How to Become a Thought Leader

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Are you a thought leader?

A good friend recently emailed with an interesting dilemma and I’d love your input.

Within the next couple of years he would like to become a thought leader and “go to” guy in his industry.

When I think of thought leaders I think of people like Seth Godin, Jeff Pulver, and Derek Sivers who set themselves apart from all of the noise by consistently delivering ideas that either provide tremendous value or force us to rethink, re-strategize, and refocus our energies.

My friend who emailed primarily mentioned blogging as a way to spread his ideas with the main issue being that he holds a corporate job and they might frown upon him sharing his thoughts…

The following is the input I had to offer him.

Hey ######,

I don’t think I am a thought leader but I’m happy to offer my suggestions & most importantly, it looks as though you have some well identified goals.

When I read your email, your three main goals seem to be:

  1. Raise your profile in the industry.
  2. Be seen as a thought leader.
  3. You want to work for yourself one day.

The coporate diplomatic dance will be a tricky one, but it can DEFINITELY be done!

In this day and age you have every right to publish your thoughts (within reason and respect to company X of course). I would have to assume that the person who got in trouble for tweeting was not using much common sense.

What I would recommend:

First – before anything else, get off of the WordPress hosted domain and get your own domain. I just checked GoDaddy and surprisingly is available. I would claim that name NOW if that’s the one you want. You can setup 301 redirects for your WordPress hosted site to your new domain.

Second – What are the keywords you want to rank for in the future? How will organic web traffic within your industry find you via web searches? Spend some time with Google Keyword tool. Whatever you want to rank for, make sure it is in your Header tag and Meta description.

Third – Who is your audience? What forums do they hang out in? Find the top three or four forums and start going to them and be as helpful as you can (answer questions, point people in the right direction, etc). With full disclosure of who you work for of course.

Forums are where you can really begin build an audience. People want to deal with people. You helping them in forums is the first step towards gaining trust. In the online social world, trust = capital that can be “cashed” in at a later date.

Remember, never be spammy.

Fourth – are you using Tweetdeck? Setup up search columns for whatever it is you want to promote yourself in (hint… use the keywords you chose). Check in on those columns and see if there’s a person you can help or question you can answer.

Fifth – All of your social media activity is designed to eventually get people to your home base, which is your blog. Along with the obvious — Home, About, etc. pages, you will need a “Disclosure” page.

Check out the blog by Matt Cutts. He is head of spam for Google but does a great job of balancing the walk between corporate and personal. (Note: If it was me, I would speak to my boss. Even if you blog anonymously, sooner or later someone will find out it’s you. )

I would be VERY surprised if company X does not have policy in place for personal blogs. Really, all you need to do is assure them that you’ll never be disparaging to them as a company but that you also have interest in other developments within the industry. Can you draw upon certain industry examples that excite you? Do they tie in with company X at all?

With respect to your wider interests, there must be at least 20 posts that you can write about that wouldn’t seem threatening to company X. My humble opinion, but if your boss ever gave you a hard time and if you wanted to make an issue, it would be a PR nightmare for them to give you grief about industry trends.

Sixth – if you’ve made it this far…then we can discuss creating content after you’ve done steps 1-5. :-) Do you read Seth Godin? He is an amazing writer about all things marketing, new media, and being remarkable. I would start on his site and read every post that you have time for.

(As an addendum to #6 what I would recommend this person do is write. Every day. The blog posts do not have to be a 2000 word thesis extolling the virtues of current industry trends. But rather, 500-800 words of easily digestible thoughts that challenge people and helps them improve.)

Now over to YOU! What would you recommend my friend do to become a thought leader within his industry?

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Mark Hayward


11 thoughts on “How to Become a Thought Leader

  1. I could not agree with this advice more. This basically reads as a typed version of what we tell clients all the time. The web=trust and trust=business. As far as blogging in the corporate space Matt Cutts is an excellent example: I would also look at Steve Rubel’s The Steve Rubel Stream and also Christopher S. Penn’s Awaken Your Superhero as good examples of “Employed” thought leaders.

    Great Post!

  2. Mark – thanks for your thoughts! And for adding Chris & Steve to the list. They are two people I’ve been following for quite some time.

  3. Mark,

    Excellent Way to Demonstrate you are a Thought Leader (at least in my opinion). I really wanted to share something but the tips you gave him where on point.

    However, I see many companies that have a policy when it should be policies (as in various) others that have no policy at all. T

    he best advice I can give is to make sure that he explicitly states on his twitter, blog, and other platforms that these are his thoughts and are not a representation or the voice of the company he works for.

    Once again excellent post!

  4. I’d add make some friends, wander around, get a feel for things (they may already have done this).

    And they can always use a pseudonym to get over office politics (even a humorous one that declares why they are doing this: Iwillleaveoneday or the undercover solopreneur or office politics avoider or some such).

  5. That’s great advice, Mark!

    There is one thing though which I’d add, although it may sound a bit discouraging at first: you need to have something important to say that makes you earn the thought leader position. That takes time. Seth Godin has been writing for years, and doing marketing even longer than that, and as a result of all of that, he is a (or “the”) thought leader today. He is that despite the fact that his blog is not even running on his own domain!

    That said, it’s definitely worth the effort, the world needs more thought leaders.

  6. Jarkko – very good point. :-) Yes, you do indeed need to have something important to say! And, yes, the world most certainly needs more thought leaders.

  7. Mark, this was great and I love what you recommended to your friend. In my personal experience, I’d add this:

    1. Integrate video/youtube into everything you do on a daily basis. If a customer has asked about ‘it’, ‘it’ is worth doing a video on. No topic is too elementary.

    2. Have an opinion…and make it a strong one….and seek to go against the status quo when there’s a better way.

    3. Give, give, give away as much as possible… will come back.

  8. Marcus – I’d say that having something valuable to offer + video = a very powerful combination. And, as always, the power of giving can never be understated.

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