Use the knowledge and insight you have to become a thought leader in your field.

By Leah Rise (Director of Search & Social, seoWorks)

If you’ve achieved a seat in the C suite and your title consists of 3 letters, Tom Peters says it’s “your promise to the marketplace and the world to cultivate your personal brand.” Although I don’t see it as anyone’s duty to society to share all their successful secrets, I do sense an opportunity to advance a particular brand of ideas and innovation.

It’s not enough to be known as “the girl who speaks 5 languages” or “the workaholic with high standards.” Complimentary, yes, but it’s time to establish yourself as a thought leader, someone people look to for direction and understanding in your field of expertise. When that happens, you’ve reached a level of achievement very few others manage to pull off. Recognized and respected, your name becomes synonymous with the industry. True thought leaders are irreplaceable assets in their fields.

But how does one go about building such a reputation? How do you become someone that goes from participating in the conversation to leading the pack? What separates one thought leader from another or elevates one to Alpha while others remain Beta?

Let’s take a look at five steps for kick starting your thought leadership and discover how it can help your business.

One Word: Leverage

Regardless of brilliance and talent, you won’t wake up one day and magically feel the love and appreciation from your peers until the public acknowledges you. Outside endorsement from industry experts or a debut at a well-publicized conference can quickly become a task force of influencers howling your praises.

To be successful in your chosen field or niche, you need to pinpoint who within your network can help you achieve your goal. Make a ‘people plan’ or a list of everyone within that niche you may know who is connected professionally. Once you’ve finished with this list, segue your list into relevant categories. Separate by industry leader, colleagues with online presence, without presence, super connectors and so on.

Once your list is done, you need to work from the outer circle into the small inner circle. Several layers exist between you and the few people in the inner circle so instead of attempting a flying leap to the center, start closer to home. Do interviews with people on your list about their thoughts and post to your blog or online publication. The interview format will allow you to showcase your ability to ask great questions and tie various responses with your own thoughts.

Let Them Hear You Howl

Moved to NYC in your 20s to moonlight as an international newspaper reporter for New York Times? Or looking to jump onto high-profile gig as a talking head of CNN? Sorry Sally, but everyone needs to start with online presence first. With an Empire State of mind, your blog can be the place where dreams are made of. Blogs allow you to showcase your knowledge and your ability to disseminate the minutia into interesting points and ideas. While most blogs go unread, yours can be different with time and effort.

Strong, consistent content is essential. Search engines love a steady stream of fresh content but keep it relevant and on point. Add value by understanding your customer base then design your content and ideas to meet their needs. This will push you beyond reporting and reacting and will position your blog as trendsetter and insightful.

Once your blog is recognized, kick it up a notch and appear on local TV and radio. A quick 3-minute segment on how your industry affects your city, county or state is what you should strive for at first. Creating a connection between online and offline efforts will lead to bigger and better engagements for long-term success.

Social Media – Twitter and More

With no time to waste fake farming, crushing candy or arguing about the latest celebrity divorce proceedings, inner circle leaders use social media, but they use it wisely.

Following a few simple guidelines will pay off in traffic and conversations, keeping you in the forefront of people’s minds.

  • Actively follow and network with industry leaders
  • Follow specific hashtags related to your field
  • Use Followerwonk to search Twitter bios by related keywords and filter by followers: create lists from these bios
  • Look for appropriate people for brief but relevant conversations
  • Share forward-looking content to email list and social accounts. I use Evernote as a checklist to keep track of each platform I share content on.
  • When writing content for Google+, use top 10 keywords within the first three words (only when relevant). These can be very general (i.e. Orlando, vacation, travel).
  • Stay active in Facebook Groups, LinkedIn Groups, and Google+ Communities. I spend 20 minutes a day contributing personal thoughts and ideas.

Question Everything

Thought leaders are innately curious with ambitious goals. A constant tug of war between asking the right questions and responding with provocative answers that adds clarity, creates a movement, and changes the world, seems to be merely second nature. In conversation, thought leaders force you to think differently. By probing mercilessly at your words, thought leaders inspire others to take action. For the emerging thought leader, this means engaging people of all types and backgrounds, inside and outside your comfort zone, and adding your knowledge for decisions and forming opinions.

Hold Steady

The key to maintaining a long run at the pinnacle of thought leadership is keeping your finger firmly on the pulse of your industry at all times. Never assume you know everything there is to know. Education doesn’t stop in the classroom or with the three letter title painted on the door of your office suite. Keeping up with and learning new things regarding your field never ends.

Most industries has its fair share of “ninjas” and so-called “gurus” selling the next big idea sugar-coated with buzzwords. Becoming a thought leader isn’t about selling your insights or retail transactions, those are often left for subject-matter experts. Being a thought leader compels passion, imagination, and perseverance for an idea. Whether you’re a gold medal veteran or a newbie, any business can benefit from a thought leader who dares to be courageous. Figure out your niche and what makes your different, and your business will grow.

Which thought leaders do you admire?