Do a search on LinkedIn and you’ll be shocked at how many brilliant people there are out there — or, at least, how many people who think enough of themselves to tell the world just how brilliant they are.
Looking for an “Expert?” LinkedIn’s got nearly 2 million of them. A “Guru?” My search came up with over 171,000 (some of which I’m willing to guess aren’t actual gurus). Need a “Rock Star?” LinkedIn’s got more than 22,000, including “rock star” sales reps and “rock star” real estate brokers. Want someone with “Genius” in his or her profile? Unless they happen to work for Apple, stay far, far away!
If you are going to present yourself as some kind of an expert or thought leader, you’d better be able to back it up with powerful content. The web has made it awfully easy to sniff out BS and, as many have learned, it has also made it easy to call out those who don’t quite live up to their billing.
True thought leadership is hard to come by. It requires proven expertise, not claims of grandeur by self-promoters who waste their time with sharing empty or obvious “insight” in their blogs, social media posts, and webinars. They make it sound like anyone can become a thought leader simply by leveraging effective content marketing strategies.
Content marketing does work, and works brilliantly — when you’ve got something of value to say. For thought leaders who truly have unique, insightful, or useful information to share, the web provides endless opportunities to show it (not just tell it) to the world.
So where do you start?
Before you produce a single piece of thought leadership content, you need to think about your target audiences and the kinds of information that would be of use and interest to them. It is always better to approach content marketing from the point of view of “How can I help?” instead of “Look how smart I am.”
The aim of most content marketing campaigns is to build trusting and loyal relationships with your target audiences by truly filling a knowledge vacuum for them — which, in turn, drives you toward the ultimate goal of increasing sales or gaining new clients (this is content marketing, after all).
Once you’ve figured out what your audience wants and needs, then it’s time to look in the proverbial mirror and ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I possess knowledge or expertise in the areas of greatest interest to my audience?
- Do I have specific experiences I can share with that audience?
- Do I have actionable advice for this audience?
- What differentiates my messaging from my competitors?
I’ve found that a great way to answer these questions is to imagine the book you’d like to write for your target audience. What would the title be? What would the chapter headings be? When you complete this exercise, you should be equipped with multiple ideas for stories, articles, videos, blog posts, and myriad other content formats.
This is where the real work begins. One article is not enough to make you a thought leader; one tweet won’t make you an “expert,” and one clever or flashy video won’t make you a “rock star” — no matter how many views and comments it received. Be committed to producing enough quality content to keep your audiences engaged over a long period of time. I’m not talking about a single content marketing campaign here. I’m talking about a full and ongoing commitment to communicate, educate, and entertain your audiences for the long haul.
Once you’ve created enough content — and a consistent messaging strategy — that communicates the value you offer, you’re ready to broadcast it to the world. From there, it’s all Content Marketing 101:
- Publish your content in a blog or on your website.
- Offer your content to sites where your target audiences are likely to be found.
- Use your content as your “audition” for speaking gigs.
- Promote your content through multiple social media outlets.
- Link your content when you are commenting on other articles.
- Use your content as a key ingredient in your press/media pitches.
- When you produce new content, send an email blast.
Will all of this work? That leads us back to where we started.
If your content produces no response, or a negative response, then you may have to face the fact that you may not be the expert you thought you were — and that it may be time to do more listening, and less talking for a while.
But if people are sharing your content widely; if publications are gladly printing your articles; if you’re being quoted widely across your audience and industry peers, congratulations: You’ve earned true thought leadership status.
You may never be a Guru, a Rock Star, a Genius, or even a Ninja (did I mention there are 18,000 of them on LinkedIn?). But you will realize the significant benefits (and satisfaction) of being a legitimate, recognized, and followed thought leader.
Looking to connect with content marketers who have truly earned their status as thought leaders? Join us at Content Marketing World 2013, where some of the best and brightest in the industry will be sharing the secrets of their success.
Cover image by Dmitry Kalinovsky via Shutterstock