One of the most popular terms in marketing today is “thought leadership”, and while some use it as a buzzword to describe any authority gained on a subject, the reality of the process goes much deeper than that.
Becoming a thought leader means positioning yourself or your company as an expert within your field, the place people go first when they want answers, ideas, or analysis. Sure, consumers still want to hear about specific products, and promotional content will continue to draw interest and drive traffic and sales, but when a business is able to elevate its status to that of a thought leader, it means that users are seeing them as something different than a sales medium.
Research shows that some 96% of all B2B companies want more content from industry thought leaders. Through an effective thought leadership program, you can build brand equity, and consumers and other businesses will end up looking to you for answers, and will trust what you have to say. This can provide you with a terrific opportunity to share your views, and shape the conversation, which then creates more sustainable growth than a single product or concept.
Social media offers the most direct access to consumers on the internet, so it should be the focus of any thought leadership strategy. Here are eight social media-related methods that can be used to boost your reputation as a thought leader.
1. Provide Quality Content
It should almost go without saying that you need to provide excellent, timely content on a regular basis as part of any thought leadership program.
The internet is rife with information, but much less forthcoming with compelling, thoughtful articles that do more than simply promote a product. When social media users begin to recognize your content, and associate you with intriguing content and impartial advice, that’s when you have the opportunity to have an impact in thought leadership.
2. Know Your Audience
While your target audiences will vary, they are likely to have many similarities when it comes to the content they are hoping to find.
If you've put the work into developing your marketing strategy, then you should have a pretty good idea of what your ideal customer looks like. Targeting your topics, focus, and tone to appeal to this group will not only generate the most traffic but also net the best results.
3. Build Your Network
Although having 10,000 Instagram followers in no way makes you an expert on anything, you do need to have a sizeable following on each of your platforms, or you won’t have enough traffic to develop much influence, regardless of how terrific your content is.
Every business should be making a concerted push to build their social media network at the same time as they're improving their content. While you need to have followers to appreciate your information, you'll generate more followers by providing interesting, shareable content. The two always go hand in hand.
While thought leaders, first and foremost, need their products, services, and content to speak for them, it's also essential to engage with potential customers as much as possible.
Being active on social media platforms shows visitors that you're open to interaction, and receptive to questions. Chiming in on discussions, commenting on the posts of others and providing additional info whenever possible shows your dedication to the subject.
In addition, sharing smart, informative content produced by others shows that not only do you recognize great subject matter when you see it, but that you aren’t too proud to share the spotlight.
It is important to vary the format of your content.
This serves two main purposes - for one, diversifying your structure will enable you to reach more people. Some prefer to read short, to-the-point articles, others like to watch videos and almost never read articles. Many people respond better to graphics or quotes from well-known experts. Providing variety ensures that your content reaches all these groups.
Secondly, it reinforces the idea that you're not a one-trick pony, and that you're committed to providing the best and most relevant information in whatever form necessary.
6. Provide Original Research
People respond to specific, quantifiable data, and providing facts and figures from your personal or business experience, sourced from surveys or research, can help mark you as an authority in the field.
This shows that not only is your business knowledgeable and cutting-edge, but that you also care enough about what you do to compile, analyze and share data. Original research reflects a company that takes their trade seriously, and is committed to improvement.
And even if you don’t have your own data, sharing verifiable results from respected industry leaders shows that you're sincere about your desire for knowledge and performance.
7. Build a Professional Profile
Social media is no longer a new concept, and the vast majority of your target audience will be very familiar with most social media platforms, and have a better than average proficiency with them.
If your business presents itself in a sloppy or half-hearted manner through its online profiles, these potential customers will immediately identify you as something less than a leader in the field. Professional, informative profiles that explain your business concisely, while remaining informal and approachable, send the right message to anyone who's interested enough to look for the source behind an article or blog.
Obviously, all of this goes double for your dedicated website, essentially the face of business in the 21st century.
8. Utilize a Soft Sales Approach
Maybe the main quality that separates thought leadership from standard market influence is an unobtrusive sales approach.
Modern consumers are instantly wary of an aggressive sales pitch, with their skepticism destroying the credibility of the content. Most people understand that your ultimate goal is to generate business, but it's important to show your audience that your focus is on information first, sales second.
Becoming a recognizable thought leader in your industry can open up a wealth of marketing options for those businesses with the subtlety and savvy to use them properly. By taking the extra time required to produce content superior to that of the competition, demonstrating a willingness to engage on social media, and retaining a certain level of dignity, you can set yourself up as a pillar of your field - and reap all the benefits that entails.