I mentioned to a friend over lunch this week that I was working on a blog about how to become a thought leader on Twitter. She rolled her eyes at me. “What next?” she said. “Are you going to tell people to ‘think outside the box’ and ‘leverage synergies?” (The air quotes weren’t really necessary for me to catch the sarcasm.)
I get her point. So many people drop the words thought leadership without a clear understanding of what it is and what it takes to achieve it, that the term is at risk of becoming just another throwaway business buzzword. But authentic thought leadership is a powerful way to build audiences, capture the attention of influencers, and shape the conversation around a particular topic. When a thought leader says or shares something, people take note. With so much information available today it is hard to get your voice heard. Becoming a thought leader on Twitter is one way to cut through the noise and catch the attention of your market.
What is a Thought Leader?
Forbes magazine has an interesting two-part definition of what makes a thought leader.
Part I: “A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.”
Part II: “A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognized as such.”
Thought leaders are trusted sources of new ways of thinking, innovative ideas, actionable advice, and relevant information. They do more than simply repeating what people are already talking about, they add a new perspective, share related experiences, and accurately predict what comes next.
For example, if a new regulation is enacted that will impact a particular industry, a thought leader does more than just repeat the regulation and link to its text. He or she provides unique insight on how the financial, practical, and customer service impacts of the regulation. They might give advice on how to mitigate potential problems or capitalize on the change.
Becoming a Thought Leader Isn’t Easy. Why Bother?
We’re going to lay out a path to thought leadership in a minute, but (spoiler alert) it takes effort and consistency. But there’s a reason that so many people and brands strive to achieve thought leadership status. It can pay off in big ways. Through thought leadership, you can:
- Gain the trust of potential customers, employees, and investors
- Shape the conversation in a way that favors your market position
- Build relationships with important people in your niche
- Increase brand awareness
- Be seen as an advisor, not a salesperson
- Stay relevant when people aren’t in a buying cycle so you can be top of mind when they are
How to Stake Out Your Thought Leadership Position on Twitter
We’re focused on Twitter today but, of course, thought leadership can extend across many social media and real-world channels. Twitter is a good place to start if it is a place that your audience congregates because the conversation moves fast, there is much to share, and getting people to follow you isn’t a big ask. (If your audience is not on Twitter, much of this advice applies to other platforms as well.)
Step I – Figure Out Where You Are Going
Merriam-Webster defines the word “lead” as “to guide on a way especially by going in advance.” You can’t really “guide on a way” if you don’t know where you are going. Establishing thought leadership requires you to know where you want to take your audience. What information do you want them to understand? What do you want to learn from them? What actions do you want them to take?
Step II – Establish Your Credibility
Trust is always earned. You can begin by studying what other thought leaders in your space have done to attract followers on Twitter. Create useful content that proves your qualifications on other platforms like LinkedIn or your own blog that you can reference and tweet about. Better yet, if you can get published on a platform that already has established standing like Forbes or Inc.
Step III – Listen for Opportunities
Social media is all about conversation. Thought leaders don’t just drop content links and run away. They actively listen for the opportunity to provide value. Tweets get stale pretty quickly if there isn’t a lot of engagement so social media monitoring software can be a big help when looking for the chance to join a dialog.
Step IV – Encourage Engagement
When people respond to your Tweets with comments or questions, respond. It is very difficult to become a thought leader without audience engagement, so you have to make the effort to be active and encourage others to continue the exchange.
Step V – Provide Value
There are many ways to provide value to your audience on Twitter. You might thoughtfully curate and comment on content that others have created, becoming a go-to source for relevant, up to date information. You might look for people asking questions about your space and provide informative answers. Of course, you might also share your own best, most useful assets and ideas.
Step VI – Be Consistent
Thought leadership on Twitter is a long game. It takes a while to establish it and it disappears quickly if not given due attention. Success requires careful planning, and the willingness to devote enough time to the endeavor. Social media scheduling tools can help keep up the appearance of activity, but they don’t take the place of authentically responding to the moment.
Step VII – Measure Results
Remember the second part of the Forbes definition of thought leadership. Unless you get results, you don’t really have it. That’s why it is important to carefully monitor your success in terms of reach, engagement, and outcomes. Are you driving more people to your website as your thought leadership position grows? Are you seeing results in terms of lead generation, revenue, or brand reputation? Are you leading your audience closer to where you want them to be? The idea of manually measuring these metrics may be daunting, but there are sophisticated social media analytics software solutions designed to help.
Not everyone can become a thought leader, but those who do achieve something very powerful. If you’ve got something important and relevant to say to your market, it is well worth the energy.
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