I’m not going to lie. It is a lot of work to make a thought-leadership communications strategy successful. But I’m a firm believer that it’s worth the effort, especially as a long-term strategy. Let me make my case . . .
Let’s start with a definition
Let’s cite Hubspot: Thought leadership is a tactic content marketers use to build credibility for themselves or leaders in their company. The main goal of thought leadership is to become recognized as an expert and used as a go-to resource in your field.
The definition will continue to evolve, just like it has since it was coined in 1887. A TLDR I like: “intellectual influence and innovative or pioneering thinking that draws or moves others.”
Attributes of successful thought leaders
I’m not saying only a chosen few can do this. In fact, quite the opposite. I think this is open to a larger group of people than generally recognized. BUT again, it takes work to do this right long-term, so it’s important to know some basic characteristics of those who are successful. They’re CECE. They have a clear POV and expertise; and a background that lends credibility while they continue to be engaged on the topic.
Okay, okay. I know I tried to get a little too cute with that, so let me break it down a bit:
- Expertise: This is basic. Do you know the topic? If you’re going to be a thought leader on plumbing, you should know the basics AT LEAST.
- Engaged: Technology, technique, and process are ever-changing. Just because someone was a mechanic in 1973 doesn’t mean they’re up on the inner workings of cars now. And if your topic is historical, are you keeping up on the conversations and new findings or perspectives? You can’t speak to the moment if you aren’t a participant in it.
- Clear POV: This does not mean having an answer for every hot button topic in the United States or even the world. This is about keeping your content focused and your opinion relevant to your audience. If your overall mission is to draw attention and aid to Uyghurs in China, let your work and content focus around that. I don’t like to discourage people from moving “outside their lane,” but it can muddy the message you’re trying to convey.
- Credibility: Credibility and, in some instances authenticity, go hand-in-hand here. What makes you credible will vary from audience to audience; however, it is important that you know what your audience’s standards are. Rising thought leaders are easily derailed when trust is considered broken with their audience.
Glad you asked, here are some Best Practices
- Know your audience and keep knowing them: Here’s where I’m going to insert a bit of nuance. To know your audience means to know when to/whether to/how to insert commentary that may not be strictly related to your topic. For instance, say you know for certain a majority of your audience is comprised of people who celebrate Día de Los Muertos. If you know how to respectfully mention it, do it; if you don’t, don’t!
- Side note, being aware of your audiences’ interests and major celebrations can help you schedule social media posts that will be seen.
- Stay abreast of the news: Said above as well but can’t be stated enough. Also, staying up on the news allows you to start workshopping ideas and POVs without necessarily having to produce content. Know what your audience is reading, watching, listening to, etc.
- Be consistent: Don’t keep your audience waiting too long. And if you’re going to have a schedule, maintain it. (This may mean not being on every platform::gasps::).
Why would you do this?
Couple of reasons:
- Putting yourself out there – your best self in fact – will drive people to you. It may take some slight tweaking of content and search to find the right people, but your audience is out there waiting. And not only are they your audience, they are also your potential clients, customers, and partners. Use this as an opportunity to convert content into sales (a tricky KPI to measure, but anecdotal data continues to provide it exists).
- Helps to build extra credibility. As you get your content out there to your audience, at a certain point, you’ll naturally see opportunities open up to partner with other people or organizations, network, etc. The advantage to this is two-fold:
- In the near term, you’re given the opportunity to expand your audience. Sharing content, especially digitally, will give you higher search optimization as backlinks are tracked.
- In the long-term, continuously building goodwill with your community banks reputation points for later, say when you have to weather a crisis. While perhaps a bit dire to some, if you stay on top of crisis planning, you don’t have to scramble through one, should it happen.
- Lastly, being a successful thought leader means your words matter (this is me reinforcing a very important message). What you say can drive conversation and maybe even change narratives. Be thoughtful.
- To that end, your POV doesn’t always have to be unique. That’s part of the equation, but consistency and providing your audience with good content should be prioritized.
Interested in jump-starting your own thought leadership plan? Reach out to Anthology.