In today's business, it pays to be a thought leader. Whether it be in the form of written content published on a highly regarded news outlet or hosting an award-winning podcast, thought leadership can be found on all types of media.

What constitutes successful thought leadership and how does one achieve such level of brilliance? There's more to it than simply publishing an article and hoping it will go viral. Thought leadership is about curating and giving away ideas, providing a specific audience a unique perspective on one thing at a time. Thought leaders can be individuals or companies; anyone is capable of producing content that leaves the reader feeling more knowledgeable than before but what matters is whether or not your content is the one they'll remember in the long-run.

Unsurprisingly, the Internet is a popular place for businesses and thought leaders to distribute their content. Last year, 92% of businesses used social media content to share their expertise, with LinkedIn as the popular platform of choice. Take a look at your own professional LinkedIn page; chances are, your colleagues are sharing articles they either find interesting or have written themselves. The abundance of free social media platforms makes it easy for any individual to create and share content.

But where else does thought leadership live? While the majority of thought leaders use mobile and digital devices to distribute content, it's important to take into consideration a consumer's real-world experience. Solstice Mobile helps industry brand leaders evolve and capitalize on new technology, while redefining what it means to be mobile and digital. "At Solstice we use thought leadership as the foundation for beginning a relationship with new customers and to strengthen relationships with existing clients," says Kelly Manthey, Chief Strategy Officer at Solstice Mobile. "Sharing perspectives on where emerging tech is going and how it can help transform businesses has proved valuable for getting conversations started with the right people. For existing clients, consistent thought leaderships solidifies the decision to work with Solstice as a partner that will continue to evolve their business and push thinking."

Great thought leadership is successful because it's edgy and takes an angle that is unexpected. Those qualities should apply to the delivery method as well. "We live in a world where content is consumed so often that to stand out you really have to be more than just a Tweet-aholic." says Manthey. "You have to find a way to make it personal and connect the dots for your audience." Nowadays, it's about differentiating yourself from the crowd - if everyone else is on Facebook and LinkedIn or writing a blog, your content is less likely to be discovered on those platforms. Thought leadership is about rethinking what people already know. It's rethinking how to engage with your audience and how to ensure your message gets to the right audience.

The benefits of having influential thought leadership are endless. It can help establish your brand as an authority on a specific topic and help align customers to your company message. There is a fine line between being promotional and being a thought leader. Part of being a brand authority is providing thorough research on the subject and presenting a certain level of insight that others lack. Sometimes that insight involves defining a consumer challenge and how your business' product is a solution to consumer problems. But this approach can quickly devolve into a commercial for your products and consumers are quick to tune out promotional materials. Your thought leadership should be treated as a product that is marketable and equally as valuable as the products and services your business sells.

It's rare to see a business or individual not engaged in thought leadership. With the thousands of thought leaders we are exposed to every day though, what matters is how the influential thinkers will stand out from the rest of the pack. Good thought leaders are all about rethinking knowledge and sharing a fresh perspective to help your audience feel smarter; great thinkers rethink everything about thought leadership from the content to the actual delivery itself.

Published on: Feb 2, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.