October 24, 2022 Content Chat Recap: What It Takes to Create A Successful Thought Leadership Program

A Content Chat header image that says today's topic is what it takes to create a successful thought leadership program. #ContentChat host Erika Heald, who is @SFErika on Twitter, leads this discussion.

A brand thought leadership program can be a great way to organize your content pillars and activate subject matter experts to engage your ideal communities. Building a successful thought leadership program, however, is a uniquely challenging task—and it starts with finding and differentiating your thought leaders.

In this #ContentChat recap, we help you learn how to build a thought leadership program, with a focus on getting things started and measuring your results. Read the full recap below to learn:

  • How to choose a brand thought leader
  • Thought leadership activities for getting started
  • Common mistakes to avoid as a thought leader

Q1: Let’s start with a common definition: What is thought leadership from a content marketing perspective?

From a content marketing perspective, thought leadership content is created by or with a subject matter expert who has a unique perspective and experience to share on a topic. Not all content is thought leadership content—you need an actual expert to share their insights for it to count as thought leadership.

A1a: Thought leadership content is created by or with a subject matter expert who has a unique perspective and experience to share on a topic. #ContentChat https://t.co/PC7C16HVY0

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

A1b: Ghostwritten content that doesn’t have any actual insights from the person whose name goes on it is just content—not thought leadership. #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/PVeErAMlvy

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

Thought leadership should spark new ideas, examine trends, and advance conversations happening in your industry, which makes it ideal for the earliest stage of your buyer’s journey.

A1: “Thought leadership” content is at the earliest stage of your buyer’s journey. Built to bring people into the funnel by addressing top trends in your market/space/industry. #Contentchat https://t.co/7d5z4v5olZ

— Amy Higgins (@amywhiggins) October 24, 2022

A1: The ability to integrate content it all its forms into an omnichannel customer experience = Content mastery

Thought leadership = identifying what brands should be doing now to adapt to the coming content strategy trends.#ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) October 24, 2022

IMO you can deliver though leadership in almost any area/industry. What matters is that you pay attention to trends, changing cultural norms, how ppl express themselves through design & art…#ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) October 24, 2022

Create thought leadership content using experts both inside and outside of your business.

Ab: I also think thought leadership content SHOULD come from both inside and outside experts of your business #ContentChat

— Amy Higgins (@amywhiggins) October 24, 2022

Anyone can be a thought leader—in Q2 we’ll explore what qualities make for a great thought leader.

One type of thought leadership I think of is Paradigmatic Thought Leadership, which becomes a new filter through which people see the world, in a manner that leads to new value creation, behavior change, and so on. Also, Informed Opinion Thought Leadership. #ContentChat A1a

— Carlos Abler (@Carlos_Abler) October 24, 2022

Or perhaps it’s a hybrid genre of Thought Leader Fiction.
As an aside, ghost writing also has nothing to do with ancestral practice or relations with the disembodied.
Or does it? A1b #ContentChat

— Carlos Abler (@Carlos_Abler) October 24, 2022

So, say a hopesmith with a unique take on how to live a hopeful and joyfilled life?

Or a faith-based vlogger that sees things in a simple way?#ContentChat

— Kathryn Lang – hopesmith and dream ignitor (@Kathrynclang) October 24, 2022

Q2: Who should or shouldn’t serve as a brand thought leader? What qualities make for a great brand thought leader?

Your CEO or C-suite executives may not be your best thought leaders.

A2a: While many brands exclusively promote the CEO or the C-suite as thought leaders, they aren’t necessarily your best_or only—options. #ContentChat https://t.co/CkkuETSrF8

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

A2a: In the debate about CEO/Execs as thought leaders, it’s helpful to consider topics and who the audiences are. Often Exec TL is really focused to Wall Street and the BOD. So it’s a sock-puppet show that does have use. BOD comms and PR disguised in TL format. #ContentChat

— Carlos Abler (@Carlos_Abler) October 24, 2022

A million years ago I wrote an article on the helpful content persona, and have three sub-categories for the thought leader. I haven’t re-checked it in a while. But I’ve used the framework as a tool successfully with team creative canvases https://t.co/CdbmEKDkBn #ContentChat

— Carlos Abler (@Carlos_Abler) October 24, 2022

When looking for a potential thought leader, find people who already create content, engage their community on social media, are active in industry events, and can dedicate time to building their platform.

A2b: The most effective thought leaders for your brand:
1. Already create content
2. Engage on social
3. Active in industry events
4. Can dedicate the time#ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

A2c: While a CXX title can be effective for garnering media coverage, its rare those leaders have the time to invest in building a thought leadership profile. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

A2bA: And “write what I said to write” is also not thought leadership 🎃😅#ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) October 24, 2022

Haha. “Write me a thought leadership piece about [SEO topic]” is also the last thing a writer wants to hear. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

Your thought leader should be able to discuss your industry as a whole without only talking about your product or company.

