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How Small Businesses Can (and Should) Develop Thought Leadership

By Kyle Gunby
smallbiz.pngWalt Disney built animations into an amusement park. Mark Zuckerberg coded the modern social network. Steve Jobs pioneered hand-held tech and centralized mobile marketplaces. And a common thread among all of them? They've each been subjects of major motion pictures.

Now, this is not to say that their portraits have been flattering; genius comes with consequences. But their stories speak to a truth of content marketing that's often forgotten: Stories sell products.

Beyond these innovators, who could imagine Ford without Henry, Walmart without Walton or Oprah without, well, Oprah? Regardless of industry, brands with faces and narratives connect better with consumers when they share it.

How? Modern advertising is facing a wave of resistance, from ad blockers to the profligate spread of streaming services. But young brands can still establish a name and narrative by sharing thought leadership through content. The following tips will show you how:

1. Establish your central voice and choice publication.

Thought leadership can be milled from your entire team, but outside of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the most efficient way to establish your young brand as a thought leader is to focus your content efforts on one person. While this individual is typically a member of your C-suite, it can be anyone with solid communication skills and a set of experiences, ideas, and insights your audience finds valuable. This person is more than a blogger; he or she is a reflection of your entire brand.

Finally, establish relationships with choice publications in your industry. Everyone wants to be published in Forbes, but that takes time. Rather, try targeting smaller, more niche publications first. For example, if you're in data, consider SmartData Collective, or if you're in computing, try TechSling. Regardless, make sure your content contributions are just that — actual contributions. Steer clear of blatantly promotional content, and seek first to contribute thoughtful, valuable content that leads industry conversations. If you can't sway leaders in your own industry, your thought leadership will never grow beyond it.

2. Show, don't tell.

The rise of the video influencer has been instrumental in expanding thought leadership opportunities for small businesses. Whether a corporate head or local foodie, platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and Periscope provide space to present ideas, best practices, and company cultures to wide audiences. Plus, images speak to the next consumer generation, and it's never too early to start attracting their dollars to your product and their skills to your team.

3. Take stances.

Among the technical nuances of thought leadership, we often forget the importance of brand values. Brands that take stances naturally generate word of mouth, as well as stimulate brand communities. You should never strive to go viral with your content. That's not a strategy — it's speculation. There is a greater chance your content will be shared when it's pointed and provocative.

4. Post to alternative platforms.

In the same vein as the previous tip, thought leaders no longer have to live in native spaces. Beyond your blog and the publications your business works with, LinkedIn and Medium offer community forums for small business leaders, albeit for different audiences. Use LinkedIn to write for industry contemporaries and Medium for the larger business community. A bonus: These platforms offer superior shareability for both.

5. Present to your industry.

Once you've established your thought leaders (and they've created content), it's important to take them offline and to the people. A conference serves as the best platform to share your business's competitive advantage and industry innovation. Mind you, it takes time and attendance to establish the cache that puts you on the program. But, as is true in any field, relationships establish credibility. Conferences are the best places to nurture them.

You may never become a Disney, Zuckerberg, or Jobs. And, if you don't, congratulations! You'll have significantly more friends. But by establishing thought leadership on multiple platforms, with a central speaker and a strong opinion, I guarantee your brand will grow.

Need a deeper dive for what it takes to build thought leadership? Download the 8-step guide below:  Download your Free Whitepaper

Posted on March 1, 2016

About Kyle Gunby

When it comes to ideation, I love my 4th, 5th, and 6th thoughts. The first three are often contrived. Improvisational comedy is my art, Nelson Mandela is my hero, and Zooey Deschanel is my love.

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