What Thought Leadership Actually Looks Like

Jacqueline Isaacs
April 13, 2020

Thought leadership is more than just a trendy marketing concept. It can be a powerful vehicle for impacting the world with your meaningful message. As I’ve defined before, thought leadership is your expertise being made accessible and valuable to an audience by creating useful content and distributing it through effective communications.

The definition incorporates the five key elements that make up thought leadership:

  1. Expertise
  2. Accessibility
  3. Value
  4. Useful Content
  5. Effective Communications

The first three elements make up the “what” of thought leadership: expertise, accessibility, and value. If you lack expertise, you may be an influencer. If you are an expert, but you don’t make your expertise accessible, you may be a coach. If you are an expert and are willing to make your expertise accessible, but it doesn’t add value to an audience, you may be a scholar.

Example 1: The Interior Designer

Being an influencer, a coach, or a scholar are all perfectly valid roles. For example, if a person wanted to carve out a niche in interior decorating, she could fall into any one of these categories. She can be an influencer by partnering with brands and making design recommendations via her Instagram account. She can be a coach by working exclusively with design clients and helping them to achieve their optimal home interiors. Or she can be a scholar by coming up with innovative design concepts and ideas that can be published in design magazines or sold to design firms.

In this example, the interior designer may be doing good work in her field; she just isn’t a thought leader without meeting the rest of the definition. Being a thought leader would require her to bring all three aspects—expertise, accessibility, and value—together, and then scaling it to a wider audience through useful content and effective communications.

Thought leadership for her might begin by launching a blog about interior design that introduces readers to her particular aesthetic and educates them on how to achieve it in their homes. The blog provides content for her social media feeds, adds value to her design clients, and positions her as an expert to be sought out for interviews. Her thought leadership might grow from there into the following ways:

  • She publishes a book about her unique take on interior design.
  • She launches a podcast that addresses frequently asked questions.
  • She creates online courses for people to learn how to implement her design strategies in different rooms.

Example 2: The Education Nonprofit

Let’s consider another example. Many thought leaders work for charitable causes, either as individuals or as a part of a team at a thought leading organization. Let’s say you manage the communications strategy at a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to revolutionize classroom learning with innovative technology, then the framework still applies.

If your organization published case studies of tech in schools from around the world, you might be acting like an influencer, inspiring other educators to try the featured methods. If your team works in the classroom with schools to implement creative and custom tech solutions, you may be acting like a coach. And if your team conducts cutting-edge research about new methods that have never before been tried and then publishes your findings in education journals, then you might be acting like a scholar.

Thought leadership for your nonprofit, like the interior designer, will need to bring the three elements together and deliver expertise, value, and accessibility to a wider audience.

Your approach to thought leadership might be to engage in a media campaign. The top leaders in your organization can write and publish op-eds in appropriate newspapers, and you can pitch them to be interviewed on radio and television. This will build your brand and name recognition among the industry, will start a conversation around your ideas, and will drive people to your website to learn more. It might grow from there in the following ways:

  • Your organization offers free e-books for educators about the value of technology in the classroom, which builds your email list.
  • Your CEO is invited to give the keynote address at a top technology conference to invite Silicon Valley leaders to participate with your research.
  • The op-eds help promote a new book that one of your experts is publishing, boosting sales.

How Can Thought Leadership Help You?

While thought leadership for the interior designer and the nonprofit might take a wide range of forms, none of it is going to come easily. So why would they—or you for that matter—want to take on this extra work if it’s not already in their communications plan? I’ll address that in my next article.

If you have questions about how to improve your thought leadership through useful content, we can help! Contact us today.

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash

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