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5 Steps for Becoming an Authentic Thought Leader

By Joshua Johnson


The “thought leader” of the 1990s was basically someone viewed within an industry as an authority and expert — someone you could turn to for advice and guidance. However, this concept has evolved over time.

Today’s thought leaders take this definition a step further; they are authorities who actively offer content and education to people seeking to learn more. They have an immense passion for expanding the knowledge base and understanding of an industry by creating an ongoing dialogue. It requires constant examination and a deep study of trends and innovations in a field, which is not exactly an easy pursuit.

Learn how to use content to add value to your network: Download "The 8 Steps to Thought Leadership through Content."

But education through content is necessary for building your brand in today’s crowded marketplace. Marketers have realized that it takes more than a clever commercial or a discount coupon to win in an oversaturated market. It requires authentic human connection to build trust within a community, and the best way for a company to make that connection is by promoting its own experts, who can connect with and relate to customers in a real way.

Thought Leader, Defined - n: An industry expert who shares his or her expertise with a broader audience for the purpose of educating, improving, and adding value to the industry as a whole.

How to Spot an Authentic Thought Leader

Ever since “thought leader” became a buzzword, all types of people have popped up and claimed the status. For the most part, you can tell genuine influencers apart from those who are trying to pass off thinly veiled advertorials and sales pitches as knowledge. However, if you’re unsure, these are four telltale signs of an authentic leader:

  • She creates content that actively tries to share, engage, and interact with the community to stimulate conversation that inspires change or action.

  • Her content — and the dialogue that follows — reflects the fact that she listens to the needs of the community and does not develop content for the sole purpose of promoting herself or her own opinions.

  • She is acknowledged by third parties, such as industry publications that are viewed as leaders for news, industry developments, and trends.

  • She is generally accessible to the people she’s trying to educate to talk about her industry, share her experience, and help others through social media, email, or phone.

One example of a true thought leader is Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary initially started an e-commerce site called WineLibrary.com and began sharing his knowledge and passion for wine on “Wine Library TV,” a successful video podcast that helped Gary grow an enormous following in his industry.

Gary now writes and speaks on entrepreneurship and storytelling as part of his mission to help entrepreneurs build their own companies by educating and adding value for their audience.

5 Steps for Becoming an Authentic Thought Leader

If becoming an authentic thought leader were easy, it wouldn’t be a valuable position, nor would people genuinely have trust in it. Here are five steps you can take to establish your credibility online and leverage your expertise when working toward becoming a thought leader: 

1. Join online groups.

The beauty of the Internet is the prevalence of forums and niche social networks that connect people with similar interests. Determine where the people in your industry are meeting online and join the conversation. Interacting with these people gives you a venue to share your knowledge and meet others who have something to teach you.

2. Start writing.

It is absolutely critical that you start writing and get your content out there. Content should be geared toward helping others in your community by sharing your knowledge, thoughts, and experiences on industry-related topics. For an advanced resource on how our team exectutes this with our clients, check out "The 4-Step Guide to Exceptional Content Marketing". 

3. Get published.

While writing for your own blog or website is important, it isn’t enough. Start talking to editors at publications read by your niche audience. Getting published gives you the credibility of having your expertise and leadership recognized by third parties and provides a venue to share your content with a larger audience.

4. Go social.

Make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete and your Twitter account doesn’t display an egg where your profile picture should be. Also, keep your accounts up to date and actually engage with your followers — simply being present can make a big difference.

5. Be consistent.

Real thought leaders are in it for the long haul. They’re not trying to earn a quick buck or get in on the latest trend; they are authentically passionate about their industry. Consistency in content, social interaction and publication contributions communicates authenticity.

Most importantly, thought leaders’ main concern is how they can add value to their industry. It’s about using your niche expertise to inform, educate, and create a discourse on important evolutions in your industry. 

While it’s not easy, the dedication to becoming a thought leader is a key attribute in humanizing your brand and creating authentic long-term relationships. Start the conversation, share your insights, and reach out to make connections. Take the time to provide real value, and you’ll appreciate the payoff from helping shape your industry. 

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Post by Joshua Johnson.

Posted on November 19, 2013

About Joshua Johnson

I am a Vice President of Influence & Co. I'm passionate about entrepreneurship, technology, Mizzou, and all St. Louis sports teams. I've contributed to Forbes, Entrepreneur, Under30CEO, and Linked2Leadership.

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