Embark on a PR campaign and chances are you’ll hear the word ‘thought leadership’ thrown into conversation before too long. And if you’re not acquainted with the term, it probably sounds like yet more annoying and unnecessary business jargon.
However, it’s actually a more esoteric (and nobler!) concept than that. If someone suggests you become a ‘thought leader’, they’re saying that you have the potential to become a recognised expert and authority in your field – the kind of individual (or organisation) that people go to for insightful opinions and advice.
In simple terms, thought leaders are:
- Set the pace of discussion
And of course, there are PR and business advantages to this.
Being a thought leader adds tacit credibility to your brand and spokespeople, opening up opportunities to comment in the media, while also garnering trust amongst your customers. It’s a great way to up your personal game, as well as raising your profile and elevating your brand.
Becoming a thought leader
Thought leader status can be attained by consistently providing original and thought-provoking contributions towards enhancing your field of expertise. However, there are a number of ways of giving yourself a head start. If you want to bump up your chances of becoming a recognised thought leader, try some of the following strategies:
- Pick a field - and stick to it! You can’t be a thought leader in everything so better to focus on one area that you know best and where you have the most clout. Of course, it helps if this ties in with an area that is current and newsworthy. Do plenty of research around the most pressing conversations in your field and think about where and how you can best contribute.
- Publish high-quality, respectable content. Becoming a thought leader means getting your voice out there and saying something new. This is where there’s a degree of overlap between thought leadership and content marketing. If thought leadership is the goal, content marketing is how you get there. Publish high quality, respectable content (white papers, research, well-backed opinion pieces etc) to demonstrate your credentials. However – a word of caution. Not all content is created equal. For true thought leadership, the focus and passion of your content needs to be on adding high quality detail – and ideally original ideas or research - to relevant conversations.
- Put your business agenda on the back foot. Yes, thought leadership can be a fantastic tool in your marketing arsenal, but getting too salesy (or twisting content in order to suit the needs of your business) will drain your credibility. Media and other influencers will be quick to spot if you’re contributions are self-serving, so stay focused to adding genuine opinions and insights.
- Practice what you preach. To be a thought leader you need to be authentic. It’s no use just telling people that you’re an expert, or that you know X,Y,Z about your field. You have to prove it. Back up your claims with well-researched evidence and ensure your organisation is walking the walk – or your strategy could backfire.
- Have patience. Experience counts for a lot in the thought leadership game. You have to build up your reputation as a commentator before you will be taken seriously as an authoritative thought leader. This takes time. Have the patience and humility to learn from what others are doing and saying in your sphere. Seek out influencers and mentors and learn from their experience.
- Have a genuine passion. Thought leaders must be inspiring, and passion is the most inspiring quality you can have. Beautiful writing, dynamic speaking or funky graphics count for nothing if they’re not backed up by a genuine passion for your subject. If you’re putting forward one particular spokesperson as the face of your thought leadership campaign, ensure they have genuine passion for what they’re talking about.
- Learn and innovate – continuously! You won’t be a thought leader by churning out the same old stuff. Stay abreast of what's going on in your industry and be proactive about forming and contributing opinions about the latest issues.
Being taken seriously as a thought leader is a huge achievement. If you manage it, you’ll be asked to join panel discussions, contribute opinion pieces, weigh in on important topics, and mentor burgeoning figures in the field. Just remember – it takes time to build up a reputation as a thought leader, so you won’t get there overnight. But put the time in and the payoff is worth it.
And if you need help developing a thought leadership campaign, but don’t have big bucks to spend on a full agency, then a specialist freelancer from The Work Crowd could be the answer. To find out more about how it works, just give us a call on 020 3828 8440 or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.