This article was co-written by Meagan Nolte.
Everyone has a favorite buzzword.
Synergy. Sync. Synthesize. Some other words beginning with "sy"! Buzzwords reflect a moment in time — plus, they're easy to drop into everyday conversation. Consequently, that ubiquitousness can saddle buzzwords with short shelf lives.
At one time, thought leadership was a term on the tip of everyone's tongue. Every executive discussed their unique insights, every manager relayed their productivity "aha" moments, and every salesperson listed their secrets for turning a lead into a close.
More experts entered the thought leader arena, leading the term to lose its luster for some. This is unfortunate because there has probably been no more critical time to be a thought leader than right now.
Why? Because people covet credibility, treasure transparency, and expect expertise from people in charge. Those demands never go out of style, and thought leadership never stops providing them. And it's why Influence & Co. has staked its business model around thought leadership for more than a decade: Though trends and buzzwords come and go, true thought leadership never will.
Ready to dive deeper into how you can use content to achieve thought leadership in your industry?
Thought leadership's come-up was steady and sustained, but its popularity really took off in the past two years or so. And like many sudden shifts experienced by whole industries, the pandemic was as big a catalyst as any.
According to Edelman and LinkedIn's "2021 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study," two-thirds of decision makers said COVID-19's worldwide outbreak sparked increases in thought leadership content in their industries.
And why not? It was a once-in-a-lifetime global event that forced everyone to change something, and thought leadership allowed higher-ups to still connect to their audiences and relay their own unique experiences to them. But what happens when so many voices flood the market with too much of the same? Well, it becomes increasingly challenging to set yourself apart.
For example, consider how content marketers and thought leaders have leveraged Google's search engine algorithms to generate relevant thought leadership content to answer simple questions like:
These are the kinds of queries that everyone is asking and have been answered literally thousands of times. For thought leaders who are trying to stand out, the key is finding ways to say less of the same. That's one way that thought leaders can maintain their own buzz even when thought leadership as a term has lost some of its own.
According to 71% of respondents to the Edelman-LinkedIn survey, they find only half of their marketplace's thought leadership content useful. So how do you create thought leadership content that's the exception and not the norm? Start here to learn how to position yourself as a thought leader:
Leaders wear many hats. They monitor morale, keep an eye on money, and generally have their hands on almost every aspect of a company.
But they also have a moral obligation to themselves, the company, and their industry as a whole.
It's great to be knowledgeable and experienced, but authentic thought leadership requires conviction and a commitment to doing the right thing. That means asking some serious questions before putting out content that's tied to your name and your company. Is your business model serving as a net positive or negative to the public? Are you an ally to marginalized groups and those lacking a voice, or are you just catering to the familiar majority?
Why are these important to consider? It goes back to authenticity and credibility. If it seems to readers like you're just another opportunistic voice who's going after the same chunk of market share, what's discernible between you and the competition?
Look at the values you and your company champion, and be thought leaders of substance rather than sizzle. Being steadfast and moral will go a long way.
It's fun to be an early adopter or the first voice on something. The ground floor is enjoyable, especially if you know what you're getting into. If you don't? Well, that's when it gets tricky.
Rather than rushing to fire off the first take with your thought leadership, try taking a step back, breathing, and seeing whether this is a conversation that will take you out of your depth. Wait, then WAIT — or ask yourself, "Why am I talking?"
Then, keep asking more questions. Are you furthering the discussion? Is it a sensitive topic that you're extensively experienced in, or are you speaking with no intimate insight and just wanting to be heard?
If you find yourself uneducated about a topic but feeling compelled to write, try empowering someone with direct knowledge. Use your platform to let them be heard and acknowledge them. The WAIT method also allows you to assess your stake in a conversation: Will preconceived notions or biases mar your opinions?
These are all difficult topics to tackle, but they're easier when you think first, think second, think third, and then type fourth.
Now to the actual fun part! Thought leadership scratches the itch everyone has to have a specialty and an area of expertise. Once you've weighed your moral responsibilities and let your opinions mature and marinate, start sharing them.
Lead with your wins. Victories resonate with readers and show them what's possible. More important than that, be open to sharing your failures. Wear them proudly, and be transparent about what contributed to them. Losses have made you into the leader you are, so spotlight yours to readers to show you've learned from those mistakes.
Layer those experiences with strategies to follow. While people might not take your exact path, an assortment of steps and tips can help them experiment to find their path — just like you did.
Thought leadership has matured from a buzzword to an invaluable marketing asset. Just make sure yours remains relevant and authentic.
I’m a senior editor at Influence & Co. I’m a childless advocate of the dad joke, a pun enthusiast, and a friend/foe of the omelet. I just laughed at something dumb, and I won’t apologize for it.