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Turning Your Employees Into Thought Leaders – 5 Paths For Success

Turning Your Employees Into Thought Leaders - 5 Paths For Success

Table of Contents

Paths For Success. Creating thought leaders has become a top priority for businesses in the digital age, and it’s easy to see why. Thought leaders help differentiate your brand, demonstrate your industry authority, and open the doors for high-value collaborations with other industry experts. To put it another way, thought leadership is an excellent marketing tool when you do it right. We live in a world where the average smartphone user spends 3 to 5 hours a day on their mobile device, and for much of that time, they are browsing social media. This means you have the opportunity to disrupt their thoughts with relevant and exciting content from your thought leaders. This not only pushes your brand into the consumer conscious but also positions your company (through its employees) as an industry authority. Consumers trust thought leaders, and consumers buy from companies they trust.

Utilizing thought leadership is powerful for all businesses, but it’s incredibly effective for B2B companies. Thought leadership gives B2B businesses leverage in the industry in a way that other marketing techniques simply can’t compete with. The content is also more targeted and effective – it reaches the right people more easily through platforms like LinkedIn. People are primarily on LinkedIn because they want to consume content from thought leaders and engage with them. By engaging with thought leaders, professionals stand to gain:

  • Increased social capital – They join the conversation and position themselves as highly engaged and knowledge-seeking individuals.
  • Exposure to products that can improve their business, generate high ROI, and increase revenues.
  • Exposure to ideas that can improve their business or the way they work. Thought leaders come up with exciting new areas that people can apply to their job. Professionals can go to their employers armed with this knowledge and cultivate better business decision making.

With thought leadership more critical today than ever before, more businesses are laser-focused on creating more thought leaders from within their company. But how do you go about this? What makes an excellent thought leader? Let’s take a look.

What is a Thought Leader?

Put simply, a thought leader is someone who is known for knowing something. They have a reputation, both inside but also outside of your business and in the wider industry as a whole. These are the go-to people on something important in your industry.

Are Thought Leaders Just Subject Matter Experts?

Are Thought Leaders Just Subject Matter Experts?

No, but many people often confuse the two. You might be reading this article thinking “I have thought leaders in my company” when actually what you have is subject matter experts (SMEs). So, what’s the difference between SMEs and thought leaders?

  • SMEs have relevant knowledge about a subject area and are a valuable resource for projects within the company. Thought leaders also have this knowledge, but they tend to be more thorough. They continually push for new knowledge and think outside the box.
  • When a thought leader talks, listeners think “I never thought of it like that.”
  • Thought leaders are comfortable talking in front of an audience and representing your company to the outside world. They might talk at events, talk to the press, or run conferences for other industry members.
  • Thought leaders are active on social media. They create content, like, and share, relevant discussions. They want to push the narrative of a particular subject further, either exposing more people to important knowledge or changing the way people view a specific matter.
  • Thought leaders contribute and lead the conversation around specific issues, challenges, or subjects. By contrast, SMEs are a knowledge bank. SMEs can be called upon when necessary to ensure the business makes better decisions, but they typically don’t actively drive progress.
  • Thought leaders are excellent communicators. They need to make complicated topics easy to understand for the industry at large. They continually exercise their thinking and communication skills to achieve better outcomes. Being an excellent communicator is not a requirement of being an SME, although it is obviously an advantage. SMEs are known for their knowledge, but typically only known within the company. Thought leaders are known for both their knowledge and their ability to push the topic into new areas through excellent communication. Thought leaders are known outside of the company.
  • Thought leaders are avid consumers of knowledge and think with a critical mind. They like to challenge what they read or think about how that knowledge impacts other areas of the industry. They might think things like “Yes, I agree with that, but this is missing” or “If this impacts that, then how does this impact X?” or “The market has changed and this is no longer valid”. Their ideas add to the body of knowledge in the industry.

How Effective is Thought Leadership?

Okay, so now you know precisely what thought leadership is and how it differs from SMEs. But what’s the point of all of this? Is thought leadership a ‘nice to have’ or a critical aspect of doing business in 2021? Let’s look at the data.

