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Be a leader, not a follower: how to use your content to show real thought leadership

What is thought leadership? And how can you demonstrate it through the content you create? The meaning has become diluted over time, as everyone tries to achieve it. BluLeadz explains how real thought leadership makes businesses stand apart from competitors:

“Thought leadership helps build your audience’s trust in your expertise, but this is an effect rather than a cause. “Doing thought leadership” isn’t simply about providing high-quality products or services; it's about bringing your industry to a higher level of thinking about the strategic problems it faces.”

That element of trust, and becoming influential to colleagues – not just showing how you do things at your business but explaining why – is what sets thought leader apart. Helping others is at the heart of great thought leadership; not just keeping new, valuable insights to yourself.

And thought leadership content needs to win new business as well as drive change amongst your existing customer base. Here’s how to do it.

Tip 1: Practise what you preach

Figure out what you’re good at, and do it. If you want people to take your leadership seriously, as in any walk of life, you have to walk the walk and talk the talk yourself first. Don’t expect people to follow you or trust in your advice unless you have clear, accessible examples of how you’ve already achieved these things as a business.

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You need to have case studies and testimonials. Word of mouth and social proof are essential when presenting yourself as a thought leader. It isn’t enough to merely see yourself as cutting edge; you need third party examples where followers or customers see you in that role, too – and attest to it.

Our Director of Content, Lucy Seymour says:

“Make sure your sources are 100% reliable. Do your research very thoroughly and only interview people who are going to be completely honest – if you want to be a trusted source of information and demonstrate expertise in your field then you'll need to know your sources are credible, leaving no room for error.”

Tip 2: Draw back the curtain

Be willing to show the inner workings of your business – not just the finished product. Document and share the processes that work at your business, and the things that don’t – this brings personality, trust and honesty to your offering, rather than just presenting the polished article.

Director of Content, Lucy Seymour advises ‘mending the roof while the sun is still shining’:

“If people are not in a buying mood now, but you’ve already established trust that puts you front of mind as a source of reliable information, when they are ready to make a purchase, you’ll be the first option they think of.”

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Blog posts are a great way to showcase best practice. You can also try sharing photos of you at work on social media to encourage conversations between you and those engaged with your channels.

Our Senior Content Strategist, Anna Kaine, has a top tip you might not have tried:

“Do a business swap with a competitor; visit their company for the day, then return the favour. Show your collaborations on social media, illustrate that you’re open to teaching others, and that you're always learning more yourself.”

Tip 3: Offer the best information

Don’t fight to be unique: users aren’t always looking for this, and it might mean you head in the wrong direction, all in the quest to be ‘different’. If you do what your competitors are doing – but better – that’s still thought leadership. Your target should be quality, not shock value.

Likewise though, If you’ve done something that’s helped you stand out before, don’t fall back on that and make it your default position. Thought leaders don’t rest on their laurels, but always strive to evolve.

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Try crowdsourcing content through social channels or an easy-to-use survey such as SurveyMonkey or Typeform. The more you can find out about what others say, think and do, the wider your pool of knowledge will be, and the more you’ll empower readers.

These can lead to infographics, blog posts, case studies, interviews – the list goes on. And if you don’t have one already: this content is ideal for a pillar page.

Director of Content, Lucy Seymour explains how to reach this content:

“A thought leader is someone who holds themselves accountable for staying up to date with relevant changes. Someone who doesn’t assume they know everything, and is always striving to learn from multiple sources – competitors, the wider industry, previous colleagues. They are generous and guide people with helpful content.”

Tip 4: Focus on customer pain points

This isn’t time to wax lyrical about your product or service – seriously think about your customers and their pain points. Helping others stay ahead of the game should be a huge priority for thought leaders, instead of sitting on precious knowledge themselves – that’s the inbound way!

Director of Content, Lucy Seymour reminds us to remove our egos from content and listen:

“If there’s a publication you consider to be a source of good information and you want to emulate it, find out how they got there. Ask what your competitors and those you admire are reading. Consider your audience above all things. Don’t make content a vanity piece – serve people what they really want.”

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Conduct interviews – some to help with your buyer personas, but also those which you can repurpose into content (with the interviewee’s consent). This can form fantastic content for readers who want to know others are in their situation too and hear advice straight from the horse’s mouth.

By making customers the heroes of your content, you’ll be acknowledging prospects’ pain points and helping them solve them, without the sales pitch.

Tip 5: Consider your timings

It’s no good releasing a remarkable, well-researched, impactful piece of content on your blog at any old time where it might get lost. Try to time it with an industry event, product launch or new service so you can promote it properly – and get other people using and linking to it, too.

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Use your thought leadership content as a reason to create a whole campaign, not as a one-off. Align social, email, blog, website, CTAs and link building around this piece of content.

Senior Content Strategist, Anna Kaine, advises:

“Stay at the forefront of industry changes, work out what news will be a game changer, and respond by offering your take. This is an excellent way to show your thought leadership credentials. You need to be agile and willing to release content outside of your usual plan when big industry news hits.”

All the content you create should be great: but in order to be classed as thought leadership, it needs to be extraordinary in its quality, value and presentation.

If you don’t have the answers, then don’t pretend you do! Reach out to people and ask – don’t presume to be the authority without input from others. Be humble and remember the best leaders still ask for help and advice, and are always trying to grow.

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