Written by: Natalie Anderson
Major corporations are able to build significant social media empires through the brute force of money. They employ content creators, editors, PR teams, and more to determine the best persona to create and present. They then bolster that with teams to handle engagement.
Most of us don’t have those resources. Instead, we create our social presence a bit more slowly and organically. One tool that many brands don’t use as often as they should is thought leadership . This is a shame, because, in the absence of funds, it may be the key to building the ideal social media presence.
When a thought leader says something, writes something, or endorses something, people pay attention. They have a combination of proven expertise and trustworthiness that has earned them the presumption of respectability and credibility.
There is one thing to keep in mind when discussing thought leadership. Every thought leader is an expert. Not every expert is a thought leader. Thought leaders do more. They learn the ins and outs of their professions. Then, they take additional steps to establish themselves as thought leaders by:
“Before you can establish yourself or anyone else in your company as a thought leader, you have to understand what that means in your specific area of expertise,” emphasizes Marcus Holman, head of marketing at Canada-Writers . “The attributes and actions of a recognized thought leader in the nutrition supplements industry may be entirely different than those of a thought leader in information security.”
Take some time to learn about thought leaders who have already established themselves in your niche. What have they done to earn the respect of others? Why do people seek out their opinions? You shouldn’t copy them, but you can use their success to create a framework for your own efforts .
Use collaboration with other thought leaders to boost and establish your own. There are so many projects that can benefit your audience while also putting you in the position of working with other leaders. These include:
Andrew Sanderson, VP of marketing at GetGoodGrade explains: “By working with other thought leaders you can earn exposure to the audience you may not reach normally. Then there are the obvious benefits of working with thought leaders who may have gained a bit more traction than you.”
Keep in mind that you can work with thought leaders in your industry, but you certainly aren’t limited to that. You can also work with leaders in your local business community, or simply with people who share expertise and experience in common with you. The major consideration should be whether or not you can benefit one another.
Anyone can list a bunch of clients, then claim they have accomplished so much on their behalf. Unfortunately, doing that doesn’t help anyone establish thought leadership. Instead, it’s time to start exploring what you’ve done for your customers, then create and publish data-backed case studies that prove your expertise and accomplishments.
Creating a compelling case study is no easy feat. Fortunately, there are guides that you can use to accomplish this task. Once you’ve developed your case study, you can publish it and promote it on social media.
Finally, a case study should be full of data to back your claims. However, it should never read like dry research. A good cases study should be shareable. It should contain plenty of visuals to demonstrate the data you are sharing, and it should unfold like a story.
You may be tempted to gate your best content to earn subscribers or otherwise engage your followers. In fact, you should do this to some extent. Just be judicious about it. People do not become thought leaders because they are stingy with their knowledge.
Thought leaders share help, insights, and advice at a far greater rate than their peers. This is how they become known as ‘go-to’ people in their industries. By all means gate some of your content. You can even monetize a portion of it. Just remember that nobody became a thought leader by publishing the occasional blog post or publishing simple, social media updates.
You may wonder, “Why do I have to focus on my personality, messaging, and other branding related concerns? Shouldn’t my expertise speak for itself?” Like it or not, these other things do matter. They matter for the same reasons that company branding matters. People want to engage with people and businesses that are relatable to them.
This isn’t to say you should become robotic or create a character that isn’t realistic. Instead, think of your brand as the best version of yourself. Then, aim for consistency in your voice, messaging, and approach.Related: Leadership on the Job and at Home
Your audience should be able to count on you for a steady stream of quality, relevant content. This takes a dedicated effort. Madelyn Thorpe, blog editor at Best Writers Canada shares: “One or two blog posts a month, simply won’t give you the opportunity to build up your audience or establish a reputation as a source of advice or inspiration.”
To add more pressure, the quality standards you must meet are significantly higher than your peers. Remember that you want to get people to actively look for your content, engage with you on social media, and most importantly, link and share what you publish. Think evergreen content as your standard.
When you are first establishing yourself as a thought leader, you shouldn’t expect people to seek you out. You have to put yourself out there to earn that kind of inbound engagement. To accomplish this, participate in conversations in user forums, Question and Answer websites, and on social media platforms such as Twitter. Establish yourself as being knowledgeable and willing to help.
If you are consistent, and your advice pays off, customers will begin seeking out your insights. This is when you can begin to think of yourself as a thought leader.
Think about some of the most well-known thought leaders there are. In the auto industry, there’s Elon Musk. Social media has Mark Zuckerberg. Tech has the late Steve Job and Bill Gates. Content marketing has Jeff Bullas and Neil Patel among others. These are just a few examples out of many.
While some may be more controversial than others, none of them are known for sugar coating things, or for their neutral approach to issues in their industries or the world at large. Instead, they readily share their opinions, even the controversial ones. They engage in tough conversations. They make predictions. They are also prepared to be wrong.
As you work to build your brand, don’t forget that you can gain significant audience share while helping to establish your own expertise. Build relationships with other thought leaders. Seek them out as mentors. Ask to guest blog for them, and see if they want to do the same. Engage with them on social media to get them to do the same. Seek them out for quotes and recommendations.