— January 29, 2019
Right off the bat I need to make a disclaimer: I am not a thought leader. But that’s OK because I’m not going to pretend like I can tell you how to become the next Elon Musk.
It seems like everyone on LinkedIn is a thought leader these days. Companies you’ve never heard of are staffed with them. With so many thought leaders, where are the followers? Maybe we can better tell the difference by switching it up and looking at what thought leadership isn’t:
Being all theory, no practice
You have to start by actually knowing what you’re talking about. Imagine that! Be prepared to use examples and real-life scenarios to explain why you’ve come to your conclusions. Having an opinion is easy. What takes time and effort is supporting that opinion with context and your thought process. People need to understand how you developed your thought-leading idea before they can follow it.
Be scientific. You’re trying to get supporters for your hypothesis. What’s the evidence? What are the stats? Is this based on something you’ve been through with a customer? Drawing on your experience is what gives you the credibility to be a thought leader. Don’t shy away from it.
Sharing vague or generalized information
You can make a claim like, “Chatbot implementation leads to increased conversions.”
You can go beyond theory and say, “Chatbot implementation leads to a 25% increase in conversions.”
But the real thought leaders will say, “Chatbot implementation leads to a 25% increase in conversions by doing this…”
I get it, you may not want to share your secret sauce. But if nobody tastes your sauce, how will they know how amazing it is? Push yourself to give detail and examples of your hypothesis in action. If you’re feeling blocked by confidentiality or security issues, you can always change the names of the companies and employees involved. Censor the key account information and remove logos. Mind your customers’ privacy, but push to show as much as you can in order to be quantifiable and convincing.
Oh, and that secret sauce? What if you gave people the recipe? What says “being a leader” more than giving directions? Nothing is more convincing than laying out your steps in a way that allows your audience to test your theory themselves. Ideas are sweet, but actions are sweeter.
Jumping on a bandwagon
By definition, thought leadership needs to be different. It needs to stand out and shake some feathers. Thought leadership isn’t about reading a blog and siding with the author. Thought leadership is about writing a blog and forming your own opinion. How are you going to rock boats by reciting ideas that are already out there floating around? A key ingredient to thought leadership is the zig in response to the zag. You need to go against the grain to deliver something refreshing, not recycled.
Take another look at unpopular opinions. Maybe a change in perspective can be used to grab the attention of your audience? Try twisting the norm into something different or building upon an existing idea to share details that aren’t otherwise shared in the space (aka. the previous thing we shouldn’t be doing).
If it was easy, it wouldn’t be such a valuable way to market your business. Everyone would do it and nobody would stand out. Establishing yourself as a true thought leader among all the phonies takes time, dedication, and practice. It’s also scary as hell. People may not support your view, they might even oppose it. You have to put yourself and your ideas way out there if you want to be noticed. The key is to start small and keep pushing boundaries until you break through.