by Dennis J. Pitocco, MASTERMINDS Panel Member
I am trying to become a thought leader in the digital marketing space using social media strategy, SEO, rep. Mgt… I have been self taught and have even been published for my insights. How do I continue to grow my digital passion and gain more momentum so I can be the one stop shop for companies?
Aspiring Thought Leader
Dear Aspiring Thought Leader:
Perhaps the best place to start here is to understand who really is a “Thought Leader and to recognized that such “leadership” is not unique to any particular industry (e.g. digital marketing), Hence; the concept is the same across the industry spectrum – you simply need to adopt, adapt and build upon the fundamental attributes. Pushing beyond semantics, a thought leader is someone who is sharing (in text, images, audio and video) their own unique perspective. That would be the “thought” component of the equation. A thought leader is someone whose unique perspective is seen and accredited by both peers or other industry experts as truly being visionary (saying and doing the things that others have yet to do). Leadership isn’t just about being first.
Leadership is about how the thinking is ingested and used by the audience. It’s one thing to be shooting a whole bunch of darts at the board in the hopes that something hits the bull’s-eye, and it’s quite another to be someone who has successfully hit the target – time and time again – over the years, and have that coupled with the actual growth of the industry that the thoughts have served. Thought leadership is sharing the vision, having the vision being accepted by the industry at large and having that vision become a part of the DNA and how that industry moves forward. People like professor Henry Mintzberg and Don Tapscott are true thought leaders. Their work has changed how we see ourselves and how we work.
The term thought leader is the highest of compliments, and arguably the hardest moniker to achieve. It’s not enough to be good at what you do; a thought leader is meant to be the greatest form of praise, geared towards someone who is on the absolute cutting edge of their industry or making big enough moves to warrant the distinction.
Becoming a Thought Leader
There are effectively two sides to the thought leader coin: pushing the boundaries of a particular method or industry, and then using those ideas to leverage ubiquity on social or broadcast media. But achieving those two things simultaneously is actually more difficult than it sounds.
To put it simply, thought leaders are not only known for radically changing thoughts or ideas about a particular industry, but thriving in it too. For example, Nate Silver became the premier thought leader on statistics when his blog, fivethirtyeight, accurately predicted the results of an election exactly in both state majority and ultimate electoral college votes. After weeks of dismissive behaviors from analysts and research centers, Silver’s accuracy boosted him into the new role of election thought leader.
The moral of the story? Do something everyone else in your (digital marketing) field thinks is dumb, and be right about it.
Granted, that may be a bit oversimplified, but it’s that kind of hard left (or right, or 180-degree turn) that, when successful, can grab the right kind of attention.
More Than Leadership
So, what separates regular leaders from thought leaders? In a lot of cases, it’s the same thing that made the Harlem Shake popular: virality.
It’s one thing to be the most successful, most efficient, or most management-oriented leader in an industry, and it’s quite another to be a thought leader. For one reason or another, a thought leader has earned his or her title because that person’s ideas have gone viral. When an idea multiplies and distributes itself throughout the Internet — with the person’s name attached — then leadership becomes thought leadership.
It sounds very shallow, but in the end, thought leaders are made because their ideas made them famous. Their expert cache would not resonate the same way without that fame — they would just be well-known in their field of choice.
The interesting thing about thought leaders is not only that they have weird, wacky and alternative ideas that work, but they also have strong enough ideas to transcend the inside-baseball talk of their environments and educate the general public. It’s not easy, but doing so will mean a lifetime of speaking engagements, a heavy social media following, and repeat trips onto the morning talk shows.
Finally, being known as a thought leader shouldn’t be your goal. It’s just the icing on the cake of creating something truly innovative. When you’re willing to take risks and do things that are unconventional, you’ll find other in your industry looking to mimic you and learn from you, and eventually you may earn the respect that labels you a thought leader.
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