by Susan Shelby
Your clients — and potential clients — have real problems that keep them up at night. You have real solutions that can solve their problems. How do you establish yourself as the industry expert that can save the day for them? Thought leadership.
Thought leadership is established by creating content and using it to promote your expertise. Content creation — a favorite buzzword in the marketing world — involves generating material that showcases your skills to prove why you are the best choice to help clients with their projects. Intelligent, thought-provoking, and forward-thinking content elevates the visibility of your firm, builds your brand, and promotes you as an expert. The intention is to earn recognition as a trusted authority in your field by delivering knowledge that teaches and helps others make decisions, not sells your specific services. That’s thought leadership.
To start, you need a topic that highlights your expertise, time to write and create content, and a firm understanding of how to reach your target audience. Content creation and distribution can be time-consuming. Many firms struggle to find the time and recognize that outsourcing this task provides them with high-caliber material that exemplifies their true talents, but at a quicker pace than they themselves could achieve.
Content can be in any medium, ranging from the written to the spoken word, and from simple infographics to detailed videos. Key points to remember when creating content:
- Keep your target audience in mind.
- Determine what issues your audience faces.
- Offer guidance and real solutions.
- Keep writing simple, clear, and free of jargon.
- Include key words that will reach your target audience in their online searches.
Ideally, your original content can be repurposed into a variety of formats for maximum value and impact. Key points can be pulled from a byline article to create social media posts, and the slideshow used during a presentation can be uploaded as a blog post on your website. Once you have created your content, the next step is distributing it across a variety of channels. A well-rounded thought leadership tool box should contain eight tools.
Tool No. 1: social media. Social media channels offer excellent ways to deliver original thought leadership directly to your target audience. Posting original content, not exclusively reposting articles or reinterpreting news items, is the key to defining your competence. Popular platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are an effective way to reach audiences. Many industry groups have online communities. Join in and participate in discussions to become an invaluable and supportive resource.
Tool No. 2: byline articles. Byline articles published in industry publications provide an excellent way to position yourself as a thought leader. The content should be written from the third-person perspective and deliver knowledge that a reader will find actionable and useful. The goal is to express your expertise, not create a self-promotional marketing piece.
Tool No. 3: speaking opportunities. Further brand yourself as an industry expert and reach your target audience by presenting at conferences or hosting seminars. Your topic should highlight how you approached a project challenge and your unique solution to it. Many speakers find it beneficial to invite a client to participate with them, further demonstrating expertise from the end user’s point of view.
Tool No. 4: website. Your company website differentiates your brand and allows you to communicate how you stand out from your competitors. Website content should highlight your specialized skills and what services you offer and should be written using keywords that will help clients find you via organic search. A blog can be used to disperse clear and concise thought leadership messages by showcasing past and present work and how you solved project challenges.
Tool No. 5: visual aids. Visual aids such as slideshows and infographics are an excellent way to highlight your innovative thinking and creative problem solving. Showcase your thought leadership by displaying the efforts and results of how you completed a difficult project. These images can be used to recognize your thought leadership across a number of platforms, including social media updates, email blast campaigns, collateral for presentations, and graphics accompanying byline articles.
Tool No. 6: videos. Thought leadership involves story-telling, and what better way to tell a story than with a video? Content marketing videos featuring project tours with client testimonials and how-to tutorials are all the rage these days, as YouTube and Facebook videos go viral in this social media age. The intention is to educate your audience by distributing helpful advice and a first-hand look at your expertise in an engaging and entertaining way.
Tool No. 7: webinars. True thought leaders can identify current and future trends in their industry, giving insight into market changes and what can be expected in the future. They use their knowledge to help others solve their problems and prepare for what lies ahead. One way to display this thought leadership quality is by hosting webinars. Conducting webinars is a way to solidify your relationship with current clients and introduce potential clients to the wealth of expertise you hold.
Tool No. 8: awards. Awards are another instrument to convey your visionary thinking and exceptional problem-solving skills. While winning an award certainly is prestigious, awards go beyond accolades by providing validation of your authority and authenticity in your field. The recognition earned demonstrates that you are an expert, further branding you as a thought leader.
Establishing thought leadership helps generate positive brand awareness; indicate vision and drive; and emphasize knowledge, intuition, and credibility. Becoming a thought leader takes time, but if you start with a solid foundation based on your skills and build upon it with consistent messages, you can construct your own reputation as a thought leader.
Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM, is the president and CEO of Rhino Public Relations.