Build Thought Leadership Across The Digital Space With Engagement And Consistency

By: Christina Hager

This article first appeared on Forbes on March 20, 2019

Whoever the thought leaders are in your field, they definitely didn’t become titans of their industry overnight. The authority and universal respect required for thought leadership take time and hard work to develop. To achieve success, these individuals built up innovative methods to grow their brand and increase their following, giving them the ability to share their ideas with the largest audience possible while rising to the top of their fields.

If you want to be seen as an expert in your field, as a corporate speaker, CEO, tech guru, etc., you must create and implement strategies that expand the digital reach of your thought leadership. Here’s how to get the ball rolling:

Know your audience.

You can’t become a respected thought leader in 2019 without building a digital presence, be it a website, blog, email list or social media channel. Too often, people try and tackle all of these things, all at once, without asking three simple but effective questions that could make their attempts far more productive:

1. Who are you trying to reach? Let’s say you are a keynote speaker on executive management; you’ll probably be expected to talk about leadership, but that is a wide-ranging topic. Try to drill down on exactly who your message is for. Are your insights designed for younger entrepreneurs or corporate warhorses with years of experience? Middle managers or established members of the C-suite? Leaders struggling to learn how to better communicate, strategize or establish a good work-life balance? The more specific you can be, the better idea you’ll have of who exactly your target audience is — which brings up the next question.

2. What do they want? If you really know your specific audience, then you’ll have a greater chance of understanding their behaviors: wants, needs, desires and pain points. Ask yourself what they want and, more importantly, why they can’t they get it themselves. Understanding this puts you in a better position to deliver information that is specifically targeted to them.

3. Where are they? Lastly, you need to determine the digital platforms your audiences use and speak to them through these channels. A word to the wise: It may seem obvious that certain audiences are using certain platforms, like businesspeople using LinkedIn or teens user Instagram, but don’t take it for granted. Do your research.

Now you’re ready to start building your digital footprint.

Pair content with appropriate platforms.

Keep in mind that certain formats work better with certain online channels. Consider what kinds of thought leadership pieces you’re posting. Are they blogs, videos or graphics? If you have videos, for example, learn which platforms will support them in terms of size and length. The point is to acquaint yourself with the best practices for each platform you are using.

Regardless of where you post to, your content should always look and feel like an extension of your brand. It should showcase you as an expert in your field. If you want to post something on Instagram, targeting a younger audience, that’s great. But the message shouldn’t look like it’s from an entirely different brand.

Establish a schedule for content distribution.

Warning: This is the part most people skip. They have great content and know they need to share it, so they start throwing things at the proverbial wall to see what will stick. More often than not, people only post when they remember to do it, and it’s sporadic at best. I can’t tell you how many people go to the trouble and expense of creating a website, but then never update it, doing virtually nothing to drive traffic to the site.

Don’t be one of those people! Be better than that!

You’ve done the research, created the content and developed the digital strategy. Now it’s up to you to show some tactical prowess. First, figure out when your audience is online and post during those hours. Create a spreadsheet to keep track of the dates, times and channels your content was posted. Set appointments in your calendar to log onto your channels and manage them. Respond to comments, engage with followers, and ask and answer questions. Remember: Content without engagement is nothing.

While you’re keeping track of everything, create tabs for key influencers you’re tagging and another sheet if you’re pitching submissions to journalists or media outlets.

Get someone else to notice you.

You can tell everyone that you’re brilliant in your field until you’re blue in the face, but people are often more likely to notice when someone else stands up and says so. Pitch yourself for guest spots on appropriate blogs, websites and organizations’ email lists. Everyone else needs to create content, and they may want or need your expertise.

The more you are quoted, the more it will improve your search engine optimization (SEO) and build your thought leadership credibility. Also, having your articles published on other sites creates great content that you can repost to your own channels, furthering the validity of your expertise.

Develop the dedication you need to build thought leadership.

As you might have realized, the path to becoming a thought leader requires a lot of hard work. But, like exercise, you get better at it and it gets easier the more you do it.

Dedicate yourself to stick to your content creation and distribution schedule. There will be a point when you will want to blow off a post, rationalizing that it’s not important or that you’ll only stray from the schedule “just this once.” Resist the temptation. If you truly don’t have the hours, hire a freelancer, a virtual assistant or a social media manager to help you.

Remember, the line between success and failure in many enterprises is a fine one, and developing thought leadership is no exception. You can only bill yourself as a successful thought leader if you are delivering content and engaging people on a consistent basis across the digital space.

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