Thought Leadership: what exactly is it and do you need to be a Thought Leader?

Thought leadership – a term so popular right now, you could not shield yourself from it if you tried. But what is it? Why is it so popular? Is it just a load of overhyped nonsense? What does it mean to you and your business?

The short answer? A definitive yes.

Let’s explore this new marketing technique in detail so it all makes sense.

The meaning of Thought Leadership

Like many new and emerging marketing trends, there isn’t a single definition of thought leadership. In which case, authoritative sources such as the below quotes taken from a Forbes article help cast light on what this term means:

“A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.”

“A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognized as such.” (Russ Alan Prince & Bruce Rogers, Forbes)

Thought leadership is often categorised as a form of content marketing and indeed a lot of what encompasses being a thought leader is the distribution of content through relevant online channels. The ultimate aim is to take the conversations that fall under thought leadership offline in the end though, the online aspect is the initial offering, the beginning of the buyers journey.

Who said it first?

The late Joel Kurtzman is credited with coining the term ‘thought leader’ in his Strategy & Business magazine in the mid 90s. Mr Kurtzman would later lament the excessive use of his soon to be buzzword by people he felt where wholly unqualified to do so. Indeed it is true that this oft repeated word can be devalued into useless business jargon by ill equipped and knowledge impoverished ‘snake oil’ salesmen, but it can also be the benchmark that turns your business into a trusted one.

What is a Thought Leader

A thought leader in the most general sense, is a business/marketing specialist who is held in esteem for their views and insights. Where do you find such people? All over the internet, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, iTunes, the list is exhaustive. If you have ever watched a Ted Talk, chances are you were watching a thought leader.

A Few Great Thought Leaders To Draw Inspiration From

Ryan Holmes

Hootsuite CEO and writer for INC, Ryan Holmes, is the perfect example of what makes a thought leader. His expert knowledge of social media management is a powerful source of inspiration.

Drew Houston

Dropbox CEO, Drew Houston, has made $1 Billion in revenue through his storage app, Dropbox. Dropbox famously adopted ‘growth hacking’ techniques by leveraging social media shares to increase their subscribers through the offer of extra storage space in return for tweets and shares. A quick google search will bring up a list of Drew Houston interviews full of insightful quotes like this one:

“If you join a company, work with world-class people because that’s the fastest way to learn how to do things. If you start your own thing, you can learn a lot really fast from doing things wrong. Ask yourself, ‘Where can I find an environment where I can work really hard and learn the most?”

How to become a Thought Leader

Becoming a thought leader is straight forward enough but it isn’t easy. If you have the capacity to apply social listening and deep research to produce a consistent stream of content that serves as a guide and trouble shooter for your target audience, you will get the recognition of being a trusted brand in return for your efforts. The ability to identify specific problems and answer questions for a bespoke audience is a requisite for any good thought leader. A thought leader stays on top of new questions and responds with well thought out, visually pleasing content. In the case of an organisation like Hootsuite, that research could be a mixture of social monitoring on Facebook, Twitter etc. combined with Google keywords and searches.

Like all types of marketing, thought leadership is geared to custom audiences and where to find them. For you, it may not be worthwhile to spend your day sifting through keywords and search terms. If you do your business on LinkedIn and have strong connections on there, LinkedIn is probably the best place to begin your thought leadership campaign. Knowing which connections are the decision makers and how to approach them is the key consideration to building your brand via LinkedIn. A mixture of carefully crafted messages and public content (blogs, articles, infographics, videos) are the ideal tools of the trade. Avoid being ‘salesy’, you need to be a trusted advisor in an environment where trust is hard to come by.

Help Others And Reap The Benefits

If you can help, you will be in demand. If your content is useful, helpful and insightful to your industry, you’re already on your way to becoming a thought leader and reaping the benefits of thought leadership.

Wherever you are at this particular process, it could be the right time for you to reach out and book a free consultation with an appropriate consultancy (such as 2MARK-IT!) to discuss your needs.

About the Author: Peter Rovers is CEO of 2MARK-IT, a global Social Selling & marketing, consultancy, enablement and training firm.