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What Is A Thought Leader, Anyway? 3 Things That Set You Apart From The Crowd

Stephanie Danielsson

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Thought leadership is one of—if not the most—misunderstood marketing tactics out there. In fact, most people have no idea what it even is.

During sales calls at Digital Press, I frequently hear clients say, “I’m not [insert famous entrepreneur here].” Usually, it’s Steve Jobs. And yes, he was a visionary and a personality. He inspired people in many ways through his expertise, vulnerability, and innovative thinking.

But you don’t have to be a household name to be a thought leader. You aren’t Steve Jobs, you’re you. And that’s okay—you have valuable insights to share, too.

Here’s how to tap into your own unique insights to position yourself as a leader in your industry:

1. Share relevant expertise.

At its core, a thought leader is someone trusted and regarded as an expert in their field, and who knows how to share knowledge that people can use.

Odds are you have some level of expertise in your industry, or a topic you’re passionate about. Just about everyone does.

But if you’re creating content just to create content, people aren’t going to give it a second thought. I remember when blogging really exploded into the business world. Everyone was in a content arms race, and the quality, or value, of said content was very much an afterthought. So much of it was thoughtless noise or pitchy fluff—or was published because, well, everyone was doing it, so you had to, too.

Sadly, the web is still cluttered with this kind of content.

I often see an interesting headline, then after the first paragraph, I realize it’s completely empty. I’m frustrated that I wasted my time, and I feel like the writer didn’t care about me—the audience—at all, so I move on.

You have to make sure that what you’re sharing benefits others.

No one knows your business like you do, or is more in-tune with your audience. So consider the story you want to tell and what resonates with your consumers. Draw the parallels between the two and let it lead your narrative.

To succeed as a thought leader, you’ve got to hone in on what you know and how it could be useful to others. Be confident that it’s worth hearing.

For someone, it will be. And that’s who you want to speak to.

2. Be as open and vulnerable as you can.

The more technologically advanced and automated we become as a society, the more we crave a human touch.

Vulnerability is a key component of thought leadership, but it doesn’t mean sappy or saccharine. Rather, it’s about being bold enough to share your personal experiences, including failures and missteps and what you learned from them.

Odds are, someone else has had a similar experience.

You should be focused on positioning the cool things you’re doing and what you’re passionate about in a way that other people can relate to. Try ditching the technical deep-dives. They have their place—generally when someone is further along in your sales pipeline or in academia—but if you really want to connect with an audience, you need to make yourself relatable.

And don’t be afraid to take a stance. 

You’ve chosen your narrative and this is no time to be wishy-washy. Put yourself out there and claim your views proudly. Sure, it may mean you turn some people off to your content, but they’re probably not the folks you’re looking to speak to anyhow.

If you think about Steve Jobs as the quintessential thought leader, you must remember that the quality that most set him apart was his presence. He was able to inspire people not just with his substantial knowledge, but also because he was open and relatable. Whenever people thought of Apple, they thought of Steve Jobs—they could imagine him and relate to him. Steve Jobs and the brand itself went hand in hand.

There are lots of smart people out there, and a relatable presence can set you apart—don’t let your writing be so cold that you may as well be a bot.

3. Grow your audience through consistent engagement.

Let’s be honest, that blog post you wrote three years ago about the status quo in the world of augmented reality is likely a bit outdated. If you’re in the augmented reality (AR) business and that’s the last time you published about the topic, will people view you as an authority on the subject?

Probably not.

Rather, if they pop your name or your company’s name into a Google search and it returns a plethora of recently authored pieces about “How Augmented Reality Is Transforming The Way We Do Business In 2018” or “3 Ways Augmented Reality Is Impacting The Education System,” it shows that you’re a real contender in the field.

You’re relevant. You’ve taken a stance, and you’re not afraid to show it. And, you’re timely.

Lots of businesses can’t figure out why their sporadic posting isn’t driving traffic, or why they’re not internet famous after publishing a few pieces. True thought leaders publish regularly—they’re present—and use engagement as a barometer. When a piece gets a lot of claps and shares, they think critically about why it resonated with people and try to recreate that effect. And when people comment, they read the comments and evaluate the response, then shift accordingly.

As human beings, we innately crave both knowledge and connection. And engaging with your audience is crucial to fostering connection. When you can regularly deliver relevant and vulnerable knowledge aimed towards your audience, you have what it takes to be a thought leader.

Even if you aren’t the CEO of Apple.

Sales Director @ Digital Press | Marketer | Brand Positioning Expert | Fitness Nut | Amateur Coffee Snob

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