What is Thought Leadership?
Your organization is filled with professionals who are experts at what they do and the industry you’re in. These are your employees, and they’re exactly who you should focus on when building a thought leadership strategy.
But what is thought leadership? And what does it mean to be a thought leader? We’ll cover these important questions, in addition to how to become a thought leader in your industry.
Thought leadership is the sharing of expert knowledge and original and influential insight in a given area, including an industry, concept, skill, or method, that is widely deemed as credible and often sought after.
A thought leader can accrue a following of people who seek a better understanding of a topic and has an extensive background in their area of knowledge. By speaking authoritatively about your insights on trends, challenges, troubleshooting, and methodologies, you and your employees can earn the respect of people in your field.
There are some great ways to build this audience. Of course, people in your organization can share your own content, such as blog posts on timely industry topics, white papers, original research reports, podcasts, videos, and more. But the main idea is you want to share your expertise, add value, and be authentic.
Talk about what you’ve learned in your career and how those lessons would help other people in your line of work. Introduce the successful strategies you’ve used in the past and the mistakes you’ve made. Not only does sharing your own experience check the box of sharing your insights, but it also allows you to be more authentic. That’s exactly what you and your coworkers should strive for.
By sharing your own personal experience and lessons you’ve learned the hard way, people who are in similar positions will relate to you more. Thought leadership is valuable because the audience learns lessons and receives insights, but authenticity and credibility help build out that audience.
Your experience lets your audience know you’ve been through the ropes, and you are a credible person to listen to. By being authentic and relatable, people will simply like you more and enjoy listening to you.
Authenticity also builds trust. If you recommend a product or service – even if it’s from your own brand – people will trust you because of your authenticity. American consumers find that being authentic is one of the main qualities that attract them to a brand, according to Boston Consulting Group.
If you want to know how to become a thought leader, it’s all about sharing your insights, being authentic, and doing these things consistently on as many channels that make sense as you can. Do it through different types of content, different social media channels, and be engaging so people will converse with you.
The History of Thought Leadership
Let’s help you answer the questions, “what is thought leadership?” and “what does thought leadership mean?” The best way to do that is by going over some examples and where the term came from.
The term “thought leadership” first came to life in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, who was the founding editor-in-chief of Strategy & Business magazine. He used the term to describe someone who had a deep understanding of a business marketplace, the needs of customers, and had original and unique points of view and ideas.
But since the mid-90s, the term has evolved into people who are in many areas of expertise – not just business. Thought leadership strategy and thought leadership marketing look different today than they did 26 years ago. People can promote themselves, and develop their own platforms to be heard across social media, blogs, podcasts, and other more modern forms of content, publishing, and promotion.
We’ve seen many examples of people who promote their own personal brands and build credibility for themselves as thought leaders.
One example of a thought leader is Simon Sinek, who has gone from working at an ad agency to becoming a renowned figure and best selling author.
He gave a very popular Ted Talk before releasing his first book, Start With Why, and then repurposed the concepts of his book and Ted Talk into YouTube videos. Today he continues to write books, makes videos, and gives keynote speeches at conferences and events. He is also an instructor at Columbia University and the founder of Sinek Partners.
Now, are you or your colleagues going to become exactly like Sinek? Probably not but that is simply an example, not the standard of success. What we do learn is ‘what is thought leadership?’ and it’s exactly this. Share original concepts and ideas through many different types of content and platforms that work for you. People will recognize if it adds value, and you’ll attract your target audience.
Another example is Chris Voss, who is a retired FBI hostage negotiator turned author, professor, and public speaker. His background likely sounds different from yours, but the concept is still there.
Voss explains to people how to take negotiation methods he used in his past career, and apply it to business deals with partners, clients, and more. He explains his methods through his book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It, and repurposes the key thoughts on social media, blog posts, podcasts, online courses, YouTube videos, and more. He’s also given a Ted Talk and speaks at other public events to share his insights.
Take your past experience in an area you know well, and share your insights with those around you. The ability to take skills and principles you have learned elsewhere in your life, and apply it to different scenarios, gives others the actionable insight they are looking to achieve from your thought leadership content.
Let’s throw this into a more real-life scenario.
Let’s say you’ve worked in marketing or sales your whole career. You’ve probably seen a number of different tactics vying for your attention, and you have probably run similar campaigns yourself. You’ve seen some great campaign tactics but you’ve also seen some that fell flat on their faces. Talk about them! No one knows your stories better than you, and you can share the lessons of these experiences with people who are trying to grow in the same field.
