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How to Become a Thought Leader

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In today's evolving media mix, companies and individuals are looking for ways to build strong brands, differentiate themselves, establish credibility, engage with customers and generate sales. Thought leadership is often the answer, and it is a concept that has grown considerably in recent years.

But what is a thought leader?

According to Wikipedia, a thought leader is "a person or entity that is recognized by peers for having progressive and innovative ideas. Through effective communication and clarity of purpose, they effect change and are considered exemplary leaders."

At Broad Reach, we often find our clients come to us with a topic, an idea, service or product that truly differentiates them from the competition. What they rely on us to do is help them get that message out and communicate it in an effective and credible way. In essence, we piece together the puzzle of thought leadership so they can build their reputation and drive business results...whatever they may be.

This Forbes article is spot on with its four tips to becoming a thought leader, as outlined below. But from a PR and social media perspective, let's look at how these recommendations fit:

1. Start with one thing
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when trying to become a thought leader is spreading yourself too thin with many different messages. Find your niche and focus on it. This is typically the first step in working with a PR firm: creating an understanding of the idea, product or issue and then breaking it down into messages and content. It's also important to provide supporting data to demonstrate why it's different and why people should care.

2. Ride a growing wave
One way to be a thought leader is to focus on a topic, issue or communication channel that is starting to emerge. If you follow what everyone else is doing, you'll have to cut through the clutter. It can be done, but why not get your message out and expand your comfort zone into new territory? Companies and individuals who leveraged Twitter out of the gate reaped the rewards of early adoption. This is part of the value the right PR agency can bring in the development of thought leadership. They can help you communicate and engage with others in ways you may not have considered, but that we know are important and growing.

3. Expand your empire with the 'halo effect'
Perhaps you recently launched a successful new product or service or conducted some insightful research. Once you've already had success and gained credibility in one area, it's time to show your breadth. The right PR campaign can leverage your past success and reputation to launch an entirely new thought leadership campaign. People will listen to you and will care because they remember your previous messages and are already starting to see you as a thought leader.

4. Go where the people are
Where does your audience look for information? Perhaps they are online and social media savvy. Or maybe they are best reached through more traditional channels. A successful PR and social media campaign targets audiences based on where they are. Yes, a blog may be what's needed, but it could also be a comprehensive white paper for clients and stakeholders, a well-placed bylined article or a newsletter which can be distributed through targeted channels.

Becoming a thought leader takes skill, time and effort. And it will not happen overnight. But with the right PR and social media strategy, you can build a strong, credible and differentiated brand for yourself or your organization. If executed successfully, it can also help you engage with customers with the goal of increasing revenues.