Looking for a new way to obtain lots of traffic and sales? This article will teach you why thought leadership drives business in the digital age and how to become a thought leader.

What Is Thought Leadership Content?

Thought leadership is a content development strategy that focuses on demonstrating a clear understanding of an industry and what’s impacting that industry by talking about timely and relevant topics in a digestible way. Thought leadership content can come in many forms and is a great way to gain topical authority while engaging with prospects, customers, and employees.

What Makes a Good Thought Leader?

When establishing who in an organization (if not you) would make a good thought leader, there are a few criteria to keep in mind. Ask questions like:

  • Is the person a reliable source?
  • Can they provide (or curate) and comment on high-quality info?
  • Does the person have enough time to post consistently, in order to build an audience?

You typically have two ways of approaching a thought leadership plan: as a brand or as an individual that supports a brand. We’ll mainly focus on the individual approach in this post.

Why Thought Leadership Matters for Your Business

According to LinkedIn, if you haven’t considered thought leadership content as part of your publishing strategy, you’re falling behind. Here are some noteworthy stats:

  • 66% of professionals said they would more likely recommend a brand if they followed the executive on social media (according to research done by a reputation management firm, Qnary).
  • 50% of decision-makers spend at least one hour a week reading thought leadership (according to the 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study by Edelman, a global communications firm).
  • There’s a clear, demonstrable ROI. 48% of decision-makers say the following occur sometimes or more frequently after engaging with a company who demonstrates thought leadership (according to the 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study):
    • They invited them to bid on a project.
    • They awarded business.
    • They increased the business they were doing with them.
    • They purchased something they hadn’t previously considered.
  • 59% of professionals get updates on leaders’ views through social media (according to Qnary’s Changing Face Of Executive Reputation whitepaper).
  • 50% of decision-makers that LinkedIn surveyed said they spend an hour or more per week reading thought leadership. The percentage consuming 4 hours or more is increasing year over year.

Chances are that you’re already consuming a lot of thought leadership, so you know what the content is like. But to produce quality thought leader content, you’ll need to ask yourself: What type of context can you provide around what you’re consuming? What does it mean for your industry, product, or service?

There are people who will find your take valuable. It’s easier than you think. Sure, it’ll take time to create content, but you’re probably consuming that content already; why not provide your own?

Note that thought leadership directly increases sales. People engage with businesses after consuming thought leadership because they start trusting the business’s ability to deliver results.

If you don’t engage in thought leadership, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage for a competitor who is.

How Do You Find a Good Thought Leader in Your Organization?

First, start with someone in a managerial role. Find someone who often takes the lead in a team and stays up to date with news in your industry.

At WebMechanix, we have a two-pronged approach. One of our co-founders, Arsham Mirshah, creates content with a high-level perspective on our blog and podcast. But our subject matter experts also create individual thought leadership posts. Most of our employees have the expertise to publish useful information even if they’re not a team lead because of their experience and skills.

On What Topic(s) Should You Be a Thought Leader?

Remember: The purpose of thought leadership is to provide valuable, useful information to help make decisions or gain a better understanding of an industry, issue, problem, etc.

With that in mind, ask yourself: What can I confidently speak about? And how can I provide content that’s relevant?

For starters, look at the personas of your customers/partners—what content do they consume, and on what platforms or forums do they consume it? This can help you develop a thought leadership plan and prioritize topics and publishing outlets. Focus your efforts on the “watering holes” of your ideal personas.

Be mindful of who this content will impact. Research content trends in your industry to fuel for your thought leadership plan and content calendar. A few of our favorite tools for finding trends include: buzzsumo.com, explodingtopics.com, Ahrefs, and pocket.com.

Once you’ve determined the type of people that you want to reach with your thought leadership content, pay attention to how you come across. According to the Edelman Impact Study mentioned earlier, most business leaders want content with timeliness and brevity. So, if you’re marketing to business leaders in the B2B industry, it‘ll pay to keep your content concise and to the point.

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7 Actionable Thought Leadership Tips

If you perform a quick Google Search, the most common thought leadership advice is to put out lots of content. That’s true—it’s the #1 way on how to position yourself as a thought leader. But there’s a misconception about what “content” really is.

1. Content Doesn’t Have to Be Just Long-Form Blogs and SEO

There are many other types of content: podcasts, videos, audio, Tweets, LinkedIn posts, guest articles, survey results, infographics, and more.

Back in the day, people followed others through RSS feeds. Today, they’re browsing social media feeds. So get on social!

I know, everyone who hears the term “guest posting” reacts with an exasperated sigh, but there are easy ways to find relevant, niche guest posting opportunities on established outlets.

2. Use Help A Reporter Out (HARO)

It’s a daily publication that connects journalists with sources. Everyone from Forbes to small publications is looking for sources on HARO.

Responding to HARO requests is time-sensitive, so my thought leadership best practices are:

  • Respond, in full, directly to the email address in the request. Don’t reply saying something like “I have some good information if you want to set up time to talk.”
  • If time is a constraint, limit responses to 30 minutes or less. If they follow up, you can always include additional info.
  • Mention your title, bio, and any other info that they request, or your submission will get tossed aside.
  • They send opportunities in the morning, afternoon, and evening, so there are multiple opportunities to take a moment out of your day to comb through them.
  • Requests are different. Some just want a quote, some want a partnership, and others want a written-up response. Deliver what they want.
  • Pro tip: Some of the anonymous sources are the better-known news outlets, but they don’t mention their name to avoid spam. If you’re chosen, they’ll tell you their outlet name, and that’s when you can determine whether or not it’s a good fit for you.

3. Determine if a Publication Has a Content Calendar

Sites like CMSWire.com have a content schedule far into the future. If you think you have something to contribute, check out the topics they’re looking for, and pitch ideas around those topics.

4. Turn the Most Valuable News into Digestible Content

There’s always news in your industry about new technology, innovations, people, regulations, etc., so there’s always something to talk about and give your input on. Do you have a unique perspective, theory, or application on the content you digest? If so, share it.

Create recap content. Sometimes, people just want an inside view of what a product, service, or event is like. Just by being a user or attendee, you offer a valuable perspective that not everyone has access to. You’d be surprised how few people will take the effort to create recap content. You can even turn the content into a series.

To illustrate, WebMechanix has a new “WebMechanix Labs” series covering the latest digital marketing news and our take on it.

5. Consistently Comment on Popular Content to Spark Conversations

Social media was never a one-way broadcasting channel. Part of the reason it succeeded was that it offered a two-way communication channel between viewers and creators, unlike television and radio. While it has some downsides (anonymity brings out the worst in humanity), it offers a huge opportunity to build a community and relationship with people who like the same topics that you post about. Therefore, every unanswered comment is a lost opportunity. Commenting also increases your reach because it gives the algorithm more data to notify people who aren’t following you yet.

6. Auto-promote Your Content

You can set up plugins or tools on your website so that every time something gets published, it gets auto-posted to Google My Business and your social media platforms for easy cross-promotion.

7. Use Publisher Networks

Networks give you VIP access to publishing on their site. IDG Network is a great example of a publisher network—it includes access to CIO.com, MacWorld, and NetworkWorld, among others.

Also, if you’re a developer, you’re in luck. There are plenty of development-themed publication networks.

Thought Leadership Made Easy

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start developing your thought leadership content strategy! And who knows? In three years, you may be a respected leader in your field.

What are your thoughts on thought leadership? Is there anything I missed? What’s worked well for you? Let me know in the comments!

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Content Marketing / Conversion / Jib Jab / ROI / Social Media

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