Have you conducted a successful account-based marketing campaign? If that’s relevant to your target audience, tell them how it went. Did you run into some mistakes along the way? Share those, too. There are people who work in your field who have never done this type of campaign and could use your insight. That’s just a small example, but you might have many more lessons and insights to share that people will appreciate.
Successful Thought Leadership Examples Today
Many brands today are respected thought leaders.
A few examples of thought leadership include market research firms, Gartner, Forrester, and IDC. Each gives people in different industry insights into the trends and challenges specific markets face. Vendors, distributors, solution providers, and buyers, look to these firms for advice and information they can lean on to make important business decisions.
The analysts of these firms are thought leaders. They all publish original research reports, white papers, and are quoted by industry news outlets. They’re invited to speak at industry conferences because of their original research and thought leadership. The firms themselves host their own conferences where attendees come to gain advice, learn about best practices, how to solve their problems, and what trends to be on the lookout for.
Vendors can be thought leaders, too. HubSpot sells marketing software, but it’s viewed as a resource and thought leader in marketing, sales, and more. The company has a very successful blog that covers a whole slew of topics, including social media marketing, content marketing, customer services, and sales.
Hubspot also offers Hubspot Academy, an online school where company employees teach viewers about a range of different topics. Offering online courses presents the software company as a thought leader in its industry and puts faces to the brand, building the platforms of the employees teaching the courses.
Hubspot also hosts Inbound, which is one of the biggest annual marketing conferences there is. Thousands of professional marketers come to this event in Boston to sit in on sessions and keynotes from marketers, salespeople, and more.
Hosting this event elevates HubSpot as a resource of thought leadership. It’s credible, with the strongest speakers from around the industry speaking at their event. And it’s respected by salespeople and marketers for the caliber of information they will receive, and then can take back to their offices to use in their efforts.
Breaking Down the Thought Leadership Strategy
Implementing a successful thought leadership strategy has huge benefits for your brand. Let’s dive further into the questions, “what is thought leadership?” and “what are its benefits?”
Thought leadership presents your brand as a credible, trustworthy resource that people can engage with for a value-add conversation. It draws people in for this reason. You benefit from thought leadership as you can leverage the expertise of your organization to build resolution for your target audience, thus solving a problem they may have.
Expresses Brand Confidence
Using your employees to share their insights and expertise puts a face behind your brand, making your brand more personable. It also shows who is behind your brand and the knowledge they have about your industry.
You should leverage your employees in your content and on social media to be more authentic and leverage their expertise. When you do this, you show your brand confidence. You’re not hiding who your people are. In fact, you’re placing them out front, making them accessible, and showing them off.
Leveraging employees in this way will help guide your brand to the top. Not only do your brand abilities get elevated, but employees do too. This directly contributes to your employee engagement strategies, and when employees feel they are part of the bigger picture, they are more engaged and happy with their employer.
Engage with Your Audience
When you and your coworker embrace thought leadership, you don’t want to speak at your audience. You want to speak with your audience.
You and your employees want to be engaging. The idea is to stir up conversations with people. This will make it easier to figure out what people need help with, what problems they need you to solve, and other people will notice that you’re open to helping people. They can ask you questions, too.
So how can you be more engaging and let people know they can reach out to you? Speak at conferences, talk to people on the side when you’re done speaking, and tell people that you’re available via email and social media.
You and your coworkers can also answer questions on sites like Quora, and let people know they can ask you for help if they need it. Use social media to spread your personal brand, answer people’s questions, and start conversations.
Or consider publishing your thoughts on the LinkedIn Publishing Network, or through creative videos. For example, Dean Agen, a client executive here at GaggleAMP, started #Deans3Cents on LinkedIn to give his 3-4 minute perspectives on recent blog posts and how it pertains to conversations he is regularly having.
By providing his thoughts around a topic, Dean is elevating himself as a thought leader in the employee advocacy space with employer branding strategy. And, it pays off for Dean. His network is largely comprised of contacts that have an interest in employee advocacy or have thought about using an employee advocacy tool. So when this video garnered over 1,600 views at the time of publishing, you can bet those engagements were targeted and elevated Dean as a thought leader.
This is what you want your employees to do. Encourage them to be more active on social media by connecting with the right people, sharing insights, and engaging with your target audience.
You can help your employees promote themselves and your brand through an employee advocacy platform like GaggleAMP. This tool allows your marketing department to suggest actions for your employees to carry out on social media.
Only employees who volunteer to be part of your employee advocacy program will see these suggestions, and each individual action is voluntary as well. People who opt into the program are willing to promote your brand on social media and are happy to help, and this will help you have more brand advocates on social media.
Prove Your Idea Matters
As a thought leader, you want to back up your ideas and show that they’re credible.
