Thought leadership has been one of the significant buzz terms in business for some time. Every business or entrepreneur with their sights set on becoming an industry leader has at some point Google how, exactly, you’re supposed to do that. How did the big dogs get so big? What makes the likes of Brené Brown, Marie Forleo, and Seth Godin powerhouses?
How did they become so successful?
When you dig into their careers, the answer is simple: they are thought leaders.
The natural question to follow from this is, how exactly does one become a thought leader? Again, one need only look at the development of Marie Forleo’s YouTube channel, Marie TV, or check out Seth God and Brené Brown’s author pages on Amazon to figure out that the answer is, again, simple: content.
What Does Thought Leadership Mean?
Thought leaders are people, everyday people, who have ideas. They have perspectives. They share those thoughts in the form of content – blogs, videos, books, courses, podcasts, TikToks, photographs, Reels, whatever. The form of content varies depending on their platforms, audience preferences, and the whims of digital trends. Ultimately, the media doesn’t matter as long as the ideas are shared. And, crucially, as long as sharing those ideas is impactful.
Marie Forleo has inspired a generation of women to become successful business owners, myself included. The works of Brené Brown have transformative power in the lives of those who read them, enabling her audience to shed their shame, embrace their vulnerability, and step into their power. Seth Godin has given entrepreneurs the world over the tools to make their businesses more visible.
Becoming a successful business owner, entrepreneur, or startup can be as simple as having powerful ideas and sharing them.
And this is where people fall because they struggle with the ‘powerful’ part. Thought leadership, meaning original, inspiring, pioneering thoughts, doesn’t come naturally to most people.
Everything has been done. No ideas are new. So how do you create meaningful thought leadership content that is genuinely powerful enough to drive change?
What Makes Thought Leadership Content Meaningful?
Let’s get real for a second: the digital world is flooded with content. It’s saturated with it. You can Google any question, search for a hashtag and find a million TikTok or Instagram posts that relate. Do not confuse the creation of content with the creation of thought leadership content.
Anyone can create content, and the billions of people on social media, blogging, and podcasting, are proof of this. Creating content doesn’t make you a thought leader. Creating meaningful content that creates an impactful change in your industry and the lives of your audience makes you a thought leader.
That’s a lot easier said than done.
A few years ago, while working at an agency, we had a client who tasked me with making him famous.
He would regularly repeat this desire and expectation that the marketing we were doing for him should make him famous.
The issue we had was that he didn’t have anything vaguely original to say. He was a coach, but everything he taught he had learned from others. Everything he taught could be found on every coaching blog out there. Not one thought he wanted to push made him a leader.
It made him a person who regurgitated what actual leaders had already said.
More than that, he was not repeating these things in a way that inspired, motivated, or otherwise moved his audience. Script after script I wrote and video after video he recorded, but there was always something missing.
That ineffable quality that’s the difference between witnessing Martin Luther King give that speech and some guy telling you he wishes the world was fairer.
I struggled with this because I understood perfectly what the client wanted and genuinely wished I could help him achieve it. The problem was, all the marketing in the world couldn’t make him the next Gary Vaynerchuk.
What he needed was to bring a fresh perspective, a new methodology, or a superior way of working to the table.
Failing that, he needed a story. A success story showing it was possible to go from zero to hero with nothing but moxie, determination, and a dream.
Marie Forleo is an excellent example of a thought leader who has used the power of her own story to propel herself to success. She started as a dance instructor and built a marketing empire that’s helped thousands, if not millions, of women, emancipate themselves.
She teaches the tenets of marketing and entrepreneurship, and she teaches them exceptionally well. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking in her methodology, but her perspective is very different from most of what came before. Why? She’s a woman. She wasn’t born into wealth. She started filming videos of herself on her sofa and grew from there. She practised what she preached. She has remained humble and down to earth despite her success and the fact she now films in a studio with a crew and wears some of the prettiest clothes ever.
