From a content marketing standpoint, being a thought leader is a great way to build an audience and inspire confidence in you and your company’s brand. A thought leader can come from any industry or sector. Being a thought leader means developing an audience with insightful commentary and original content that separates you from your competition. 

So how do you do it? 

Below are recommendations for seven best practices on becoming an effective thought leader in your space: 

  1. Be authentic
  2. Be bold and set the tone
  3. Promote ideas and values, not products
  4. Have an original point of view
  5. Use your failures to your advantage
  6. Understand your audience
  7. Take advantage of the right platforms

Let’s take a closer look at how you can execute each item:

Be Authentic

This is listed first for a reason. There’s nothing easier for your audience to “sniff out” than a lack of authenticity. The key to authenticity is simple: write about subjects you know and share viewpoints you sincerely believe in. Where you don’t have the knowledge, do your research. Don’t try to fake it when it comes to your audience. When you’re out of your depth, it will come across in your writing. Speak to subjects you truly understand and care about. If you’re writing about a topic simply because it represents the latest buzzword everyone is talking about, you’re less likely to produce compelling content. Your writing will reflect your lack of awareness. Instead, focus on areas in which you have a natural passion or curiosity.

Be Bold and Set the Tone

Have a strong opinion about a topic in your field? Don’t be afraid to make a bold statement. That doesn’t mean you have to be offensive or crude — but you’ll want to create strong statements that grab your reader’s attention and make them curious to read more. 

By being unafraid to make powerful declarations, you alert your reader that you’ve got a voice worth noticing. You’re not a content creator that blindly follows trends, but one who sets them. Question the status quo. Challenge commonly held beliefs to examine whether they really hold up under scrutiny. By adopting this sort of attitude, you can assure your reader they can come to expect a fresh point of view when they engage with your content. 

Thought Leaders Promote Ideas and Values, Not Products

To be a thought leader, your content should focus on highlighting your great ideas or important values over promoting a specific product. While you are selling yourself, thought leadership content shouldn’t feel “salesy.” It should provide the reader with valuable ideas they can apply in their own work or life. That will help them build a connection with you. By using your platform to immediately sell to them, you lose all credibility. Your content should serve as a lead gen strategy booster for your product, rather than directly selling it.

Ultimately, the more your audience seeks out your material, the more they’ll trust you. That’s the type of relationship that can lead to them buying your product or services. But this type of content is not the place to directly promote your offering. 

Have an Original Point of View

Offering opinions or positions that many people have already expressed won’t really move the need or help grow your audience. After all, people have read that elsewhere. To establish an audience, you have to offer your readers something different from what they read anywhere else. 

The last thing your audience wants to read is rehashed or reworded content. That’s not to say you can’t reference other pieces in your work. But the critical aspect of doing this is to have an original spin or take on the piece. You should always strive to introduce new ideas to your reader, or present old ideas to them in a way they may not have considered before. 

Use Your Failures to Your Advantage

Thought leadership isn’t presenting yourself as some sort of miraculous savant or continual success story. You can also highlight your weaknesses or failures to make a point as well. 

Your audience is presumably following you to learn something and gather new insight into your area of expertise. What better way to give them that than by sharing a story about a time you failed? You can then explain how you learned from and improved after your misstep. 

This has a two-pronged effect:

  • It underlines your authenticity. Again, readers love authentic content that isn’t forced or faked. 
  • It enables the reader to relate to you. Everyone’s experienced a setback in their career. They may have even experienced a setback similar to the one you’re describing. People find value in reading about failures and how someone battled back from them. 

Understand Your Audience

To become a true thought leader, you should develop content that your target audience will find useful. That means understanding what kind of insight the readers in your field are looking for. Not everything you write has to be about your industry, per se. But you should be able to tie the major themes of each piece back to your field. 

Know your audience and what kind of message they’re looking for. That’s not to say you should only write based on what you think people want to hear. Adopt the attitude of catering to your readers without pandering. That way you can strike a good balance of giving them actionable content that stays true to your particular brand. 

Take Advantage of the Right Platforms

Using an outlet like your company blog or LinkedIn is a great way to spread your message. Your organization’s blog is a great resource to tie your thought leadership back into your product or service — the reader is already on your website and can easily associate your words with what you produce.

Regarding LinkedIn — that’s a great place to post your content and connect with like-minded professionals. Using LinkedIn as an outlet for your thoughts will help encourage a conversation with your followers and colleagues. It also gives you feedback on what type of content is most effective — whatever topics elicit the most engagement are typically subjects you should continue to pursue and that you may have a natural talent for writing about. 

Becoming a thought leader isn’t easy. It requires a dedication to regularly coming up with new ideas and being authentic while doing so. But like any skill, you can develop your talent for it with practice. Committing to creating original content on a regular basis will get easier as time passes and you become more adept at it. 

Interested in developing content that establishes you and your company as a thought leader in your space? Let’s chat. We’re well-versed in how to develop natural, organic content that engages and builds a relationship with readers.

Jake Moffett

Jake is the Growth Manager at RevenueZen. He works with a number of entrepreneurial clients to help them tell their personal stories as it relates to their professional brands. He has three cats, loves bread, and is a pop singer under the name Jame Doe.