When news breaks in your industry about a new product or service, for example, explain how this development falls in line with an opinion you recently shared. Being a thought leader is not about having hot takes. It’s about sharing your insight and lessons you’ve learned from your personal experience.
If a new product or service comes out, you can explain how the new features would have helped you in the past and will help you and others going forward. Explain how these features fall in line with an opinion you had about how a challenge needs to be solved.
Provides Brand Honesty & Builds Trust
What is thought leadership? It’s all about being authentic.
You can’t stress enough how powerful authenticity can be. If you share your honest perspective, lessons from your past experience, mistakes you made, and how they made you successful, people will relate to you, and they’ll respect you for it. That’s the power of storytelling. It helps build trust.
You can also build trust through in-person events. Face-to-face interactions and talking in person shows that you’re here to help. Be available to answer questions and engage with people. Ask them questions about who they are and what they do so you get a better idea of problems they need to solve, and you’ll build rapport with people.
You can do this on social media too by engaging with people consistently, and doing live videos and answering questions, and sharing posts with insights from your experience. That is much more valuable than a PR style release.
Building trust is incredibly important and thought leadership is a great way to do that. Thought leadership builds more trust than you may give it credit for. Half of B2B marketers believe thought leadership creates trust in their organization. But a staggering 83% of buyers say thought leadership makes a brand more trustworthy, according to LinkedIn.
A Voice Among Controversy
In today’s world where everything is recorded and shared widely on social media, it’s important to have leadership with a steady voice.
Business leaders are required to be out front and speak during times of controversy or even crisis. They need to be measured in what they say and have an objective. Having leadership that can do this is incredibly effective for your brand. This person is a voice of reason when things aren’t going well, and can provide direction towards success.
But you don’t want your leadership to only speak out when things aren’t going well. They should be thought leaders too. That way, people will be familiar with them already, have respect for them, know they’re credible, and trust in what they say when they speak during harder times.
That is why when you implement your thought leadership strategy, you’ll want executive buy-in. Get them active on social media. Have them speak at events. This will only help.
How to Implement Thought Leadership in Your Marketing Plan
A great thought leadership marketing strategy for your organization is all about leveraging the people under your roof and allowing them to represent your brand outside of the workplace.
In order to implement thought leadership in your marketing strategy, you need to trust your employees – you hired them for a reason. Empower them to represent your brand, show off their experience and expertise, and guide them on actions they can take to be successful.
Help them find opportunities to engage with others, whether that’s connecting with people on social media or speaking at an industry conference. Feature employees in your content, whether that’s a blog post, podcast, videos, and more. You have their expertise sitting in your office. Use it.
How to Become a Thought Leader & Create An Effective Campaign
To start off your thought leadership campaign, you need people to step up to be your advocates.
This isn’t something you can pressure people to do. It has to be completely voluntary. You can pitch your employees on what’s in it for them – building their personal brand, being more valuable to the company, and more. Explain how you and your marketing department will empower them, but at the end of the day, it’s their decision.
It’s a great idea to get executive buy-in before you pitch thought leadership and employee advocacy to the rest of the company. If they believe in your initiative, you’ll have that much more support going into your campaign. These people have influential voices in your organization, so it’ll only help you to have them on your side.
The next thing you want to do is identify the different segments of your employee population.
The different segments you want to look for are:
- Employees who are active on social media and talk about your brand.
- Employees who want to be active on social media and talk about your brand but don’t know how or are worried about saying something wrong.
- Employees who don’t want to be thought leaders or active on social media.
Once you identify these segments, you want to focus on employees who want to promote your brand and be active on social but are not doing so yet. You also want to bring in the group of people who are already active on social. These two groups are the ones you can bring into your employee advocacy program to be your thought leaders.
Once you have these two groups identified, you want to empower them. Guide them by suggesting actions they can take on social media. Provide them with quality content they can share, allow them to promote what they know, and point them towards people they can connect and engage with.
Thought leadership is more than just blog content, too. Podcasts are a great way to add an authentic voice alongside a message that your employees can convey well. Loren Jarrett, Chief Marketing Officer at Progress does just that with her topic around core principles and customer relationships. Further, it gives content for the Progress Sitefinity corporate brand to share, leveraging their key assets - their people.
Progress Software leverages thought leadership both in and outside of its organization by implementing an employee advocacy platform. It integrates with their existing platforms so it won’t interrupt their workflows. They are able to easily carry out actions in seconds, promote ideas and topics, and amplify their brand and that of their employees.
This will enable employees to build their own personal brands and grow into respected thought leaders.
Thought Leadership On Social / Digital
By engaging with people on social media, sharing your personal experience on a multitude of platforms, and adding value through your insights, you can be a thought leader on social media.