According to a survey of over 1,200 participants from Europe and North America, thought leadership is proving to be a powerful tool in the digital age:

  • Decision-makers are reading more thought leadership content than ever before. 58% of respondents read over an hour of thought leadership per week, and this figure is up 8% from the year before.
  • More than half of respondents say they use thought leadership to determine whether to hire a company.
  • Staggeringly, almost half of C-suite executive respondents said they had shared their contact details after reading thought leadership content. Thought leadership can grant you access to high-ranking decision-makers in other businesses.
  • Thought leadership is directly linked to closing sales, with over 60% of decision-makers saying thought leadership content was the reason they chose to buy a product or service.
  • It can increase your pricing power. Over 60% of C-Level executives said they were willing to pay a premium to companies that create thought leadership.
Creating More Thought Leaders - 5 Paths to Success

Creating More Thought Leaders – 5 Paths to Success

1.  Thought Leaders are Found

You can’t take any employee and turn them into a thought leader. As we discussed in a prior section, thought leaders have a unique set of responsibilities, and people with the right personal qualities best handle these responsibilities. Thought leaders must have excellent communication skills, be very curious and intellectually hungry, and be proactive individuals.

If someone is an excellent communicator but isn’t hungry for more knowledge about the industry, doesn’t like to challenge ideas, and hates to read – they won’t make a good thought leader.

Similarly, someone who is an avid reader of industry-focused content but doesn’t like to challenge what they read or discuss it with others won’t make a good thought leader.

Getting the basics right is essential, so if you’re looking to create thought leaders, start here. It’s better to look for individuals with a thirst for knowledge, critical thinking minds, and good communication skills, even if there are gaps in their knowledge. If someone loves consuming knowledge, they’ll fill in those gaps quickly. However, you can train someone to desire more knowledge – you can’t force someone to love learning.

In your quest to hunt thought leaders, talk to managers and other high ranking employees to get a feel for the people in your company on a deeper level. Is there someone who is always bursting with excitement to tell their colleagues something new they’ve learned? Can they get anyone excited about anything? Thought leaders are often infectious. These are people who can take any topic, even one of little interest to most people, and make it exciting.

2.  Create Targets and Goals

Once you’ve found your thought leaders, you have to set targets and goals so that content is regular. There’s no use having thought leaders if they are only known within your company – thought leaders are their most potent and effective when they are known by a large segment of the industry. How do you get to this point? By continually posting engaging content.

Create a content schedule for your thought leaders. It can be twice a week, once a week, even once a month. But the key is to be consistent. Let people in the industry know that they can expect to get compelling content regularly if they follow your thought leader.

3.  Don’t Just Focus on Executive Leaders

Executive leaders can make great thought leaders for many reasons:

  • They are typically knowledgeable about the industry because they’ve been in it for a long time.
  • They have a lot of social influence (they typically already have a lot of followers on LinkedIn and Twitter).
  • Critical thinking and communicating is already a prominent part of their job and the reason they got to their position.

But remember, you can’t force people into being thought leaders. If you only focus on your executive employees, you could be missing out on a great thought leader from a lower rank within the company. It’s also worth remembering that diversity is crucial here. While executive employees tend to have a large social media following and high social capital, they can often seem unrelatable to others in the industry. A lower-ranking employee can help bridge this gap and attract a broader range of readers.

4.  Write and Edit Carefully

When it comes to creating content, you must ensure its high quality. Someone can be an excellent communicator in-person but struggle to get their ideas onto the page in a concise, cohesive way that has flow. Make sure that your thought leaders aren’t writing content close to the upload deadline. Ideally, they should create content in advance and distribute it to other team members for them to edit, review, and comment on.

Try to keep the group of reviewers and approvers small and give each member a clear responsibility. For example, one person can be in charge of grammar, spelling, and sentence structure, whereas others can call out whether they think something is missing. You don’t want to get into a “too many chefs spoil the soup situation”.

5.  Avoid Self Promotion and Be Deliberate

The first thing any thought leader needs to do is figure out what they are an expert in. Is there a specific niche in your industry that has a lot of room for discussion and growth? Thought leaders need to talk about topics where they can have the most impact and influence because these are the topics that will secure the most sales.

However, it’s essential to separate thought leadership content from sales content. Thought leadership blog posts should not promote the individual or the company. The content, first and foremost, is about adding VALUE. Readers must come away having learned something and being excited to discuss the content with others. Maybe the blog helped them think about a topic in a totally different way or connected some dots that seemed unrelated before they read it. Thought leadership content builds relationships slowly but firmly. You can cheat and include sales content, and hope you’ll secure a quick deal. Play the long game!

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