“Thought leadership” is one of those popular words we’ve all heard about a million times. And while this may seem like one of those terribly overused clichés, based on my experience as a business owner and coach of corporate leaders and entrepreneurs, I understand why we hear it so often.
Because, well done, it works.
I’m telling you this from personal experience. I have also seen the results of thought leadership among the clients I have served in the last 10+ years.
Building or affirming your thought leadership – in the right places and with the right audience – can help you build trust and credibility with customers, become a major voice in your industry, and open up incredible opportunities.
Here is my story:
In 2010, I got this crazy idea to make JobJenny.com, a platform that would offer professionals answers to their most pressing career questions, help them move jobs or transition jobs, and inspire them to live the best lives.
My initial intention was to create a side job that would complement my then job as head of an employment agency. I would modestly answer the most common questions I have heard about job search and career development, help people with their resumes and support them in developing small businesses.
What I didn’t expect was this: Sharing my first-hand perspective on how recruiters think and work and the lessons learned while building my own business through my blog, LinkedIn and subscriber newsletter, I became a thought leader.
But that’s exactly what happened and, as it happened, I was able to expand my services, raise prices (a lot), discontinue my recruiting business, and attract lucrative partnerships, including the one with LinkedIn Learning.
My successes in terms of leadership were, admittedly, quite accidental, but yours may not be. In fact, if you apply some strategy and planning to this, you (and your business) can benefit from your thought leadership much faster than I do.
Here are five quick tips to help you build mental leadership through LinkedIn — one of the best platforms for many small business owners (though they’ll work just as well is Instagram or TickTook is your choice):
1. Think about your most important audience and what they want to hear
Certainly, you will want the freedom to share perspective and information that is relevant to you and that is consistent with the goals of your business. But when it comes down to it, the most important thing is to talk about things that your ideal audience wants to hear.
And, if you’re not sure what that is, try my very unscientific technique:
View questions that come through your contact page, email and LinkedIn InMails weekly. In what, in particular, do people seek help the most?
In my experience, posts inspired by real-life questions and sore points get the most comments, engagement, and sharing. I guess you will find a similar trend. So dive into your post office and start there.
Reply to “What to talk about?” are, literally, there in your inbox. Start there.
2. Consider your unique perspective
Do you know what sets you and your business apart? I should. If you don’t, ask your best customers what they value most to help you clarify your “secret sauce.”
My only perspective, as a reference point, is to insist on showing myself as an approachable and connected person.
Certainly, I want to make it clear that I know what I’m talking about and that I’m hyper-current in my industry. I also understand that the process of changing a job or career is stressful for almost everyone. And so, I work hard to appear in a way that is not intimidating, not boring and incredibly effective.
And, it works. This is the key reason why I was invited (from a sea of approximately 3,273,204 job search experts on LinkedIn) to create video courses with LinkedIn Learning. My conversational style of rolling up my sleeves also helped me get a long-term gig as a columnist for The Muse (one of the biggest players in my career) and the upcoming, still strictly confidential writing a project, which you will see later in 2022.
Understand what sets you apart, and then make sure the content you share respects your overall brand and your unique perspective.
3. Think about what you will share
Once you’ve gained clarity about your audience and unique perspective, spend some time thinking about topics that are in line with your goals and confirm your expertise. Several types of content that tend to resonate well on LinkedIn include opinions, industry data analysis, case studies, AMA (Ask Me Anything) and interviews.
I recently started using AMAs on LinkedIn (via LinkedIn Live) as a tool to help potential clients as they think about looking for work and direct them to my paid offers. (Here’s my first one.) So far, the results have been incredibly promising. In just a short time weaving video content into their messages on LinkedIn, I can already see why 87% of those who use LinkedIn video for marketing say it is an effective channel for them.
As you think about it, make a list of your best ideas and draw from them over weeks or months. We are all so busy. Knowing what to share on LinkedIn (and when) will help you stay up to date.
4. Play your strengths
Something that seems to create the most stress among entrepreneurs as they chart a course to build thought leadership is this terrible scam syndrome.
I can’t tell you how many times my clients have said, “But I’m not a writer,” or “I’m terrified of speaking in front of a camera.”
Here’s the good news: you don’t have to write original content if it’s not your jam. You may be better off blogging or asking questions and answers on LinkedIn Live.
And, if you’re not a strong writer or you’re not in the mood for a camera, guess what? You can still build mental guidance, as a curator.
Curators are those magical people we all have in our news feeds who always find the most interesting articles, trends and information. They ask questions based on what they read. They invite us to declare ourselves. They create a thoughtful debate.
And in doing so, we meet them as people who are passionate, intelligent and engaged in their special areas of expertise.
We met them as thought leaders.
5. Appear authentically, always
You will probably agree with me when I say that there are many examples on LinkedIn of “what not to do” about “trying to build thought leadership”. They are everywhere.
When you take a close look at the stench, I bet you’ll notice something. Most of those in your “worst of the worst” category are missing an extremely important ingredient: authenticity.
You see, people align with – and buy from – those they know, love and trust. (In fact, 86 percent of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding which brands they like and support.) And, if you get too stuck with appearing locked up on LinkedIn (or any other social media platform), you risk people not seeing who it is you, as an entrepreneur and as a person.
Be strategic, for sure. But if you are serious about using LinkedIn to establish or affirm your thought leadership, you need to prove yourself to be the right thing to do.
Trust me: you will be glad.
Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.