When you’re looking to create truly meaningful thought leadership content, you need to either have a genuinely original idea to revolutionise your industry; or you need a bloody powerful story and the charisma to carry it.
How To Create Meaningful Thought Leadership Content
When you’re creating content with the intention of it setting you up as a leader, there are a few practical things you can do to ensure that is the case.
- Ensure you are genuinely creating leadership content, and not simply saying all the things that have already been said and done a thousand times before.
- Present your content in a highly consumable way that maximises its potential to go viral.
- Find ways of ensuring other people present you as a thought leader.
Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these…
Ensuring You’re Genuinely Creating Leadership Content
As we’ve seen, it’s all too easy to think you’re a thought leader when you’re nothing of the kind. To avoid this pitfall, you need to find the best opportunity for you and your business to show up as leaders. There are a few options available. Have a read of them and see which is going to align with your business best.
Option 1: Showcase Your Originality
What do you do? Is it original? Is it innovative?
Be honest with yourself – the answer doesn’t have to be yes for you to create effective thought leadership content. However, you need to be realistic in your thinking and answer. That was the issue my client had – a lack of self-awareness when it came to his originality.
He genuinely believed he was being innovative in his methods. Unfortunately, he was actually encouraging his audience to be innovative in their methods.
And that is by no means the same thing.
This is a bit like trying to figure out what your real USP is for your business. You’re likely to have a knee-jerk reaction that you think answers the question but just describes half your competitors.
Nobody likes to think they lack originality or that their business does what every other business in their industry does. In the real world, however, most of us simply do what everyone else is doing. We may do it exceptionally well, which is undoubtedly a selling point, but that doesn’t mean we are contributing anything different to the mix.
So, are you original or innovative in what you do and how you do it? If so, that is what you need to be creating content around. That difference.
Like Elon Musk, always throwing out innovations, constantly pushing the boundaries and trying things that have never been done before. That’s what makes him a thought leader.
Option 2: Develop Meaningful Methodologies
But what if you have nothing original, nothing innovative? Well then, the next question is, do you bring a fresh perspective to a tired way of doing things?
The methodology behind your business. Why do you choose to break the norm and do things a different way.
One great example of this is Insight Executive Group, a client whose website I wrote several years ago. They are a recruitment agency, and if I’ve learned anything from the many years I’ve spent writing for various recruitment agencies, they are all pretty much the same.
They recruit people.
I’m not being intentionally facetious here; this is what the recruitment industry is all about.
And most industries are similar in this respect – there is a thing that they do. That’s why they are part of an ‘industry’ – many other people are doing the same thing.
The difference with IEG is that they have a unique way of going about it that’s completely different from their competitors. In working with the company’s two directors, I could forge their ideas on why things should be done differently, how they had chosen to do them, and position them as leaders in the recruitment industry.
They’re still recruiting, nothing new there, but the way they’re doing it is new. It’s meaningful. It has the potential to drive genuine and powerful change in their industry.
Option 3: Tell A Powerful Story
If you’re despairing at the thought that you have neither an original contribution nor a unique method to discuss, don’t. Everyone has one thing at their disposal that is completely unique: themselves.
Your story is your own, and nobody has one like it. Something led to you to start a business. What was it? How did it happen? Why did it hurt? How has it transformed your ilfe? The lives of your family? Your community?
What powerful change has occurred in your life due to what you do?
Do you have a particular ethos you follow, a cause you believe in? How have you crafted your company culture to reflect that?
How can you inspire others to believe in a better version of themselves, their lives, their businesses, their relationships, hobbies, or whatever else is relevant to what you do?
Find your story.
More than that, forge your story.
Because whatever your story has been so far, it’s not done yet. So if you’re looking at the current tale and thinking it lacks that ineffable quality you need to become a thought leader, turn the page.
You’ve heard the expression ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’? Well, creating positive and powerful change through your content is very much like that. You must first have – to some extent – created the change you wish to see in others due to your thinking in yourself.