A2: If they ONLY want to talk about the product and not address the current trends or problems people are trying to solve for – they should not be a thought leader.

product leader does not always = thought leader#ContentChat https://t.co/EAvrfvANDW

— Amy Higgins (@amywhiggins) October 24, 2022

A2: Someone who is invested in the vision of the thought and that truly believes in it could make a strong brand thought leader.#ContentChat https://t.co/nxfLL94H9Y

— Kathryn Lang – hopesmith and dream ignitor (@Kathrynclang) October 24, 2022

Social influencers are not the same as brand thought leaders.

A2: The loudest voice in the room isn’t necessarily the best one to promote a brand. This is a lesson retail brands keep failing to learn. 🎃#ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) October 24, 2022

YES! See also, paid social influencers are not the same as brand thought leaders. yet too often, marketers use the phrases interchangeably.#ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

Q3: What steps should you take once you’ve identified a relevant brand thought leader to establish their platform?

Once you’ve identified your potential brand thought leader(s), map them against your content pillars. Identify thought leaders who can address each topic, as well as their primary channels.

A3a: After you’ve identified your potential thought leaders, map them against your content pillars. Who is the best fit for which topic? What channel works best for each objective? #ContentChat https://t.co/8ioZqL8FsV

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

A3b: Next, match your thought leaders to the topics they want to be known for, and the channels through which they are most comfortable interacting with others. Don’t try to force your writers on a big stage, or make your keynote speakers write blog posts. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

A3c-a: Agreed. I like having thought leaders defined per topic pillar. That way they can go deep on the topic knowledge and broad with where they share (company blog/social + own social + 3rd party/AR/PR sites + events) #contentchat https://t.co/jL0b3TZrky

— Amy Higgins (@amywhiggins) October 24, 2022

Map your thought leadership platforms on a chart so everyone can get an at-a-glance look.

A3c: It can be helpful to document all of this in a chart that shows everyone at-a-glance, and then create individual thought leader profile sheets for each person. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

Read Erika’s article to learn more about how to build a thought leadership platform, and use our thought leadership one-pager.

A3d: For a deeper dive into this topic, check out this blog post.⁰#ContentChat⁰

How to Create A Thought Leadership Platform that Earns People’s Trust⁰ https://t.co/GtYo7DepLt

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

And here’s a simple format for what’s basically a one-page “media kit” approach to documenting individual thought leadership areas.#ContentChat pic.twitter.com/MuIQprZlCp

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

Follow your thought leaders to monitor their activity and coach them on ways to improve.

A3: Usually follow them everywhere. I like to see if they are actually creating unique content for each platform.#ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) October 24, 2022

Q4: When getting started with building a thought leadership platform, what are the most accessible opportunities to pursue?

Start building a thought leadership platform on owned platforms—webinars, blog posts, and short video content are great places to start.

A4: It’s easiest to build your thought leadership base on your owned platforms. Webinars, blog posts, and short video content are great places to start honing your thought leaders’ approach. #ContentChat https://t.co/qKLTKp18aw

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

A4b: When your thought leaders are ready to branch out, webinars, contributed content, and local industry meetups are also great ways to gain experience and hone those skills. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

A4: Depends. Sometimes external sources can be an easy place to start & bring awareness. Then, move to your owned channels to help carry the thoughts through to your established audience #contentchat https://t.co/dGIfIPJ29Z

— Amy Higgins (@amywhiggins) October 24, 2022

Engage with other thought leaders on social media.

A4: Likely would be mentors. Thought leaders who make regular appearances in the news media.

For a lesser known industry/niche, look for social media influencers known for creating microexperiences rather than those with large followings from the start.#ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) October 24, 2022

A4b: To add to that, it actually has to be thought leadership. Not lead gen for your local plumbing business. For those who can’t tell the difference lol

They need to use PPC or social advertising not content…#ContentChat

— Sweepsify (@Sweepsify_) October 24, 2022

Create content that you can promote across channels and repurpose for future opportunities.

A4: Follow these steps:
– Write a few articles on topics within your thought leadership area (cross-link if possible)
-Post these articles to your company blog
-Create social media content to promote these articles (use hashtags and keywords) #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) October 24, 2022

What’s nice about this approach is it gives you something to point to when pitching the author for external opportunities. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

Exactly! When you’re just getting started you need to build up your portfolio. Plus, this early content can help the thought leader start to showcase the range of areas they can speak to and serve as a launching pad for new articles/podcasts/webinars/event topics. #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) October 24, 2022

Q5: How do you balance multiple brand thought leaders? Do you divide them by topic, activity type, or something else?

