Being seen as the ‘go-to’ person or acknowledged thought-leader in your field is a good place to be.
- You don’t need to look for clients; they come to you.
- They don’t wince at your fees.
- You can pick and choose the projects you find particularly interesting, and work just with people you like.
- And, they buy lunch.
But the ways you demonstrate thought leadership and credibility seem to be changing, with a deluge of new information technologies. Many business professionals, particularly consultants, are asking themselves -- just how do I get acknowledged as a thought-leader today? This question is particularly vital for consultants, whose value depends largely on their reputation for innovation and effectiveness. Demonstrating that you as a consultant both understand and know how to use these tools effectively can help communicate that you are at the leading edge of your field through your content and comments. Indirectly, it shows that you value staying in the know of innovation and this extends to your field of expertise.
To understand which of the new tools are effective for demonstrating thought leadership, it’s important to understand what tools have been traditionally effective.
Academic and professional designations: Having an advanced degree from a university with credibility in that field helps, as does having the relevant professional designation. Being a Fellow in your professional field helps too.
Published papers in professional or academic journals: Having a paper accepted by a respected journal has long been one of the best ways to demonstrate credibility, given the rigorous peer review process involved. Such papers gain extra credibility if they are cited in others’ work and gradually become recognized as the accepted wisdom on their subject matter.
Presenting papers at recognized professional conferences: Most professions, occupations and industries have their ‘definitive’ conferences, and being invited to present your paper there is a big credibility boost.
A published book by a ‘name’ publishing house: Publishing a book has long been a sign of thought leadership, but the current wave of print-on-demand publishers has somewhat diluted this. Now that digital printing is just a mouse-click away, it’s seen as more important that a book be published by a company known to have high standards -- such as a university press.
A strong CV: All these credentials, plus the names of significant completed projects, should be listed on one’s Curriculum Vitae or resume, which pulls all these accomplishments together.
The changing role of expertise in today’s business environment
To see how this is changing, consider how business leaders -- potential clients -- look for expertise. Generally, it’s because they have a problem they need to solve, or an opportunity they want to access. Increasingly, they want a ‘name’ on their project, someone who has credibility.
They look for indications of credibility to help them differentiate among potential problem-solvers, and also because they may need to defend their choice: “She presented a paper at her professional conference last year!” Getting buy-in matters because of the increasing number of business decisions today that are taken in consultation with other stakeholders -- including other departments, joint-venture partners, financial sources and leading shareholders.
This being the age of Google, such searches are conducted online, and in two main ways: topic search and name search. Anyone wanting to learn about a new subject area will enter some keywords about the topic into a search engine, and if the consultant has generated enough content about her or his subject area, that content should come up, if possible near the top of the search results.
However, it is more likely that someone will already have heard about the consultant, or met him or her at a networking event, and so will type the person’s name into the search engine to see what evidence there is of that person’s expertise.
The digital age has spawned a wide range of emerging vehicles for demonstrating thought leadership which can complement and bring more attention to the long-established means of described above.
Many consultants find the sheer variety of content marketing and social media tools to be overwhelming. If this has been your experience, keep two questions in mind: What do you want to be known for, and whom do you want to reach? Then, develop a plan that is an appropriate blend of “established” and “emerging” tools.
Remember: your name is your brand. It’s relatively easy if your name is somewhat unusual. For example: there are only seven people on LinkedIn with the name ‘Carl Friesen,’ but ‘Rebecca Goldberg’ returns 73 results -- which is why Rebecca distinguishes her name as ‘Rebecca H. Goldberg’. You might consider some similar way to make your name “yours” online and carry it through when choosing profile names for yourself.
One of the best-known online ‘scorecards’ is one’s Klout Score (klout.com) which is a 1-100 number showing how influential you are.
Emerging thought leadership vehicles
YouTube: Right after the question, “Is this consultant a recognized authority in his field?” a potential client will ask, “Would I enjoy working with him?” That’s a question a consultant can answer through effective use of YouTube. Videos of a presentation you’ve given, or just you talking to the camera about a development in your client’s industry, go a long way to showing you as an approachable kind of person.
While the results from a professional videographer and production house will likely be better than you can do yourself, today’s consumer cameras and video-editing software are easy to use and can produce credible results.
You can also add your comments to the text accompanying others’ videos, as an easy way to lend wings to your ideas.
Twitter: Although Twitter seems to be everywhere, it really isn’t: according to recent figures by social media guru Jay Baer, only seven percent of Americans use Twitter. But still, this platform is emerging as an effective way to demonstrate thought leadership. Many subject-matter experts have strong Twitter followings, by people eager to hear what the expert has to say, see curated information passed on via Twitter, and engage in dialogue. Many journalists use Twitter as a way to find out who they can interview about an article or report they’re working on. Another reason to use Twitter is that it has excellent search engine optimization and will often be the first hit on Google.
If you want to establish thought leadership in your field, be sure to add your own ideas to the tweets you pass along -- and leave room in what you say for others to add their thoughts.
SlideShare: This little-known platform allows you to share presentations developed on PowerPoint and similar programs, presenting ideas in infographics including charts and graphs, text, photographs and other elements. It’s a good way to provide a tight dose of information on a specific topic.
Some consultants make the mistake of taking a PowerPoint from a presentation they’ve given and uploading it to SlideShare, without realizing that without their narrated explanation, the slides won’t make much sense. You need to rework the slides so that they are effective as stand-alone content.
LinkedIn: Standing midway between the “established” and “emerging” technologies is LinkedIn, which at its most fundamental is an online CV. It’s also likely the first result someone will come to if they Google your name, so it needs to put you in your best light.
But more than a resume, LinkedIn is a vehicle to aggregate all your published articles and papers, slide shows, audio files, videos, infographics and other content in one easy to find place.
Rebecca H. Goldberg and Carl Friesen