What is Thought Leadership?
The concept of thought leadership has become increasingly popular with the explosion of social media, big data, and the ability of consumers to obtain information on anything almost instantaneously. But what exactly is thought leadership?
Well, thought leadership basically means being able to answer the questions of your customers, your target market, or your audience in general. To put it simply, if you are a thought leader, you are seen as a pioneer or a trend-setter in your field, and you are the go-to person whenever anyone gets stuck. And by being in such a position of authority, you can even swing opinions, impact industry best practices, and determine what matters and what works from what does not.
If you are a thought leader, your opinion counts, and your footprint lasts.
Why is it important ?
If you are a thought leader, you must offer some sort of benefit to your readers or listeners. Either you are able to help them with decision-making, or in identifying problems, or in coming up with the next big thing. Everyone has some level of knowledge and experience, but the movers and shakers in the industry are the ones who are ultimately able to seal the deal and get buyers and customers to reach for their wallets. Because of this, thought leaders can build or break a brand, and they drive customer engagement and also help create the next generation of consumers.
Thought leaders also help drive innovation and progress, because it is by carefully crafted and managed thought leadership columns and other social media interaction points that thought leaders talk about new products, features, services, technological advancements, or ways of doing business. By doing so, they are able to inject customer feedback, comments, and experiences back into production processes or the general realm of doing business and are thereby able to initiate improvements and advancements in the industry as a whole, benefitting all current and future generations of consumers.
In a study conducted by the Association of Management Consulting Firms (AMCF), over 90% of respondents said that seeing low-quality online content being published by a company or an individual lowered their opinion of the content-creator, while an almost identical percentage said that high-quality content improved their opinion of the content creator. In short, quantity matters, but not more than quality.
And when it comes to thought leaders in the market, respondents to the AMCF paid upwards of $4million per year on marketing their thought leadership columns and articles. Further, the companies who were at the higher end of the curve spent almost twice the average. And with changing trends in journalism and publishing (both online as well as offline), this article shows that there are trade-offs between quality, quantity, having a vast number of contributors writing for you, and including different types of media (photos, graphs, and so on). However, even here, the bottom line is that your readership and followers will rise or dwindle depending on the content you are producing, and the dollar figure for what this is worth on the balance sheet start off in the low thousands of dollars (depending on company size) and can go into the millions.
How can one become a thought leader?
Here are five straightforward, actionable steps to becoming a thought leader and developing your very own niche in your area of interest or expertise.
1. Thought leadership is about providing useful information to your customers. A goldmine of information is contained in consumer feedback and statistics, so the first place to start is by conducting research of your own, slicing and dicing data sets to identify and derive insights, and sharing your results.
2. People are constantly on the lookout for entertainment, and they are especially partial to the human element in business. A clever way to kill two birds with one stone is to provide a fresh source of humor or wit in your content, whilst including personal anecdotes or stories of how or why something happened to you or someone you know in a way that relates to everyday customers, and how a certain approach, product, or insight helped you or them overcome the problem at hand. Doing things this way will imprint your comments and suggestions in memory, and casual customers will be more likely to remember you. Whenever they are ready to take the plunge and are ready to buy or purchase something, your suggestions will drive their actions.
3. Being internationally known takes time, but anyone can start small, say, with a blog. Refine your online presence. Use your blog or Facebook page or LinkedIn account to showcase your knowledge, and including relevant, beneficial content is key.
4. As you work to build your online presence, you must also promote your content in the right places, in the right way. Tweeting an update the right way, using the right images, crafting the perfect title, and even knowing what the ideal length of a post is all take time to perfect, but with time, and by using the right platforms with the right crowd, you’ll slowly gain traction and your search rank will slowly rise.
5. Stay ahead of the curve. To be a successful thought leader ie. one who is influential, respected, and followed, you need to understand your industry through and through. See what’s happening in online circles related to yours, keep track of industry developments, devour everything on the likes of Quora, Reddit, and LinkedIn groups, and also be sure to read books, articles, and online content created by other influencers.
Although a lot of different things go into becoming a thought leader and developing your own personal brand and presence, the five points above are enough to get you started. Once the ball starts to roll, things will snowball and you can then address different areas as the need arises.