A thought leader is someone who has become so known for their expertise in a particular area, they’re synonymous with it. In other words, they no longer have to go looking for clients; the clients come looking for them. 

It’s easier to become a thought leader than it’s ever been. Online tools like blogging have made publishing accessible to anyone, and social media and SEO have made it simple to find the audience you want to speak to.

The problem is that this encourages people to declare themselves thought leaders when really they’re just producing the same mediocre, low-value content as everyone else.

So how do you stand out in a sea of content?

If you’re looking to get started on the journey to thought leadership – and you want to do it properly – here’s some tips to help get you there…

Thought leadership tip 1: Start with a plan

Without proper planning, any content you produce in the hope that you’ll be positioning yourself through thought leadership is likely to send out a confused message, or worse, the wrong one altogether. So before you do anything you need a coherent strategy or plan.

More important than anything, you need to work out what you want to be known for…

Just make sure whatever niche you choose to focus on fits in with your overall business objectives and doesn’t take you away from the work you actually enjoy doing.

Thought leadership tip 2: Have an opinion

Now that you have your niche, ask yourself why should people care about you’re saying about it?

Being a thought leader doesn’t mean acting as a news service. A thought leader knows the broader context in which that news or event happened and how it affects their audience’s interests. They can also see patterns and trends and explain these in simple terms.

Just as importantly, thought leaders are original and challenge the status quo when they need to. They don’t just churn out the same content as everyone else.  And they’re brave. They’re not afraid to speak their mind and stand for something, no matter how many feathers they ruffle.

Thought leadership tip 3: Be prepared to share

Some people are reluctant to give away their expertise, reasoning that it’s what they get paid for. That’s not how thought leaders see it. Providing something useful to your readers builds trust and credibility and means people start coming to you because of your demonstrated knowledge. Anyone can claim to be an expert but your expertise is out there for all to see.   

Building your profile as an online thought leader also means knowing how to spread your influence. And that means understanding the role that blogging, social media, eNewsletters and SEO will play in spreading the word – what we call the content marketing ecosystem.

Here’s a visual demonstration of how they work together to bring people to your website and show off your expertise.

content marketing, how to, ecosystem, elements of content marketing


Thought leadership tip 4: Speak the right language

There are a lot of people competing for people’s online attention so make sure you speak directly to them. Address your audience in their own language.

Just don’t resort to cheap gimmicks. To paraphrase Forbes Magazine, there’s a difference between grabbing attention and holding attention. The former is the domain of the tabloid; the latter the territory of the thought leader.

And remember, one thing that distinguishes thought leaders from technicians is their ability to translate their ideas into language that resonates with a wide audience. Think of the way Stephen Hawking makes astrophysics understandable or Malcolm Gadwell uses everyday situations and case studies to tackle complex sociological topics.

Thought leadership tip 5: Use your data

One of the most powerful things the internet gives us is data. The great thing about showing your expertise through content is that you’ll be able to see how many people are reading your articles, what’s driving people to your site, who is opening your emails and what they’re interested in, and a whole lot more.

So now that you have access that information, use it.

If something doesn’t connect with your audience in the way it should, ask yourself why. Are you hitting the wrong people? Do you need to say something different? Is your message being lost behind jargon and technicalities? Give your work an honest appraisal to find out what’s happening and change.

That said, you also need to have realistic expectations. Thought leaders aren’t created overnight.

A version of this article originally appeared on The Law Society of NSW Website.

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Ralph Grayden

Ralph Grayden

Ralph Grayden is content director at Antelope Media.