I need to be honest for a minute.

I love writing. I love it so much I got my degree in it. Doing it for a living brings me limitless nerdy joy.

But I’m going to be real with you here: being a thought leader is not something that comes naturally to me.

In fact, I’m not even sure I completely understand what it really means to be a thought leader—probably because everyone and their mom claims to be one.

Despite the name, being a thought leader is about more than leadership skills; which is a bummer, because I have some of those.

So, in the next few weeks and months (and probably years), I’m going to try to figure out what it means to be a thought leader in the realm of content marketing.

And I’d like you to join me. 


The Thought Leader Diaries:

My Clumsy Journey to Becoming a (Content Marketing) Thought Leader

Step #1: Honestly; What Is a Thought Leader?

Alright, I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again.

In my sort-of-humble opinion, perhaps the biggest shortcoming in the digital marketing industry is the sheer volume of buzzwords we throw around.

Thought leader is one of these buzzwords.

So first, I want to get to the meat: What in the good gravy is a thought leader?

Well, on the most basic level, a thought leader is person. This person represents a brand. This person is also considered an expert in his or her field of work.

For the sake of our long-term research, this person is a guru in content marketing.

That’s Just Skimming the Surface: What Does a Thought Leader Do?

So, we get that this person is an expert in content marketing. But there are a whole lot of experts out there.

Influence and Co. published a white paper that masterfully explains the details of this particular character.

Here’s a list of what he or she must do to maintain the title of thought leader:

  1. Stimulating Content. He or she creates the most engaging, share-worthy, conversation-starting content with his or her online audience, encouraging a shift within the industry.
  2. Listens. He or she listens to the questions and concerns of his or her audience, creating useful content and a dialogue to cater to these needs.
  3. Helps the Audience. Content is always created for the benefit of his or her readers, never strictly for self-promotion.
  4. Third-Party Affiliation. He or she is recognized by outside publications who are leaders themselves in relevant industry news and trends.
  5. Accessibility. He or she is available to the audience he or she is reaching out to and educating—willing to answer questions and discuss the field.

Why Thought Leadership Matters

For the final section of our preliminary overview of thought leadership, it’s important to understand why thought leadership matters at all.

You can look it two ways:

First: Customers would rather pay experts. When you create thought-leader-worthy content, you can boost the awareness of your company, sales, lead generation—all of it. The more of an expert you appear to be, the more successful your brand becomes.

But here’s the way I like to look at it.

Thought leaders are highly sensitive to the needs of the people they cater to. It is the ultimate goal of a thought leader to help their audience.

Look at it this way:

As a brand, you offer a service or product that solves your audience’s problem. This means your prospects and customers are already frustrated about something or need help.

Chances are, they have some reservations about using your product or service.

Maybe they don’t understand how your product or service works.

Maybe they don’t fully understand their own problem.

Maybe they don’t even understand your industry at all.

A thought leader’s job is to answer these questions before they ask.

A thought leader’s job is to give them the tools they need to feel confident and competent, which leads them to trust you and use your product or service.

Here We Go…

So here we are.

We have an outline of what it means to be a thought leader—but we need this to become a detailed self-portrait.

Follow along next week as I try to figure out how to do this whole thought leadership thing on my own.