If you’re looking to become a thought leader where do you start? It’s an issue a lot of marketers struggle with. Being a thought leader can help build your brand, makes PR easier, and ultimately drives people to your site to get answers. Sounds great, right? But becoming one of the most important voices in your industry is easier said than done.
To rise above and become a true influencer there are two big things anyone has to achieve: 1) Demonstrate thought leadership by actively disseminating information that’s truly smart and valuable, and 2) Get people to recognize how smart and valuable your ideas are.
If all your thoughts are in your head, a proprietary database, or somewhere else the world can’t see them, you’re not going to make a mark. So, building a reputation in your industry starts with sharing information and ideas. Day in, day out, this means writing great content like blog posts, how-to articles, and social media content that brings your creative thinking and unique perspective to a larger audience.
But according to (ahem, thought leader) Neil Patel, in a world of micro-content and fleeting attention spans, 2000+ word, high-quality blog posts are still valuable. “I am a big believer in evergreen long-form content pieces. They perform better and add immense value to your audience by going beyond just scratching the surface,” says Patel. Better yet, do original research to provide intelligence that nobody else can offer.
Think you have it in you? Here are some actionable steps that can help you begin building the foundation of your reputation as a thought leader in your industry.
Step #1: Start self-publishing great content regularly.
The first step is to start writing great content regularly. In order to become a thought leader in your industry, you need to step outside of your shell and go where the people are. This means self-publishing high-quality content, either on your own site, or on on sites like LinkedIn Pulse and Medium, where you can reach more people and generate a discussion.
Think about publishing off your site if you don’t have much of an audience to begin with.
Medium is great because is uses a system of recommendations to ensure that the best articles get noticed. If you’re a great writer with valuable ideas, this platform will help you get noticed in the right communities. Similarly, since LinkedIn opened up Pulse to all of it’s English-speaking users, it has become a great place to gain visibility in your industry. If you’re patient and consistently publishing great content, you can gradually build a following and name for yourself in relevant networks. It’s important to point out that these
are not merely publishing platforms, but spaces that give your networks exposure to your ideas and generate discussion.
Step #2: Determine who manages influential websites and find out how to reach them.
Once you’ve found your groove in the self-publishing sphere, it’s time to kick it up a notch and start guest-posting. Guest posting is important because it helps you reach existing audiences who are interested in your area of expertise, but also because getting selected as a guest poster is external validation that your perspective matters.
The only reason we put guest posting at number two on this list is because you may need to show a bit of a publishing history to sell yourself as a guest poster. This involves a little bit more work than simply self-publishing:
- Know your audience by reading as much as you can about the editors who manage platforms or sites where you want to get published (we’re looking at you, Dan Roth).
- Locate sites to target, subscribe to whatever content they produce or help shape—social media channels, email newsletters, curated websites—and understand how their content vision shapes the stories they share. Often they’ll tell you straight out in their guest posting guidelines (if they have them) Try a Google search for the name of the publication and “guest posting” or “contributed content” to find direct channels for applying.
- Even if a site asks for submissions, the people who run it are often too busy to find all the gems in the slush pile. Direct outreach will help you stand out. Craft a personalized private message and reach out on social media or email. Be succinct, but be sure to tell a compelling story about the piece you want to contribute. It’s important to have writing samples ready to share (this is where your vault of self-published work comes in handy). Pro tip: try interacting with your targets on social media before reaching out. It will help them recognize you when you reach out formally.
- If you get a response, cultivate the relationship gradually and meaningfully. Offer them value through great content and great ideas. Don’t waste their time with convoluted pitches. Do be responsive when they respond. No one wants to build a professional relationship with a fly-by-night marketer.
Step #3: Promote your posts like crazy.
It might take weeks or even months. But as you work to build inroads with publishers you respect, that big break will come. And when it does, you need to be prepared to promote your content like crazy. The better your post performs, the more likely it is they’ll want to work with you again.
As soon as your new piece of content goes live on an influential site, schedule several posts that frame what you’ve written and explain the value. Lighthearted anecdotes might be interesting to a handful of people, but most professionals are seeking out content that answers big questions and helps them do their jobs better. Make sure your social promotion identifies the value right off the bat. Your content could be a treasure trove of innovative thinking, but it will never be read if you don’t promote it.
Big publishers have sway, but you have to carry the torch to the finish line.
Step #4: Write about topics that your audience will want to tell their followers about.
Like we said earlier, your reach is only as good as your message. Here’s where it pays to do a little intel work. What questions are people asking that only you can help them unpack? What search terms keep cropping up in Google Analytics reports? Where can you be of the greatest service?
To do this effectively, you have to be well read. You need to understand your industry inside and out, and that kind of experience comes only through practice, relationship-building, and consistent reading. Look at Quora and LinkedIn groups (and answer questions there — Gary Vaynerchuk made a name for himself by answering wine questions on Twitter). Get your hands on the books, articles, and online content produced by the influencers you respect and aspire to emulate. Don’t lose touch with your own internal compass, but be open to adapting and growing as you consume content from the people doing it really well.
The point is to put a unique spin on your industry to captivate, surprise, and inform your audience. With each post, you build the trust that true influencers possess. Pro tip: original research is valuable content you can offer that nobody else can. If you can’t offer it (through things like survey research or internal user data), then you can stand out by offering more exhaustive research than anyone else. For example,
the Mary Meeker report is a must read for marketers because it synthesizes a tremendous amount of publically available information.
Step #5: Getting promoted isn’t the result of good luck.
Have a trusted colleague review your blog posts and other written content before you submit or publish it. Seek constructive feedback and be prepared to actually make changes. It might be painful to undergo extensive critiques at first, but it’s the best way to grow as a writer, and well-crafted content is the foundation of thought leadership. Content with errors (whether grammatical, logical, or factual), will never be seen as authoritative.
Step #6: Revisit what’s working and what isn’t, and course-correct as needed.
Suppose your first breakthrough blog post helped you gain some exposure in the industry, but you’ve been struggling to find somewhere to publish your follow-up content. Don’t accept defeat and commit to a life of solitude in the Community for Forgotten Marketers. Keep at it.
If you have the experience, the knowledge, a good story, and the drive to bring your insights to a broader audience, then why wait any longer? Get writing! The more you write and get your name out there, the better chance you have of blossoming into an industry thought-leader.
Want to know who the thought leaders are in your industry? Check out Rock Content Influence. We use a millions of unique sources to create a comprehensive map of who’s influential in your space and what they’re talking about.
Nate Birt is a multimedia journalist, social media enthusiast and copy editor with experience at a variety of print and digital publications, and a Contributing Editor to the Rock Content Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @natebirt.