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Thought leadership: 4 ways to be at the top of your game

There’s usually a person or organisation that an industry looks to for leadership and innovation.

Effective communication and credibility are at the heart of being a successful thought leader. HubSpot’s Content and Campaigns Marketing Manager Elissa Hudson provides four unique ways to approach thought leadership, and explains how its benefits are threefold.

Most industries have an unofficially recognised ‘thought leader.’ There’s usually a person or organisation that a community or industry looks to for leadership and innovation. In the SEO world, most people would consider Rand Fishkin of Moz as the industry’s thought leader. When it comes to entrepreneurship, Richard Branson is a huge authority and is often looked to as a source of knowledge and inspiration.

Being a thought leader isn’t about self promotion; it’s about providing value, which in turn positions you and/or your organisation as an authority on a certain topic.

Whilst becoming a thought leader isn’t about directly promoting yourself (or your product or service) there are undoubted benefits that come with investing time and effort to position yourself as a thought leader:

  1. It’s great for your career
  2. It benefits the company you work for
  3. Once you get your name out there, the opportunities for further exposure tend to snowball

How to Become a Thought Leader

At the core of thought leadership is the expectation that you have something thought-provoking to say when it comes to your topic of expertise. The second element is knowing how to deliver your message to a wide audience in a strategic way to gain maximum exposure.

Online Content

Content is the vehicle for your message; it’s how experts become thought leaders. Creating your content online means you have access to a much wider audience than if you simply spoke at industry events, for example. Rand Fishkin of Moz became a thought leader by creating the Moz blog, which is now read by millions of marketers every month and offers innovative perspectives on industry topics.

Thought leadership doesn’t have to start ‘at home’ on your website

If that’s not where your audience is, don’t be afraid to start creating your content elsewhere. LinkedIn Pulse is the perfect place to start, as you’re probably already connected with a large network of people working in your industry. When those people engage with your content, it appears in their contacts’ feeds and your words begin to gather momentum. Depending on your topic of expertise, Medium can be another high impact platform with a ready-made audience.

Consider branching out to other channels for content creation

Snapchat can be a surprisingly effective channel for B2B thought leaders, and it allows you to inject more of the personality that should already be shining through in your writing.

Jack Delosa, founder of The Entourage, is a shining example of how using Snapchat can reinforce your position as a thought leader. Jack films snippets of his day running his company and speaking at events and mixes them with bite-size tips for his entrepreneurial audience, which complement the written and longer-form video content he’s already producing on his website.

Contribute to well-read industry publications to expand your reach

Beyond your ‘owned’ audience that you’ve built on your website, LinkedIn Pulse, Medium, Snapchat, or any other platform you’re using, you should be continually building your reach by getting in front of new segments of your ideal audience.

Ask yourself what your audience reads online, and get in touch with those publications or blogs and offer to contribute an article. Make a strong pitch, show them examples of your existing content, and if you get a knockback, make yourself available to them for comments on any relevant industry topics they might cover in future.

To go a step further, try using Google advanced search commands for unearthing opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise considered. For example, if you’re looking for publications that are similar to Marketing Mag, search related:marketingmag.com.au.

Community Engagement

Connecting with people in your community or industry via social media can help to amplify your online presence and drive traffic back to your thought leadership articles. You’re probably already on Twitter and LinkedIn in a professional capacity, but how much are you contributing to your community on those platforms?

People are talking about your subject; join the conversation

If people are talking about the latest technology developments in your sector or a new piece of research that’s been released, you need to make yourself a part of that conversation. Experts don’t become thought leaders unless people recognise their expertise and respect their opinion. By weighing in on discussions happening on social media within your industry, you have a platform to establish yourself as an authority on a topic by offering a thought-provoking perspective.

If you have a senior title or work for a well-known company, make sure that’s clear in your profile. Even better, when engaging in discussion on LinkedIn, it can help to add your title or company to your name to establish your authority, as it appears in people’s feeds when you comment on a post.

Share your own content and encourage discussion

As well as contributing your comments and opinions on social media, you can use it to drive traffic to your written content. When you post a new article, share the link on whatever social media channels you’re utilising. To make this more efficient, you can use social scheduling tools to create your posts in bulk, but don’t forget to set aside some time every day to weigh in on discussions as they’re happening.

And remember, the lifecycle of a tweet, for example, can be as short as a minute, so don’t be afraid to keep sharing your most recent (and older) content far beyond the date you publish it.

Speaking Gigs

One of the most powerful ways to communicate your expertise is to deliver it in person at industry events. You’ll find that when you have an active online presence and are regularly producing great content, some event organisers will approach you to speak at their events.

Don’t wait to be asked

However, that doesn’t mean you should wait around for an invitation. Actively pursue speaking opportunities by getting in touch with the people who organise well-attended industry events and asking for a spot. Show them the content you’re creating online and suggest a few thought-provoking topics you could talk about.

The same goes for events your company might be running. Offer to run a session and build your name within your company’s walls, as well as outside of them.

Work on your public speaking skills

Thought leaders are usually great public speakers because they recognise the value of delivering their message face-to-face with an audience, but nobody becomes a great public speaker overnight.

Ask for bluntly honest feedback from your peers after every presentation you give – even if it’s just an internal meeting – and make it a priority to develop a strong presence when speaking in front of an audience of any size. As well as having great presentation content, memorable speakers are always dynamic and engaging on stage. If people remember you, they’re more likely to remember your content and expertise, too.

Maintain a Standard

Whatever platforms you’re on, you should be consistent across all of them, whether it’s LinkedIn, Twitter, Medium, an industry publication, or on stage, you need to be authentically ‘you’.

Find your voice, and stick with it

You’ll naturally develop a tone to your written content, and whether that tone is serious and authoritative or fun and engaging, it’s important that it translates across your other channels, both online and in person.

If you find your writing feels uncomfortable or contrived, you’re probably taking it too far. Strive to find your natural tone and stick with it.

Use the same headshot

Use the same headshot across all of your online profiles, as well as at speaking gigs and in your email signature. It helps people remember you and link together the different places they might have touched base with you, whether they read one of your articles and are now watching you speak onstage at an event, or they tweeted at you last week and now you’re connected on LinkedIn.

Be genuine

The main takeaway here is to be genuine. Stick to what you believe: if you change your opinion on something, be transparent, and maintain an authentic voice that’s true to who you are in person. If you can nail that in conjunction with all of the above advice, you’ll be well on your way to establishing yourself as a thought leader in your industry.

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