Thought leaders aren’t just people who generate content, they’re the people who drive conversations, shape perceptions and influence others in their industry. Creating thought leadership content establishes you as the go-to source for expertise in your field. Established thought leaders become the brands that people trust, the brands that people buy, and the first voices that are sought out.
Being a thought leader differentiates you and your business from your competitors, but it’s not something you can stumble upon – establishing yourself as a thought leader requires diligent, cumulative effort.
Originality is key to creating thought leadership content – thought leaders find compelling story angles and bring a new perspective to the table. You may not be the originator of a story but, the second that story breaks, you’re thinking about the story behind the story, and identifying the unanswered questions that will have a bearing on the topic for years to come.
Credibility is a vital component – and it’s something you must guard preciously. In practical terms, this means fact-checking, and citing reputable sources. Your credibility is your currency, and your readers must trust that the information and opinions you share are well considered and thoroughly researched. That’s not to say you can’t ever be controversial – controversy gets attention, after all – people shouldn’t necessarily agree, but they should always know that your commentary comes from a place of knowledge, learning and experience.
You’re only selling ideas – thought leadership is not a sales pitch, it’s the part before that, where your potential customer identifies your expertise and develops their faith in you. Make your insights and ideas meaningful in their own right, and don’t even think about selling your products or services.
But don’t forget your business strategy. With the time and effort required to create an effective thought leader persona, your content should align closely with the services you offer and the direction of your business. Your expertise should be the showcase, and you should always be able to answer a prospect that queries your content with specific examples of what your business can do – even though you don’t put those examples into the content itself.
You aren’t making money – thought leadership content should always be freely given – it’s not a revenue stream in itself. While it’s understandable to want to hold your expertise close to your chest, thought leadership is about showcasing it, sharing it and ultimately allowing others to benefit from it, with the intention of increasing your brand value. Ultimately, that value will translate to new opportunities, for example invitations to speak at conferences and events, further increasing your credibility, reach and recognition.
Talk to someone specific – when you create your content. Direct your message to your audience, and be as specific as possible. It’s easier to write content that provides value to a specific job role in an industry than it is to write it for an entire industry. Your content, your story, has to help people to gain insight, achieve more, do something better, develop understanding.
Not knowing is not a problem – how you talk about not knowing is the important part. Thought leadership doesn’t demand that you can see the future and set it out in writing. It demands that you are thoughtful and considered. You might not know the future of your industry; admitting that is perfectly ok as long as you have something worth saying too. Explore the potential for the future, consider the impact of a new innovation and talk about where it could take the industry or the issues it may raise – be enthusiastically uncertain and willing to pursue the possibilities.
Be heard – that’s the point, after all. You can’t be a thought leader if no one reads your thoughts. So marketing your content is crucial. You need a campaign to get your content out there, and that campaign is a PR and marketing project, encompassing social media, traditional media, advertising, editorialising… Very little content goes viral on its own. So you need to plan to promote your content – treat it like a product, because ultimately it is.