A mentor of mine once gave me a simple test. He said, "If you want to know if you're a leader online, just see if you have any followers." Simple, right? See if you have anyone following your footsteps.
Online leadership is about leveraging digital platforms such as blogs, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other networks to build a loyal following of people who want to learn more about and benefit from your experiences and expertise. For business owners, this can help generate more exposure, prospects, sales and access to better employees.
The way to gain online followers and recognition in your industry is often through courageous movement in a new direction. Here are five ways you can stand out as a leader online:
1. Challenge the status quo.
Leaders are focused on using their vision and courage to do great things. This means challenging the way things are done and then sharing the journey with others.
Entrepreneur and author Tim Ferris did this when he wrote the 4-Hour-Workweek (Crown Publishing Group, 2007), a book that challenges the traditional idea of working long hours and taking little vacation. The book has reached No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller list and sold more than 1.35 million copies.
Related: 4 Ways to Pull Ahead of Your Competitors in Business
2. Over deliver.
Besides having an audience, the most important currency for any leader is his or her reputation. And having a reputation for over-delivering on what's expected of you should give your visitors, subscribers and customers more reason to spend their money with you and refer their friends.
But this means you must be committed to producing quality content and strive to give away more value than your customer is paying for. For example, try offering customers an unadvertised bonus with their purchase, such as product training or a free sample of another product in your lineup.
3. Promote and support others.
Motivational speaker and business consultant Zig Ziglar said, "You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want." The lesson is the more you give, the closer you can get to achieving your own goals.
Be specific and unique with your support. Don't just re-tweet an article link or say "Check this out" on your Facebook wall. Tell your online followers why they should read or watch it, and why you personally liked it. It demonstrates that you're paying attention and that you respect the time of your followers.
Related: How to Become an Authority in Your Industry
4. Make predictions.
As a leader, your job is to share your vision with your followers, and either warn them of danger or highlight opportunities coming in the future. This includes any changes you foresee coming in your industry, or the way new legislation or technology might affect consumers in your industry.
Not all of your predictions may be right, but your followers should appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts on these topics.
5. Connect offline.
Yes, being a leader online also requires being a leader in-person. Nothing can replace the power of a live connection and taking online relationships offline.
Every time I speak at or attend an event I want to meet as many people as possible. Shaking hands, getting coffee and connecting over a meal -- interaction like this can be one of the most powerful ways to network and create opportunities.
Meeting in person can allow people in your online network to interact with you on a personal level, which can influence how much they trust and respect you. It can also help demonstrate that you value personal interaction.
Related: Key Habits of Super Networkers
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.