The Value of Building Thought Leadership
As the online ecosystem for thought leadership has continued to populate, many have turned their attention away from social media numbers, worrying it’s too competitive. And while it’s true that the battle for an online footprint has never been more fierce, it’s also never been more important to claim your unique stake on the Internet and create content that proves that you’re an expert in your field.
The importance of building internet thought leadership cannot be understated. This can be done via guest-posting for credible publications, building out a watch series on video-compatible social media sites (like IGTV or YouTube) or posting regularly on Medium or LinkedIn. The following are the core reasons why building thought leadership through these means can be the boost you’ve been looking for in your career.
It denotes credibility
Nowadays, a byline for a major publication or a considerable social media following is the near-equivalent of a degree from a top-tier university. From a social perspective, it suggests that you have something to say that people want to listen to — large groups of people, specifically. Well-known publications only choose top writers and thought leaders to contribute, and while many call your social media following a vanity metric, it still says something about your credibility to onlookers.
This credibility matters for opportunities you may have your eye on. This could include speaking engagements at events or conferences, new career opportunities or even impressing key stakeholders like investors. Thought leadership entails that you stand behind a cutting-edge idea or concept in your respective industry, and that others look to you as a leader within it. Bylines and follower count prove this leadership, which means you’ll be at the top of the list for TV appearances, panels and conferences where your opinion and research can offer value.
It creates exposure
The powerful part about a large audience is that it creates exposure for you, your brand and what you can speak to. Every reader who finds an article you wrote for a publication is another set of eyeballs that can keep you top of mind for opportunities. Every social media follower who consistently tunes in for what you say is another set of eyeballs that can go to bat for you when their boss or a friend asks for a recommendation for a podcast guest or expert.
And they fold into one another. For every article you write that does well, more readers learn who you are and are likely to follow you on your social accounts. When you share your latest piece on your social accounts, you’ll get more readers.
Exposure also matters for marketing. Everyone who consumes the thought leadership content that you create is a potential customer, a potential investo or a potential repeat customer (and you’re proving your credibility to all of them).
Choosing your thought-leadership niche
All of this sounds great; so how does one get started? Begin where you already have a significant amount of expertise. If you’ve started a business, what do you know that is critically important for other founders to know? If you’ve successfully raised money or invested, what have you learned? My top suggestion is to niche down. The best thought leaders have a clear and concise mission statement that helps them stand out amongst the noise of these admittedly competitive fields.
For example, rather than saying you’re a thought leader in "starting a business and raising your first round of funding," perhaps you could tailor your content more specifically to address "how to find your first round of investors who share your company’s core values." Then, add to this specific thought-leadership niche with research about why a full startup team having shared values leads to explosive business growth, and how companies should create their pitch decks with this in mind. The more niche your content is, the more memorable you will be.
Don’t be in a rush to find something that sounds particularly enticing just for the sake of it. It’s important to let your genuine passion shine through. What do you genuinely want to research and talk about over the course of your career? Of course, you can pivot as your research and experience takes you down different paths, but for the most part, your thought leadership should reflect who you are, what your experience is and what you hope to continue to build.
The first step is to begin creating content. Many top publications expect to see a portfolio when you apply to be a contributor or submit a guest post, but this isn’t an "always" rule. A portfolio could consist of blog posts, articles for smaller publications, TV appearances or a strong audience base on a platform like Instagram or Twitter where you specialize in sharing research and expertise around a niche topic.
Just ask social media thought leader Gary Vaynerchuk, who is a vocal advocate for thought leadership on social media. As he shared with CNBC, “Become a practitioner. Please don’t underestimate the social network ecosystem … it’s communication. It’s not social media. Communication is fundamentally how the world turns; and I implore this audience to triple down on their efforts of being a written, audio or video communicator on the platforms.”
At the heart of it, communication is what thought leadership is really all about. The more you can take to writing, speaking, and sharing your message — backed by research, experience and expertise — the more you can make a true difference in this world and attract compelling opportunities for your own career while doing so.