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5 characteristics that separate thought leadership from great content

· Catriona McNaughton,Thought Leadership,Engagement,Analysis

Many organisations want to be thought leaders but do not invest sufficiently to take their ‘thoughts’ to leadership. Five key differences between great content and thought leadership are outlined below:

1. Conversation not presentation

Thought leadership needs to be about initiating a conversation that you do not already have the answer to. This is how it creates leadership, by pushing the industry forward rather than allowing it to creep incrementally as new ideas settle. You have to be passionate and willing to make brave and uncomfortable arguments that inspire others to challenge and debate your view. This also means you have to expose yourself to being wrong.

2. Solutions not problems

While starting a conversation is important, it is also critical to provide useful and helpful content that is solutions focused. This doesn’t mean you have to solve everything (as above you want to avoid this) but it also can’t be a shopping list of complaints or issues. If there is a key question or challenge driving the thought leadership, make sure this is framed by what has been solved so far and how. In the same vein, thought leadership should never be about setting up the problem for which your product of service is the solution. That is a great sales process, but it is not thought leadership.

3. New not different

If you can find it in google it is not thought leadership, even if you are disagreeing with a common position. You need to be saying something entirely new. This is not to say that opinion that goes against the norm is not valuable, just that it is a different category of engagement and requires a different approach which may reap different benefits.

4. Industry insider not expert bystander

Thought leadership needs to be industry driven, it has to come from the people who understand every aspect of the topic (usually an industry insider) but are seeking help to creatively solve problems. In many cases, attempts at thought leadership instead come across as arrogant and misinformed. Avoid the Dunning-Kruger effect and stick to the topics where you know what you don’t know.

5. About the audience not about you

To be a leader you must have followers, otherwise you’re just someone going a different direction. That means your audience determines whether your ‘thought’ is leadership, so it is critical to ensure that any content resonates with the audience and inspires action, change or engagement. To know what will resonate you need to listen to the audience, understand what and how they are discussing issues and target your dialogue to feed into that conversation. Thought leadership must always be about what the audience will get out of it, and while it can be a fantastic way to create profile and drive awareness, it must always be about usefulness to the audience not about selling your products or services.

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