In a world where there is so much information available, it can be hard to know whom to trust. That explains why many people turn to “thought leaders”: respected, influential expert authorities within a specific domain, to whom others with the same interests look for guidance and inspiration.
In many cases, thought leaders are also innovators, developing new ideas and approaches that can change the way others think about a particular issue. Thought leaders play an important role in shaping public opinion and creating change.
Becoming a thought leader can help you build connections with other leaders and promote your personal, industry, or organizational brand.
In order to have the most significant impact as a thought leader in your field or market you’ll want to create a systematic strategy to build your audience. Establishing thought leadership can be done by writing, speaking, and being visible on social media.
When you become a thought leader in your industry, it promotes trust in your audience. We’ll also show you how to build a thought leadership strategy and how to become a thought leader in your niche. We’ll also discuss the importance of thought leadership platforms.
Why Thought Leadership Is Important to Your Audience
Thought leadership positions you as a subject matter expert on a novel idea. It’s how to become a prime opinion leader and a social influencer. That status carries responsibility and a willingness to be open to others’ ideas, comments, and opinions. Being a thought leader - or any leader - takes a healthy dose of courage and perseverance.
When a SemRush 2021 poll (1) asked 300 marketers and industry experts why thought leadership is important to them, respondents indicated that:
- Its inspirational content drives change (60.9%)
- It educates readers (46.5%)
- It explores industry trends (39.4%)
- It shares industry research (36.9%)
- It expresses opinions (32.7%)
What it Takes to Be a Good Thought Leader
In response to the SemRush poll, Tim Gibbon, director and founder of Elemental Communications explained that for him thought leadership involves a strong cooperative, collaborative effort among peers. In addition,
“Much of the thought leadership I see is really light, where the writers don’t share the real gems, tips, and actionable insights. True thought leaders are always ahead of the curve and should be concerned with giving away too much.” (1)
Critical Characteristics of Thought Leaders
While such transparency is crucial to good thought leadership, there are other important characteristics. Respondents to a 2020 Manti Research survey (2) cite the essential elements of thought leadership as:
- Clear, understandable communication (83%)
- Challenging typical thinking (64%)
- Validating position (61%)
- Fresh information or perspective (59%)
- Strong opinion stance (53%)
Other less important qualities noted in the survey include being cited by other thought leaders, predictable content posting, and likeability of a thought leader that comes through in the leader’s content.
Who Are Today’s Thought Leaders?
What type of person can become a successful thought leader?
According to a recent poll of 481 marketers by Orbitmedia (3), the majority of respondents say it boils down to having expertise in a specific area.
Here’s the breakdown of who respondents say make the best thought leaders:
- Experts in a field (68%)
- CEOs (34%)
- Analysts (32%)
- Authors (32%)
- Public speakers (28%)
- Consultants (20%)
It may not matter which of these categories you are in as a thought leader, if any. To note, 34% of the respondents report that the type of person who provides thought leadership isn’t a concern; you just need to be able to connect with your intended audience.
Building and Establishing a Thought Leadership Strategy
There isn’t one right way to build a thought leadership strategy. However, these guidelines can help you get started on establishing your thought leadership strategy:
- Directly ask your peer audience to endorse and share your content.
- Endorse, comment on, and share other quality content created by peer thought leaders.
- Grow your network to develop your intended audience.
- Align your audience with your goals.
- Identify the beliefs and values you intend to promote.
- Don’t sell your brand in your content. Sell your position and ideas.
- Determine what you want your thought leadership content to spark: Controversy? Ideas? Change? Something else?
- Determine the best audience and platform for your thought leadership.
Choosing the Right Thought Leadership Platform
Seventy-seven percent of respondents to the Orbitmedia survey insist that a large social media following isn’t a necessary component of successful thought leadership. However, correct positioning is.
You want your leadership content to reach the most receptive and responsive audience. Sixty-eight of the survey respondents agree that reaching an audience who will share and discuss your ideas is crucial to maintaining an engaged audience.
Finding the right audience requires determining the best platforms on which to engage with your peer group and share targeted information with them. Even if you share a lot of content, you may benefit by limiting your exposure to just a few targeted groups.
Zeroing in on the right target audience can increase your exposure and ability to network with other leaders with whom you can exchange high-level ideas so you can learn from each other.
Be open to the exchange of ideas and opinions that is certain to follow the presentation of your unique views if you hit the right note. It’s worth your effort to determine the best platform on which to engage with those who are most likely to be receptive and responsive to the opinions and knowledge you choose to share.