No matter what industry you’re in, it’s absolutely crucial to have a presence online. Everyone, from plumbers to insurance companies to the largest companies in the world, has expanded their digital presence to not just include a website, but also social media profiles, blogs, whitepapers, and video content.
But with this rise in the number of people and businesses online also comes increased competition. We only have so much attention to spend online, and so many hours a day to spend it on. These days, if you want to be noticed and respected online, you can’t just be there – you have to stand out.
Chris Andersen, editor in chief of WIRED, has noted this shift. There used to be tight controls over information, and people were charged a premium to access it. Now, all information is right at your fingertips. Online, we don’t need experts to give us this information – we need trusted people to unpackage all these data and insights, understand them, and inform us about what is relevant and important. We need thought leaders.
The idea of thought leadership has increased steadily with the rise of the internet, according to Google search trends. Everyone from Elon Musk to Mark Zuckerberg to Gary Vaynerchuck has been touted as the ultimate thought leaders in their field. While you may not reach the same level of fame as these experts, you can also achieve standing as a respected authority over a given topic in your industry using these steps.
- First, it’s important to define your area of focus. In what area do you have a unique perspective that would be valuable to others? Make sure that it’s broad enough to be applicable to other people, but also narrow enough to ensure there aren’t too many voices in the space already. For example, maybe “digital marketing” is too large of a category, but you may have a unique perspective on attribution, marketing in a specific category, or audience segmentation. Find something where you already have a lot of expertise, and focus on that instead of drifting too far outside of your experience.
- Then, take a stance. Real authority figures don’t just go along with the typical conversations in their space – they define them. Pick a side that you feel strongly about, and invite criticism. Of course, this can be scary – but it will also earn you respect from other people in your industry who may be too frightened to color outside the lines. Avoiding playing it safe will bring disagreement, but it will also earn you attention and respect in your space.
- Establish your personal brand. Your personal brand is how you appear to the world – to both people you know, and people you don’t. For people who don’t know you personally, your brand mainly consists of how you appear online. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that your online channels reflect the self that you want to present to the world.
Thomas Smale, co-founder of FE International, recommends writing thought leadership blog posts and articles to establish your credibility and promote your views on certain subjects in a relatively low-cost, easy way online. If you attract enough attention and traffic to your blog posts, you may even start to have opportunities to write in larger publications like Entrepreneur or Forbes. These kinds of placements help to further position you as an expert with valuable insights in your space.
- Keep learning. Even if you have years of experience in your industry, it’s incredibly important to stay up to date on the trends and events that are making an impact. In today’s digital age, things are changing at an exponential rate. Ensure you read a variety of news sources, blogs, books, and articles on your industry, and that you’re actively talking with other thought leaders to exchange ideas. Which brings me to our next point:
- Create and nurture connections. No one likes a user – someone who just makes connections for what that person can do for them. However, there’s nothing wrong with being strategic about the connections you form in your industry. There are several mutually beneficial ways to do this – you can meet people at events and ask them what you can do to help them in their goals. You can also start or nurture a business relationship by asking their advice on an issue, or request that they write a featured post for your blog. By helping others, you’ll find that those people are there when you need a favor, and will further help build your authority.
- In that same vein, offer your expertise to others. Many of the most trusted and respected authority figures in their industry offer their knowledge and advice for free, whether that’s through connections, article/blog posts, or some other medium. On his site, LivetoSki.co, skiing expert Tim Harper provides free instructional videos that walk viewers through the three biggest mistakes people make when skiing. Offering this type of advice without charge builds credibility, but it also leads people to want to gain more access to his expertise and coaching.
Establishing yourself as a credible authority figure online takes patience and time. By following these steps, you can begin to build your expertise to create a strong personal brand and attract a following that values your know-how.