Thought leadership sometimes gets a reputation as just another buzzword. Honestly, when it's thrown around to describe anyone with more than a few thousand followers on Twitter, it can come across as an empty marketing vocabulary word.

But when it's done right, thought leadership can transform your brand. It can position you and your company as leaders in your industry, open doors to new opportunities, and build lasting trust with the people in your audiences who matter most to your company.

Of course, becoming a leading expert in your field doesn't happen overnight. There's a lot of work that goes into creating a thought leadership strategy and becoming a trusted name in your space.

Over the last few years, I've spent a lot of time observing what it takes to be a thought leader and what good ones have in common. My team and I have worked together to build my brand, as well as my company's, and I've been lucky enough to meet and build relationships with some of the most prominent leaders in business today. Over time, you start to pick up on what works. So if you're looking to build your thought leadership and lead your industry, here are seven steps to get started:

1. Figure out what you're an expert in.

It's time to be honest: As smart as you are, you don't know everything. No one does, and that's OK. You don't need to know everything to be an effective thought leader. But you do need to know what you know.

Great thought leaders understand their niche. They know where their expertise is most helpful and what their audience values, and they connect those two. Ask yourself: What do I love? What have I built my career around? What fulfills me? What am I more passionate about than my peers?

2. Create content that speaks in your voice.

Of course, your expertise is only half of what makes you a great thought leader. The other half is you. When you're creating content to reach your audience, use your expertise and your own personal voice.

Readers can spot disingenuous content from a mile away. You don't need to be a great writer or speller, but you do need to be able to project your personality. It's what makes you different from all the other people in your industry.

3. Drop the self-promotion.

Using your own voice doesn't mean you should spend all your time talking about yourself. Seventy-nine percent of online publication editors say that over-promotion is the biggest problem they see with contributed content. Thought leadership content can build your brand and impact your company's bottom line, but that doesn't mean you can just talk about your company all the time. Focus instead on bringing value to readers by educating them, sharing new ideas, and being helpful.

4. Be consistent.

If you're going to be a thought leader, people have got to remember you. They won't if you're not publishing content on a regular basis. Even if you provide a few strong, memorable articles, it won't be enough to establish you as a leader. You've got to commit to consistent content creation if you're serious about building your brand.

5. Understand how video can be used.

It's no secret that video content is in high demand. Just look at the advancements Instagram and Facebook have made toward becoming more video-friendly platforms. If you're going to become a modern thought leader, it's crucial to understand how you can speak to your audience using video content. "Video engagement is fairly steady up to two minutes," according to Jordan Lung at JL Video, so just make sure you keep it short and sweet.

6. Don't limit yourself.

Your company blog is a great and necessary place to publish, but its reach only goes so far. It's tough to bring in new audience members if your work is all hosted on a site they've never visited before. The best solution is to get your work published on the sites they frequent.

Find out what publications your audience is reading and what websites are popular in your industry, and submit your content for publishing there. Don't limit yourself to one type of content, either. Try articles, videos, podcasts, infographics -- whatever works for your message and your audience.

7. Surround yourself with a good team.

Don't let any of what I've said fool you into thinking that thought leaders do this all themselves. They don't. They can't. If you want to be an effective thought leader, it's critical that you enlist the help of a smart support team.

Make sure that your team members all take part in the creation process and that they understand the goals you're trying to reach by building thought leadership. They can pick up slack where you fall short (as my editors will attest), and they'll make your life a whole lot easier.

As I said, the term "thought leader" gets tossed around a lot, but there are real benefits to building and implementing an authentic thought leadership plan. It can take a good amount of time to effectively create and distribute thought leadership content, but the payoffs are well worth the work. Just follow these steps to get started, and you'll find that thought leadership is rewarding, both to you as an individual and to your business.

Published on: Aug 12, 2018