6 Steps to Thought Leadership

October 29, 2018
By iQ Staff
Several hanging light bulbs with one bulb brightly lit.

More than just a buzzword, thought leadership is quickly becoming a strategic goal for companies and executives in virtually every industry.

A recent survey of communicators identified thought leadership among the top three PR trends that will have a more important role in 2018. And why not? An effective thought leadership campaign has the advantage of positioning a brand or individual as an authority, leader and trendsetter in their field.


What (or who) is a thought leader?

Thought leaders educate, improve and advance their industry. People look to them to identify or understand a business need, and offer creative solutions and perspectives to address it.

Thought leadership is available to everyone, regardless of your seniority or popularity within your industry. You don’t have to have a top-tier title at your company and you don’t need to be crowned an “influencer” on social media.

Thought leaders do need to be passionate, immersed in their industries and willing to take the time to develop and offer valuable insights. True thought leadership isn’t just a concept or a title, it is a process — one which takes time and strategic action to achieve.

These six steps will inspire your journey and guide you toward authentic thought leadership within your industry.


Conduct a personal brand audit

Take a step back and gather some information about yourself or your brand. Ask yourself the tough questions:

  • What do I believe in?
  • How do I intersect with people and the rest of the world?
  • Where do I exist in the market right now and where do I want to be?
  • Does my current positioning fit my business strategy?

Look at your social media channels and other public profiles. Are you portraying yourself in a way that benefits your thought leadership goals? Doing a thorough audit of yourself helps you find your purpose and execute it to its utmost potential.


Define your thought leadership style

Next, think about what perspective you have to offer and how you can stand out from the crowd. Thought leaders offer a new way of looking at an old situation, or share their knowledge in a way that resonates with a particular audience. You’ll find that the most well-known thought leaders in your industry don’t just have an impressive resume or a large following — they have a clearly defined point of view.

Focus on building your own point of view and discovering your personality. Be authentic, relevant and effective in your approach. The most important factor is whether or not your shared idea, expertise or curated content improves the outcome or mindset for someone else.


Map out your thought leadership strategy

All successful businesses start out with a business plan. Create your own thought leadership plan to act as a roadmap, reference guide, progress tracker and source of inspiration.

Start by defining your point of view, objectives and engagement strategy. Then, delve into the nitty-gritty with key dates for progress checks and an editorial schedule of potential content. These details will help you integrate your owned content throughout various mediums or pose your expert content to media channels.


Be an active leader

Thought leadership is not a passive form of communication. Once you’ve created content that shares your point of view, don’t fall into an “If you build it, they will come” mindset. Be an active voice, not only to promote your work, but to engage with others. On social media, start conversations with other thought leaders or pose questions about your industry. Build your base of followers by putting out new content consistently in the form of articles, live streams, video tutorials and more.

If your goal is to raise your profile in your local industry, get out there and engage in good, old-fashioned, face-to-face networking. Volunteer for a committee, apply to be on a board of your interest or in relation to your field. Take an active role in your community, both on and offline.


Commit to consistency

You wrote your story, now stick to it. Make sure your tone of voice, values and messaging all aligned throughout everything you say and do. This is especially important if you’re implementing your thought leadership strategy across multiple channels.

Inconsistency may confuse your audience, but it can also hurt your credibility. As a thought leader, your reputation is build on your word and actions. If you say one thing and do another, your audience won’t know what you stand for. Make sure every piece of content you put out works to develop, strengthen or refine your brand.


Monitor your success

Take stock of your efforts every so often to make sure you’re being effective, strategic and consistent. Use different means to track, measure, and evaluate your brand’s movement within the marketplace, such as conducting surveys with customers and non-customers, having personal conversations with others in your industry, and reading reviews of your work in the digital space.

If what you’re doing is working, continue to reinforce your message. If it isn’t, consider the gaps in clarity and connection, and make the right decisions based off of your data to strengthen your brand and move forward.


Is thought leadership a goal of yours? What steps have you taken to build your professional profile?