A thought leader is someone with opinions shaped by experience, interaction, and critical thinking, who is known for the way they articulate their particular point of view.
In our connected, social-media-dominated world, engaging as a thought leader by publishing blog posts and comments is a great way to stand out in a competitive career marketplace. You qualify as a potential thought leader for the simple reason that you have been around for a long time and have done a lot of things. You likely have a lot more to say than you realize. By sharing your ideas, you create reasons to start conversations with other people.
Strategy #21. Become a Thought Leader
Thought leadership is a very attainable goal. When I started my reinvention career coaching practice for boomers, I knew relatively little about the challenges facing our generation beyond the headlines and some of the statistics. Determined to become an expert in this area, I began reading everything I could get my hands on. I read books and articles and subscribed to blogs of people who were writing about this topic.
Over time, I began to form opinions about the material I was reading, shaped by my research as well as by my own experiences and observations. I found that there were experts I generally agreed with and others I disagreed with. I saw that some organizations in the space had orientations and visions that were compatible with my own, while others didn’t. Finally, I began to post comments on people’s blogs, including on sites like Huffington Post and Forbes, and especially on LinkedIn groups. As I got more comfortable, I found that more and more ideas would come to me, and I began compiling notes for what eventually became my own blog posts.
If you begin to engage as a thought leader with your online network, you will develop a reputation based on the helpful and informative contributions you make in your subject area, like Judy Contreras, who I profile in my Boomer Reinvention book. That reputation helps define you as someone unique in a way that the simple listing of jobs and accomplishments on your résumé or online profile can never accomplish.
Your ability to take a proactive role as a thought leader also gives you plenty to talk about with your network. This means that you are never at a loss when calling someone up or sending them a message. It will also prompt others to contact you in order to comment on what you have shared or to ask you a question based on what you know.
Not everyone is going to agree with what you post. By engaging actively, you will find out who your ideas resonate with and who disagrees with you. You will quickly find the people with whom you share various affinities, and these are the people you want to continue to cultivate. Don’t waste time trying to convert people to your cause. If some eventually come around, so much the better. But focus your interactions primarily on the people who are strategic and who align with your point of view.
Developing Your Platform
While LinkedIn will probably be your primary business platform and networking resource, you can also use other social media platforms to engage with like-minded peers, prospective clients, employers, partners, and friends. This activity creates a virtual online footprint for you that becomes your personal platform.
The choice of sites on which you’ll build your platforms defines your priorities and preferences. There are many sites for you to investigate and consider. By experimenting and spending some time on the ones that seem to be in the ballpark, you’ll develop a sense of which ones are appropriate for you and you’ll narrow your participation accordingly. Be selective—you don’t have to spend all your time on social media! Your choice depends on what works for you and your business.
Whatever social media sites you choose, you’ll engage in five core practices that will help you build and nurture your thought leadership platform: collecting content, following people, publishing posts, sharing content, and engaging others.
- Collect content. This is the research phase of the process. Use tools like Google Alerts and subscriptions to RSS feeds from websites you value to receive regular input. If you find that you are overwhelmed with updates, use the service http://unroll.me to consolidate all of your subscriptions into one daily email digest. And don’t forget to include your own name to track the mentions you may receive in the press or elsewhere online.
- Follow people who matter. Subscribe to updates from the people who you find most influential in your field. Follow them on the social media platforms they publish on. Engage with them directly by replying to their posts, and even alerting them and linking to your own posts or updates.
- Publish your own blog posts. This is the core of your thought leadership practice. Create your own blog (you can do it for free on a number of platforms) and make your views known. Post at intervals that you can manage, and consider creating a bunch of posts in one sitting that you can schedule to publish over a period of months automatically.
- Share content. As you read articles and information from various sources, share it – and comment on it so your community knows why it’s relevant. Provoke, promote and invite their responses. Don’t overshare. Balance quality and quantity.
- Engage with your community. Comment on what you read, and seek out opportunities to weigh in on the issues that concern you and others. Responding to comments on your own posts and updates can create new networking relationships for your network, and seed potential business opportunities.