event
Types of content to put out as a thought leader
Content should always be informative, engaging, entertaining, or some combination of the three.
Some examples include
- e-books or white papers, where you can write in greater depth about a topic than you would be able to in an online post;
- infographics about current trends or research you conducted;
- updates on news in your industry; or
- a new idea, thought, or insight that asks your audience a question, points out a problem in the industry, offers a solution, or makes your audience feel inspired.
Why thought leadership matters for content marketing and online marketing
In content marketing, a company provides its audience with something of value in exchange for their business. In thought leadership, a thought leader provides their audience with insight or information in return for authority and influence. Thought leaders can then pivot to ways their company can meet their audience’s needs and address pain points.
By establishing yourself as a thought leader, you demonstrate that you’re a personable, insightful industry expert. Through networking, sharing resources, and promoting others’ work, you prove that you want to build other people up as well.
Developing your thought leadership strategy
Do you want to position yourself as a thought leader on social media? Elite Editing can help. Our social team works with clients to create a social media strategy just for you. Reach out today to learn more!