The phrase “thought leadership” brings out mixed reactions. Some people love the idea of thought leadership. Some people think it’s overrated. But, annoying or not, we still gotta bring up what is thought leadership. It really does matter!
This term actually goes back all the way to 1887, when a guy named Henry Ward Beecher coined the term. So the Oxford English Dictionary define thought leadership as “intellectual influence and innovation or pioneering thinking.”
Blah, blah, blah, right? What does any of that even mean?
At MeetEdgar, we see thought leadership as the biggest differentiator in your business. Thought leadership can help you turn a passive community into a highly engaged and tight-knit audience who is ready and willing to buy anything that you put out there, sing your praises from the rooftops and become your raving fans.
What is thought leadership?
Thought leadership is a way to demonstrate you are a leader in a certain topic or field. You demonstrate the ability to think innovatively and creatively in your area of expertise.
What is thought leadership content?
Thought leadership content is the content you produce to demonstrate your expertise. Others can use thought leadership content to learn more about your area of knowledge and expertise.
When you are a thought leader, people trust you as an authority on that topic.
How to be a thought leader
Before we start with this, let’s answer the question; what is a thought leader?
A thought leader is someone who drives their industry forward and challenges the status quo. They constantly question the norm and have ideas to push current boundaries.
MeetEdgar’s founder, Laura Roeder, really shows the power of being a thought leader in her story. Laura put herself out there, sharing how social media can be used for businesses. She was an educator first.
She gained a community who latched onto the way she used social media in an evergreen fashion, and once she pivoted from being a course educator into being someone who was a SaaS CEO, her followers from her initial business and her initial community followed and purchased from her, because they trusted her message and her thought leadership.
Identify Your Stories
Thought leadership is all about embracing your uniqueness. It feels a little awkward to teach because I can’t teach you about you. Only you can do that. And you’re never really going to feel whole and confident about calling yourself a “thought leader” unless you actually take the time to do a little self-reflection on your values and what makes you unique.
Telling you to go journal might sound like a funny business practice, but it will help because self-reflection will ensure your personal brand aligns with your values.
Thought leadership is all about taking a proven concept and putting your own spin on it. How are you going to go ahead and put your own spin on a proven concept unless you know what that spin is?
Take some time to write out some personal values and a personal mission statement. These can be absolutely different from the ones that you’ve established for your business.
It’s about digging really deep into your personal stories and seeing them as something that’s happened for you rather than happened to you. Your stories, whether they’re stories of struggle or triumph, are how you are going to carve out a unique niche in your industry.
Weave Your Stories into Your Industry
Once you’ve done some self-reflecting on your values and your own unique stories, it’s time to start weaving these stories into established concepts in your industry.
People who become business thought leaders don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Thought leadership is about telling our personal stories around established concepts.
Our brains are wired to love stories. We love that story arc of a hero’s journey; that zero to hero, beginning, middle, end structure fits in really well for how we actually relate to the world.
Write out some of the more defining and personal stories that have happened in your life, and think about how you can weave these into some concepts that might be able to hit someone in a way that makes them say, “Wow, I’ve never considered that perspective before.”
Thought leadership is showing people what is possible and moving them to take action.
What are thought leaders? People who are able to convince others of their ideas, prove that they’ve done this before, show it’s not scary and that they too can have the outcome you’ve achieved.
How can you inspire someone to take action and make a change in their life through a story? Once you have an idea, apply it to a proven concept in your industry that you’re trying to teach people.
Overcome Your Fears
“Your fear does not make you special.” This might sound a little harsh, but it’s true. Our fears of not being good enough or feeling ready hold many of us back from wanting to be thought leaders in our industry. But those fears aren’t unique to you. We are all afraid.
What makes you special is stepping up to that challenge. It is much easier to follow the status quo. But the world doesn’t need the status quo. It needs you to step up on your platform.
Think about the options available to you today. Social media thought leadership is a great place to get started. It has never been easier to connect with people who want to learn from you.
Remember, for social media thought leaders, it shouldn’t be about you. Your thought leadership is about making sure you are pushing the boundaries of your industry and finding a niche. If you hit resistance when you’re first trying this out, know that that’s okay, and that’s actually a sign you’re doing things right.
Start Before You Feel Ready
What is it in your industry that you think about a little bit differently? Or what is it that might even sound a little polarizing to say, but you truly believe in, and you see this aligning with your values?
Where does this start? It’s about knowing your values, both your company values and your personal values. The coolest thing about the internet and social media is that you can put a message out there before you create a business. So if you know you want to build your brand but you’re not exactly sure which direction to go, you can start building an audience online before you build a business.
What is thought leadership marketing?
A lot of leaders do this with online courses and thought leadership blogs. They’ll title a course and create the module outline, and before filming any of it, they’ll put that course for sale.
They’ll see the feedback, and if people sign up for the course, they’ll start filming it and putting it into action. But they don’t want to make it until they understand if there is some traction for people actually wanting to buy it. If you build out a whole 10-hour course and no one buys it, your 10 hours were wasted, right? That’s also the beauty of being a thought leader; you can test out what messages resonate to find something that has traction.
What your business starts as, or what it is today, might not be where it ends up, but your community members could still be with you. And that, again, goes into making sure your thought leadership message is true and unique to who you are, not necessarily to what your business is. So there’s a subtle distinction there. But if you think about that a little bit, I promise it’ll make more sense to you.
Choose to be more obsessed with your customer than you are with your product or your service. That is going to make sure that you’re out-caring others in your industry and that you’re showing how passionate you are about your thought leadership. No one wants to follow someone who’s just lukewarm on the message they’re putting out there. We want to follow people who are 100% passionate and bought into their own message.
I learned this idea of becoming obsessed with your customer from one of my very first jobs at a company called Craftsy. It’s an online education company. They focus purely on quilting and knitting now, but when they started, they actually started with finance classes.
They built this beautiful platform for online learning and thought they were going to teach people about finances. But the more they started listening to their customers and paid attention to their industry; they realized there was an opportunity in crafting.
Quilting is a billion-dollar industry, and when they made that pivot, it wasn’t necessarily because they were really passionate about quilting. The company was actually run by four men who had never picked up a quilting needle in their life. They pivoted because they listened to their customers.
When you focus on your audience rather than your product or service, it is 100% easier to have your thought leadership reach the right people.
You really want to make sure you’re focusing your thought leadership on making an impact rather than making money.
With the Craftsy example, they realized their platform could make a much bigger impact on this audience who were hungry to learn about crafting.
Practice Makes Perfect
Practice crafting your thought leadership message right now.
Right now is the perfect time to get started. No one is expecting perfection right now, right? We are going through something as a collective human race right now that gives us all a bit of leniency.
If you’re not comfortable on camera, rest assured no one is going to expect perfection. That’s okay. Life does not end.
Don’t let these little things hold you back from getting your message out there.
If you have employees under you, empower them to be their own thought leaders in their roles. This will attract more customers to your brand.
Remember, nobody else out there is the same as you, so be yourself; authenticity is what people look for in thought leaders.