What is thought leadership?

Savannah Burns
What is thought leadership?

What is a thought leader? The 25-year-old term has evolved from describing a person who had ideas that warranted attention into a full-fledged PR strategy. 

To be a thought leader one must tap into the knowledge, talent and experience of one’s own business to answer the big questions on everybody’s minds. These questions pertain to a specific topic of your expertise and are geared toward a target audience.

When executed in tandem with your communications marketing strategy, a thought leadership campaign can help elevate your brand above the competition. Let’s dive into what it means to be a thought leader and how you can be a thought leader in your industry. 

Thought leader impact

It’s important to note the impact being a thought leader can have on your business. An Edelman and LinkedIn study conducted in 2019 found that 88% of business decision makers and 89% of C-suite executives reported that after engaging with thought leadership pieces, “respect and admiration for the organization increased.” This further emphasizes the fact that thought leadership pieces are highly effective at building trust. 

Among other benefits reported in the study include increased pricing power, profitability, and revenue generation. Reversely, when poorly executed, thought leadership can hurt your business. The 2019 study reported that over 30% of business decision makers and 35% of C-suite executives said that poor thought leadership directly led them to not giving a company business. 

So how does one become an effective thought leader? Below are a few tips to keep in mind for your next thought leadership article or campaign.

Know your audience

It goes without saying that it is hard to establish your presence as a thought leader if there is no audience to listen to your thoughts. To effectively establish your thought leadership status, understand your audience inside and out. Discuss topics of interest and relevance to your chosen audience to increase credibility and respect for your brand. 

Meanwhile, pay attention to what your competition is doing. You can break through the noise and settle into an established thought leadership role if you know exactly which topics are being over-discussed and which topics could use a hot take. Being an individual thinker is just as important to your audience as being a reliable source of information. 

Have a distribution strategy in place

If knowing who to direct your thought leadership pieces at was butter, then having a distribution strategy for those pieces would be the bread. Know ahead of time the different avenues in which you can distribute your content as well as what type of content is most effective through those channels. Having multiple mediums for thought leadership (i.e. videos, blogs, whitepapers, ebooks, articles, podcasts, etc.) is just as influential as having different channels to distribute those thought leadership pieces on. 

Try to post on a regular basis across all distribution channels. Consistency is essential when you’re building a thought leadership portfolio and establishing an audience. The key to consistency is creating an editorial calendar and sticking to it. That way, you already know what pieces you’re going to distribute and when — the only thing left to do is to actually create content. 

Avoid sounding like an ad 

When it comes to the actual content of thought leadership pieces, keep it as authentic as possible. Meaning, try not to over promote your own material. The main objective of thought leadership content is not to act as a sales ambassador of your own brand, but rather to create content that positions you as an original and trusted source on subjects in your field of expertise. 

While your thought leadership articles should include one or two backlinks to your company’s website, too many become over promotional. And nothing discredits a thought leadership piece more than the impression that it’s one big advertisement. Stick to personal anecdotes, real world examples and facts to maintain authenticity for your brand. 

Maintain an open mindset

If the world has learned anything from 2020, it’s that nothing is certain. Without warning, a business can face new obstacles and challenges to which the only course of action is to pivot. Flexibility and adaptability are key for a successful and evolving business. Therefore, that same flexible mindset should be portrayed through your thought leadership pieces.  

Don’t be afraid to change the narrative for your thought leadership pieces to stay in tandem with current events. The beautiful thing about being a thought leader is you can use your platform to address the dynamic world around you and people will actually listen! And who better to address the current business ecosystem than someone who has years of experience and knowledge behind them?  

Ultimately, you are already a thought leader whether you realize it or not. As long as you have a thought leadership strategy in place, all that’s left to do is put those smart, innovative and captive perspectives down on paper, or on Google Docs rather, and run with it. 

About Savannah Burns: Savannah is a Business Development Associate for Swyft, which is a tech PR firm in Austin and Houston and a top digital marketing and PR agency in Denver since its founding in 2011. Swyft recently opened a satellite office where it offers tech PR in San Francisco. Swyft was also listed as one of the top tech PR agencies in Texas by the B2B services review site, Clutch.co.

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