How to Become a Thought Leader in Your Industry

As part of our Members Series, we have invited some of our community members to guest blog focusing on their area of expertise. We have such a vast array of members here at Iconic and all specialise in different areas. For this guest post we have Sinead Gillett from CONKER sharing her knowledge on how to become a thought leader in your industry. Working within PR & Marketing for over 8 years, Sinead has gained invaluable experience in this area.

Being a thought leader in your industry is very good for business. And I mean very very good, because who doesn’t want to buy off or work with a known expert?

In 2017 the days of hiding behind your brand are well and truly over. The reality for business owners and professionals is that YOU are your brand. Your reputation has a direct impact on your business. So, keep a low profile and reap no rewards. Or, establish your reputation as a thought leader in your industry and stand by for doors to open! Of course, becoming a thought leader is far easier said than done! It takes time, effort and determination. It certainly won’t happen overnight and there is no guarantee of success. That said, there are some colour-by-number actions you can take to help get you on the right path. In this article I’m going to share 10 steps to help you build your reputation as a thought leader in your industry. You’ll learn what it really means to ‘get yourself out there’ and be ready to start building your thought leadership profile today!

Let’s dive straight in!

1. Understand what a Thought Leader is and What Your Thought Leadership slant is!

This may seem like an obvious first point, but it’s important to clarify what a thought leader in business actually is. A thought leader is someone who drives innovation and new ideas in their given industry. They are experts in their area. They’re highly respected, connected and valued. Being a thought leader is about sharing your ideas and your unique professional opinion of your industry… so what’s yours? It’s crucial to understand that thought leadership should be relatively narrow in focus. You may very well be a Jack of all trades when it comes to the day to day application of your job, but if you want to be a thought leader you’re better off being the master of one!

If your subject area is too broad then it’s hard to make waves. Think about your specialist subject. What area of your business do you know inside out and what area are you most passionate about? Can you identify any knowledge gaps where your expertise would be welcomed? Use your unique expertise to become an authority in that area rather than a generalist in all.

Now that you know your niche, think about who you would like to be a thought leader for. Is it your fellow industry peers, or is it customers? Who are they and what will they look to you for? Knowing your audience persona will help you to fine tune your message.

2. Own up to your brand!

As I mentioned above, YOU are your brand. You therefore need to treat your personal professional profile with the same care you show to the brand identity of your business or employer. That means consistency in brand rules and messaging. Don’t be overwhelmed by this!  It’s just a matter of getting all of your ducks in a row. And make sure that your professional social media channels are singing off the same song sheet. If you are positioning yourself as a thought leader in the area of Robo-journalism on Twitter or on a dedicated blog then this should be reflected on your LinkedIn profile.

All your professional accounts should be up to date and to generally tell the same story about you. Share content in and around your area of expertise, stay on message and pay close attention to detail. And please, please make sure you use a high quality professional profile picture of yourself! It speaks volumes about who you and your brand are. I recently got some expert tips on how to get your business profile photo right from professional profile expert Joeseph McGuire. Check out this article if you want to learn more.

3. Blog, blog, blog

Producing quality content is crucial to thought leadership. A blog provides the perfect space for you to self-publish material for your audience. If you haven’t already started a blog then find a time machine and go back a few years and do it. If that isn’t feasible for you right now then start today instead. The golden rule of blogging is to consistently give value. Post at least once a week and make sure your content is exceptional. You really need to put in the work at the initial blog stage and it’s crucial you maintain it as you move on to other thought leadership steps.

Think of blogging as a brand investment. The more posts you have the better. Realistically you won’t be taken very seriously until you have a catalogue of at least 30 posts. This content defines who you are as a thought leader so remember to never compromise on quality and don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through.

4. Join in the Conversation on Social

Being active on social media is an absolute must for thought leaders. You don’t have to be on all social media channels, just the one’s your audience choose, be it Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest or another. But you do need to have a LinkedIn presence. Even if you don’t see the value in it right now you will in time.

You’ll use social media as a key distribution point for your content. But do not stop there. Social networking is far more than just sharing your content. You need to join in the conversation. Communicating on social media is not a one-way flow, so engage with your audience and other industry figures and influencers by joining in and contributing to discussions and asking or answering questions. Share other people’s content if it is relevant to your audience and ties in with your general stance. This shows your followers that you are thinking of them beyond the goal of merely plugging your own stuff. Moreover, it will put you in the good books of other influencers. Chances are, in time, they may share your content to their followers. At the very least it puts you on their radar.

5. Network

Never underestimate the power of face to face networking. For sure, we live in a digital world where social media dominates our lives.  But trust me, the relationships that you build in person are far stronger and long-lasting. That’s not to say that initial contact can’t be made through online social networks. Likewise one outcome of face to face networking will be to connect and cross-promote on social. But face-time gives you a much greater opportunity to impress yourself on people and learn more about what other people do. In-person conversations are deeper and more meaningful than online only interactions. Attend industry events and consider joining a dedicated networking organisation such as the Dublin Chamber of Commerce.

