I’ve been thinking about thought leadership lately.
Personally, I’ve never liked the term. It signifies some exalted guru status, and my 15 years of online content marketing suggest something much less exclusive.
Anyone can achieve business authority with content, if they truly want to. I’ve done it in several industries, starting as a complete unknown in each.
Still, when smart people speak, I listen. I decided to dig a little deeper into the concept of thought leadership, especially since I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it before on Copyblogger.
Turns out the term “thought leadership” was coined back in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the Booz Allen Hamilton magazine Strategy & Business (a content marketing publication itself). Kurtzman used the term to refer to people “who had business ideas which merited attention.”
Attention. That’s the heart of the matter, isn’t it?
- If you publish valuable business information that matters to prospective customers and clients, you can gain initial attention.
- If you focus on providing that information continuously (just like a magazine), you can gain permission-based continual attention.
- And if you provide relevant solutions, you can convert those prospects into new customers and clients from that attention.
So, go ahead and consider yourself a thought leader if you’re educating and motivating people with content. Because you’ve earned the scarcest of resources – attention.
Here’s the thing … this type of attention is derived from authority.
In the realm of content marketing, authority is demonstrated, not claimed. Which means leaders are not born or made — they’re selected by the intended audience (much more in line with my more egalitarian experience of how content marketing works).
If you have the attention of an audience, you’re a leader already. And great leaders plan, listen, observe, inspire, and then give direction.
But most of all they continue to demonstrate, in this case by freely sharing their valuable knowledge via content. The likable expert demonstrates in order to achieve leadership, but also to maintain it.
That means accepting the responsibility to earn leadership in the first place, which is the beginning of something powerful. Spiderman’s Uncle Ben (actually Voltaire) said “With great power comes great responsibility,” but the converse is also true:
With great responsibility comes great power.