Succeeding as a Thought Leader

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You’ve seen them, you’ve heard of them. These are the people everyone in your industry looks up to. That one person who always has the most interesting things to say about the latest technology or the newest opportunities. They seem to know everything there is to know about anything, but they’re also friendly and approachable. They respect you and your questions, and they engage with you as your best friend might at a bar. These are the thought leaders. But—are they really? This week on the #TwitterSmarter chat, we invited content marketing consultant, Erika Heald, to talk about all things thought leaders. Here’s a summary of our chat.

Guest: Erika Heald
Topic: Succeeding as a thought leader
Format: Eight questions directed at the guest. Everyone’s welcome to share.

Q1: What does it mean to be a thought leader?

Let’s face it. Many of us hate the term thought leader. And for good reason too—every day we see so many people claiming to be a thought leader in their field, sharing supposedly “thought-provoking” content aiming to build up their audience.

In reality, a thought leader is a genuine leader in their field. People turn to them—naturally—for guidance, industry predictions, and bigger-picture observations.

It’s important to distinguish a brand from a thought leader, though. Even though many brands create thought-leadership style content nowadays, a thought leader is an individual who has impeccable expertise in their chosen field. The ideas and inspiration shared should be human.

All that said, it’s also essential that people like a thought leader, as Christine pointed out. There are so many experts in various fields who can be alienating. Mere expertise doesn’t constitute thought leadership—it’s also about cultivating human-to-human relationships and fostering a true interest in sharing your knowledge.

Q2: How do you choose which topics to cover in your thought leadership plan?

Most brands will have a marketing team trying to figure out who in their leadership will represent the business as a thought leader. When you’re in that position, consider who’s brave enough to voice their opinions even if they’re deemed controversial and troublesome. That’s the kind of person you want to back because they’re genuine thought leaders. They won’t compromise their authenticity by trying to cater to everyone’s needs.

Erika gave us an example of a video conferencing platform. Their marketing team should be working with thought leaders who can speak on topics like the future of work, productivity, remote and hybrid work, and other similar concepts.

From a personal perspective, you should be asking yourself what skill sets you have that can add value to others and what you want to be known for. Those should be your topics.

Ron made some great points as well. Thought leaders don’t follow trends blindly—they create trends. Instead of saying the same thing as everyone else, a genuine thought leader will have a unique perspective on matters. Those are your topics—ideas that no one else has thought of or had the courage to share publicly.

Q3: How can brands effectively execute thought leadership?

They’re heaps of ways to do it—posting on social media, creating content like webinars, blogs, and ebooks, participating in conferences and award functions, partnering with industry organizations, and developing media relationships.

You’ll need two main things to run a thought leadership plan successfully: a genuine thought leader and someone looking out for opportunities for the thought leader to engage in. Just remember, though, there’s no such thing as overnight success. Start small with a handful of activities, and expand as your team and confidence grows. A real thought leader is one who has their community’s trust—and that can take a while to build up.

As Madalyn emphasized, to gain your community’s love and support, you’ll have to be there for them. Show up consistently and engage with them on a daily basis. If you want them to trust you, they should know who you are.

Q4: How can Twitter help you find the right audience for your thought leadership content?

Start off by searching Twitter for hashtags related to your business and industry. You’ll gradually find thriving interactions, as well as influencers who actively participate in those conversations. Make a list of those people and start conversing with them regularly. You might also find collaboration opportunities for your own brand.

Avast also pointed out the many opportunities you’ll find by joining Twitter chats and Spaces. So many ways to find your perfect audience.

Q5: What can you do to attract thought leadership opportunities on social media?

The easiest way to attack opportunities is to be where your audience is and provide value to them consistently. If you do that, people will approach you with thought leadership opportunities.

Aside from showing up, see that your social media profiles are up to date and project you the way you want to be projected. In your bios, tell people who you are, and what you care about, and add a link where they can either learn more about you or the causes you care about.

When you share a piece of thought leadership content, don’t take a tone of broadcasting. Instead, find ways to keep your audience engaged in your content and encourage them to respond to you.

Q6: What kind of content should thought leaders create?

There’s no one form of content you should create. Just do whatever your audience wants to see from you. This could be presentations, blogs, videos, podcasts, or something else altogether. Know what your audience wants and likes and make more of that.

That said, don’t get stuck on one idea, especially if you don’t enjoy doing it. For example, if you find that your audience likes blogs, don’t feel like you have to only write long-form blogs—particularly if you don’t like writing that much.

Instead, look at creative ways to create a blog post, but also other forms that might help you attract a more and newer audience. You could perhaps record a podcast and convert that transcript into a blog. That might be significantly more enjoyable for you than starting off with a blog. Whatever you do, do something that you enjoy doing. It’s also an excellent way to recycle content in various forms.

Q7: How can you find the right balance between self-promotional and community engagement in your thought leadership plan?

Erika likes to take the 80/20 approach, where 20 percent of all your content is self-promotional and 80 percent is entirely educational. This is where thought leaders and influencers come in. Use that 80 percent to talk about all the things that matter to you as a person.

A good way to make that 80 percent of educational effort work in your favor is to engage with your audience consistently. Do it daily, and if that’s impossible, at least thrice every week. It can be hard to get into the habit at first, but once you get into the swing of things, you’ll automatically start to be more involved in conversations.

Doug put it nicely: “Don’t look and sound desperate for business.” That’s exactly right—be cool.

Q8: How should thought leaders deal with imposter syndrome?

It happens to the best of us. Just remember that you have credible expertise in your field. Of course, you don’t know everything—which is why you should always have an open mind and be willing to learn. But being open-minded doesn’t mean you aren’t still extremely qualified in your field.

Always remind yourself that there’s still a lot to learn. That’ll help you keep arrogance at bay. As our guest pointed out, arrogance can destroy your thought leadership program. To avoid that, make sure to back up your claims with credible studies or sources. Speak only about things within your scope and don’t try to provide advice on topics that aren’t relevant to you.

Keep doing what you’re doing and it will gradually get easier. And if you still find yourself second-guessing yourself, join us next Thursday at 1pm ET for our #TwitterSmarter chat. For an entire hour, we’ll be chatting about imposter syndrome and how to deal with it. We also hang out on Twitter Spaces at 5pm ET to continue our chat.

Well folks, that’s all from me this week. Thanks a lot for reading through and for more great insights from our chat with Erika, have a look at this Twitter Moment that Joana put together for us. If you think this summary is pretty good, you’ll love the real-time chat. Catch you there!

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About me, Narmadhaa

I write all the things—marketing stuff to pay the bills; haiku and short stories so I feel wholesome. A social media enthusiast, I hang out with the #TwitterSmarter chat crew, and am always happy to take on writing gigs.

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