“Thought leadership” is one of those buzzwords that we’ve all heard roughly a million times. And while it may feel like one of those terribly overused cliches, based on my experience as a business owner and coach to corporate leaders and entrepreneurs, I understand why we hear it so often.
Because, done well, it works.
I tell you this from personal experience. I’ve also seen the payoffs of thought leadership among the clients I’ve served over the past 10+ years.
Building or affirming your thought leadership—in the right places and with the right audiences—can help you foster trust and credibility with customers, become a go-to voice in your industry, and open up amazing opportunities.
Here’s my story:
In 2010, I got this wild idea to build JobJenny.com, a platform that would offer professionals answers to their most pressing career questions, assist them in navigating business or job transitions, and inspire them to live their best lives.
My initial intention was to create a side hustle business that complimented my then-day job as head of a recruiting agency. I’d low-key answer the most common questions I heard about job search and career development, help people with their resumes, and support them in growing their small businesses.
What I didn’t see coming was this: By sharing my firsthand perspective on how recruiters think and work and lessons learned as I built my own business through my blog, LinkedIn, and subscriber newsletter, I was becoming a thought leader.
But that’s exactly what happened and, as it did, I was able to expand my services, raise prices (a lot), sunset my recruiting business, and attract lucrative partnerships, including one with LinkedIn Learning.
My thought leadership successes were, admittedly, rather accidental, but yours don’t have to be. In fact, if you apply some strategy and planning to this, you (and your business) may benefit from your thought leadership much more quickly than I did.
Here are five quick tips that’ll help you build thought leadership via LinkedIn—one of the best platforms out there for many small business owners (though they’ll work just as well is Instagram or TikTok is your platform of choice):
1. Think About Your Most Important Audience and What They Want to Hear
Certainly, you’ll want the freedom to share perspective and information that’s meaningful to you and aligns with the goals of your business. But, when you get down to it, what matters most is that you’re talking about things that your ideal audience wants to hear.
And, if you’re not sure what that is, try my very non-scientific technique:
Review the questions that come in via your contact page, email, and LinkedIn InMails weekly. What, specifically, are people requesting help with the most?
In my experience, posts inspired by real-life questions and pain points get the most comments, engagement, and shares. I’m guessing you’ll find a similar trend. So, dive into your inbox and start there.
The answers to “What should we talk about?” are, literally, right there in your inbox. Start there.
2. Consider Your Unique Perspective
Do you know what sets you and your business apart? You should. If you don’t, ask your best customers what they appreciate the most about you to help you get clear on your “secret sauce.”
My unique perspective, as a point of reference, is that I insist on showing up as an approachable and relatable human.
Certainly, I want to ensure it’s clear that I know what I’m talking about and I’m hyper-current on my industry. I also understand that the process of changing jobs or careers is stressful for nearly everyone. And so, I work hard to show up in a way that’s non-intimidating, non-boring, and incredibly actionable.
And, it’s working. It’s a key reason I was invited (out of a sea of roughly 3,273,204 job search experts on LinkedIn) to create video courses with LinkedIn Learning. My conversational, roll-up-your-sleeves style also helped me land me a long-term gig as a columnist for The Muse (one of the biggest players in the career space) and an upcoming, still-top-secret writing project, which you’ll see later in 2022.
Figure out what sets you apart, then make sure that the content you share honors your overall brand and your unique perspective.
3. Brainstorm What You’ll Share
Once you’ve got clarity on your audience and unique perspective, spend some time brainstorming topics that align with your goals and affirm your expertise. A few types of content that tend to resonate well on Linkedin in particular include opinion pieces, analysis of industry data, case studies, AMAs (Ask Me Anything), and interviews.
I’ve recently begun using AMAs on LinkedIn (via LinkedIn Live) as a tool for helping potential customers as they contemplate their job search and to point them toward my paid offerings. (Here’s my first one.) So far, the results are incredibly promising. In just a short amount of time weaving video content into my messaging on LinkedIn, I can already see why 87% of those using LinkedIn video for marketing say it’s an effective channel for them.
As you brainstorm, create a list of your best ideas and draw from it over a period of weeks or months. We’re all so busy. Knowing what you’ll share on LinkedIn (and when) will help you stay the course.
4. Play to Your Strengths
Something that seems to create the most stress among entrepreneurs as they chart a course for building thought leadership is that dreaded imposter syndrome.
I can’t tell you how many times clients have told me, “But, I’m not a writer,” or “I’m terrified to speak on camera.”
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to write original content if that’s not your jam. Maybe you’re better off vlogging or doing Q&As on LinkedIn Live.
And, if you’re not a strong writer or comfortable on camera, guess what? You can still build thought leadership, as a curator.
Curators are those magical people we all have in our news feeds who seem to always find the most interesting articles, trends, and information. They pose questions based on what they read. They invite us to weigh in. They create thoughtful debate.
And, in doing so, we come to know them as people who are passionate, intelligent, and engaged in their particular areas of expertise.
We come to know them as thought leaders.
5. Show up Authentically, Always
You’ll probably agree with me when I say that there are plenty of “what not to do” examples of “attempts to build thought leadership” on LinkedIn.They’re everywhere.
When you look close at the stinkers, I’ll bet you’ll notice something. Most of those in your “worst of the worst” category are lacking an extremely important ingredient: authenticity.
You see, people align with—and buy from—those that they know, like, 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 hung up on showing up as all buttoned-up on LinkedIn (or any other social media platform), you run the risk that people won’t see who you really are, as an entrepreneur and a person.
Be strategic, for sure. But if you’re serious about leveraging LinkedIn to establish or affirm your thought leadership, you’ve got to show up as the real deal.
Trust me: You’ll be so glad you did.