The richest people in the world run companies: Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg—you don’t need a hint to associate their names with their corresponding companies.
These are just some of the most successful business leaders of the biggest companies in the world.
Microsoft and Amazon both employ over 100,000 people.
The impact, the manpower, and the production capabilities of the equivalent of a small town cannot be compared to the opportunities a single person can bring to the table.
Do you know what else these CEOs have in common? They are also among the most popular thought leaders in their respective industries.
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates may be rivals but they were both thought leaders, particularly in business and technology. One of them believed in a closed computer system while the other one believed that an open computer system was better. Fast forward to the present, they were both right. Millions of technology experts have followed them both. Much of how the world functions these days highly relies on the technology they have helped create.
eCommerce and retail work the way they work now because of a visionary leader like Jeff Bezos.
There’s also Mark Zuckerberg whose work on Facebook has led to a revolutionizing way of how we approach social networking and marketing.
What Makes a Thought Leader?
To put it simply, thought leaders are the go-to experts in their fields primarily because they are informed opinion leaders.
Thought leaders are the trusted sources and game-changers who have a dedicated following and have scaled their ideas and success beyond their niches— even reaching an entire ecosystem—through their platforms.
Tony Robbins is also one of the most famous thought leaders out there, valued at $600 Million. And did you know that his companies earn about $6 billion in annual sales?
Great “thought leaders” are known for their work primarily thanks to their accomplishments — oftentimes running a business already. Both aren’t mutually exclusive.
Note, however, that thought leaders are constantly targeted by media outlets for interviews, podcasts, TV appearances, radio shows—you name it—for the value they provide.
What Does Thought Leadership Entail?
Can anyone become a thought leader?
According to the 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study of Edelman and LinkedIn, the following are the key attributes of successful thought leadership:
- New perspectives are highly valued
- Timeliness and brevity are keys to engagement
- Effective distribution is a must
Based on this data, thought leadership entails high-quality thought leadership content. Sapio Research enumerates the following types of posts to produce content for as a thought leader:
- Guest posts
- Industry Journal Articles
- Contributed content
- Press mentions
- Social media posts
- Speaking engagements
Furthermore, Sapio Research distinguishes thought leadership content from other types of content by highlighting the following factors:
If you do it right, your thought leadership content can become your most valuable marketing and branding investment.
Impact of High-Quality Thought Leadership Content
Producing high-quality content generates greater brand impact and enhanced sales impact.
Let’s discuss this further by studying the following data from the 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study of Edelman and LinkedIn.
Thought leadership does generate greater brand impact for the company producing content geared towards helping their audience make better informed decisions and take more confident steps. Those who leverage thought leadership content can benefit from:
- Increased brand recognition
- Increased brand reputation
- Broadened perception of capabilities
- Stronger client trust
However, there is a significant gap between those that produce higher content quality than those that produce lower-quality ones as shown in the graph above.
Noticeably, the same is true in terms of generating sales impact.
Yes, thought leadership content can result in:
- More RFPs
- More business
- Cross-selling opportunities
- Easier customer acquisition
However, those who have lower-quality content lag behind those who produce higher-quality thought leadership content with a significant gap.
How Can You Grow Your Business With Thought Leadership Content
There are plenty of reasons why thought leadership can be a beneficial strategy for businesses or business executives who are looking to grow in an industry.
Thought leaders are influencers in their fields who always find a way to grow their expertise and share their knowledge.
If you are among those who want to learn how to become an authentic thought leader and achieve real growth as an authority in your industry, these reasons should compel you to go for the path of thought leadership.
What is your first thought upon seeing a keynote speaker’s name at a conference you’re attending?
“They must know what they’re talking about.”
Granted, this context of reputation building is slightly different, but the concept is the same.
Every book, article, video you choose to read or watch is first approached with the mindset of learning.
And you only opt to learn from credible authors (industry experts, consultants, other leaders).