Networking can help you to make sales for your business. But this shouldn’t be front and centre in your mind when you attend industry and networking events. It’s more of a long term strategy to build your connections and grow your community. You’ll encounter far more people who will never be your customers than you will real sales leads. But don’t just walk away from these non-prospects because the truth is – they could hold even more value for you than a quick deal. Treat every networking contact as someone who could potentially refer you to one of their contacts. Moreover, think about ways the people you meet could help you to advance your thought leadership profile. Could they offer you any potential opportunities to guest blog or to speak at an industry event? These of course are the next two steps in your thought leadership journey that I’m going to address. Segway alerts!

6. Guest blog

Guest blogging is a great way to reach new audiences and to get good quality back links to your own website. You are then a credited author on someone else’s blog. If their audience like your article they’ll click on your web link to see what else you’ve got up your sleeve. Here’s where it’s important to have a decent catalogue of original content behind you so that newbies arriving to your site have plenty to keep them there!

Flipping guest posting on its head, you should also consider hosting guest posts on your own blog. Invite other influencers to write a relevant article for your audience. Like you, they’ll be happy for the opportunity to reach new people. They’ll share links to their article on your site on their own social media pages which will send their followers over to you. All going well a few of them will hang around to become your followers too.

7. Speak at Events

The very second someone stands on stage to give a speech or a presentation we slack them a bit of respect for being an authority on what they’re speaking about. Now, we can take these kudos away pretty quick if their presentation doesn’t hit the mark, but the point is that speaking at an event provides a major opportunity to raise your profile as a thought leader. It doesn’t matter how small these events are to start with. Just say yes. If it goes well you may be asked back or indeed a member of the audience might peg you for another. So how do you make it go well? Simple: Know your stuff, put effort into preparing for the event and be engaging. Many people find public speaking difficult at first. But don’t just give up by yielding the excuse “I’m just not a good public speaker”. To be frank, that’s a cop out. Everyone can improve their public speaking techniques (and courage) if they work on it. There is lots of help out there including brilliant training programmes like Toastmasters, where everyone is in the same boat. If you see real value in developing your profile as a thought leader then fine tuning your presentation skills will be a huge asset to you.

As for getting the gig in the first place, if you’ve scoured the land for opportunities and been turned away from the inn more times than you like to remember then there’s only one thing for it: Host an event of your own. Again this doesn’t have to be a big affair. Organise a lunchtime talk in your co-working office or an information evening in your local community hall. You could even find a complimentary speaker and host a joint event. Make the theme timely and relevant and pitch the event to guests in terms of what it will do for them (not you!).

8. Produce Premium Content

Premium content is generally long-form and extremely high value. This is content that people may pay for, even if it is just with their contact details. This could be extensive guides, annual industry reports, white papers, industry surveys, research or webinars. Hosting a regular podcast is a great way to set yourself up as a gatekeeper of industry knowledge. You can invite other influencers on to be interviewed thereby promoting them as thought leaders while simultaneously promoting you and your podcast.

The single best way to assert your profile as an authority in your area is one of the oldest tricks in the book. In fact, it is a book! Writing a book is the perfect way to demonstrate your expertise. There’s a lot of work involved but it will pay off in time. Plus you’ll be a published author which is pretty damn cool!

9. Give your time for free

A sure sign that your thought leadership status is on the up is the holy grail potential that you’ll be paid to take part in events! Happy flippin’ days! But don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re not a Rockstar (even if Iconic likes to tell us we are!).

Just because your (thought leadership) star is rising it does not mean that your price follows accordingly.  You’ll still be asked to speak for free, most likely more than ever. It’s a good idea not to turn all of these opportunities down, because they are after all sill opportunities to build your profile. Leaving aside the purely humanitarian objectives for helping out a charity, giving your time for free to help out a good cause does no harm at all for your public profile. Speaking at universities gives you credibility, speaking to students at lower levels shows you care. And being asked to judge, consult or to mentor is flattering and again solidifies your status as an authority.  Curate these opportunities wisely.

10. Finally be BOLD and Pitch

I’m going to end this article by reaffirming what I said in step 1 – understand your role as a  thought leader.  Remember that you are a driver of innovation and new ideas. You don’t have to hammer the same points home until you die. It’s ok to grow, adjust viewpoints and take on new passions. But take your audience on this journey with you by sharing these new ideas and provoking discussion and debate.

Don’t be a sheep, be a shepherd. Be bold and above all else, don’t be afraid to be wrong. Just say it as you see it. And since you are well able to ‘get yourself out there’ it’s time to be bolder than ever – and that means PITCH!  Quit waiting around for opportunities and start creating them. Say you want to get on TV, or maybe by now you’ve set your sights on a newspaper column, then take the bull by the horns and pitch to the right people. The very worst thing that can happen is that you get turned down. Even so, at least now they know who you are.

Get yourself out there

Now that you’ve got a very rough blueprint to work off it’s time to start getting yourself out there.  After reading this article you’ll know yourself what step you’re at. It’s time to take another! If you have any questions on this subject or would like to share some advice of your own please leave a comment below and I’ll respond to you.  Meanwhile, if you liked this article you are very welcome to come and visit me on my own blog home over on www.CONKER.ie

Written by Sinead Gillett

Creative Director at CONKER

Content Queen, Creative Genius, Coffee Addict

Sinead has over 8 years experience as a PR & Marketing Consultant. She holds a BA in Communication Studies, an MA in Film and Television Studies and a raft of professional certifications in Digital Marketing including Google Adwords Professional Certification and Hubspot qualifications in Growth-Driven Design, Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing.

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