How to be a thought leader or look just like one

Want to be a thought leader?  No disrespect intended, but you actually have to think like a thought leader!  You can’t just go into Linked-In and nab someone’s summer reading list and make it your own.  You have to read vast volumes of books and articulate strong key concepts in your own words. To be a thought leader, you really have to do your own thinking!

Research your expertise. Be more than a walking Wikipedia to the business issues and marketing trends that impact your business.  Remember, real libraries still do exist. When was the last time you checked out an academic or white paper in your field? Go beyond using Google for research, but do use Google & Giga alerts, twilerts and rss feeds as filters to stay current on all the news impacting your business.

Define your key influencers. Who can make or break you? Do more than make a list of the who’s who in your industry, the usual top performers, experts, and key media who cover issues relevant to your industry.  Make a list of people who are so famous in the field that they really do not have the time to get to know you.   Then find a way to be introduced to them.  (A good PR person will make the connection for you.)

How will you stay in touch with your key influencers?  You have many ways to communicate to key influencers: by email, social media, mobile, traditional letters, or face-to-face meetings.  Do not waste this opportunity to demonstrate your thought leader prowess by using the same overused quotes of famous people like Albert Einstein, Gandhi or Mae West. Want to be a thought leader? Then you should be clever enough to come with an original quote or two.

Write good content. If you feel you must be thought of a thought leader and you cannot write well, then hire a good writer. Don’t create the same old tired content that has already been said a thousand times. Create articles that are informative, present a new perspective, and shed insight on developments that are relevant to your business.  Publish your content. Publish your original articles on business networking sites and media outlets that want your innovative content.

To Blog or not to blog? That is the question. I am very cautious about advising clients to blog because you need to consistently turn out good content. If you are not a writer, then do not start a blog.  According to Technorati, 90% of all blogs are abandoned by their owners. Be honest with yourself. If you lack the writing talent, discipline or “big ideas,” then don’t blog. Instead be an occasional guest blogger on a site that reaches your industry.

Get Press Placement. Getting placed in the media is still a major way to gain credibility as a thought leader in your field.  Reach out to the journalists who cover your field to let them know you are available for commentary when they need a source. Use services that will connect you with the press. (If you are interested, PR for People® offers a Media Switchboard Service :) Be truthful about the best media outlets for your news coverage.  Don’t use video if you do not present well on camera. Don’t do radio if you don’t have a pleasing voice or can’t fluidly articulate your opinions.  Stick with the forms of media that are the most flattering to your overall persona and your expertise as a thought leader.  

Leverage Social Media. Post your articles, posts and media placement to social media. The most surefire way of enlarging the audience for your writing is to post the links to social media, especially to the royal three: FB, Linked-in, and Twitter. There are many other social and business sites specific to your field. Find them and use them.

Get speaking opps. Speak to key influencers and potential customers in your industry.  Only choose the best or most prestigious conferences and trade associations.  Unless you need to practice and hone your presentation skills, don’t waste your time with organizations that will not pay you a speaking fee. Exception to this rule: When you want to meet the people face-to-face who are attending the event.

Put in the time.  At PR for People® we frequently help clients to position themselves as experts, pundits and thought leaders in their respective fields.  Becoming a thought leader is not an overnight process. In fact, it is a lifelong pursuit.  You must commit yourself to a definite period of time (years) to build your reputation as a thought leader. It takes discipline, persistence and the right type of outreach to the key influencers in your profession.  Either you are destined to be a thought leader, i.e., someone who really thinks about things, or you are not.  Here is the test: Are you genuinely excited when you see a connection in history, science, art or literature to new trends that are emerging in your field?  If your answer is yes, then being a thought leader might be right for you. 


Patricia Vaccarino

Patricia Vaccarino is an accomplished writer who has written award-winning film scripts, press materials, articles, essays, speeches, web content, marketing collateral, and eight books.

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