Six Steps to Becoming a Thought Leadership Expert

As with many things, everything comes with positive and negative sides, so is transparency offered by the Internet. Because of the transparency, more people can enjoy your expertise and experience, the downside however is competition, more and more people are getting online, blogging and what more to be perceived as the person in a certain domain. So what are the six tips that helps you become a thought leader?.

Thought leadership, to me, is something that is ‘given’ to you by others. You are perceived as a thought leader or not. This is also a reason why the Web is great, more people from all around the world can come in contact with your opinions, your experience etc, that ultimately aggregates to being perceived as a thought leader.. or not.

The six tips provided in a great HBR article are:

1. Create a Robust Online Presence.

Not everyone can immediately jump to international prominence (CNN probably won’t book you as a talking head if you’ve never been on local TV). But everyone can start here, with an online beachhead. Blogs are particularly good because they showcase your knowledge and search engines value the frequent stream of fresh content. Most blogs are unloved and unread — but yours can be different with a little time and elbow grease.

2. Flaunt High-Quality Affiliations.

This one is often more about luck than anything else (I might be blogging this post from the White House if I’d been a high-ranking staffer for Barack Obama instead of for Howard Dean), but if you’ve got well-known connections, flaunt them and leverage them. Ivy League pedigree?, Stint at McKinsey?, Testimonial quotes from industry celebs?.. It’s credibility by proxy.

3. Give Public Speeches.

Given the terror that public speaking instills in most people, your street cred will automatically skyrocket when you take the stage. Start with Rotary and the local Chamber of Commerce, and work your way up to associations, conferences, and in-house gigs for major corporations (you can literally write them a letter, suggest a topic, and ask to be considered).

4. Appear on TV.

Make it a point to build relationships with TV producers — you can often follow them on Twitter and strike up a conversation. Cable news outlets are particularly good targets because they have so much airtime to fill. You can prepare yourself for this step by taking up media coaching classes.

5. Win Some Awards.

It’s chicken-and-egg: when you’re famous enough, everyone wants to give you awards, because your name will be a “draw” for their events. But how do you get the awards you need to propel your thought leader momentum, early on?. Chutzpah. Don’t shy away from nominating yourself, or strong-arming colleagues into doing so for you.

6. Publish a Book.

This is the hardest piece of the puzzle, especially since the publishing industry has been hiding under a rock and cowering since their “Black Wednesday” massacre in 2008. No one’s willing to take a chance on authors without a sufficient “platform,” so your job is to establish one through the methods above.

Read the article here for the full elaborations on all six tips.

It all begins with the first two steps, build your online presence, create great content and a great context. The second tip relates to the context.

The pitfall that many have is that building an online presence is something that is done within a month or three and that’s it, a one-time investment. Unfortunately for those, it’s not. Perseverance is key.

Back in 2007 I’ve decided to start building my online presence and never stopped since then. My main focus has been blogging and interacting via Linkedin Groups and Twitter. Just three “channels”, and three is enough. Don’t make the mistake to be wanting to be everywhere, because scattered fragmented attention is not going to help you in the long run. Eventually you will have to drop certain networks of channels when you understand where the best engagement is coming from.

This also means that you need to do your research up front. Research where your audience is, what you want to achieve, your strategy and thèn decide what (social) channel you need to be on.

Follow this simple yet great POST model by Forrester for your thought leadership execution:

Once you have momentum, tips 3, 4, 5 and 6 will come. Of course you can go after these tips before you have a robust online presence, but when people start noticing you, it will get easier.

Publishing a book doesn’t need to be a difficult excercise in terms of finding a publisher, there are many means to publish it yourself, publish it in e-book format and find many distributing channels that can sell it for you. Don’t withhold yourself from writing a book if you can and are willing to invest the time into it.

The one I like is writing white papers, this fits nicely with blogs and speaking engagements and creates a holistic approach with different content pieces.

Last but not least, pick your niche, you can’t be a thought leader to everything, pick what fits the best with your passion, what drives you and go for it.