Influence and Thought Leadership: A Simple Guide for Every Professional
How to Define It, Build It, and Benefit from It
One of the best things you can ever do for your career is to build thought leadership. It can bring you better job opportunities, increase your visibility to a wider audience, attract opportunities you never dreamt of, and position you as an expert in your field. Thought leadership is different from personal branding. Personal branding means that you build a public image around what you want to be known for. Thought leadership is what you do with your brand that proves it. You can build an amazing personal brand but if you don’t put it out there in the public eye, what use is it?
What Is a Thought Leader?
Thought leadership is the highest form and the longest-lasting form of influence. It is putting one’s expertise and life mission out to the public. Thought leaders influence people to change their behaviors and become (hopefully) better versions of themselves. We remember thought leaders long after they leave us and future generations often refer back to them in their own works and ideas. Presidents, royal family, generals, and some influencers who accomplish major milestones in their fields of expertise all count as such. Thought leaders are brave and bold, respected and loved, and they change the world.
What Is an Influencer?
Influencers are people who attract the public’s attention. There are three types of influencers I’d like to speak of.
In her book, Influencer, Brittany Hennessy, divides influencers into two types:
a) Content Creators
These are people who vlog, blog, write books, have podcasts, get on stages, or become well-known by putting themselves in the public eye as personal brands and experts in the area they create regular content about. They build a following of potential buyers, clients, and supporters. This type of influence is described in the book by Pat Flynn called SuperFans. Content creators make money by selling to their audience, either directly or through affiliate deals, as well as ad revenue.
While they may or may not have a skill or business they promote, the public cares most about them as individuals and following their very public lives. This is a very superficial form of influence that comes and goes. We probably will never buy anything from them but just become fascinated or semi-obsessed with how different they are from the ordinary. This includes models and people with unusual lives (exotic locations, dangerous sports, or large families with a ton of kids). They make money through ad revenue, sponsored posts, and affiliate deals. These are the classic Instagram influencers we think of when we speak about Influencer Marketing.
I feel a third type must be added as influencers:
c) Catalysts for Change
These influencers have a message for the world. They get on stages, organize protests, found non-profit organizations, take public action, and make sure they are heard. Whether is it political justice or a good cause, these influencers move people to listen to them and incite them to take action. This is a very powerful form of influence that must be used wisely since it can lead to both good or bad change. Throughout history, we have proof of these types of influencers. Their names are often forgotten but the message they started becomes action that changes history. And a lucky few become thought leaders who go down in history as important figures.
Who Is Not An Influencer Nor a Thought Leader?
Before we go further into details, it is important to mention the type who is neither thought leader nor influencer:
You can recognize this type based on one of the following behaviors:
- Their brand doesn’t stand for anything or something confusing
- They never produce content as an expert in anything
- They dance around on-camera with the message “look at me” without any valuable message around their brand
- They use their bodies to sell (Note: this could be valid if that is what they are selling like fitness or modeling)
- They always try to speak up but never have anything new nor valuable to add (repeating known facts or speaking with void statements or quotes)
- They share others’ content mostly, including viral videos or quotes
- Their content is mostly silly but nothing original
- They follow trends
- They use the portrayal of their lifestyle as their brand but there are holes that lead you to believe it is all a show
- They create drama
- Their offline personality and reality is very different from their online persona
- They share mostly personal details that have nothing to do with their expertise yet don’t have the extraordinary element of a lifecaster to build enough of a following around their lifestyle (too ordinary, everyday stuff)
Which Type Are You?
Now that we’ve defined the various degrees of influence, can you see which category your own behavior puts you in?
Think about the way you show up online in your content and see if you can categorize your content into the above types of influence, then tally it up to determine how you are coming across to the public. Is this the influence you are aiming for or can you make improvements? As I’ve described, not all attention is created equally. Make sure you are asking for the right type.
How to Build Authentic Influence
Thought leaders build authentic influence. Let’s take a deeper look:
1/ Stand for Something
This one is obvious but unfortunately, sometimes the most challenging. People who are people pleasers and generalists do not become thought leaders. The more high-level words you use, the less you stand for anything. The more niched down and specific, the more I think this is someone to follow.
2/ Speak to One Person
The best thought leaders make me feel like they know me. I connect quickly and deeply with what they are saying. These types understand the power of defining your audience. This makes their content so much better than those who try to stay high level and speak to anyone and everyone.
3/ Learn Storytelling
People love to be edu-tained. This is a true skill a good thought leader masters. It is the ability to capture and retain their audience’s attention with a compelling story. The best storytelling comes from firsthand experience and connects one deeper with their followers. Not only does it build authenticity, but it confirms you know your topic really well.
4/ Speak from Your Heart, Not Your Head
Head talk is just empty words, as dry as reading a textbook. Head talk does not show thought leadership because you are repeating big words already written about a million times before, with no personalized spin on the topic nor clear differentiator. People get the impression to have read or heard this before and they think none the better of you for repeating it. When people speak from their heart, it touches the audience. It is personal, deep, thought-provoking, passionate, and compels others to take action. You believe someone speaking from their heart, whether you agree with them, and you tend to remember them.
5/ Show Up Where Your Audience Is
You can be an amazing thought leader but if no one knows about it, your influence will be nonexistent. Figure out where your ideal audience congregates and show up there regularly, both online and offline. This will require some basic research but it is well worth it.
6/ Be Consistent
People will come to know you as a thought leader not just by your words but also by your consistency. It is one thing to write an article once a year and quite another to produce them weekly. In fact, the more frequent you can be, the better you can demonstrate your thought leadership. This doesn’t mean showing up to grab attention just for the sake of consistency, though. It means planning out a content strategy to enable you to produce quality and quantity.
Thought leadership comes with a price: to be ready and willing to interact with your audience. This includes replying to comments and direct messages. As your thought leadership grows, you may need to enlist help to do so but one thing is certain: ignoring your audience is a major mistake. After all, they took the time to support you. The least you can do is to repay the favor by thanking them and answering questions.
8/ Social Proof
Thought leaders don’t live in a bubble. They become known and celebrated for their work. This includes being interviewed for publications and podcasts, mentioned on social media, and invited to partake in virtual and live events. Thought leaders are asking to speak, win wards, and receive plentiful testimonials and follows online. Seeing social proof validates a thought leader and serves to further increase their influence.
How to Use Influence to Attract Opportunities
Being a thought leader can pay off big time in multiple ways. If you spend your time and effort on building influence, you will want to be rewarded. There are several types of opportunities you can attract through thought leadership.
- Publication Interviews
- Podcast Interviews
- Event Speaking Opportunities
- Training Invitations
- Nominations for Awards
- Book Deals
- Coaching Inquiries
- Job Offers
- Product Sales
- Advertising Revenue through a Following
But how do you actually attract these opportunities? While some lucky influences sit back and receive inquiries, the best way to set yourself up for success is to be proactive.
- Include a Call-to-Action in Your Content
Examples: subscribe to my newsletter or sign up for my new course
2. Set Up a Website to Drive Traffic To
Example: Create a page for speaking inquires where you explain which topics you are qualified to speak on
3. Display your Email consistently and visibly
Example: In all bio sections on social media, make sure to list it
4. Create Offers Regularly for Your Audience
Example: Build digital downloads they can purchase and host workshops they can sign up for
5. Be Vocal About What You Are Looking For
Example: Post to your followers that you are open to collaborations and be specific about with whom
It has never been more important to build thought leadership than today. You are your brand. If you havn’t already, it is time to get started! If you want more tips, please subscribe to my newsletter and email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or topics you’d like me to cover.