Thought leadership has overtaken personal branding as the term that the C-suite, directors and senior leaders use to describe carving out a place in the noise of the internet.
Thought leadership has the benefit of applying to organisations as well as the individuals within them. It sounds more human and, ironically, personal. And thought leadership speaks to a sense of pride within us that is so sure we could lead under the right circumstances.
And you can! You just have to get your personal brand right first.
What is a personal brand?
Your personal brand (yes, yours - we’ve all got one!) is, at its core, your reputation. In the digital age, this is measured on the social platforms you use, personal websites, and Google search results.
While you may think of yourself as a smooth-talking intellectual full of clever quips, if your digital presence is full of angry tweets about bad service and pictures from your own personal ‘Roaring Twenties,’ you probably don’t have the reputation that you think you do. In that scenario, your personal brand is running amok and likely hurting your prospects.
Personal branding is the phrase used to describe taking control of that digital reputation and building a brand that works toward your goals. Building your online presence as a personal brand can open opportunities, act as proof of credibility and create the kind of reputation that will be helpful rather than harmful.
What is a thought leader?
Thought leaders are intellectual pioneers, influential thinkers, and niche authorities. And they’re everywhere. When you want to know which way the wind is blowing, you go to a thought leader. Any industry leader you follow on Twitter, whose articles you read on LinkedIn, whose TED Talk you watched the other night, is a thought leader. But they’re not the only ones and you don’t have to start out as Neil Patel or Seth Godin to get there.
What do you need to be considered a thought leader?
- Expertise in your area - know your speciality in and out.
- Ongoing involvement - be a part of your community.
- A clear point of view - take a stand and be yourself.
- Credibility - show why people should be listening to you.
- A supportive following - at a certain point, people need to be listening to you.
Although fulfilling all five of those can seem daunting, when you break them down, the steps to thought leadership are simple.
Expertise in your area
More likely than not, if you are considering thought leadership as a direction to work towards, you are an expert in something. It may be a small niche (all the better, really!), but you are the go-to person for something. Is it knowledge of a particular technology or concept? Maybe you’re the person everyone looks to for creative strategies. Whatever it is, find that niche, find where you can add genuine value, and start leading.
Ongoing community involvement
Being a thought leader can’t happen in a bubble. No matter how small or specific your area of expertise, you have peers and contemporaries; other leaders whose ideas you value. You need to be seen interacting with them and be a part of that community.
Go to conferences, have networking drinks and make friends. Not only does being active in this way inform your opinions and thoughts, keeping you at the top of your game, it also provides opportunities to take part in things like speaking opportunities, podcasts, videos and other sorts of social proof that your followers will be interested in.
Clear point of view
As a thought leader, you have to be able to clearly articulate a point of view. Thought leadership requires that you build the trust of your audience; no one trusts a person who responds to the same thing fifty different ways. You need to know what you stand for, what you believe in, and you need to be comfortable with defending it. Thought leadership can only occur when you have something to say. So say it and stand by it!
Remember how thought leadership is about building trust? Other than sticking to a clear point of view, another way to build that trust is by building your credibility. Show the world why they should be listening to you about a topic.
There are as many ways to show this proof as there are people in the world, but we have a few ideas to get you started: write a book (or e-book if the idea of venturing into print is scary), start doing speaking engagements, attend lots of events, do industry interviews, publish articles in respected publications, run a blog on your speciality topic, or start a YouTube channel.
The world is wide open and your opportunities to become a credible and well-respected thought leader are endless.
A supportive social following
The final requirement for becoming a thought leader is gaining a supportive following. You can be the most credible person around, but if no one is listening, you aren’t leading any thought. You will need to have people following your channels, sharing your content, and spreading your genius by word of mouth. The best methods for developing your thought leadership audience is going to depend on your preferred distribution method.
However, there are some best practices that apply to all channels: Be consistent. Post at the same time and the same number of times each week. Be clear. This comes back to that point of view from earlier. And, lastly, be engaged. Aside from being engaged by improving your credibility, be engaged with your followers directly. Share their content, respond to comments, and remember that these are individuals following you.
From Personal branding To thought leadership
Where does personal branding fit into all of this? Becoming a thought leader is the act of creating a reputation as someone innovative, forward-thinking, and knowledgeable. This is a personal brand. Your brand.
Personal branding is not old terminology relegated to the buzzword graveyard; it’s a piece of the greater thought leadership strategy. In order to flourish in the thought leadership sphere, you need to take control of your personal brand and set the same sorts of guidelines that you would for a business brand. Consider your tone-of-voice, your visual brand, your brand values. What will you stand for? What will you represent? Who will you lead?
To successfully brand your person, you need to be considerate of all of the qualities that a thought leader needs to think about. The difference being that personal branding is where specific tactics come in and thought leadership is the overarching goal.