As content continues to reign as king, more and more savvy leaders are building professional brands and thought leadership strategies to position themselves and their companies as leaders and valuable resources to audiences. By now, it’s clear that establishing yourself as a thought leader can advance your career, attract new opportunities, and add value to your company. But how do you actually become a thought leader?
Here are five steps to developing your thought leadership strategy and growing your company’s influence:
In my role at Greenleaf Book Group helping authors build their brands, I’ve heard many would-be thought leaders tell me how their ideas can affect “everyone” — “everyone who works for a living” or “everyone who wants to make more money.”
If you define your audience this widely, your message will fall flat. The more specific you are in identifying your audience, the better your chance of reaching and engaging that audience with your thought leadership. So rather than defining your audience as “everyone” and spending substantial time and money to get your content in front of “everyone,” focus on those people most likely to love what you do, who you are, and what you have to say. They’re the ones who will become advocates for your brand.
Develop a strategic, authentic message for a targeted audience so you can create and share thought leadership content that truly serves them in a meaningful way. To get started building and maintaining your audience, focus on a topic in an area in which you’re most credentialed, or consider the different segments within your industry and which of those segments could benefit the most from your ideas and insights.
Once you’ve narrowed down your topic and your audience, you need to highlight yourself as an expert on that topic to that audience. Part of positioning yourself as an expert is providing exclusive resources for your audience to engage with. To maximize the success of your thought leadership strategy, you need to provide immediate value for your audience and give them multiple touchpoints to keep them engaged with you and your message.
To make sure you provide the most value to your followers, follow these key tactics:
Social media is a great place to continually connect with your followers, and it’s becoming an increasingly critical step in building thought leadership. But because your audience isn’t going to be engaged on every social network, you’ll likely find more success by targeting one or two social platforms that most engage your audience than by trying to keep a minor presence on each.
To get learn more about your audience’s preferred networks and to select which will be most beneficial to leverage, conduct research on social media demographics. Or, you could also filter through your existing social accounts to assess whether your current followers meet the criteria for the audience you’re targeting.
Spend some time each day interacting on your selected networks and connecting with new people. If you dedicate about 30 minutes a day to exploring your social networks, you’ll likely be comfortable with them in a short time.
If you’re already comfortable on social media, step up your game. See how many new followers or connections you can make this month by posting engaging, valuable information for your followers, being more active in conversations, and reaching out to others.
Use LinkedIn’s publishing tool to quickly and easily share your content with a professional network that stands to benefit from your thought leadership, or give SlideShare a try. Recently purchased by LinkedIn, SlideShare is a surprisingly powerful tool that allows users to share presentation slides. I like it because it’s simple to repurpose great content you’ve already created for presentations or for your website, and it integrates easily with LinkedIn.
Regardless of the platforms you select, your focus should always be to engage with the audience you defined and communicate the message you established in step one.
If you’ve followed the first three steps in this article, you already have a topic to speak or write about, a blog where you can post your content, and a growing social media audience to listen to what you have to say.
To serve and maintain this audience, it’s your job to create valuable content regularly. Great thought leaders and their teams often have full editorial calendars with strategy and topic ideas organized for a month at a time, and scheduling your blog posts and social media updates to correspond with this calendar can help maintain consistency.
The more thought leadership content you create, the more it makes sense to start sharing through different avenues. Perhaps you could form a relationship with a blogger with complementary expertise in your field and occasionally write a guest post on his or her company’s blog. Relationships like these can enhance your reputation and deliver your message to new audiences.
Nothing establishes you as a leader in your space quite like being the person who wrote the book on your topic. Even if you’ve never thought of yourself as an author, you have big ideas to share, and a book is one of the best ways to create visibility and differentiation for you and your brand.
If you’re not sure how to begin your book-writing journey, creating an outline is a good place to start. It takes time to write a book, but it also takes time to build your brand as a thought leader. As you are writing your book, start engaging your audience through blogging and social media. That way, when your book comes out, your audience will be ready and waiting for it.
Being recognized and respected as a leader in your area of expertise does not happen overnight. It takes time, commitment, and a dedication to quality, and every thought leader has to begin somewhere. But by using these steps as a guide, you’ll be on your way to establishing yourself as a trusted resource and insightful thought leader.