“Thought leader” has become a bit of a buzzword, so it might be helpful to pause for a second and remind ourselves what the term actually means.
A thought leader is not necessarily the person with the most Twitter followers or the most impressive connections. A thought leader is an expert in an industry who shares that expertise freely with a broader audience to educate and add value to the industry at large.
Achieving that thought leader status takes more than putting out one-off pieces of content or a clever ad. True, authentic thought leadership involves consistently sharing unique insights through high-quality content and continually engaging with your audience and community.
To help you build thought leadership in your space, our team has compiled some thought leadership advice that you can put into practice today:
1. Do your research.
“I think the more you can bring your own research and data to back up what you are saying, the more trustworthy you are going to be. Everyone has an opinion, but being able to use data to back it up is what will solidify your credibility.”
— Tony Patrick, director of digital marketing
2. Get personal.
“On top of providing an educational piece of content with helpful tips, being vulnerable and sharing lessons learned through your own experiences as a subject matter expert can be a great way to connect and build trust with your audience.”
— Sara Koller, director of partnerships
“Collaborate with other thought leaders in your industry who you admire. Team up to do webinars or LinkedIn Lives; share their content on your social media pages; do article swaps, Clubhouse chats, or Twitter Spaces; or even collab on email newsletters. They say, ‘Teamwork makes the dream work,’ and I really do believe that. I also think people admire thought leaders who lift one another up rather than trying to be the ‘best’ and doing everything individually all the time.”
— Caylin Willis, marketing assistant
4. Don’t shy away from ‘hot takes.’
“It’s not a bad thing to have ‘hot takes.’ I’ve found that the more honest and authentic a written article feels when I’m reading, the more likely I’m going to be to take the information to heart. Something that could help you get into the practice of recognizing your own beliefs about a specific topic is to journal your unfiltered thoughts about whatever is going on in the industry or your own business ecosystem. Great editors and content strategists can take these thoughts and help craft them into something that fits your desired tone and voice.”
— Chelsea Branscum, senior PR strategist
5. Push the envelope (but back up your thoughts with research and examples).
“Don’t be afraid to make waves. Thought leaders predict trends, talk about hot topics, and push the boundary on what’s ‘normal’ in an industry. It’s OK to guess or write about what could be possible. One of the best thought leaders I know has a very different opinion than other professionals in her industry. Because she’s pushing the envelope and backing up her thoughts with credible research and unique personal experiences, lots of readers are drawn to what she has to say.”
— McKayla Helm, editor
6. Be vulnerable.
“Vulnerability is huge. Addressing big issues head-on is critical if you want to get noticed. People gravitate toward (and appreciate!) thought leaders who openly address the elephant in the room and say the things that have previously been left unsaid. Although these issues might be uncharted terrain, chances are good that the thought leader’s industry is really feeling them — and it’s a good time to mull over solutions. Lily Zheng is a great example of this concept in action. Their LinkedIn posts usually cover these types of uncomfortable truths.”
— Marlee Ellison, managing editor
7. Tell a story.
“Many people in your industry and at your level will have similar experience and advice to share, so add more context and nuance to your content by pulling in references or learnings from your personal life. Anyone can write an article on how to lead a team, but what could be more interesting is an article on what you learned about leading a team from joining a community sports league or tactics you learned to settle interpersonal conflict from your family game night.”
— Sarah Hopfinger, digital marketing strategist
8. Engage in the broader industry conversation.
“Respond to others’ questions and comments, whether that be on LinkedIn, Quora, Twitter, or in the comments section of their online articles. Engaging with others can help you highlight your deep expertise and your credibility on the topic at hand while presenting you as a helpful resource. When you engage in the broader conversation, people (including journalists and potential clients) will be likelier to approach you and your company directly the next time they have a question on your areas of expertise.”
— Katie Doherty, managing editor
9. Uncover what sets you apart.
“Determine what your unique perspective and experiences are and how they can effectively fit into your overall intended messaging.”
— Kyle Kelley, senior content strategist
10. Own your experience and expertise.
“Own your expertise. The most frustrating thing for content teams — especially content strategists and editors — is when thought leaders either don’t have the expertise in their preferred field or are not forthcoming enough with it. Sometimes nondisclosure agreements preclude them from talking; other times, they can’t toe the line between being promotional and being informative. Industry leaders wouldn’t be in the positions they’re in without a high level of experience. So when building your thought leadership, embrace that experience and let your team use it to make great content.”
— Josh Mosley, senior editor
11. Elevate the voices around you.
“Being a thought leader isn’t that different from being a true leader. Uplift the voices of those around you, cite where their thoughts and ideas spurred your own, and be open to challenges and critiques of your thought process. The most admirable thought leaders aren’t out here just making bold claims and predictions — they’re having genuine conversations about moving their industry, their community, and the world forward.”
— Meagan Nolte, senior publication strategist