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Becoming an effective thought leader

What is thought leadership?

The term ‘thought leadership’ has become common-place in the public relations industry and clients are increasingly interested in attaining the title. In response, I conducted research to uncover more insights into this buzzing term.

Thought leaders are generally trusted individuals who inspire people with innovative ideas and are able to share how their success may be replicated irrespective of their background, age, gender or ethnicity. Thought leadership takes time, sometimes years to build, and it gets easier to become one once you have something newsworthy to address or talk about, like a great product, service, programme, or initiative. Once you achieve the status of a thought leader, you can persuade and inspire people and spread positive vibes and willingness to achieve set goals.

Thought leaders are not born as such, and despite the occasional natural speakers, there are several factors that should be taken into consideration when identifying qualified individuals. Here are a few important characteristics thought leaders are defined by:

  1. They have extensive knowledge of the market they are operating in and its economy
  2. Their insights are regarded by their peers and target audience
  3. They are credible and reputable
  4. They are respected by their peers.
  5. They help guide others and are positioned as mentors

Following the steps

I will now shed light on effective ways that may be employed to become an effective thought leader in the industry and among industry peers:

  1. Humility is an important trait. Don’t act like you know everything; audiences generally respect honesty.
  2. Select your speaking opportunities carefully and take part in ones that add value to you as a speaker and can benefit your audience with the insights and expertise that you will provide.
  3. Consistent blog entries, articles, opinion pieces, or any form of editorial can also be pushed on social media platforms to create engagement with your audience.
  4. Show your human touch; we are emotional in nature and people are always looking for people they can relate to.
  5. Make yourself available for and seen at relevant industry events.
  6. Engage and meet with industry peers as this will expose you to a wider audience.
  7. Be passionate about the content you share as your sentiment will reflect on to the audience.
  8. Videos are becoming a great means to express your views and share your thoughts; make sure you utilise them.

How may we work on bettering ourselves to become the leaders of tomorrow in our industries of choice?

5 essential elements of an effective thought leadership programme

What I didn’t reveal is how complex, stamina-busting and often challenging thought leadership can be. It does not happen overnight and it is a shifting, changing endeavour because it must constantly evolve to current trends and topics in the client’s sector, in the region or even on a global level. Real thought leadership is an ongoing calendar that never ends, but there are five key constants that I would like to share with you:

  1. Embrace all platforms: The first constant is the easiest because it simply involves enhancing your client’s presence across all relevant platforms. Print coverage can only go so far; real amplification takes place online.
  1. Illuminate the bigger picture: True thought leaders can offer an amazing bird’s eye view of their industry, simplifying complex matters with their natural grasp of the subject. This involves remaining up to date with all news and trends on a daily basis without fail.
  1. Share expertise: Jealously hoarding expertise is the opposite of what thought leaders do. Clients are sometimes reluctant to share their insider tips, but nothing is more effective for building an audience of loyal and engaged followers who value and depend on their advice.
  1. Be proactive: Thought leadership is a daily practice and relies on engagement — initiating online conversations, sharing opinions and comments and offering fresh perspectives on the news. To be a leader you must initiate and participate proactively in the conversation. 
  1. Focus on impact, not business: Driving sales and boosting investment may be eventual outcomes of thought leadership, but they are not the main goals. Instead, focus on contributing to the greater good, inspiring others and positively impacting people’s lives.

If you have another look at His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, you will find that all of these elements are working in harmony to share his vision with the world. Inspired by his example, I believe that, above all, the question should not be ‘what can thought leadership do for me’, but instead:

‘What can my thought leadership do for others?’

What brand advocacy means

When thinking about your business, an essential to its success is how popular your brand is in the market. Without exposure and visibility, nothing you have to offer will be considered valuable because no one would know much about you or the services/products you provide.

This is why it’s crucial to learn what brand advocacy means and how brand advocates must be gained to further one’s ascent on the market ladder.

Put simply, brand advocacy defines how people, ranging from influencers to fans to employees who know and like your brand will keep supporting and promoting your company, product, or service to new customers. This will expand upon your visibility, which will increase your revenue and influence.

Having brand associates works better than traditional corporate publicity because consumers are usually more trusting of their own peer-network, such as family members, friends, or people they follow online.

Now that we have a better understanding of the term, let’s discuss why brand advocacy is considered crucial for any business to succeed.

How it makes your business successful

Other than increasing your visibility, your product or service’s value will also increase through brand advocacy, as reliable individuals in your circle will spread the word to future customers or clients through genuine reviews and recommendations. Today, customer reviews hold as much value, if not more, than a business’ own promotional campaign. Therefore, it will further your company’s success and lead to a wider client network.

Another key point to why brand advocacy is important is that the media will take notice. In a sense, your business will get more coverage through various media outlets, resulting in a revenue boost and consequently, a stronger market grasp.

Lastly, while many around you are keeping busy talking about your brand, you will have more free time on your hands to focus on business development. You may try new things, come up with ideas and strategies, or even deal with new clients whom you now have spare time to impress.

4 simple ways to gain new ones

Here are four simple steps to follow:

  • First of all, practice the art of social listening. You are required to follow up, track, and listen to your existing customers’ reviews and recommendations. This will compel you to analyse what is being said about your brand and will thus help you identify your brand’s current status.
  • Secondly, recognise your most socially-influential customers. They will be of great use to you on a CTA (call to action) system, where their engagement in brand advocacy will help your brand grow on social media.
  • Thirdly, you will need to increase your interaction with followers on your social media pages, meaning that you will have to answer questions regarding your business or product, reply to direct messages, have conversations, respond to comments etc. This engagement will help bridge the gap between your brand and your followers and attain more brand advocates and higher public exposure down the line.
  • Finally, consider offering social rewards. In other words, determine your devoted customers and compensate them in any way to maintain brand loyalty. For instance, you can offer coupons, promote them using hashtags, or give them shoutouts on social media. You can even give loyalty points or run contests in which you will engage them and make them feel a stronger bond with your brand.

Khaled Abu Hishme is Account Director at Cicero & Bernay Public Relations, an independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the MENA region. |