Ready to become an influential thought leader? Just having a blog isn’t enough. Stand out from all the wannabes by devising a clear strategy for shaping your reputation as a cutting-edge thinker. Strong thought leadership will differentiate your brand from the crowd – -and from all those who are just using “thought leadership” as a buzzword.

Thought leadership content has a direct effect on success – 47% of companies say they’ve given business to a vendor based on this type of content.

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Know your brand and message like the back of your hand before you launch this process. Having well-thought-out branding is a prerequisite to excellence in thought leadership. Once you have that nailed, you’re ready to tackle these six steps to success.

Pinpoint the niche where you’ll shine

First, you need to articulate your core area of skill. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you create and test innovative products?
  • Have you implemented a pioneering strategy or tactic?
  • Are you adept at synthesizing the results from the research of others? Maybe you don’t run a lab, but you know how to read reports and deliver a thoughtful analysis of emerging innovations.
  • Could you conduct a study of your own which could get you noticed by industry news and ignite a conversation? (Or partner with a research firm to do this?)
  • Do you have your pulse on the industry, and have a knack for predicting what ideas will sink or swim?

After you pinpoint the key ways in which you contribute, sketch out a map showing all the subdivisions of your field. Look at which ones have the fewest Google results. Do any areas seem particularly overlooked? Can you think of any emerging niches that don’t have much written about them yet? Maybe you can even create a niche that no one has named yet!

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Cultivate your ideas

Keep a list of idea-generating prompts handy so whenever you can schedule in some time for reflection, you’ll be prepared.

And schedule time just for thinking every week. If you always wait until you have “a free moment,” it will never happen. As a thought leader, thinking is one of your most important duties – so schedule it in!

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In Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It, Dorie Clark shares the following prompts:

  • What assumptions does your field rely on? Has anyone tested them recently?
  • What do your colleagues see as impossible?
  • What questions do rookies in your field tend to ask, and what assumptions of theirs get corrected time and again?

As Clark says, circumstances that once made something true often change without anyone questioning whether that assumption remains true. Be the first to test whether a game-changing idea could actually work now. While large-scale ride-sharing once wasn’t feasible, the advent of smartphones has made it an easy option, Clark points out.

Also, ask your followers questions. Ignite a conversation. They’ll tell you what they want to know more about. Show you’re curious too, and let them feel part of the journey.

Choose your tactics wisely

It’s better to use two tactics you do well than make haphazard attempts to use every possible tactic, as Karen Tiber Leland says in Entrepreneur. Which of these tactics do you excel at the most?

  • Blog posts
  • Social media engagement
  • Podcasts
  • Short videos
  • Speaking engagements
  • Radio interviews
  • Conference and trade show participation
  • Guest-posting on other websites or blogs
  • Writing a book – after you’ve built an online following and published a strong body of work.

If you or someone else on your team is an attention-grabbing speaker, a podcast might be right up your ally. If not, skip it.

Diversify your content, too. If you’ve written a white paper, why not create an infographic highlighting your key findings? If you’ve produced a groundbreaking study, why not create a tightly edited video interviewing the key researchers? Without even coming up with a single new idea, you’ve just dramatically extended your reach.

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Set your editorial calendar

Create a calendar of key themes for each month of the year. These key tips will help you design it:

  • Make projections about important industry moments coming up in the next six months – and throughout the year – to decide on those themes. What events or milestones will you need to weigh in on?
  • For some months, the theme might hinge on a major event. For others, you may just want to make sure an important topic gets its due time in the spotlight.
  • Keep the content pipeline full, as a steady stream of content will keep your followers invested. You don’t need to publish every day, but stay consistent. For example, a goal of two blog posts per week and a radio interview once a month.
  • If you plan to write articles for magazines or trade journals, look up their editorial calendars. Remember, they typically work at least several months ahead and often have their content planned out six months (or more) in advance, so project your ideas out as far as possible. On your calendar, add the date by which you need to submit your piece or query.
  • Consider becoming a regular contributor on an industry website, and factor that in to your writing schedule.
  • Contact radio shows to find out what subjects they plan to cover, and suggest a juicy and relevant topic you can speak on.

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You don’t need to know the entire focus of each post six months out, but having themes will keep your content well-rounded. Plus, it will help you quickly find an angle for examining a timely news sensation.

Break your calendar down further into week-specific themes. You can always tweak it later, based on what’s trending – but remember, you’re also working to create the trends by talking about what you think is important.

Surround yourself with experts

Here are three major ways you can get experts to help you share your ideas:

  • Enlist authorities in your field to guest-post on your blog. “Surrounding yourself with experts in your industry means that the expertise ‘bleeds’ into your own, as your audience will begin to think of you on the same level as these experts,” says Mike Templeman on Forbes. They get free promotion, and you reap the benefits of their credibility.
  • Likewise, get experts to share your stuff. Activating your advocates is a critical step of growing your thought leadership, says Denise Brosseau in Ready to Be a Thought Leader? Think of well-connected people like community leaders, journalists, analysts, and other influencers who might agree with your ideas. Cultivate brand ambassadors by showing them how your ideas will benefit them and their followers.
  • Use visual search to find out if any celebrities or other influencers are using your product – and if so, share away!

Create a Thought Leadership Team

Unless you’re more focused on establishing personal thought leadership, form a content production team for your company. Each post should have an individual’s byline, says John Hall on Inc. “A real person can earn trust in ways a company can’t,” he explains. You can always hire an outside contractor to channel your ideas into polished pieces or a full-on PR campaign if, like most companies, you’re strapped for time.