I get a lot of questions about how to become an influencer who constantly produces and popularizes content online. They talk about fancy and trendy stuff that gets a lot of likes but doesn’t really generate leads.
When talking to fellow influencers, their hesitation of sharing their know-how is generally projected by three separate fears:
- I don’t have time to do this
- Our clients are expected to know enough
- The competition will steal our secrets
While I partially agree with the last point, this tends to be a false premise.
Sharing your tips and strategies is a more effective way to attract your target market among your followers, and even warm up prospective leads.
Knowledge sharing will come up during the due diligence phase of your prospects. As they search for more information about your products or services, they will look for articles about you or written by you.
It acts as a vector of credibility, too. Knowing what the best practice is doesn’t mean you’re able to execute it. Reaching out with this newly gained knowledge sets the record straight.
As a thought leader, you are expected to constantly share your knowledge online in different forms — articles, tutorials, video lessons, podcasts, interviews, talks.
You can’t manage all channels effectively unless you hire an army of PRs, branding experts, marketers.
But revealing a leading strategy in your industry will generate some buzz. You may receive an invitation to a conference talk or a prominent podcast. Or a publication in your field may invite you to author for them.
Credibility combined with transparency unlocks additional business opportunities.
I tend to receive about 30 pitches weekly from vendors, partners, freelancers who read my content online (or on Quora).
They see a strategy I discuss or software we use and pitch me on what they claim to do better.
It doesn’t work most of the time but sometimes it does. And business development strategists are often hunting for similar opportunities because this works well as long as their product is really valuable.
Continue to strive to be an expert in your industry that others would be willing to learn from, and patiently wait for your next story, post, or interview. That requires solid experience and tons of trials until you can summarize your experience and save everyone else a ton of time by uncovering your process and sharing invaluable insights with your readers or viewers.
Tips on Growing Your Following and Widening Your Reach
Now, are you ready to grow your following as a thought leader?
If you want to leverage your influencer status and grow your business, or finally start one, then go for the educational route and share your expertise with your followers. Those who take this route have higher chances of building a profitable brand with a sustainable following.
Check out the following tips that will help you grow your followers and widen your reach.
1. Connect With Other Thought Leaders
Focus on building incredible content and finding some blogs to guest post at, videos to collaborate on, or events to organize with other thought leaders who strive for perfection and want to grow their network as well.
Continually connect with these influencers by sharing their stories with your groups, mentioning them in your posts and pinging them with a “thank you” message when your copy is live.
Connecting with other thought leaders can get you access to their fanbase. You get higher chances of attracting more followers into your own channels when they constantly see your guest posts in the blogs of the thought leaders they follow, or get to watch you in their videos.
2. Learn From the Industry Experts
Take on relevant classes by other industry peers that can teach you more, and increase your network and understanding of how business works.
Tai Lopez is a social media mastermind who’s been spending 6 figures a month on training, classes, books, coaching, and other activities that allow him to generate 8 figures a year or more based on the ability to process a ton of information and systematize it, hence saving a ton of time.
3. Join a Community
Join a community and apply as a speaker. Cover intriguing case studies or hacks that cannot be easily found on the first page of Google.
Create ultimate guides and complete lists that aggregate the tons of information that you’ve been following and collecting. This is content worth sharing both on social media, and linked to, as well as something that you can use as a portfolio when pitching as a writer, or a speaker.
Sign up for Help A Reporter and pitch on topics that you’re knowledgeable on. This may lend you some valuable mentions and quotes for starters.
4. Create A Fanbase
Create a following (fanbase) of people who already like you, and want to follow you by learning more about everything that you do and share online (YouTube training videos, sessions, posts on your blog and guest posting, mentions, webinars with other experts, etc).
Nurture this fanbase by organizing regular meetups or keeping in touch via social groups.
5. Set Up A Website
Set up a beautiful website that showcases your accomplishments, expertise, and life story. People can relate with an emotional overview of the struggles that you’ve gone through over the years, and sign up for your email list (that you should maintain and inspire, obviously).