You may have already done that and have your story. The successful business owner can tell the tale of how they grew their business and became successful. The nutritionist can recall the health crisis that led them to study nutrition so they could transform their health. The fitness coach can share their journey from couch potato to marathon runner. The money expert can share their rags to riches start in life.
Telling a powerful story can inspire others to believe they can achieve what you have. Tying that story into your business and what you do will give your audience confidence that you are the right person to buy from, hire, learn from, or work with.
Presenting Consumable Content
For your thought leadership content to drive powerful change in your industry, it needs to become a movement.
That doesn’t happen easily or overnight, but if you’re discerning in how you create your content, you can maximise its potential to do just that. Blog posts are great (I love them), but when was the last time someone sent you a link to an interesting blog post?
And when was the last time someone sent you a cool TikTok or Instagram Reel?
The way we consume content is constantly evolving. Since the internet became a thing, we have devoured content, first as blogs, then as audio blogs (now known as Podcasts), and then as videos. YouTube became the darling of the video world. Every other social media platform jumped on the bandwagon when it became clear that video content had become the preferred form.
For years the biggest marketing trend has been video marketing. YouTube videos, Facebook videos, IGTV, then along came Musica.ly, which rapidly turned into TikTok, and suddenly everyone was giving you a way of watching short videos that are only a couple of minutes long.
The easiest way to ensure you’re presenting consumable content is to give people multiple options. A written version that goes on your website is essential for your SEO and ensuring people find you through search. Once you have that written version, you can film it as a long-form video that can be added to YouTube, Facebook, etc, and embedded in your blog – maximising the chances of being found via search and giving people the option to read or watch. Convert that video to a podcast, and suddenly they have an audio option. Split your video into shorter chunks, and now you have Reels, ads, LinkedIn content, and many more options. Jump on the latest TikTok trends and discuss the topic you covered in that blog.
The more you share, the more you’ll understand what kind of content your audience wants and what works best for you. When you know that, you can focus your creative efforts on more of the type of content your audience prefers to consume.
Getting Others To Present You As A Thought Leader
One of the huge benefits of thought leadership content is its boost in visibility. Part of that is the viral potential of the content you create, but another huge part of it is SEO. By creating original, innovative, or inspiring content, something that furthers the discussion in your industry, sparks debate, and creates a dialogue, you will find others naturally share it. But you can go one step further.
Creating on-site content for your website is a massive boost for your SEO, but effectively optimising your website for search also requires a concrete effort where off-site work is concerned. A big part of that is backlinking and ensuring other websites with a high domain authority link to your content. This boosts your domain authority, increasing the number of people who find you through search.
Blogger outreach, media placements, and various other methods can be employed to encourage high-domain authority sites to link to your content. When they do this to prove a point, present an idea, or cite you as a source, you’re gaining the SEO boost of the backlink and being put in front of their audience, further boosting your visibility.
Social media can also be used similarly. By looking for brands and influencers to collaborate with, you can reach a wider audience and boost your credibility when they share your content or create content with you. The more you can do this, the easier it will be to get that coveted blue tick next to your name and verify your account.
That may seem like a small thing or even a vanity, but when it comes to positioning yourself as a thought leader, that blue tick is worth its weight in gold.
Thought Leadership Meaning In A Nutshell
One of the great quandaries of the human condition is the perpetual quest for meaning in life. Meaning is of vital importance. It’s a thing we crave, need, and find it difficult to be content without. While it’s easy to understand the meaning of the term ‘thought leadership’ on a superficial level, the deeper meaning of the term is that it is all about meaning.
How can you bring meaningful change into the lives of your audience?
If you are creating content that is impactful in a meaningful way, you are a thought leader.
If all you feel your content is lacking in that deeper meaning and impact, you need to look at ways to create that kind of profound impact.
And if you’re really struggling for how to create thought leadership content and need help refining your ideas into a clear message or telling your unique story, you know where to find me.