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How to Build Up Thought Leadership

Thought leaders are usually connected with some kind of brand, idea, organization or business. Often, brands intentionally connect with thought leaders or help blossoming thought leaders break into the public arena. This can be a mutually beneficially relationship, and brands that are led by thought leaders often see a number of advantages.


With so much information and content floating around online, users have to determine who, if anyone, is truly worth listening to. Typically, there are a few thought leaders in each industry or field who drive the conversation. Businesses can and should be aware of thought leadership and how it can enhance their reputation and the quality of their content. Keep in mind, however, that thought leaders don’t just appear. They are created, and it takes work to remain a relevant thought leader in a crowded environment. Find out more about what it takes to be a thought leader, what this leadership means for businesses and how some successful businesses have made the most of their role as thought leaders.

What is Thought Leadership?

First, it is important to truly understand what a thought leader is and is not. To start, a thought leader is someone with a lot of knowledge about a specific product, industry or area. Thought leaders can exist within the health and fitness sphere, the digital marketing sphere or the hospitality industry; these are just a few examples. These thought leaders know their stuff, and they can easily and quickly share what they know with a group of individuals. Often, thought leaders have published or written about what they know, or they have some kind of credentials to back up their knowledge.

Being a thought leader is also about cultivating a following. This might mean having a large social media presence, or it might mean making television appearances. It could mean having millions of people read and buy your best-selling self-help books, or it could mean being the keynote speaker at a B2B industry conference attended by a select few business leaders within your industry. In short, a thought leader is someone who is getting attention for all the right reasons. Although they might be seen as controversial, they are nevertheless respected for their expertise or experience.

How Thought Leaders Cut Through the Noise

With the content and marketing worlds overflowing with things to see, hear and read, how can thought leaders stand out? Typically, thought leaders are thought leaders precisely because they have found a way to cut through the noise. This does not always mean having the highest certifications, the best sales or the highest number of followers on social media. Instead, it can mean generating a true connection with an engaged audience or being seen as trustworthy in an online world where being honest is seen as a rarity.

What makes this tricky is the fact that no two thought leaders are identical, nor do they follow the same strategies. One business could be run by an eccentric thought leader who has polarizing opinions and is rarely seen in public. On the other hand, there might be a thought leader who is completely transparent and can be seen doing live videos on Facebook or Twitter several times per day. How a thought leader cultivates their image — and how their brand or business capitalizes that — is a choice. There is no right answer, nor is there a guidebook to follow. Fortunately, thought leaders can tweak their tactics until they find something that works and truly helps them stand out from the crowd and cut through all the digital noise.

When Thought Leaders Go Against the Status Quo

If thought leaders always agreed with the status quo, then there would be no reason for people to seek out their specific opinions. That’s why you might notice that, often, thought leaders go against the status quo in some way. For example, a wellness thought leader might go against the FDA food pyramid, or a marketing thought leader might talk about why Facebook isn’t the answer for most companies. Since these opinions are not typical in those respective industries, they stand out and go against the status quo. This is known as disruption, and disruptors definitely stand out from the crowd.

That being said, even the most respected thought leaders don’t disagree with all industry knowledge. Thought leaders and aspiring thought leaders should not disagree for the sake of it. Doing so can seem disingenuous, which is the opposite of the desired result. Instead, it is savvy to be honest and give credit where it is due. Sometimes, the status quo is the status quo because it is accurate or right. However, thought leaders should not be afraid to speak their mind even if what they have to say is contrary to popular wisdom in their field.

Building a Brand Image Through Carefully Selected Thought Leaders

Thought leaders are usually connected with some kind of brand, idea, organization or business. Often, brands intentionally connect with thought leaders or help blossoming thought leaders break into the public arena. This can be a mutually beneficially relationship, and brands that are led by thought leaders often see a number of advantages.

Think, for example, about social media. Your followers are going to be more engaged and more responsive if they feel like they are having a conversation with a thought leader instead of a generic brand. The content your brand produces will also be more popular if it is written by or even associated with a thought leader. Content that is driven by an authoritative and authentic voice means more to the public, and it is worth sharing.

Plus, having a thought leader at the helm can be incredible PR for a business. Think about companies like SpaceX or Tesla, for example. While you might know a little or a lot about either company, you probably first think of Elon Musk, who is at the helm for both businesses. Whether you love him or hate him, there’s no question that he is strongly tied to the image of Tesla and SpaceX in a concrete and non-negotiable way.


Pioneering Thought Leaders to Watch

Sometimes, the best way to define a thought leader is not through words but through examples. Here are some of the most influential thought leaders, what brands they are associated with and why they stand out from the crowd.

Dave Ramsey: Ramsey may be best known for his radio show and podcast called The Dave Ramsey Show. He tackles a lot of issues and could be considered a self-help guru, but his area of expertise is definitely personal finance. He has helped many people pay off debt and start saving more effectively, and those people have in turn become his devoted fans. His advice combined with his engaged audience is the classic recipe for a thought leader.

Tim Ferriss: A few of Ferriss’ books are “The 4-Hour Workweek” and “The 4-Hour Body,” both of which reveal ways that people can be more efficient with everything from employment to exercise. This is definitely a disruption, and he has an audience that strongly agrees with his point of view.

Robin Chase: As the founder of Zipcar, Robin Chase has plenty of credibility in fields like entrepreneurship, the sharing economy and technology. At the same time, she is outspoken on subjects like climate change. Chase is not afraid to speak her mind and stand out from the crowd, and her success puts her in place as a major thought leader.

Are There Any Downsides to Being a Thought Leader?

Thus far, it seems that there are only upsides to being considered a thought leader or having a thought leader connected to your business. However, it is worth considering the potential downsides. An ancient Japanese proverb says that “the tallest nail gets hammered first.” This absolutely applies to thought leaders. When anyone stands out from the crowd and goes against the status quo, they are making themselves vulnerable to criticism. A thought leader might have a metaphorical target on their back, and other industry leaders might publicly disagree with their opinions.

For this reason, being a thought leader is not recommended for those with very thin skin. Businesses may also want to avoid certain thought leaders if they shy away from controversy or need to be seen as biased or impartial in certain industries. While thought leaders are by and large a positive thing, it is still important to recognize these potential issues.

Cultivate Emerging Thought Leaders in Your Business

If your business is ready to make thought leadership a key part of your strategy, then it first needs to find the knowledge and expertise. Keep in mind that while a thought leader can be an individual, it can also be an entire brand. If you opt to go down this road, you can recruit multiple thought leaders from throughout the company.

To cultivate thought leaders, create an environment where new ideas are always encouraged. Give employees more freedom to explore new opportunities for growth and change, and consider paying for additional training or higher education.

With a team of thought leaders, your business will be in a better position to be seen and heard by more people. Capitalize on all the talent you have nurtured and acquired by publicizing it. Share videos, write blog posts and get active on social media. Not only will this positively impact your brand image, but it can attract new talent and future thought leaders to continue the cycle of innovation and expertise.

If your brand can emerge as an innovative thought leader within your field, then you are a step ahead of the competition. Taking action to develop yourself as a thought leader in your industry can boost everything from your social media engagement to the quality of your content, so it should absolutely be a priority.

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Adarsh Nursery 26. September 2019 - 13:48

Nice blog..! Thanks for posting useful information.You have provided an nice article.


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