define + refine: emerging as a thought leader

Thought leaders, as they’re defined, have existed in some capacity from the beginning of formal communication. You can even imagine that someone within the communities of people pre-dating written communication was identified and lauded as a thought leader in some form – perhaps crop cultivation or ceramics. However, with the evolution of the internet (particularly in the last few years) we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the terminology usage and the desire to become one of these elite.

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Undoubtedly, there are advantages to positioning oneself in a place of intellectual authority – leading thoughts and people as one. Certainly, many of today’s purported thought leaders existed in that capacity prior to rise of the Internet, but the ease of interpersonal exchange as well as the diverse communication platforms brought to life by today’s technology, has elevated their voices in an unprecedented way.

In addition to amplifying the presence and ideas of existing thought leaders, the Internet has given rise to emergent thought leaders – people who purposefully pursue a position of influence in their niche for their ideas and agendas. Blogging, podcasting, YouTubing, and LinkedIn have dramatically changed the thought leadership landscape – making it more competitive, more sought-after, and more meaningful to achieve the elusive status.

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identify intersection of interests + expertise

In order to get in the thought leadership game, you’ve got to find your intersection of interest and expertise. If you’re uninterested, less than totally enthused, or ignorant about your subject of choice, this whole thing just isn’t going to work out. Thought leaders don’t just hit the “market” fully embraced, lauded, and adored by their followers. For most, no one knows who they are in the first place, much less is ready to follow their guidance, accept their advice, or adopt their ideas. It’s a long game. Pinning down your point of view, your experience, and your knowledge that led you to thinking about this whole venture in the first place is the first step.

Think realistically. You’ll soon be sniffed out as a phony if you’re inflating your experience, expertise, or worth. This doesn’t mean don’t put your best foot forward – instead, it means settle in, think long-term, and build your value with your audience incrementally. Start with your believers – this will probably mean your mom is one of the first to read your blog with any sort of regularity. This is okay and where most start, but before you get too deep into the blogging/recording/posting/commenting/mad-tweeting thing, really outline your plan of attack. How are you building your case for yourself?

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generate ideas + create content

It’s all well and good to stake your claim on the thought leadership landscape, but you’re not going to last long (or even get off the ground) if you don’t start having some good ideas and quick. And what are you going to do with those ideas? You’re going to turn them into content. (Side note: do you think we use the word “content” on CommCorner sufficiently? Only about 72.3 times per blog…) Content creation is literally the only way you’re going to connect Your People to Your Message, and Your Message is the only thing that makes you a Thought Leader. And, as we mentioned at the outset, your ideas are what make Your Message, so get to thinking, thought leader.

So, ideas are popping up everywhere (Pop! Pop! Pop!). What kind of content should you create? Well, in 2018, you’re not going to be much of a thought leader without a blog. It’s becoming mandatory that you also start moving in the podcast direction, to loop in your less literate (kidding) followers. Additionally, active, thoughtful social media usage is imperative to spreading the word about your blog’s existence (and your existence, as well, if we’re being honest). While we’re in the social media biz, we certainly believe in allocating your time and resources in an intelligent way – if your audience demographic is primarily geriatric, you might not be best served by posting all your musings to Instagram. You know?

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connect with your audience + your peers

The best way to sell anything is to actually touch the person buying it. You don’t have to cuddle or anything, but face-to-face interactions with the people you’re trying to convert is more effective than anything you can do online or in any capacity where you’re not getting quality face time with your audience. So, get out there. Speaking engagements are particularly effective, given your placement in a position of authority, inviting natural acceptance of your message and POV. Get creative and leverage your network to get in front of Your People. Employ your social media platforms and other communication channels to get Your People in the room and to bring all of their friends with them.

It should be noted that you’re not going to get the pinnacle of thought leadership by stamping out the ideas of your “competitors.” In fact, put that particular terminology to rest. Permanently. Join the conversation. Scratch the backs. Guest blog. Snag an interview on a podcast. Return all the favors. Like, comment, engage on social media with the people talking about the things you’re interested in. This is not just some sort of scheme to get popular fast. Instead, this is an opportunity to learn and grow within your role and within your niche. Get after it.

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 Next up:

Involve and Engage: Connecting People to Your Message (1/8)

Actually getting started – from bush league to big league

Tackle and Rattle: Covering Controversy and Taking on the Big Issues (1/15)

Differentiating yourself and facing the tough stuff with tact and meaning

Shout Out and Give a Nod: Acknowledging Your Community and Competitors (1/22)

You didn’t get there by yourself – you owe your position to Your People