The emergence of social media means that anyone's voice can be heard and weighed on its merits. Not to state the obvious, but it's incredibly democratizing that in 2011 one can be considered a thought leader without being at the helm of a multi-billion-dollar corporation or giving a TED talk.

In 1986, Seth Godin used $20,000 in savings to found Seth Godin Productions, a book-packaging business, out of a tiny studio apartment in New York City. Today he's a best-selling author, a speaker who has consistently ranked in top 1 percent of sought-after event speakers, and is one of the most visible, highly respected thought-leaders of our times.

Godin not only fits the profile of a thought leader, but argues that the Internet allows ordinary people with extraordinary ideas to lead and make a difference. Do you have what it takes?

Do you fit the profile of a thought-leader?

A thought-leader is someone who is willing to step into the spotlight and voice their points of view, innovative ideas, and potentially controversial opinions. He drives conversation and peppers the Internet and other outlets with his insights, ideas, and expertise. She inspires others to follow their dreams and teaches them to think big, solve problems, and face their fears.

Consider the example of Mari Smith, who's been dubbed the Pied Piper of the Internet and the Queen of Facebook. Smith is a social-media thought-leader who helps her clients to build business profits, mostly by using the power of Facebook and Twitter. She was considered a relationship marketing expert long before the emergence of social media but by wielding her marketing knowledge and sinking her teeth into Facebook technology, Smith expanded her persona, and she stepped into the social media limelight in no time.

Are you ready to take the role of a thought-leader? Can you share your vision in such a way that others become excited and involved? Is the information that you impart scalable and applicable to others in their business or interest? Are you able to teach others to avoid costly mistakes by sharing stories of your trials and tribulations?

What are the first steps to becoming a thought-leader?

Not all thought leaders will affect the world in Seth Godin or Mari Smith fashion—nor do they need to. You might have a mean Twitter following and be satisfied with the influence that you have there. That's the beauty of this leadership opportunity; it can be as big or small as you desire it to be.  But if you want to crank up your visibility, consider your plan just as you would a well-rounded business or marketing plan. You are your business.

Begin by becoming a true expert in your arena. Do your research, and then do more research. Learn to speak about your ideas with passion; become a story-teller. Your passionate disposition will recruit followers and other leaders who respect and appreciate your insight. These folks will spread the word!

Step onto the stage, speak to live audiences, upload videos that teach and inspire, write, write, and write some more. Guest blog, invite others to blog as your guest. Author that book that has been burning to get out. Promote yourself to podcasters and broadcasters who speak to the same or a similar audience.

It is a time to remember that your voice matters. You never know how your tweet, video, speech, blog, or podcast may touch and affect the life of another. Give voice to what matters to you because it probably matters to many others who are searching for inspiration.