By Matt Umbro
In any industry, there are people we look up to because we believe they are the best of the best at what they do. These are the people we turn to when industry news breaks or to educate us about how we can be better at our jobs. In short, these industry thought leaders are who we try to emulate.
The truth is that it takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort to become an industry thought leader. For all of the public information that is posted through blogs, tweets, and more, thought leaders are spending an incredible amount of time behind the scenes determining, researching, and producing this content. Thought leaders are also generally outgoing and enjoy engaging in communication both on and offline. It’s difficult to be a thought leader if you are shy.
It goes without saying that thought leaders must have a strong passion for their jobs and be willing to invest personal time honing their craft. In fact, many thought leaders don’t separate their work from their hobbies. They relish the opportunity to learn and work on their craft during off hours and would say they legitimately enjoy what they do whether it happens during office hours or not.
With this mentality in mind, there are initiatives you can take to get your thoughts out to the public and begin having people look to you for industry knowledge and opinions.
Spend At Least 10 Personal Hours A Week Honing Your Craft
There is no set time period, but you should be spending at least 10, non-work hours a week improving your skills. You may decide to work 2 extra hours every weeknight or spend more time on the weekend working. The bottom line is that you ARE working during your personal time.
Working comes in a variety of formats, such as:
- Extra time spent on client accounts
- Freelancing (if your company allows it)
- Education through training materials, blogs, and more
- Trying new ideas
- Writing blog posts
- Engaging your industry’s community
Like anything, the more you practice, the better you will be at your craft. The benefit of working during your personal time is that there are fewer distractions. It’s true that you can undertake many of these tasks during office hours, but you have to also deal with assignments, emails, and co-workers. I’m not saying that there aren’t distractions during your personal time, but you are better able to focus on yourself.
An indirect goal of spending all this time focusing on your craft is to be able to have intelligent discussions with others about your industry. You should get to the point where you know all of the industry updates and can communicate their impact. In fact, you should be able to notice trends in order to predict industry updates. For example, expanded text ads with 2 headlines didn’t necessarily come as a surprise because many advertisers were making use of the extended headline feature anyway. Thus, ETAs were seen as the natural evolution of text ads rather than a completely new surprise.
Write As Much As You Can
Let me ask you a question. Do you follow any thought leaders that don’t write well? Maybe their grammar is off or they don’t communicate their ideas in an easy to understand way. Or, they don’t defend their position with conviction. Think of all the thought leaders you follow and then think about their writing skills. Chances are they are pretty good.
I’m on record saying that effective writing is the number one skill that will help your career. From a communication standpoint, writing clear, intuitive messages allows you to capably share your position. Whether it is a short response to an email or creating a training document, good writing helps you come off as competent and knowledgeable. Thus, when it’s time to share your thoughts with the world, you know how to frame and back up your position.
The most common form of writing that you will share is through blogging. Blogs allow you to present a topic and put your own spin on it. To become a thought leader, you need to constantly be putting out content that shows your knowledge. Blog posts can be written about a variety of topics, including:
- Your take on an industry feature, trend, or event
- A look at a topic from a different standpoint
- A case study that provides analysis and potential action items
Quite simply, you can be the smartest person in your industry, but if you aren’t creating content then you won’t be considered a thought leader. More so, if your writing is subpar, you won’t capture your readers’ attention.
Increase Your Exposure
Assuming you have the passion for your industry and are actively writing, the next step is to make sure people are seeing your content. The best place to start is Twitter. Begin following others in your industry and tweet on a consistent basis. You’ll not only want to share your content, but also other relevant articles. Actions such as retweets and posting links to others’ content will help you gain more followers who will then hopefully share and comment on your posts.
It’s also important to identify Twitter chats and communities. Start participating in chats and make yourself known to your industry colleagues. I’ve seen many examples over the years of people who have used Twitter to become household names. By being a constant presence and interacting with others, members of the community begin to associate you with someone who knows their stuff and is forward thinking. Again, here in lies the opportunity to receive more shares for your own content.
Other platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Reddit are also valuable places to share your content and engage the community. Speaking of getting in front of your community, the next initiative is geared toward in-person engagement.
Attend Industry Events
Up until this point, we’ve discussed all of the initiatives you can take behind the keyboard. At a certain point, people need to associate you with a live person and not just your gravatar. Meeting face-to-face gives you more credibility in the eyes of your industry colleagues. Instead of solely the (online) written word, you can speak to your craft while portraying your knowledge and confidence.
Engaging your industry colleagues also serves a couple of purposes beyond just the face-to-face meeting. For one, these engagements can lead to ideas that become blog posts, further online communication, and more. For example, a discussion around device based modifiers may lead to a blog post where you and/or your work is referenced. This communication can also lead to further engagement down the line. Perhaps someone is interviewing industry colleagues and wants you to take part. This interview might not have occurred if not for the initial in-person engagement.
By attending industry events, you also have the chance to make an impression on those individuals that determine speakers. If you want to pursue speaking gigs then this interaction is critical.
Becoming an industry thought leader is no small task. It takes a huge commitment to even enter the arena and be considered someone that others should pay attention to. Furthermore, you always need to be providing fresh perspectives that aren’t a commodity. By following the outlined initiatives, you can begin your own journey toward being a thought leader that your industry colleagues respect and trust.
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