8 Experts Share How to be a Thought Leader

Building and maintaining a reputation as a thought leader is increasingly difficult and time-consuming in today’s digital world. The marketplace has gone global and, like it or not, we are now competing across borders. Your reputation as a thought leader also needs to go global if you want to stay relevant in your space. There are a lot more voices online than there used to be. How are you going to stand out amongst the crowd and stand up against the best of the best? How can you stay on top of your game in an increasingly competitive playing field?

Faced with this daunting landscape, I thought we could use some advice from people who have done it; people who have risen to the challenge and continue to grow their online reputation as thought leaders. Here’s what they have to say about how to build a reputation as a thought leader:

 Ian Cleary: Founder and CEO of RazorSocial



I did a lot of work up front to figure out what was my niche that would help me stand out amongst other thought leaders in the industry. As I had 15 years of technology experience prior to marketing, it made sense that I focused on marketing technology. I then set about building relationships with the other thought leaders in the industry and I tried to provide some of the best content on the internet related to marketing tech. Over time as my reputation built I also started publishing content on high authority sites such as Forbes and Entrepreneur.com. As a result of all this, I established myself as a thought leader. But don’t make any mistake about this, it’s not easy. This was a lot of hard work and still requires a lot of hard work to maintain/increase your authority in an industry. It is worth it to me because I generate a lot of business because of this and can charge premium rates for my services. I also get to travel around the world and speak at events and I love traveling and speaking!!


Gail Gardner: Small Business and Content Marketing Strategist at Growmap



My collaborators and I grew our influence primarily by supporting each other using RSS feeds on Twitter and in Twitter chats. From there we expanded to all the major social and voting platforms. Most of us have our own sites and are also contributors on other major sites. Being published on additional sites grows our visibility and increases influence.


Ardath Albee: CEO and B2B Marketing Strategist at Marketing Interactions, Author



I did a few things very well.

  1.       I chose a tight niche and stuck with it to define my expertise and my point of view
  2.       I started blogging 2 years before I started my consultancy to build my reputation in the industry, which gave me a nice jumpstart
  3.       I wrote two books published by New York publishers
  4.       I spend a lot of time speaking at industry conferences and teaching workshops

The most important of these things is the first one. I tend to be blunt and no-nonsense in my style. I have a lot of passion for the work I do and I’m driven by helping B2B marketers get content marketing right. My style isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine. Sticking with my niche has also been important for me. If I’m going to talk about the work with authority, I need to be doing the work—and always learning. It also helps that I’m not afraid to take on controversial ideas.


Michael Brenner: CEO of Marketing Insider Group, Author and previous Head of Digital and Content Marketing for SAP



My goal is to simply help people become better marketers. So I started sharing on Twitter and LinkedIn. Then I started blogging. Then I started doing webinars. Then I started speaking at conferences. Then I started my consulting company. All these activities support each other but they all come back to my goal of helping marketers be better marketers.


Jack Kosakowski: CEO of Creation Agency



If you want to build expertise in your niche industry it won’t be easy and it won’t happen fast. You have to make a long-term commitment that starts with consistency. You have to make learning, content curation, content creation, and engagement a habit on a daily basis. You have to constantly being putting out high value content that is focused purely on quality. Your key differentiator has to show in your work and you have to get other people talking about you. Wisdom is the competitive advantage when building thought leadership.

Mark Traphagen: Senior Director of Brand Evangelism at Stone Temple Consulting



I’m sure any of us who others regard as thought leaders in our fields will point toward our content. Content is the capital of thought leadership. It’s nice to have people cite you as a thought leader, but at the end of the day, there has to be some “there there,” some substance on which that leadership leans, and your content is the pudding that provides the proof.
But I would also want to highlight the value of interaction. Many would call this “engagement,” but in addition to being overused, that term has (unfortunately) become attached to a set of rather impersonal tactics (“If I just retweet this influencer enough, maybe she’ll notice me”). By interaction I mean consistent, thoughtful, meaningful dialog with other people who matter in my field. If my comments and thought exchanges with them are valuable to them, if they cause them to think more deeply or get new ideas, then I personally become valuable to them, and it’s more likely they will cite and recommend me to others.
In my experience, it’s those substantive, heartfelt recommendations that have done more for my reputation than anything else.


Sujan Patel: Co-Founder of WebProfits growth marketing agency and partner in several software companies including ContentMarketer.io, Narrow, and Mailshake



I built my reputation by creating content on a regular basis and consistently for the past 4 years. I also started connecting with other thought leaders and offering help for free. Over time people started to notice. It’s not easy and there aren’t many short cuts.


Joel Klettke: Conversion Copywriter and Strategist at Business Casual Copywriting Ltd.



I think the important thing is that I never set out with the intention of being known as a “thought leader.” I think a lot of people aspire to the moniker but don’t realize that to be someone who others genuinely look to for guidance/advice, you need to do the work.
So that’s what I did: I took on projects in my field, and as I learned, I shared. No secrets. No fluff.
I was intentional about blogging about the lessons I was picking up along the way. I wrote actionable pieces on my process, giving my audience the “how” behind the “what,” and took them to where my audience was: agency blogs, industry hubs, my own site, LinkedIn, and so on.
As you share, people learn to trust you and see you as someone who is competent and giving; not all noise without any signal.
If you focus on teaching and give freely of what you know, people respect that and respond to it.



So there you have it! The experts in content marketing have spoken. Hard work, focused content, consistency, authenticity, and a strong network will all help you build your reputation as a thought leader. Stick to these principles and see your audience grow and bring you dividends!

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