You’ve probably already heard this one, but here goes: “If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Before you start wondering — no, I haven’t switched gears and decided to suddenly become a philosopher on a whim. The thought experiment I posted above is meant to raise questions on our perception of reality; can you deny the existence of something if you can neither see nor hear it?
While this is a question that might be best left to each and every one’s own interpretation, it can also be applied to thought leadership as well. Can you really be considered a thought leader if no one listens to you or recognizes your expertise? Exactly how can you be considered a leader if, you have no one to lead in the first place?
At the end of the day, the size of your audience truly matters — and that’s where social media comes in.
With the right social media marketing plan, you can easily grow your following and lend your experience and expertise to countless people who could greatly benefit from what you offer. That said, as with livestreaming and visual marketing, there are specific tips and methods that could make thought leadership building on social media platforms a seamless and enriching experience. Here are a few of the most effective ones:
1. Make your purpose clear.
The road to becoming a thought leader on social media starts with defining your objectives. What do you want to accomplish, exactly? This will also help you come up with a reasonable time frame within which you can attain your goals.
Whether you’re aiming to build credibility and establish yourself as a subject matter expert, place yourself in a position where you could offer guidance and counseling, or if you just want to be an Internet sensation (though I hope not!), it helps to set measurable goals that you could easily fit into your overall social media strategy.
2. Own your voice – establish your identity.
To set yourself apart from the rest of the thought leader crowd, you’ll want to stand out by establishing your own voice — your tone, your brand, and the aspects of your online persona that make you instantly recognizable.
When establishing your online identity, consistency and authenticity are key considerations; your posts on social media should embody and reflect those two at all times.
3. Produce quality content (and share it on social media).
I think that you can’t truly be considered a subject matter expert if you bring nothing new, meaningful, or at the very least unique to the table. The only way you can get to where you want to go with regard to being a thought leader is to produce high-quality, value-adding content at a steady and consistent pace.
This content may be anything from essays and blog posts to video reviews about products or talking about your field in general. By constantly churning out good content, you are not only building your online repository of testimonials to your skill level, but you are also creating avenues for strengthening and building your community. This is the best way to build credibility with your target crowd, while creating avenues for them to interact with you and vice versa (more on that in a bit).
A word of advice, though: your content should NOT be about you all the time. It’s important to share the input of other industry giants and thought leaders — as a matter of fact, the content you are sharing should ideally be comprised of 20% your content and 80% content from other thought leaders.
4. Be on the right social media platforms.
Depending on the industry you’re in, you’re attracting a specific sort of crowd — and there’s a big chance that you’ll find them hanging out on just one or two social media platforms. For instance, if you’re after the professional set (corporate leaders, investors, and business-minded folk), LinkedIn is your best bet.
On the other hand, if you’re targeting the younger crowd, you’ll probably want to be more active on Facebook or Twitter. Remember that while you’re producing great content, you still have to consider getting that content to the right audience. Otherwise, you won’t see the results you’re looking for.
5. Actively engage with your audience.
Of course, it’s not enough to just post your thoughts and leave it there to presumably blow the minds of your audience — after you wow them with your insights, communicate with them. Find out if the advice you’ve been dispensing has been helpful to them in any way, identify their true pain points, and pinpoint the knowledge gaps that need filling.
If you really plan to go down the thought leadership route, you have to be prepared to do a lot of studying and engaging, staying ahead of the curve so that you won’t find yourself at a loss when someone asks for your input regarding timely issues.
Keep in mind that you’re more likely to attract followers if you show them that you’re genuinely concerned about their well-being and are here to provide assistance and sound advice.
6. Actively engage with your audience.
No man is an island, and thought leaders are no exception. Making connections with your fellow thought leaders will not only help you enrich your own knowledge (and hopefully add to theirs, too), but will also grow your network of people who can raise awareness about you by simply sharing your insights or mentioning you in online conversations.
Connect with them on Facebook and LinkedIn, and follow them on Twitter — they’re likely to follow you back and monitor your updates, too!
7. Prepare to test and revise your strategy as needed.
Along the way, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, based on how your audience reacts to your posts. Don’t be afraid to deviate from your existing social media strategy and action plan — make changes as needed, and don’t waste time on tactics that aren’t working or are not suitable for the crowd you’re addressing.
Liz Azyan is interested in the ways new kinds of social data and technology introduce challenges and opportunities to society. Get involved with Liz’s latest project here.