- Thought leaders are experts in a given field who have gained admiration and respect for their critical insights and knowledge.
- Becoming a thought leader requires you to contribute to important discussions in your industry and publish your ideas.
- Great thought leaders know how to market and push products, yet still find a genuine way to connect to their audience.
What is a Thought leader?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a thought leader is a person whose ideas and opinions have a significant impact on the community at large, especially in a business environment. A thought leader is someone whose critical thinking skills and knowledge on a particular subject are respected by leadership and experts in a given field. They have a track record of tackling difficult problems and are able to generate critical insights and articulate solutions to complex issues.
There is no one characteristic that makes someone a thought leader. It's a combination of knowledge, experience and communication skills that allow individuals and brands to position themselves as leaders in a specific industry.
Although it takes hard work to become a thought leader, in today's digital world, it's easier than ever to get your message to an interested audience. As long as you're passionate, knowledgeable and able to communicate your ideas, there is nothing stopping you from becoming a thought industry in your niche. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Tips for becoming a thought leader
The first step to becoming a thought leader is to decide how you are going to publish your ideas. It's great if you are already respected within your industry, but it's difficult to become a thought leader through word of mouth alone. Creating a platform where you can voice your opinions and ideas is vital to gaining the credibility to be considered a thought leader. It will become like a resume of your creative abilities and expose a wider group of people to your ideas.
Starting a blog, a YouTube channel or a podcast are all good places to start. Figure out which medium you're the most comfortable communicating through and double down on your strengths. If you're ambitious, you could do two at once or even all three. Just be careful not to overextend yourself and risk diluting your content.
Once you've created your own platform and built a modest audience, the next step is to collaborate with other respected thought leaders in your field. Their cosign will go a long way in building the public perception of your brand. It will also give you a chance to learn from those who have already established themselves and broker partnerships with influential colleagues in your industry.
One PR pro's advice on where to start with thought leadership
Business leaders and marketing managers are often laser-focused on one goal – pushing a product. While product marketing can be a useful and sometimes necessary method for driving sales, it's not always the answer from a public relations perspective.
If you're an unknown brand, in the early stages of your business or operating in a highly saturated market, one of the best ways to stand out and drive visibility is to peel back the layers of your business and be real with people. Whether it's providing advice, inspiring and educating others, or sharing an expert point of view, at its essence, thought leadership is about having something to say.
The thought leadership method not only has the capacity to drive more visibility to a brand, but it's likely to foster a more engaged and connected audience.
Who can be a thought leader? These professionals often ...
- Have passion for what they do.
- Care about the people their business impacts.
- Are an expert in something or have a wealth of experience.
- Have a significant role or title within their company.
- Have something bold or unique to say.
- Are able to write or speak authentically or have access to someone who can guide them through the process.
If you check three or more of those boxes, you might want to consider building a thought leadership platform.
Two of the most common excuses for businesses are not having the time or the money to invest in thought leadership. Consider these tips and tricks to establish yourself as a thought leader, whatever your challenge.
No time? Hire a consultant
PR can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be. If you can partner up with one quality PR pro, you can set some boundaries around what you can and can't afford and what your goals are. You can even arrange something on a project basis to get you started.
If you're looking to cut costs, your consultant can help you get crisp on your messaging and thought leadership pillars. They can also help set you up with initial content, pitch materials and opportunities for you to pursue.
No money? Get scrappy
There are some free DIY tactics to look at. One resource I cannot broadcast enough is Help A Reporter Out – better known as HARO. HARO Ops are stories reporters already have in the works and need supporting sources or quotes for. Often, it can be as simple as writing short answers via email on a topic that applies to your expertise; intimidating phone interviews may not even be necessary.
For some PR pros, HARO Ops are an ongoing devotion, where we dedicate 15 minutes a day reading through the opportunities to elevate our clients' voices. Timing and convenience is the name of the game for HARO, so make it as easy as possible on the reporter by doing exactly what is asked. The quicker you are to bat, the more likely you are to be included in the article.
Feeling bolder? Invite a reporter who covers your industry to coffee. Be honest and real with them. Don't be overly salesy; no one likes that. Tell them you're not a PR guru, but you have something to say, you follow their beat (make sure you read it!), and you would love to talk when they have time. Reporters are human and appreciate being treated as such.
Put some thought into it
By focusing on aspects such as what prompted the creation of your product or solution, which market problem you set out to solve, or your point of view on an industry topic, you engage instead of market. Your product may well be the best thing since sliced bread, but no one will know it if you don't get the word out and establish a voice. One of the best ways to drive visibility to your brand is to talk about things beyond your product. People care a whole lot more about why you do what you do than what you are selling.