Create a couple of landing pages for writing or speaking engagements, your email list value proposition, upcoming events, or other free training activities that you’ve done.
With enough persistence and hustle (and great invaluable content), you’ll grow your network and exposure enough to land some quotes at authoritative sources, grow a bigger private influencer group (or a fan page) of yours, increase your exposure through your readers, and start charging for keynote talks or private classes as well. Furthermore, you can also apply as a contributor to one of the top industry magazines/blogs.
6. Travel to Industry Conferences
If you can travel to industry conferences (as a speaker, or even as a visitor), you can meet plenty of people who can join your fanbase, or partner with you – or hire you as a consultant. In any case, this would benefit you greatly, especially if you’re on the speakers list.
It’s important to be active offline, as you are online. Always see to it that you look for opportunities to speak at conferences, go to meet-ups, and do a lot of business as you build your credibility, with testimonials and portfolio that focus on educating people, whether via text or video.
Distinguishing Thought Leaders from “Influencers”
What type of due diligence do you do before agreeing on a meeting or buying through social media?
95% are on LinkedIn to:
- Look for a job
- Try to steal your attention
What would trigger you to engage with someone on social media?
The most viral statuses rely on emotion, tap into controversial topics, expand upon unpopular opinions. This is a slippery slope since authenticity may be sacrificed as a result.
Do you have any influential and inspirational leaders you follow and interact with their content? Or what makes you post a comment on a status that’s not a funny cat gif or a desperate attempt to capture your attention?
I’m always baffled looking at “influencers” or “consultants” in their teen years who haven’t worked a day in their life.
I’m pretty sure that some of them DO generate sales REGARDLESS, which is why I’m curious:
What do you look for when vetting someone on social media or a digital ad before taking it further? What matters to you? What defines “credibility” and builds trust?
Most “influencers” bet on the virality factor and refrain from being boring to attract more followers and keep the “likes” and “shares” coming. However, the number of followers and social engagements don’t automatically mean business opportunities.
I recorded a video some time ago about influencing through education or entertainment, and which can result in actual leads.
Thought leaders who really know what they do are looking to provide real value and approach content creation with their target audience in mind.
Most of those I know bet on storytelling and motivational videos.
Do people always bite on the type of content that isn’t valuable but designed to create a conversation?
Controversial but not educational?
Click-bait-y but not helpful?
The reason I don’t like traditional “storytelling” is noise. Everyone is doing it nowadays. It worked extremely well 8 years ago but this ship has sailed.
The audience that still bites is rarely composed of decision-makers. It slightly resembles the audience of viral websites and cute pet videos. A great bunch if you can sell, otherwise the brand is impacted. Storytelling and inspirational posts are nice, but I have always been driven by education and sharing practical experience.
The other exception, of course, is having a widely popular brand already. Top celebrities and world-known business people can share anything and this may be insightful to many.
I certainly don’t mind all teens and new LinkedIn “influencers” who are eager to find their own voice and build communities. But I sporadically find any practical and actionable advice related to skills, expertise, or other areas beneficial to their following.
And as someone with an engineering background, I’m determined to follow the path of knowledge and hands-on experience.
The Bottom Line
If you get tons of followers but your content as an influencer is only about whatever is trending, pictures of your food, random day to day activities, or anything that doesn’t bring value to your following, then you cannot expect your fanbase to turn into actual leads who will buy what you offer or hire you for your services and consider you as a thought leader.
You want to be a thought leader and produce high-quality thought leadership content for your industry to see you as an authority in your field and as an actual inspiration that they can rely on for information and guidance, among others.
You may get clicks, comments, likes, and shares, but does it automatically mean that you are going to close deals?
The traffic you bring in is important. But If you bring a lot of traffic that does not convert, this is going to harm you in the long run. There’s a chance you will get high bounce rates because people do not find your content valuable, solving real problems.
Soon, Google is going to de-rank you and categorize your platforms under entertainment, which is not a good idea if you aspire to grow your business further in the industry.