PR News did a piece a while ago on the most overused PR term around. It was set up like a tournament bracket, just like the NCAA basketball tournament, with 64 overused PR terms competing for the championship. The champion of overused PR terms for the year was “thought leader.”
There are in fact many people and companies claiming online to be thought leaders. The term has become so ubiquitous that some have speculated that it has become meaningless in a sense. If everyone is a thought leader and no one is a thought follower, the thinking goes, does the label mean anything?
I think it’s a worthwhile pursuit to become a thought leader. It can have tremendous benefit to growing your company’s reputation if you are providing innovative ideas and leadership within your industry. There are a couple of fundamentals that need to be in place, however, before you even start marketing yourself as a thought leader.
The first thing you need to do is, well, some thinking. Sounds obvious but it’s a part of the process that’s missing in many cases. Just because you are generating great results or your blog or website attracts many visitors, for example, doesn’t mean that you’re a thought leader. There could be some very interesting insights behind your success but thought leadership can’t occur without insights being expressed.
Amazing thinking might already exist within your company. Consider the people in your R&D department or in product development. These people spend their days conducting research, contemplating ideas, and looking for new and innovative ways to do things better. If you can tap into their insights, knowledge and brain power, then you have a great resource for innovative ideas and insights for your industry and offer thought leadership.
The second thing is to take the ideas from these resources and then put them in a way that’s accessible. You need to create content that’s easy to understand and use language that isn’t too jargon-y. The language should be simple enough for anyone to understand, including those who are new to the industry. It also helps to use images that are interesting that quickly communicate your message. This includes using infographics or charts (e.g. a pie chart) that can quickly make compelling points or arguments. This allows you to develop a following, especially if you share it through social media. By consistently doing that, viewers can follow you and over time, you can develop yourself to be a thought leader.