It’s so damn hard to achieve because most individuals and businesses don’t focus on a small enough niche and concentrate all of their marketing resources in leading a group of like minded individuals.  Instead we market to a wider audience hoping to gain greater popularity by increasing our relevance to more people.

What is a ‘thought leader’?  According to Wikipedia, a thought leader is an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.

It’s impossible for a small company or individual to be known as a good generalist, or a well versed professional in a large field of knowledge, and also a thought leader.

Thought leaders take the topic they have deep understanding of and squint until all they can see is the smallest sliver of a highly relevant sub-topic then they focus on that topic until they own it. They gain ‘thought leader’ status not just by what they say but also by what they choose not to comment upon. An intense focus on a single subject area to the point of obsession is a typical trait of a thought leader.

Online publishing is so easy, many marketers feel that broader topic areas reach a wider audience.  This belief while partly true comes with an unspoken challenge. Broad topics lack resonance with an audience making it very difficult to convert readers into taking an action.  Forbes Magazine states “no one can possibly be a thought leader unless they’re capitalizing on the dramatically enhanced brand equity attained by being a thought leader.”

Here’s are some tell-tail signs of thought leadership:

  • The business or individual set out with the intention of becoming a thought leader, with at least a two year plan
  • Thought leaders publish their thoughts in a focused stream of commentary
  • They have an unfathomable depth of understanding of their topic in their market
  • They lead a community
  • Their Google Analytics shows lots of inbound traffic from referral sources that are themselves influencers i.e. they are often cited by peers
  • Search traffic comes to posted blogs or syndicated titles as opposed to brand generated traffic
  • Thought leaders tend to have a vast following on social media yet are not a considered a traditional ‘celebrity.’

The benefit of being a thought leader is that thought leaders get disproportionately more online attention than any other subject contributor or generalist.  They typically dominate search results for their topics of choice and gain notoriety from peers.

The challenge of becoming a thought leader is that it requires such dedicated focus, deep introspection and leadership skills that it’s very difficult to outsource. It usually requires many years of industry experience, a skill in communications and the thought leader by default must have a new and valid opinion on the thin subject topic.

There is typically only room for two or three thought leaders on a particular topic but as an industry topic grows it can usually be sliced into smaller niches suitable for a new thought leader to take the prize.

For more practical guidance on how to become an online industry thought leader, take the Ionology course on digital strategy.  It’s a comprehensive, structured and scientific method of constructing a digital strategy that empirically illustrates if your plans will work even before you build a single web page.

If you would like to talk about your digital strategy, why not get in touch.