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Fancy yourself as a thought leader? Prepare for others to be the judge of that.

The rise and rise of digital and social media has brought with it an explosion in so-called… Thought Leadership. You might be excused for thinking that the name itself – Thought Leadership – gives some solid direction as to the purpose, focus and value of this type of commentary. However, with the rise and rise of social and digital media, the proverbial every man and his dog seems to fancy themselves as an expert commentator. Everywhere you look, in the paper, on the television, on Facebook and LinkedIn, there is someone offering their opinion and insight on just about every topic imaginable.

Much of the commentary however is questionable as true thought leadership and guess what, audiences are on to us… they are increasingly turning off.

A study by The Economist Group in 2016, Thought Leadership Disrupted found that 3/5 of global executives surveyed felt ‘confused or overwhelmed’ by the volume of content they encountered. 75% of those surveyed said they had become more selective in what they consumed.

So, what then is a thought leader?

To be a thought leader, the commentator must step outside the familiar and safe territory of facts and simple analysis. It’s not enough to comment on the here and now. A true thought leader forecasts, predicts and interprets facts. A true though leader takes a position and is prepared to robustly debate it, build the case and provide supporting information and analysis. A true thought leader can sometimes find themselves in a lonely place.

However, thought leaders are created, not born and there is value in building confidence and skill in commentary and analysis along the road to becoming a true thought leader.

The challenge for business leaders and professionals, engineers, architects, health specialists and others who have genuine insights, is making your content stand out from the rest. Here are some strategies for helping you rise above the noise to position yourself as an expert.

Plan your message

It may seem simple, but many business leaders looking to reach audiences through content marketing and the media can’t answer the question for themselves ‘why should people care about what I have to say?’. You must interrogate what makes your opinions or insights valuable to others. What will your voice add to the current conversation? Why would people want to read the content you produce?

Start by answering these questions and then, every time you go to make comment or write content, refer to the answers that you came up with. Produce content which speaks to your unique expertise and is relevant to your audience.

Move with the news

An easy way of making your expert comment relevant and interesting to your target audience is to tie it to current events. Identify events or trends that relate to your area of expertise and devise content which relates to them. It’s imperative for you to keep up with the news of the day. That way you’ll learn to identify issues and stories to which you can connect your area of expertise.

Leveraging off the news will give your opinion or advice currency, helping you set yourself apart from the deluge of ‘listicle’ style content people are faced with every day. While content like this can help you to build a body of work and maintain communication with your audience, there’s only so many ‘Top 5 tips’ that people can see before they lose interest.

Get into the paper

Despite many talking heads declaring the death of traditional media, it still pays to be in the newspaper. Traditional media can take your commentary or opinion to a broader, more diverse audience. And, like it or not, there is still great legitimacy offered by a well-regarded masthead, news broadcaster or radio station. Industry publications are also extremely valuable, connecting with engaged audiences with an interest in your industry.

By taking this approach, a solid commentator can set off on the right direction on the road to becoming a thought leader. And these tips, can help you avoid the trap many aspiring thought leaders fall into, that of preaching to the converted.

You may think that your content is being well received based on your website or EDM analytics, but it’s possible that the only people engaging with it are people who have already bought in to your personal brand and your story.

Rising above the tide of talking heads to establish yourself as an expert can be a challenge, but the rewards of exposure and esteem make it well worth the effort.