Thought leaders are trusted influencers who provide advice, guidance and opinions on topical industry issues. They’re not just experts in their sectors, they’re revolutionary thinkers, driven by a desire to challenge the status quo and improve the world around them. They create value for others by producing high-quality content that is insightful, useful and thought-provoking, such as by-lined articles, blogs, social posts as well as media commentary and speaking engagements.
For B2B startup founders, being a thought leader has many benefits. From building brand reputation and engaging investors to supporting customer acquisition and attracting top talent. But despite the advantages, becoming a thought leader is competitive. Since the pandemic, there’s been a saturation of content, so creating high quality articles with a strong point of view is critical to achieve cut-through. Especially as 51% of C-Suite executives now spend more time consuming thought leadership content than before the pandemic.
If you’re interested in becoming a thought leader, this article provides guidance on the seven steps you can take from developing the right strategy, creating a steady stream of by-lined articles and guest blogs, newsjacking, social posts to speaker engagements.
1. Work out your strategy
The best strategy is a mixture of earned and owned media. Earned media provides you with third party credibility which helps reinforce your position as an expert and enables you to reach an extended audience. Owned media, such as your company’s blog and social media are important content platforms to voice your point of view and engage your followers.
As you build your strategy, think about the following: Beyond generating awareness, what business objectives do you want your thought leadership to achieve? What are the timely issues affecting your customers right now? Will your content teach them something new? How can you stand out from the crowd?
Research what other thought leaders in your sector are saying, what are they commenting on? What are their points of view? To stand out, you need to strike a balance between being authoritative and provocative yet ensure you’re human in tone.
2. Create a steady stream of trade by-lines and guest blogs
While we'd all like to appear on BBC News giving our point of view on breaking news, you need to start by building up an online presence, particularly among trade publications. Trade by-line articles and guest blogs are an effective way to showcase your knowledge and opinions and can be everything from ‘How to’ guides, ‘Top tips’ and ‘Predictions’ to thought-provoking ideas on your area of expertise. This will help boost your online presence and is useful if a prospect or investors is researching your company. Likewise, many of these stakeholders read trade publications, so if you’re consistently writing articles that appear in their newsfeed, you’ll get their attention.
3. Focus on Newsjacking
Media are constantly looking for experts to provide industry comments on news stories, so monitor the news agenda daily. Then every time a relevant news story breaks, prepare a short succinct quote with a hard-hitting point of view. Don’t state the obvious, ensure you add a fresh perspective to the story. But you need to react quickly, journalists are writing their story that day, so comments need to be turned around within the hour. National media are short of time, so might just cut and paste your quote if they use it. Whereas trade media often prefer a telephone interview to get deeper insight and a unique quote. Broadcast media also require experts for their programmes, but you typically need to have demonstrated a strong presence online and possibly on local TV or radio first. Podcasts are another useful target, they often take guests to discuss recent news stories.
While your newsjacking strategy needs to be agile and reactive, make sure you also have a planned approach. Find out when industry research reports, announcements or relevant changes in legislation are due. Then prepare quotes in advance and respond quickly on the day. If possible, prepare template quotes for specific
4. Draft content for your company blog
While writing by-lines and guest blogs in industry publications gives you strong credibility, don't forget about drafting regular blogs for your own website. This not only builds awareness for you around specific topics but also improves your SEO and helps drive more traffic to your website.
5. Find the right speaker opportunities
Speaker opportunities are a great networking opportunity, providing a strong platform to build your personal and company’s brand. If you’re a vendor, you may find many speaking opportunities are sponsored, but if your area of expertise is more niche or you’re fairly high profile in the industry, it’s still possible to secure unpaid slots.
To get started, check out your trade media, trade associations and other industry events and start building out a speaker programme. Research the audience and the types of speaking slots they offer, whether panel debates or keynotes.
After speaking, make sure you promote yourself across your company's blog and social media. If your speaking slot is recorded and posted online by the organiser, be sure to include the link.
6. Extend the debate across LinkedIn
Use LinkedIn to promote your blogs and media coverage. Make posts succinct, and ask your community for their opinion on the issue. You can also use the LinkedIn quiz feature to launch a poll to get their opinion on a particular subject.
7. Measure the value of your results
Key Performance Indicators (KPI)s include measuring traffic to your website, number of social media followers, number of backlinks to your website, media mentions, share of voice and also sales enquiries.
But while building awareness and trust among your audience will help influence sales, it’s hard to align each piece of coverage to specific leads. Instead, it helps you to be recognised by the right people for the right things.
Maintaining momentum ongoing
The most effective thought leaders gain trust and respect from their audience by sharing their expertise and demonstrating credibility. However, this takes time, dedication and patience to achieve. Once you’ve launched your thought leadership strategy, you need to make it consistent. You can’t just switch it on and off, you need long term commitment. However, with the right content targeted at the right people, thought leadership can lead to an enhanced reputation, increased investment and help drive a growing pipeline of sales opportunities for your company.
Henrietta is a Passionfruit PR and Communications Specialist with over 20 years experience. She specialises in tech ranging from security to sustainability.