I used to think a lot about becoming a rock star. But after years of not doing anything rock stars do to become rock stars, hence I am not one.
Same goes for thought leaders. Thought leaders are not self-proclaimed, and in fact, you are not a thought leader unless declared one by a knowledgeable third party. And you will not be anointed thought-leader status without first proving your worth to both your company and your industry.
It all starts with your personal brand. And although everyone has one, you can use yours to differentiate yourself within your industry as you develop into a thought-leadership role. But your personal brand only goes so far. No matter how smart or talented you are, you will never be fully appreciated by your organization or by your industry until you are recognized by the broader public.
So how do you get this outside reinforcement and become an expert who doesn’t participate in the conversation, but drives it?
- Have an online presence. Start with a blog and just begin writing. It may take you a while to find your voice, but blogs are good because they showcase your knowledge, and search engines love the frequent stream of content. Develop topics that provide helpful advice while positioning yourself as a credible source of accurate information. Build an archive of posts, update at least weekly and make friends online with the blogging world and syndicated networks, all while building your following.
- Work with influencers. When people believe in and value what you are saying, they will be more than willing to share it with those who follow them. On the social platforms where you post content, look for influencers in your industry who will be interested in what you know. Once you have a few who know and trust you, they will willingly get the word out about your expertise in the industry. There are multiple lists of key thought leaders per industry easily available online.
- Network. Beyond influencers, a network of people in the industry or other connectors, as well as mentors, can help establish your thought leadership position. Participating in industry events, online networking groups and the like creates contacts that depend on your knowledge and experience, creating credibility worthy of thought leadership.
- Speaking opportunities. Nothing gives you street cred like taking the stage. Start with Rotary and Chambers of Commerce, and work your way up to associations, conferences and corporate gigs. Look at national trade and professional association events. Heavily promote your engagements and record them so you can re-post them on your social platforms.
A utility thought leader may be a keynote speaker at an electric energy conference speaking about the future growth of utilities with the advent of electric automobiles and other innovations in the industry.
- Camera time. Build a relationship with TV producers (follow them on Twitter). Create a media kit and get it to producers. When breaking news hits, send the producer an email offering to appear, as well as listing points you will make. Depending on many factors, you may get booked. Cable news outlets are good targets because of the 24-hour news cycle and lots of air time to fill.
Banking and financial thought leaders appear on camera regularly on cable news outlets who all have dedicated shows/segments on banking and financial news. A banking thought leader may discuss cybersecurity and customer information protection.
- Win. Identify the awards that matter in your industry, check the criteria, know the deadline and win some. Have colleagues nominate you, or nominate yourself. Just get your hat in the ring. Industry awards are just another link to credibility.
- Get published. Go beyond your blog and get published in more places and become more known across more platforms. Guest-post on other industry-related blogs and get published in industry magazines, publication channels online or any numerous traditional media online outlets. Now you’re ready for the ultimate goal – write a book. It’s not easy to do, but if you have done the things above, you have the platform and the audience. There is no more definitive proof of thought leadership than authoring a book on your subject matter.
A healthcare thought leader who advocates free-market pricing has turned his blog into thought-leader nirvana, being widely published, a cable news regular and a congressional committee presenter. A book deal is surely in the works.
Bloggers who became famous authors include Tim Ferriss: The 4-Hour Work Week, Pamela Sim: Escape From Cubicle Nation, Darren Rowse: Problogger, and Brandon Stanton: Humans From New York.
To sum it up: Hard work. Time. Content. Contacts. Differentiation. Exposure. Promotion. That’s what it takes to be a thought leader, or rock star, in your industry.
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