Connect with other notable people in your industry and engage with them in conversations. You can build partnerships with them and broaden your own audience. Continue to share your insight and quality content on industry topics, and give people the opportunity to ask you questions.
Use each social media platform correctly. If you’re on Facebook or LinkedIn, engage in conversations you see in your feed, but also leverage Groups on both platforms.
If you’re on Instagram, take advantage of Stories, Live videos, and IGTV. Use hashtags and find people through hashtag feeds. You can also utilize hashtags on Twitter, and engage in conversations on your feed as well. Later Media, a social media scheduling tool, does a fantastic job of not only creating content that is interesting to their audience but leveraging the right channel with the right message at the right time.
It’s all about being personable, authentic, adding value, and being consistent. It takes time to build an audience, but you can do it and promote yourself as a thought leader.
Thought Leadership in B2B
B2B organizations can see a great amount of success by leveraging industry thought leaders. It almost certifies its brand, products, and services. When a thought leader talks up your brand, people in your industry will listen.
According to Edelman, 61% of decision-makers say they're more willing to pay premium prices to work with a brand that articulates a clear vision through thought leadership.
B2B brands can leverage thought leaders in their industry or their own thought leaders in their organizations. You can do this on social media, or any digital content, but conferences work great as well.
When you go to conferences, it’s a great idea to plan ahead.
Set up meetings with people you know already. Schedule networking events into your agenda that give you the opportunity to meet more people. Make sure you’re active on social media using the event hashtags, and engage with people who are posting about the event as well.
If you can get the opportunity, speak at conferences. Be engaging through storytelling and share lessons you learned that will help your audience. Offer to answer questions after you’re done speaking and offer your email and social media handles to connect with people after.
Meeting people in person at events is incredibly helpful for building rapport face-to-face, so do it if you can.
Thought Leadership in PR
One of the biggest signs of respect in your industry is when a brand highlights something you say about your industry as if your opinion is a fact. Or when the media leverages your organization as an authority in a situation.
It happened just like that for cybersecurity company Carbon Black. When executives would appear on major media outlets, Carbon Black used their employee advocacy platform to rally around the media outlets commentary.
When members of their executive team appeared on CNN as an authority in a matter, Carbon Black boosted engagement on the CNN reporter’s tweets when they shared clips of the segment. It led to a CNN on-air reporter stating that they get a huge boost in reach and engagement after interviews with Carbon Black executives, which didn’t happen with other sources.
“This is a GaggleAMP specifically driving additional PR attention,” said Ryan Murphy of Carbon Black in this PR case study. “I couldn’t envision a better scenario for one person looking to move the needle. It’s a very easy and effective way to do that. Our ability to get our company - not just our corporate handle - but our company to engage with reporters and media sources has in some ways made us a go-to source for some of the prime networks out there.”
Leveraging thought leadership in your PR efforts shows that you are a recognized and respected thought leader, and people should value what you have to say.
Organizations often invite thought leaders to speak at their conferences or host sessions. They’ll also invite them to speak on their podcasts or be interviewed for blogs or videos. There are many opportunities out there for thought leaders. Once you’re established, it’s easy to stay busy.
Thought Leadership in Prospecting
In order to reach your target audience, you need to know where your audience is, both on social media and in real life. This means you need to attend the right conferences and events to meet them there.
On social media, join LinkedIn and Facebook Groups and engage with them there. You need to identify the most commonly used hashtags people in your industry use and find your target audience there. Engage with these people, find out what problems they’re trying to solve, and help them.
Properly done, effective thought leadership will address those in a relevant audience and position them early in their problem-solving process. It may help move them along in recognizing there is a problem and your thoughts around the topic may be the resolution they are looking for. It may also prompt other dialogue and discussion that wouldn’t otherwise have happened. This value-added connection will be appreciated, and it’ll help you build recognition.
Want to Make It Easier On Your Thought Leader & Marketing Team?
You can inspire people in your organization and enable them to be more active on social media and become thought leaders in your industry. By leveraging their expertise, they can become thought leaders in your industry.
Some of your employees will do well and improve, while others will go very far and grow into a thought leader or micro-influencer. You can empower them through an employee advocacy platform like GaggleAMP. This will help you suggest actions for them to carry out on social media, send them quality content with suggested captions and hashtags that they can present to their followers, and more.
GaggleAMP helps brands, employees, partners, and stakeholders amplify their thought leadership efforts and drive their business forward. With the use of our employee advocacy tool, we make it easier to share content with prospects and customers to boost your lead generation, social selling, internal communication, and talent pool development efforts. Learn more about how GaggleAMP can improve your organization's employee advocacy efforts and schedule a demo today.