Feb 24, 2017

6 Essential Skills for Successful Digital Thought Leaders

by Digital Marketing Institute

Thought leaders are known in the digital industry for driving innovation and sharing new ideas. They are trailblazers, advocates and, most importantly, trusted sources of information for their audiences. Thought leaders or influencers are so persuasive, in fact, that “influencer marketing” is now a term with which most digital professionals are now au fait. Thought leaders have the power to convert a variety of customer segments across every industry – 70% of teenage YouTube subscribers trust influencer opinions over traditional celebrities, while 86% of women turn to social networks before making a purchase.

Being influential has the potential to generate a significant amount of revenue for you and your business, but there’s much more to it than taking to Twitter and proclaiming yourself a thought leader. By mastering a few essential skills, you’ll be able to guarantee success for yourself in the digital space.

1. Build your personal brand

Personal brand building is the first integral step to securing your status as a successful thought leader. You need to be able to define your identity, and determine how you will position yourself on digital channels. Your personal brand will need to convey your credibility and authority within your industry, and it will dictate how your target audience engages with you, and the extent to which they choose to trust you.

Start by creating a simple brand narrative – a paragraph that defines you, your role, your specialisms, and interests. It should encapsulate your strengths and Unique Selling Points as a thought leader, as well as the breadth of your skills and experience. You’ll be able to use this narrative to create your social media profiles, your author bio for blogs and interviews.

Optimize your social profiles by using a professional display picture that makes you appear approachable and relaxed. Use an all-in-one solution such as Squarespace to build your website using professionally pre-designed templates – this will keep costs low. You should, however, consider investing in a graphic designer to create a professional logo that you can use on your website, social channels and business cards.First impressions count, and this will help you to create a cohesive brand image to complement your narrative, and means you can clearly articulate both your message and aesthetic.

2. Create bold content

Once you have built a brand identity centred upon succinct descriptions and slick imagery, you will need to develop your thought leadership through the creation and distribution of content. Unfortunately, it’s no longer enough to write a regular blog article and publish it to your website – with over 2 million blog articles published daily, it’s essential to approach relevant topics in a way that will set you apart from your competitors. This will involve infusing your blog articles with your own opinions, humour and personal anecdotes. Make industry predictions, bold claims and, if you’re inclined to, be honest about your own business efforts. This will make your content uniquely relatable.

Additionally, you should always try to substantiate your content with relevant references to a whitepaper or statistics. By doing this, you’ll be able to demonstrate that you are not only personable, but a knowledgeable and trustworthy industry figure as well.

3. Perfect your public speaking

Developing your competitive edge won’t simply stem from stimulating, sympathetic blog articles – as a thought leader, you need to be able to showcase your sense of innovation and incorporate different formats into your content strategy. This shows your willingness to drive innovation, and can allow you to reach a much wider new audience, including mobile device users for whom long-form blog articles may not be the easiest to consume!

Podcasts and webinars are two staples for most digital thought leaders. Both are relatively inexpensive, easier and quicker to produce than a written article, and are increasingly establishing themselves as the easiest methods for establishing thought leadership. In the US alone, over 65 million people listen to podcasts every month, which provides you with an exciting opportunity to extend your personal brand. The fact that you are audible, or, in the case of a webinar, visible, means that your content instantly has a much more personal touch, which can be more engaging. Video and audio is much easier and more convenient to consume, which can further promote engagement levels. Create a series of podcasts or webinars, with a unique title that cover meaningful topics (you can research your best-performing blog posts for sources of inspiration) and generate a sense of anticipation amongst viewers and listeners for your next piece of content!

4. Reach out to other influencers

If you’re trying to establish your personal brand from scratch, effective distribution of your content is key. It’s impossible to achieve successful thought leadership alone, which is why you should consider reaching out to other industry thought leaders who have already built a strong level of influence and loyal social following. These are the people from whom you can learn, and are valuable connections to make.

If you’re not already aware of the main thought leaders in your industry, you can use social listening tools to identify them. Again, if you’re not already, follow these individuals on Twitter and LinkedIn, and lay the foundations for fostering positive relationships with them. You can start by sharing their content and tagging them in your posts, or quoting them in your own content. When you feel comfortable, you can contact them directly to ask for input or advice that may help you to improve the quality of your content or better understand your audience.

5. Always network

Elaborating on the previous point, you should look to connect with influencers in a capacity that goes beyond viewing them as a mentor. Building relationships with fellow thought leaders can help you to enhance your reputation by association. Don’t feel too shy to respond to a Tweet with your own insight, or join industry-relevant LinkedIn Groups and forums (popular digital marketing examples would include inbound.org and Growth Hackers). If you read a blog article that resonates with you, connect with the author through social and tell them!

Though it may not feel natural, practice putting yourself out there and expand your online network! The more extensive it is, the more visible you will become, which will naturally enhance your credibility. Influencers will be more inclined to share your content and collaborate with you, which in turn will expand your social following. You can complement your online efforts by attending offline networking events and conferences. If you feel brave enough, you can even try to seek out speaking opportunities to bolster your personal brand.

6. Ask for guest blogging opportunities

Another way to boost your personal brand is by publishing guest posts on prominent industry-related blogs besides your own. Start small, perhaps by reaching out to other individual influencers and gradually build a portfolio of guest blogs that will enable you to approach leading publications. The more widely your work is published, the more opportunities you’ll be able to harness.

Guest blogging can help you to grow your influence and introduce your content (and yourself!) to new audiences. Start by building a list of industry publications and influencers you would like to target. Write a personalized, sincere message (it’s important to convey that you’re not simply interested in self-promotion and that you’re genuinely interested in providing value and insight) to these sources, either via private message or email. To make their decision easier, you can even suggest a couple blog titles that are tailored to the interests of their target audience. Take a look at their recently published blog articles, and use Buzzsumo to find out more about their most popular pieces of content- this data will help you to further tighten your pitch.

For more insight into how you can succeed as a digital thought leader, check out these tips that we garnered from two leading SaaS blogs.

Whether you’re a recent graduate or a professional who needs to upskill, the postgraduate diploma will provide you with digital skills, knowledge and experience to drive your career forward.

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