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Learning to be a Thought Leader, Not Just a Business Owner

It’s no secret social media has created some major paradigm shifts when it comes to the way we all think about business. We live in a ‘dialog’ world. No longer do we sit back and just receive information that’s broadcast to us; we now engage with everyone online, including friends and community members, and brands and retailers who sell us products and services. In this ‘lean in’ world, everyone has a voice. Business leaders especially have the opportunity to express their expert opinions as thought leaders, and this thought leadership can become a way for them to engage with consumers.

Being a thought leader proves you know the ins and outs of your business better than your competitors and can help people solve their problems. It allows you to connect with your customers on a new level — not merely as someone trying to sell or market to them, but as someone who is a partner in learning and discovering important information. Follow the old adage that an informed customer is a willing customer.

Here are three strategies to help you build a strong foundation as a thought leader that will keep consumers coming back for more:

Build Thought Leadership with Your Blog

Start by adding a blog to your website and making sure you contribute new posts regularly. Your blog’s aim is to engage with your customers — and potential customers — to provide valuable information and suggestions about your industry and how to get the most out of your products and services. Sharing your expertise is a way of building trust, and building trust is a way of driving sales.

Landing customers in a noisy business climate isn’t easy. Many potential customers are hesitant to just jump in and buy. After all, they have many options. If you’re a new business, they are likely going to take some time to build up their trust in you, and that trust is what will ultimately give them the reason to (finally) buy from you. So your constant, consistent thought leadership, starting with your blog, is a critical way to engage with your customer base. This engagement may seem one-sided. It may seem like you are posting and posting and posting, and not getting very much direct response in return. Patience is crucial here. Ultimately, in this ’dialog’ world, your voice will elicit responses and questions from those who like what you have to say and decide to become part of your community.

Use Social Media to Share Industry Expertise

Beyond the regular messages you post on your blog, you need to also share (and comment on!) information you glean from other media sources: newspapers, research organizations, academia, industry groups, consumer groups, etc. This is material that should be posted on your social media accounts, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. Depending on what kind of business you’re in, and what kinds of products and services you offer, familiarize yourself with these and other social platforms to see if your customers and potential customers are hanging out there. Wherever they are is where you want to be.

Create an Editorial Calendar and Plan Ahead

Thought leadership is not a random process — it requires planning. The simplest way to go about it is to come up with an editorial calendar. Decide how often you want to post, where you want to post and what topics you want to post about. Determine your target publication dates, and then figure out how and when you are going to draft your posts. By planning well in advance, you ensure you’re including the relevant topics that will be of interest to your customers and giving yourself enough time to meet your deadlines. For your social media posts, set up a collection process to funnel all relevant news and other posts to you. Google Alerts is one of the best-established tools for doing this: set up multiple alerts for people, topics and other relevant keywords. Whenever anything that fits those descriptions appears online, you’ll get a notification and can determine if the news elicits a response from you.

Put Yourself in Your Customer’s Shoes

Whether you are posting original ideas, information or opinions to your blog, or sharing articles, statistics or news on social media, your goal is to drive customer engagement. In selecting what you’re going to post, put yourself in the customer’s shoes and think about your business from their point of view. What do they want and need to know about your business, your products and services and about the larger understanding of your industry? By using your online presence to connect the dots and better inform your customer, you’re giving them the context they need to trust you and buy from you. Post information with intriguing topics and use catchy headlines to pique your customers’ interest, or pose a question your post will answer. Hopefully, readers will soon begin to leave comments, thanking you for sharing your valuable information and maybe even sharing your posts with their friends and colleagues. Over time, the goal is for your material to get shared far and wide and for you to become known and respected for posting and sharing helpful information.

Thought leadership builds your reputation and builds your brand. Your voice can be the deciding factor that draws customers to your business.

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