Becoming a thought leader is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s not a title you get with a single article or video, but rather a title that you earn consistently over time. The people who put “thought leader” on their social media profiles are rarely the people who are, in fact, thought leaders.
With every video, every article, every podcast you create, and every time you take the stage to be a speaker, you’re building a narrative that positions you as that thought leader in your space. Then, only when people say you are that expert, when they are coming to you and saying, “Well, since you’re the authority on X, Y or Z,” that’s when you know that you’ve done it.
I appreciate it when inbound marketers call me a thought leader. This is not something that happened overnight, and it’s not something I sought to be. But if you want to be a thought leader in your industry, you need to take these six steps to earn the title.
Step #1: Learn from the Best
If you want to be a thought leader, I recommend you read these two books:
- “They Ask You Answer” by Marcus Sheridan. If you really want to earn the trust of your audience and your potential buyers, if you want to be the number-one expert and teacher in your space, then THIS IS THE BLUEPRINT of how to do it.
- “Everybody Writes” by Ann Handley. This is THE manual of how to be a fantastic and authentic business writer. In the book, Handley gives great processes for people who are not familiar with creating written content.
Step #2: Take Time
One of the biggest things I always tell people is that you have to make time to create the content. In one of HubSpot’s first “The Growth Show” podcasts, Seth Godin tells us there are no shortcuts. You can’t be arguing with yourself every single day about whether you’re going to create content. You’re either mentally bought in or you’re not.
Step #3: Listen and Answer
It’s very easy to get caught up in the search engine game and feed the SEO gremlins by writing for robots instead of people. I think sometimes people forget that things have high search volume online because that’s what PEOPLE are typing in. So you really must first have a good understanding of who your audience is because your audience dictates your content.
Get your sales team and your client- and customer-facing people together in a room and ask them what the most common questions are that they’re getting from people. We found that, in general, the top five blog topic categories that drive the most revenue tend to be centered around pricing and cost comparisons, best-of, reviews, problems, etc., and they all tend to fall into that bucket in terms of the ones that drive the best results.
Step #4: Be Honest, Be Blunt
I learned very early on that in my content I had to be willing to be honest and blunt. If I’m frustrated by a way of thinking that is the status quo that shouldn’t be, I’m going to say it and be explicit and say that I’m frustrated by this, then I’m going to back it up as to why. It’s about substance and purposefulness and being helpful in the narrative that you’re trying to drive forward.
If fear is what’s holding you back from writing something, that is not a valid reason for not writing it. Because if it’s helpful, if it’s a genuine answer to a question or solution to a problem, then you’ve got to put it out there.
Step #5: Embrace Video
Video is the quickest way for you to establish trust and a one-to-one connection with your audience. I really worked on integrating video into some of the articles I created and am now just going out of my way to create more video.
I would be the first to admit that this time a year ago I avoided video like the plague, but I’ve learned to overcome that. Mostly, I just mentally threw myself off the cliff. The more you create video, the more comfortable you will be with talking to a camera like a person instead of freezing every time the record light comes up.
I specifically use Vidyard GoVideo for on-the-fly talking-head videos that don’t require a lot of production value. I just drop them in the content if I want to add a little video to a blog article.
Step #6: Shamelessly Self-Promote
Whenever I write something that I’m really proud of, I will go social with it. I don’t just post the link and the title; I will basically write an essay unto itself in that description, and I will also be sure to add emotional color to it. You know, instead of just kind of this passive “Hey, I just wrote this article, come read it.”
Ready for Your Marathon?
The marathon to become a thought leader is not about you. To earn this title, you must go forth letting your audience set the priorities. Write or talk about the problems that nobody’s talking about, or the questions that nobody’s answering. Remember that you’re going to say things that make people uncomfortable or will challenge convention. And most of all, make the time to do it.