The Thought Leadership Litmus Test

Jun 16, 2016 Darah Patton

Everyone wants to be a “thought leader” these days, and for good reason. From Megan Smith’s position on STEM education to Elon Musk’s warnings of the perils of AI, it’s clear that thought leadership platforms can tremendously increase a company’s visibility.

But as more companies jump on the bandwagon the term risks becoming as potentially meaningless as describing a product as “innovative.” Before spending cycles on media outreach or content development, ask yourself these five questions:

1.       Am I personally passionate about this topic?

The answer should be a resounding YES. Sure, passion isn’t always required to pen a Medium post or do a media interview, but becoming a true thought leader requires authenticity, zeal and a vision for how things must change or will evolve over time. Being a subject matter expert who can go deep on a certain topic or share industry best practices doesn’t always equate to being a thought leader.

2.       Are other people already talking about this? And if so, what are they saying?

Just because other companies are commenting on a particular subject, doesn’t mean it’s off the table for anyone else. It just means that you’ll have to dig deeper and differentiate your point of view from others. For example, there are many people who feel passionately about ending the gender wage gap, but publicly declaring that something is bad doesn’t automatically make you a thought leader. Instead, try taking it a step further and sharing a new solution or perspective on why the issue persists.

3.       Can I explain why people outside of my organization should care about this topic?

Your co-workers will be the easiest people to convince. You all chose to work in the same industry and at the same specific company for a reason, so it’s likely that overlapping passions and ways of thinking exist. The hard part is persuading other people – in different geographies, socio-economic classes and upbringings – that what you’re saying impacts their life so much that they should not only listen, but also comment, like or share with others in their networks.

4.       Is it possible to have an entire conversation about this topic without mentioning my company's product/service?

If the answer is no, you’re missing the point. As consumers (and the media) block advertisements and roll their eyes at product-pushers, thought leadership platforms provide an opportunity for companies to not only get in front of their core audiences, but actually have them listen. If you can’t sit down and talk about something for 30-minutes without bringing up your company or product, your audience will see through your intentions.

5.       Does it ultimately support my business goals?

While #4 is an essential part of the thought leadership test, you also can’t take that too far. Ultimately, your thought leadership platform should tie back to a business goal, whether that be recruiting, VC funding, customer acquisition or increasing visibility.

While thought leadership can be a powerful tool, it's something that should be approached carefully and strategically. Rushing into a subject without putting in your due diligence risks leading to a half-baked and short-term program. Did your thought leadership platform pass the test?

Topics: Content, Leadership, Public Relations, PR, Thought Leadership
Darah Patton

Throughout Darah’s two years at the InkHouse San Francisco office, she’s built and executed strategic communications programs for fast-moving companies spanning the cybersecurity, commerce, on-demand, recruiting and identity management industries. Her focus on business-driven PR initiatives and creative storytelling has helped clients like Toyota Research Institute increase visibility in Silicon Valley and Hired become a go-to authority in hiring trends. Prior to joining InkHouse, Darah worked at Edelman and helped build the firm’s West Coast financial communications team. She led executive visibility campaigns, including ghost writing content, managing speaking opportunities, securing media coverage and drafting social content, as well as media relations for data campaigns, product launches and local market initiatives. A born and raised Hoosier and graduate of Indiana University, Darah fills her free time with hikes, good books and day trips around the Bay Area.

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