Pair your thought leaders with the right opportunities for them, based on their preferred topics and activity types.

A5a: Yes to all of these! It’s critical to match your thought leaders to the right topic and content type. Some may be natural writers, while others love an audience. Pair people with the right opportunities. #ContentChat https://t.co/aZgMhrxc94

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

Find ways for your thought leaders to collaborate, but it helps to identify 1-2 people as your ‘primary’ thought leaders for a given topic.

A5b: If you have multiple people who’d be a good fit for the same opportunities, find ways for them to collaborate. They can learn from each other and possibly even co-present to make each person’s profile that much stronger. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

A5b: This is great. It’s fun to identify who throughout the organization with whom TL/Experts would love to have a fruitful dialog and create a wall on which we can be the fly. Also who they wish they could be in dialog with on the outside. And mash it all up. #ContentChat https://t.co/1yWDCWHDZI

— Carlos Abler (@Carlos_Abler) October 24, 2022

This is how to create content people will actually want to consume—and talk about with others.#ContentChat https://t.co/vyZtWvPSvJ

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

Q6: How can you safeguard your thought leadership program from facing a setback if your thought leader changes companies?

Develop a group of thought leaders to protect your thought leadership program from facing a setback if someone leaves.

A6a: It can create a void if you’ve put all your thought leadership efforts behind one person who then leaves your company. That’s why it’s better to develop a group of thought leaders. #ContentChat https://t.co/18QAFYs3Fp

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

Pair each primary spokesperson with an up-and-coming internal subject matter expert that can support that thought leadership pillar.

A6b: If you do have a person who has brand evangelism and thought leadership as a core part of their job, pair them with up-and-coming internal subject matter experts. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

Ensure that all work created is owned by the brand, not the individual thought leader.

A6c: Also, make sure that when you develop brand thought leaders that the brand—not the individual—is the legal owner of the branded assets such as the email list, podcast, YouTube channel, etc. Otherwise, you’re only renting their influence. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

Q7: What metrics or KPIs should you track to measure the success of your thought leadership program?

If possible, track your brand share of voice using tools like Meltwater or Cision.

A7a: If you have @Meltwater, @Cision, or another tool that can track your brand share of voice over time, that’s a great KPI to track. #ContentChat https://t.co/L6L9sINA28

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

Other thought leadership KPIs include the audience size reached by specific activities, boosts to your domain authority or placement on sites with a high domain authority, web traffic, incoming links, and social shares.

A7b: If you don’t have the tech to measure thought leadership’s impact, you can still track:⁰
1. Audience size reached
2. Domain authority
3. Web traffic (w/UTMs)
4. Incoming links
5. Social shares#ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

A7c: When I hear someone say, “we can’t really measure its impact,” that’s a red flag for me that their thought leadership program is reactive, not strategic. And quite possibly, all fluff!#ContentChat pic.twitter.com/t3EMw41zdk

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

Thought leadership takes a long time to build. The ROI may not be clear, but stay consistent and you should see your engagement increase.

A7: Remember that #thoughtleadership takes a long time to build. Stay consistent with your activities, even if the direct ROI isn’t clear. Over time, your thought leader should see increased social engagement and more opportunities open. #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) October 24, 2022

Q8: What are the common mistakes that people make when trying to become thought leaders?

Erika often sees three big thought leadership program mistakes: Appointing a brand thought leader who doesn’t have time to partner with the content team, expecting someone to be a thought leader for a topic they are not well-versed in, and forcing people into an activity (like public speaking) that they are not comfortable with.

A8a: There are three big mistakes I frequently see with thought leadership programs. #ContentChat https://t.co/Bfj2OXn9rN

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

A8b:
Mistake 1: Appointing someone as a brand thought leader who doesn’t have time to spend with the content team that is supporting them. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

A8c:
Mistake 2: Expecting someone to be a thought leader for a topic they are not well-versed in or comfortable enough to speak about without talking points. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

Your thought leader should know the topic enough to talk about it without notes. They also should be confident enough to admit when they don’t know something.

A thought leader who wants to talk about only one thing in a very specific way will not succeed. #ContentChat

— Alek Irvin (@AlekIrvin) October 24, 2022

I realize not everyone *loves* candid Q&A like I do, but if someone is literally not going to be able to go off script, then they are paired with the wrong topic.#ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

A8d:
Mistake 3: Forcing people into a role they are not comfortable with. If someone hates public speaking, don’t push them into big industry conference speaking slots! Find the right channel where they can shine. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Content Marketing Consultant (@SFerika) October 24, 2022

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