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Thought leadership is a tactic publicists and marketers often rely on as a way to grow media presence and brand awareness for an individual or an organization. Thought leadership establishes the voice of key leaders within a company, positioning them as experts within their industry and thus driving positive engagement back towards the leader and the brand.
As the founder and CEO of leading PR firm Pace Public Relations, I know firsthand that refining a thought leadership strategy to amplify my clients’ voices is paramount for them to make an impactful contribution that influences, inspires and even challenges the status quo.
But how do you become a thought leader?
Here are five key elements to ensure your voice is authentic, knowledgeable and influential.
1. Find the best people
Choosing the right thought leader for your company is a crucial task that demands attention and care. Start by fully understanding your company’s industry and niche, and dive deep into these specifics.
Next up, look at the possible thought leaders within your company. It’s not just about high ranks and titles; it’s more about who has the right experience, insight and communication skills. A founder can share the heartfelt story of the company’s birth and mission. On the other hand, a CEO might be better at discussing the company’s current goals and strategies.
Additionally, keep your audience in mind. Consider who among your potential thought leaders would resonate most with them — an intern or an individual with diverse experiences should not be overlooked. Remember, the ideal thought leader is not solely knowledgeable, but also profoundly connected with your audience’s interests and concerns.
Take the time to chat with these potential thought leaders. What’s their take on the industry and your company’s place in it? Do they have an interesting personal story? Their answers can give you a good feel for whether they’d make an effective thought leader.
Remember, the best thought leader is knowledgeable and deeply connected with your audience’s interests and concerns.
2. Dive deep into industry nuances
A thorough understanding of your industry and where you fit in it is a crucial first step.
The modern business environment is riddled with nuances — it is no longer sufficient to label yourself under broad categories like “healthcare” or “tech.” Are you in healthcare focusing on pharmaceuticals or medical research? In the vast world of technology, is your niche software-as-a-service (SaaS) or property technology?
By first identifying these intricacies, you can tailor your thought leadership content and insights to be more relevant and valuable to your target audience.
Imagine you’re the CEO of an electric battery startup. When a sudden plunge in Tesla’s stock or a surge in Americans opting for electric vehicles is being reported on in the news, there’s a golden opportunity to have your voice heard. The insights you could provide would reflect your unique expertise in the field, promote your company to a relevant audience and let you drive conversations around these shifts.
3. Synchronize internal and external worlds
While a company’s external communications are pivotal, the company’s internal culture is the linchpin of authenticity. Employees, stakeholders and even investors often gauge a company’s credibility based on the alignment (or lack thereof) between what’s preached externally and practiced internally.
As a thought leader, a founder and/or CEO plays a pivotal role in bridging this gap. When employees witness their leadership echo the same values internally as they do on public platforms, it fosters a sense of trust and alignment. On the flip side, a major lack of trust occurs when employees experience something differently internally than is projected to external stakeholders.
A synergy between internal and external worlds enhances a company’s reputation while ensuring that the thought leadership stance remains genuine rather than being perceived as a mere PR exercise.
4. Utilize the right social media platforms
Gone are the days when thought leadership was limited to newspaper op-eds or conference keynote speeches. The rise of social media has democratized this space, offering a plethora of platforms to voice opinions, share insights and engage with a broader audience. Yet with an abundance of opportunities comes inherent challenges.
Each social platform caters to a distinct demographic and has unwritten rules. It is imperative to understand which platform aligns best with your persona and your company’s target audience.
Tailoring the choice of platform is paramount; a LinkedIn post might work wonders for B2B thought leaders, while an Instagram Live session could be the key for those in more consumer-centric industries.
Moreover, navigating the delicate balance between personal and professional boundaries on these platforms is essential. Each organization has its own level of comfort — and knowing where you and your organization stand is a necessary first step before making a social media plan. Some organizations might encourage leaders to be candid, sharing glimpses of their personal lives, while others prefer a strictly professional tone. Navigating these nuances is crucial in curating an online persona for thought leaders that is both authentic and appropriate.
5. Find stories that resonate and inspire
While unique expertise forms the bedrock of thought leadership, the infusion of personal stories and experiences imparts the emotional resonance necessary for your message to truly connect with your audience.
People are inundated with information, so we naturally seek authentic narratives that they can relate to or draw inspiration from.
Tapping into the personal journeys, challenges and significant milestones of your own life can be a game-changer and yield transformative outcomes as a thought leader. These narratives humanize leaders in the public eye, emphasizing the unique value and distinctive contributions they bring to their industries.
Ultimately, successful thought leaders balance showcasing industry knowledge, aligning internal and external narratives, leveraging the right platforms and weaving in personal stories that touch the heart. With the right approach, thought leadership can transform your reputation, influence industry conversations and pave the way for genuine, lasting impact. Thought leadership transcends mere visibility and involves crafting a legacy that’s built on expertise, authenticity and meaningful contributions to your industry.