How to become a thought leader (without writing anything)

Your shortcut to becoming a thought leader on LinkedIn

February 20, 2017

Thought Leadership

A successful thought leadership strategy puts your brand at the heart of the agenda for your industry. When it’s done well, thought leadership’s benefits include awareness (as your content is shared across relevant audiences), an increasingly owned audience, as people opt to follow your brand experts, and effective integration with sales as you provide great B2B content for reaching out to prospects. However, getting started with thought leadership can feel intimidating. How do you go about crafting compelling content that people in your industry will respond to? And how on earth do you find the time to do it?

These challenges apply whether the person starting out in thought leadership is yourself – or an expert from your company that you’re aiming to build a profile around. In either case, it’s the first steps into thought leadership that are the most difficult to take. You’ll need to find compelling subjects that are relevant to your industry right now; you’ll need to find a way to talk about them that’s original and compelling; and you’ll need to ensure that you or your expert is seen as a credible voice on your industry when you do.

This seems like a lot to take on – and that’s why so many potential thought leaders never get around to fulfilling that potential. However, thought leadership really doesn’t have to be an all or nothing game. You can start to become a thought leader without actually writing any long-form content yourself. You can start to put your opinions out there without embedding them in a post or presenting them in a keynote. It sounds suspiciously like cheating – but it’s not. It’s a way of testing the waters, building your confidence, getting in touch with what your network cares about, and preparing to become a more fully fledged thought leader.

Start with building a thought leader LinkedIn profile
It starts with a few simple adjustments to your LinkedIn profile. First of all, make sure that you’re leveraging all of the most relevant marketing collateral that already exists for your brand, via the media section of your profile. You can include links to eBooks, case studies, white papers and Slideshare presentations. To make this feature work harder for your thought-leadership credentials, choose existing brand content that’s relevant to the issues currently dominating your industry – if you work in marketing and your business has a white paper on Programmatic for example, now would be a great time to include that.

Take things a step further by giving yourself credit for any pieces of marketing collateral that you’ve been involved in personally – or anything relevant to your industry that you’ve published in the past. The Publications section is one of the most under-used features in LinkedIn profiles – and it’s ideal for demonstrating your credibility as a thought leader. Any blog posts that you’ve written or eBooks that you’ve contributed to could be included here.

Get imaginative about your sources of content
Now that you’ve given yourself the thought-leader profile that you deserve, it’s time to start exposing yourself to the conversations happening in your industry. This is as simple as choosing the right people, news sources and websites to follow. Start with relevant LinkedIn Influencers for your industry, which will ensure that your LinkedIn feed starts to fill up with opinions and conversations. Then broaden your view to incorporate other news sources, industry websites, publications and blogs. Be imaginative about where interesting and relevant viewpoints could come from. Focus on sources of content that align with your particular interests and areas of expertise. This will put you in a great position to start curating content, introducing audiences to ideas they haven’t encountered before.

Become an active curator of content
The approach you take to curating this content is the most significant step in your shortcut to becoming a thought leader. Start by choosing which content from your various sources you should share on LinkedIn, picking pieces that genuinely engage you (a great starting point for figuring out what will engage your audience) and which align with your own opinions. Then start to comment on the pieces that you share, framing their relevance and importance and adding your own perspective on why they matter.

As you grow more confident with your comments, you’ll feel comfortable sharing a broader range of content, including opinions that you might politely disagree with. Try to be respectful and constructive here – but don’t be afraid to offer an alternative interpretation. Establishing your own independent point of view in this way is the real tipping point for your thought leadership on LinkedIn.

Don’t just express opinions and walk away. Keep an eye on the conversations they trigger, and be ready to respond. This will increase engagement around your point of view and raise your profile through giving you a stronger presence in your audience’s feeds. Just as importantly, it will help to give you a clearer sense of the opinions out there. And that’s perfect preparation for the next stage in becoming a thought leader.

Start leveraging your thought leadership
You’re now curating content confidently, expressing your independent point of view and directing conversations. When people take a look at your profile, they’ll find plenty of evidence as to why you and your brand are credible authorities on this area. You are already becoming a thought leader. Now it’s time to start leveraging that authority to create compelling, original content.

Start by building on the opinions you’ve shared that resonated most with your network on LinkedIn, and generated the most views on your shared content. This will plug you into the issues motivating your audiences and build on the profile you’ve already established – plus, you’ll be able to use the response to your comments to move the debate forward. It means that, when you do come to write original thought leadership content, you’ll find you’ve already done most of the hard work.

Image Credit - “Self Portrait” by Henri-Charles Guérard (French, Paris 1846–1897 Paris) via The Metropolitan Museum of Art is licensed under CC0 1.0