Within every industry there are thought leaders: people who recognize trends before they happen and provide insight, leadership and education to their peers. These thought leaders are powerful people with opportunities and leverage both within their industry and outside of it.
Although it’s a long road to this level of authority, you should constantly strive to achieve thought leadership because of the many benefits. Here are five steps to take in your pursuit of influence:
1. Find existing thought leaders in your field.
Who has paved this road before you? Find out who the admired trendsetters are within your industry. Sites like Kred and Klout allow you to search for influencers by industry keywords, see their reach and also assess the influence of your own social media accounts. Also search for highly ranked, industry-specific blogs.
Pay close attention to the people you find in whatever way you can: Follow them on social media, tune in to their podcasts and do research on their history and career. Look for strengths you share with them and be aware of areas in which they outdo you. Are they posting to their social media accounts and blogs more often? What kind of comments and insights are they providing? Where are their articles being published? Use their achievements as a benchmark for you to reach and surpass, but also learn from their mistakes and weaknesses.
Furthermore, identify the audiences of these thought leaders. Connect with those followers to share ideas and grow your own following.
2. Narrow your focus.
Your field has multiple niches. Find out exactly where you fit. What are your strengths and accolades? What do your colleagues find impressive about your work? Thoroughly understanding your expertise—and what you still need to learn—is a strength in itself. A generalist is never considered an expert. You want to be an expert? Stop being general. Hone in on the area where your passion and your talent intersect and run with it.
3. Network aggressively.
Between conferences and the internet, there are so many opportunities to connect with thought leaders, industry peers and up-and-comers. Networking is often touted as a way to advance your career and land you a job. But networking is an important part of becoming a thought leader due to sheer numbers. As your network expands, your influence expands.
But growing your network takes legwork. Hunt down in-person networking events where you can meet people face to face, which increases your likelihood of being remembered. Follow up by connecting via social media channels and finding other meaningful ways to interact, such as commenting on their blog or website or sending them an article you think they’d enjoy. Engaging with other professionals in your field will help you get noticed and generate more attention for your industry insight. The more people who know your name, the more people who can generate buzz about your thought leadership.
Your blog or website is the gateway to thought leadership. This provides a place for you to share your opinions and demonstrate your knowledge. Great content comes in many forms, but at its root, it’s just well-curated information. Find out what questions people are asking about your niche and answer them with new insight.
Regularity is a vital part of self-publishing. It’s not enough to produce a few sporadic articles every few weeks, even if those articles are excellent. Create a schedule that your audience can follow. Make sure they know when they will get another blog post from you so they can be looking forward to it. Becoming an industry leader takes commitment and effort. It won’t happen with just a few posts.
Self-published articles will increase your credibility and provide you with a portfolio of thought leadership pieces. A robust blog can also increase your likelihood of being accepted as a guest poster and subsequently extend your reach. Once you have established a solid portfolio of self-published articles, you will have something to reference when pitching yourself to other outlets.
5. Guest post.
Guest posting is one of the most powerful ways to establish yourself as a thought leader. When people see your name on trusted publications, your credibility increases tenfold. This is one of the final stages of obtaining thought leader status and perhaps one of the most challenging.
Pitching is not something you want to enter into lightly. It’s an art within itself. Do your research about every individual to whom you send a pitch. Set guest posting goals and start small. Think about where you’d like to see yourself published and set a timeline to achieve that. Do research about industry-specific blogs with smaller readerships and contact the editors. Refer back to your networks and see if you have any connections to well-respected publications. Once you have a set of external clips (not your self-published ones), you can work your way up to more recognizable outlets.
The benefits of thought leadership are obvious. It’s the road to getting there that can be daunting. Watch existing thought leaders, hone in on your expertise, network, self-publish and guest post, and you’ll eventually find yourself among the ranks of these highly respected influencers.