The benefits of a good thought leadership strategy are clear. It enables you to build trust, grow your audience and the reach of your brand, and generate consistent opportunities for your company over time.
But actually becoming a thought leader is challenging. It's a long-term strategy with no shortcuts. You can use free marketing tools to help you craft and share messages, and you can lean on your team for support -- but at the end of the day, it's still all about the work you put into it.
To help you make sure you're putting that work into the right areas of your strategy, I've put together this simple checklist. Obviously, just checking items off a list is no way to think about relationship-building, which is central to thought leadership. But I've learned through my own experiences and from observing others that these 10 points are good to keep in mind as you build thought leadership in your field:
1. Get a website that looks like it was made in this century.
Your website is your home online. It's the first thing people see, and even if you create the best, most engaging content in the world, you're going to have a hard time keeping visitors around if your site looks like a poorly formatted Word document. Your website should reflect your brand, so unless you want to be seen as outdated, make sure it looks nice.
2. Choose a domain name you'll want to stick with.
OK, so this probably could have gone with the website information, but this is important enough to warrant its own checkbox. Your domain name should be short, intuitive, memorable, and, ideally, brand-able. Think ahead about your audience members and how they'll interact with your brand, and make sure your domain name is one that makes sense for them.
3. Invest in a blog.
You want to publish regular content, and you can't do that without a platform. Social media posts and updates alone -- while effective in their own right -- are no way to share your industry expertise. Invest the time and resources into a blog that you update consistently with high-quality content.
4. Use social media and stick to established social best practices.
Speaking of social media: Use it consistently to distribute your content and engage with others in your space. Write a short and sweet bio, and link to your website. And please, for the love of all that is good and holy, have a current, professional profile picture. Don't be an egg on Twitter or a mystery man or woman on Facebook; people might mistake you for a spam account.
5. Rub shoulders with existing thought leaders.
You likely have existing relationships with people who are viewed as industry experts. Don't be afraid to get closer to those people. If you aren't connected yet, don't hesitate to reach out. You'll be surprised to find that most thought leaders are regular people who love to talk about their industry with others and be resources for others.
6. Rub shoulders with everyone.
While you're at it, create a network around you full of mega influencers, industry newbies, and everyone in between. You never know who might be helpful in your quest to achieve thought leadership. Treat people well, and you'll find that your reputation will improve, as will people's enthusiasm toward and acceptance of your ideas.
7. Be helpful.
You know who makes bad thought leaders? Those who are only in it for themselves. Thought leaders are, by definition, sharers. They put themselves and their ideas out there in the hopes that somebody will find it useful and improve their business with it. You and your content, no matter the industry or topic, should have one goal: Be helpful.
8. Identify your expertise and stick to it.
You have unique ideas and perspectives that nobody else can offer, so don't try to fit into what you think a thought leader in your industry should say or do. To stand out, you've got to be different. Find your niche. Find what you can teach that nobody else can, and then stick to it. Your unique expertise will be what makes you stand out.
9. Don't confine yourself to your blog.
So your website doesn't suck, and your blog is consistently updated -- but, I'll be honest, that's not enough to stay top of mind. If you want to grow your audience, get out into the world and earn credibility. Create content that's published somewhere other than your own site -- write for industry publications, sites like the one you're reading, and outlets that your audience loves. Attend industry conferences and trade shows. Host a booth or run a session, if you can. Do what you can to get out there and reach new people.
10. Share your content like it's candy.
If you're publishing content everywhere, share it everywhere, too. As your ideas take root, you'll see your name begin to pop up in unexpected places. You might be linked to in an article or reached out to for a quote from a journalist. Maybe you've earned an award, or you've just written something you're particularly proud of. When that happens, share that stuff like your mom shares stories about you with her friends -- all the time.
This list isn't comprehensive; it's a long-term strategy, and it's unique for every thought leader. But for every thought leader I've known, these are some of the most important steps. Each item, though small on its own, contributes to a bigger picture of thought leadership. Use them as a guide to grow your influence over time.