What Does It Take To Be A Thought Leader and Build a Following?

2 min read

What does it take to be a thought leader? How do you build a following as a thought leader?

Building a following as a thought leader is something a lot of executives and experts aspire to. Thought leadership is frequently a key element of a modern PR campaign.

In this two-part series, Lisa Lilienthal talks about what it means to be a thought leader, why it's different from being a subject matter expert, and how to build a following as a thought leader. 

Part 1: How Do You Become a Thought Leader?

View time: 3.5 min

Thought leadership is different than subject matter expertise. A subject matter expert is someone who has a deep mastery of a topic because of their education and their experience and everything that they can bring to the table.  A subject matter expert can go very deep on a topic, they have the credentials and they've been validated in other ways. 

A thought leader may have deep subject expertise--that's great if they do. The difference between a thought leader and a subject matter expert is having a really distinct point of view. It's somewhat nuanced, but it is different.

Developing a point of view about something means you've thought about it. You have considered all the ways in which this subject matter might be talked about, debated, viewed from the outside, and viewed from the inside.

And not only have you developed a point of view about it, but you are also deeply conversational about that point of view. You can tell stories, you can point to data, you can bring other points of view in and then kind of debate them against your point of view.

Part 2: What Does It Take To Be a Thought Leader?

View time: 3 min


Can Anyone Be a Thought Leader?

Everyone has the potential to be a thought leader, but go into it clear-eyed. It takes a willingness to sometimes go out on a limb. It also takes a sustained and consistent effort to build a following. It's the work to develop your point of view and then to share it in different ways.

When just getting started, connect with people you know and consistently feed them ideas based on your singular point of view. 

It doesn't mean that your point of view can't evolve. It doesn't mean that you can't also talk about different things. But a singular focus, in the beginning, helps you become known for that particular point of view.

Then think about all the different ways that you can bring that point of view to the important dialogues of the day that matter to your stakeholders. LinkedIn articles, bylined articles, conference keynotes. Addressing your audience directly via social media video. Video is an increasingly powerful thought leadership tactic, especially targeted and amplified on social media channels. If you're the one on camera, be present and right to the camera, right to the audience, guiding people on how they really feel.

Each platform requires something different from you, but what doesn't change is the need to tell a great story to get your point of view across and engage your audience.

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