Ever heard the term “thought leader” and cringed? Don’t worry—it’s not as cultish as it sounds. Thought leadership is a form of content marketing in which a person establishes their credentials by sharing information and networking with peers.
This blog will go into why you should be a thought leader, how to find your niche, and how to position yourself as a thought leader.
Why you should strive to be a thought leader
A thought leader is an expert in their field—but not just an expert. They’re someone who shares their expertise with others. They’re up to date on industry trends and have the analytical skills to forecast where things in their industry are headed. They start conversations, nurture a community, and share advice.
In other words, a thought leader is a trusted source of information who connects deeply with their audience.
Examples of thought leaders
Simon Sinek, Susan Cain, and Daniel H. Pink are all well-known thought leaders in their fields. Sinek is a motivational speaker, author, and optimist who works to transform company cultures. Cain is an author and lecturer whose TED Talk on the benefits of introversion went viral. Pink, meanwhile, is an author whose work focuses on productivity, business, creativity, and behavior.
All these people are well known in their fields and admired online—and the impact they make attests to their thought leadership ability.
Professional benefits of being a thought leader
Thought leadership yields many benefits. When you’re a proven authority in your field, people look to you for advice and put trust in your brand. This, in turn, helps increase your brand awareness and visibility within your field. With greater exposure comes more networking opportunities, lead generation, and the ability to grow your audience.
Moreover, when your word is authoritative and insightful, other industry professionals will want to hear from you. This leads to more professional opportunities, like appearances at speaking events, interviews, and invitations to contribute to blogs, podcasts, or books.
Determining if thought leadership is for you
Thought leadership isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of work to create consistent, quality content, keep up with industry trends, and continuously strengthen your skills. Though thought leadership comes with enticing benefits, it’s most successful for those who have passion and something to say.
Moreover, companies that want to remain “faceless” or don’t have a specific brand ambassador may struggle to find a channel for their thought leadership marketing content. If you are determined to become a thought leader, however, it may be just the thing to help you establish yourself in your field.
How you can find your niche as a thought leader
Your niche is a specific area of interest that you are passionate about and skilled in. To find your niche, ask yourself:
- What are my strengths? How have I used the strengths in the past to get to where I am today?
- What am I interested in or passionate about? What are things I do for free and enjoy learning about?
- Who else is interested in what I’m interested in? How big is that audience? What kinds of people are in that interest group?
Get as specific as you can. Maybe you’re interested in baking—but what kind of baking? Puff pastries? Pies? Cupcakes? Narrowing that down further—and even further still—can help you find a specific niche: pastel-colored, fantasy-themed cupcakes, for example.
Things to consider when finding your niche
Another way to look at your niche is that it reflects a unique way you do something. You have a lot of skill in your niche alongside a depth of knowledge. Thought leadership depends on your expertise, so it’s important to stay up to date on your niche and have the knowledge necessary to offer sound advice.
To grow your skills, practice the following:
- Read about your niche.
- Follow thought leaders, blogs, and social media accounts dedicated to your niche or a similar area.
- Familiarize yourself with current trends, theories, and topics of conversation within your niche.
- Know and understand the history of your niche.
Appealing to your target audience as a thought leader
You’ll find your target audience within your niche. Remember those questions you asked yourself? If you can answer that last group of questions (Who else shares my interests? How big is that audience?), you’ll be able to pin down your target audience.
Your audience will be most receptive if you prove you understand them. As a thought leader, you must create content that speaks to your audience’s wants, needs, and pain points. You can appeal to your audience in the following ways:
- Engage with your audience on social media. Conduct polls, answer questions, leave comments on posts you enjoyed, and ask your audience for their thoughts.
- Look beyond yourself when you create content. Highlight other thought leaders’ ideas and successes, and turn your attention to your audience too. Posting thought leader content only about yourself is less engaging and runs the risk of becoming self-centered.
- Consistently post quality content (keyword: quality). Create a content schedule, and aim to create content at least once a week to stay visible and relevant.
- Notice an interesting, innovative idea from another thought leader? Share a quote, article, or piece of content from that leader. To encourage discussion, add your own thoughts, analysis, or interpretation of that content.
Actionable ways to position yourself as a thought leader
After you find your niche, it’s time to create thought leadership content. Content marketing, social media engagement, and personal branding are all key components of thought leadership.
Types of content marketing for thought leaders
Above all, authentic content is important. When you plan your thought leadership content strategy, consider your tone of voice and how you choose to present yourself. Do you see yourself as a bubbly optimist? Your word choice and the kind of content you share and create should reflect that.
