Thought leadership seems to be a somewhat controversial term. In 2013, Forbes included the term on a list of insufferable buzzwords and clichés, only to then praise it as being the new strategy for corporate growth in 2014.
Much of the animosity towards the phrase may be down to the fact it sounds somewhat nefarious. You could be forgiven for believing that the term “thought leadership” belongs in a dystopian novel rather than the office.
So, What Is Thought Leadership?
Simply put, thought leadership is a form of content marketing. Thought leaders position themselves as informed opinion leaders, becoming go-to people in their field. It’s about providing answers to the deeper questions of your target audience. A thought leader will take all their passion, enthusiasm and experience within their business or field and use it to differentiate themselves from others by producing unique content, often without a pitch to sell.
The world is getting louder. Browse YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook etc. and you will see millions of people trying to be heard in one way or another. Consider those who are successful, those who find a way to be heard. They’re very likely your thought leaders.
An Example of a Thought Leader
In 2007, Linus Sebastien began producing YouTube videos for the Canadian online computer store, NCIX. His knowledge of technology, combined with an enthusiastic, fast-paced but informative delivery quickly led to NCIX’s online exposure increasing substantially. NCIX still operate exclusively in Canada but their brand name is known worldwide in the tech community.
In 2013, Linus founded the Linus Media Group in his garage, quickly leveraging the following his videos had attracted for NCIX and today has several significant industry sponsors including Corsair, Coolermaster and Xsplit and a subscriber base of over three million along with several million weekly views on his YouTube channel. His operation has expanded into producing custom content for others.
All of this makes Linus Sebastien a thought leader in the tech field.
How Can I Become a Thought Leader?
The first step is to have some thoughts, and most of us have that covered. The second step is to find a platform to express those thoughts. Blogging is an almost essential tool in the Internet age. It’s best if you don’t simply head over to Blogspot or WordPress.com and instead secure yourself your own domain name as this will help you brand yourself, or your business. You will also need to look at other social platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and if you’ve got the gift and the requisite equipment, YouTube.
It’s also important to leverage your experience. After all, you can hardly be considered a go-to person within an industry if you do not have practical knowledge of that industry. Share your knowledge and your experiences. Discuss the things about that industry that you don’t see others discussing. Differentiate yourself and make yourself stand out. Be someone with something to say and say it with authority.
Branding – Yourself and Your Business
When you think of Virgin, what comes to mind? I’d wager that the clear majority think of Richard Branson. When you think of Microsoft, the chances are high that you’ll think of Bill Gates. With thought leadership, personal branding can be as important as the business branding itself.
Richard Branson is a regular contributor on LinkedIn, and maintains an active social media presence. He shares thoughts, anecdotes, discussion topics etc. and leverages that experience into becoming just as big as the business empire he helms. It’s why companies that he has sold often negotiate to retain the Virgin branding, because of the connection between Virgin and Richard Branson.
Create and Maintain Mutually Beneficial Relationships
One of the biggest problems with social media is that people can be selfish. They have things they want to say but rarely stop to consider what others say. It can create a one-sided relationship, and yet the truth is that if you want to be a thought leader, you’ll need to create influential relationships. All leaders should seek to continue their learning experience, for it is a lifelong journey. Bernard M. Baruch once said that of the successful people he knew, most are the ones who “do more listening than talking.”
By listening, and on social media sharing, you display generosity, empathy and other positive qualities that will make people want to listen to you in return. Build links between yourself and others, and work to maintain those links.
Above all, to be a thought leader, you must be generous. Maintaining a blog takes time and sharing information is an investment. It’s your talent that you’re offering to others but the rewards can be numerous. Many people who have started with nothing but passion and knowledge have grown into business and/or community leaders. They are sought after by others for their talents and are respected by their peers. That respect leads to further opportunities and plentiful rewards.