In today’s virtual world, you need a positive digital footprint to succeed, whether you’re a business leader looking to grow your company or a professional looking for a promotion or a new opportunity. Customers and hiring managers should be able to get a glimpse of your expertise when they search for you online and see how remarkable you are.
A digital footprint is a collection of information about you and a trail of your online activities, including articles you’ve written, comments you’ve left on social channels and images you’ve posted. Your digital footprint is further expanded today as you participate in virtual meetings and networking sessions via tools like Zoom, Clubhouse and Teams.
I believe the digital era has vastly expanded opportunities for each of us to be seen as a thought leader and boost our digital footprint globally.
Here’s how you can become a thought leader and stand out in today’s digital world.
First, who is a thought leader? I define a thought leader as someone who is an expert in a specific field, a trusted source that people go to for answers and inspiration. And yes, many thought leaders have changed the world, disrupted industries and created profitable, purpose-driven brands. In reality, not everyone can be Jeff Bezos or the late Steve Jobs. But we all can be thought leaders in our respective areas.
Here are a few tips that I use to turn experts into thought leaders.
Set your goal
The first step is to identify why you want to be a thought leader. Be specific. Is it because you want to launch a company, expand your business or look for a new opportunity? Once you know the why, you can develop the strategy and decide how to best engage with your target audience. Also, if you are a founder, then you may want your personal brand to be at least slightly connected to your corporate brand so you can further grow the business. If you are an employee, your personal brand should be portable so you can carry that expertise with you as you join another company.
Once you’ve decided to become a thought leader, take the plunge. Start working on your strategy, and find the partners who can help you on this journey. I’ve often heard founders say, “We are in stealth mode,” or “Our product is still in development, so this is not a good time to start the thought leadership program.” Building your digital presence doesn’t happen overnight. It takes months to build credibility and a digital footprint, so don’t wait. Start building your credibility as an expert even before you launch your product or company.
Prioritize your expertise
We all have multiple skill sets. Therefore, we often struggle to narrow down an area or topic to focus on. For example, as an entrepreneur, you can talk about a variety of topics, from finding market fit and establishing a fundraising strategy to growing your business and exiting. As a tech expert, you can talk about software development in general or specific areas, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. By focusing on a topic, you can create content and speak more efficiently.
Find your comfort zone
Do an honest assessment, and see what medium you are most comfortable with — the written word, audio or video/visual. Once you’ve figured that out, you can begin creating original content in the form of a blog, podcast or short videos. My comfort zone, for example, is writing. Therefore, I’ve allocated three to four hours a month for penning my insights on thought leadership and technology for the Boston Business Journal and Forbes. So, find your comfort zone, and identify one or two platforms to showcase your expertise instead of boiling the ocean.
Build your visual brand
While you are thinking through your strategy, don’t forget your visual brand positioning. Your personal brand must shine through via a bold and engaging image that reflects your personality and who you are. One of the ways to build a consistent visual brand is by working with corporate branding professionals who can “position” you and create a custom image that humanizes your brand and makes you stand out in a crowd, regardless of the channel.
Educate, don’t sell
Often, people confuse thought leadership with self-promotion. In fact, self-promotion can have a negative impact on your image, but showcasing your expertise to help others will boost your business. In a recent survey, 88% of respondents said good thought leadership must advance business goals. So, share your expertise and educate the marketplace. Write or speak in a way that others will find helpful. Support and inspire future entrepreneurs or innovators with your words of wisdom.
Be seen and heard, consistently
Whether you are writing articles, hosting podcasts or creating video content, you must be consistent. I’d suggest having a routine that’s based on how much time you’re willing to spend on this commitment. For example, if you want to spend six hours a month on your thought leadership, build a plan where you can regularly create and post original content — whether it’s monthly or weekly — while engaging with your community and prospects on select digital channels.
The bottom line
According to Harvey Coleman, the three keys to career success are performance, image and exposure. Specifically, Coleman says that 10% of your success is based on your day-to-day work and results, while 30% is based on what others think of you or your personal brand, and 60% is who knows about you and what you do.
By sharing your expertise and engaging actively, you allow other people to get to know you and your expertise. They will call you a thought leader and look to you for inspiration. So, focus on being remarkable, and people will remember you.