In thought leadership, a common myth is that you have to be completely original all the time. Though innovation is important, it’s not feasible for every post you make to be groundbreaking.
Instead, consider how the information you share reflects your own voice, and add a twist by contributing your unique perspective.
Examples of valuable content
No matter what, your content should provide value. It can be informative, analytical, or inspiring.
Informative content answers people’s questions, guides them toward a conclusion, or compels them to think about a topic. Analytical content is forward thinking. It assesses how the industry has gotten to where it is, how it may change, and how that will impact your audience. Inspiring content provides an emotional connection with your audience and provides insight into your journey as a leader.
Some examples of valuable content include the following:
- Personal stories, which show your personality and give your audience a look into how you got to where you are today
- Industry analysis, where you forecast trends and discuss what current data could mean for the future
- Commentary and networking content, where you celebrate someone else’s accomplishments or share something you think is interesting or important
- Counternarrative opinions, which go against the grain, saying something that’s not as common in the industry (Note: don’t say this just to be different. Say it because it rings true—the kind of content that makes people go, “Yes, finally someone said it!” and not, “Are you disagreeing just to disagree?”)
The best ways to establish yourself as a thought leader through social media
First, create a professional social media profile. You should have an appealing, neat profile photo and a clear description of who you are and what you do. Incorporate keywords into your description or “about” section, but do so naturally so that it doesn’t feel forced.
Next, prove your expertise. Answer questions and post educational content like blogs, Q&As, webinars, or online courses.
In addition, don’t forget the “social” part of social media. It’s important to connect with your audience, which you can do by joining relevant groups, participating in discussions, and replying to comments. Network with other leaders and influencers. Offer to collaborate, and ask them to share your social media content.
Consistency, passion, and quality are key. Ultimately, thought leadership is about sharing your passion and knowledge to lift others up.
Other tools and resources for positioning yourself as a thought leader
Social media is an especially powerful resource for networking and promoting your thought leadership content. However, though your presence on social media should be a priority, there are other tools you can use for your thought leadership strategy.
Tools for gaining exposure
- Publish your work. A thought leadership article with your byline, for example, is a great way to exemplify your credentials.
- Attend networking events, speaking events, and conferences.
- Collaborate with other thought leaders.
- Appear as a guest on a blog, podcast, or panel.
- Make use of repurposed content to promote evergreen content.
Online resources for branding yourself as a thought leader
- Write a newsletter, which will help you build an audience. Publish consistently, and ask people for their thoughts and opinions. When you post on social media and on your website, highlight your newsletter in a call to action.
- Update your website, where you can dive into your personal story and showcase your skills. Consider hosting a blog on your website to post informational content.
Tips for branding yourself as a thought leader
One thing you don’t want to do is call yourself a thought leader. It’s a title that’s bestowed, not self-assigned.
However, you can put in the work to show to others you’re a thought leader by establishing a personal brand, networking, and demonstrating expertise.
Establishing a personal brand
Throughout the process of personal brand creation, it’s important to be authentic. Tell your story. Who are you? What matters to you? How about your values? Describe your journey to where you are today. This creates an emotional connection with audiences and makes them care.
Be consistent in your social media branding. Use the same logo, profile picture, and color scheme across social media platforms and your website. Write with the same tone of voice too. If you decide to outsource content marketing or other aspects of your brand, create a guide that directs writers on the tone to use and the image you want to project.
Finally, it’s good to have an elevator pitch—a short, preferably sentence-long description of what you have to offer and why it matters. This is a succinct, focused way to show the world why you’re doing what you’re doing.
The importance of networking
Networking is a major reason for thought leadership because of its many benefits. By networking with others in your industry, you can form meaningful connections and get exposed to new perspectives.
Moreover, networking helps improve people skills and builds a support system. It also opens the door to collaborate with other thought leaders and widens your circle. This helps you find more opportunities in your career and generate more leads.
Demonstrating expertise in your field
Aside from regularly publishing educational content, as discussed above, you can demonstrate your expertise in a number of other ways. Ask your audience meaningful questions, and share your knowledge by answering theirs. Online, you can put together a portfolio on your website or social media that showcases your skills, experience, awards, publications, education, and more. This functions like a resumé, presenting viewers with an overview of your goals and credentials.
Continually practice your skills. Thought leadership is about growing, not staying where you are. Follow other industry leaders, and stay up to date and take online courses when necessary.
Positioning yourself as a true thought leader
Becoming a thought leader requires time and effort. For those with the passion and dedication, thought leadership reaps many benefits.
If you’re looking for help on how to position yourself as a thought leader, Elite offers professional writing, content marketing, and social media strategy services. Reach out today for a free quote!