As the content specialist for a Chicago marketing firm, I worry when companies talk about “establishing thought leadership.” For some firms, the desired strategy for a thought leadership campaign includes every tactic in the book except one: thinking.

However, many small businesses* have big ideas, great ideas – but they struggle to communicate their tremendous expertise. They are frustrated because prospects read their content and just don’t “get” how good they are at what they do.

So, from a content marketing perspective, here are thought leadership suggestions to help you win over prospects and secure long-term customers. 

Content Creation

Content designed to convey expertise is abundant on the web, but content that does the job properly is scarce. Consider your own thought leadership content – white papers, web pages, blog posts, etc. Does it have these characteristics?

  • Research – Content is supported by authoritative resource materials.
  • Attribution – Sources of data and factual information are credited.
  • Fact Checking – The accuracy of information is confirmed before publication.
  • Clarity – Content takes a clear position rather than hems and haws.
  • Originality – Content includes fresh ideas and insights. (This is the “thinking” part.)
  • Consistency – Content has consistent quality across the board. A dopey blog post undermines the value of the brilliancy that preceded it.
  • Attention to detail – Though leaders care about grammar and punctuation.

Communication Style

Remember Socrates? Smart guy. He knew that how you say it is as important as what you say, so he cooked up the Socratic method. Socrates was ahead of his time by several centuries, in that his conversational approach is absolutely perfect for the social web. Beyond using an informal style, other techniques that enhance thought leadership include:

  • Using small words. Elephantine phraseology obfuscates elucidation. In other words, make it easy for people to figure out what the hell you’re talking about.
  • Admitting ignorance. Nobody likes a know-it-all. In contrast, people respect a person courageous enough to say, “I don’t know.”
  • Respecting readers. Talking down to people, making them feel stupid, is no way to win hearts and minds.

Content Sharing

On the social web, thought leadership is judged not only by a company’s original content, but also by how well it shares the content of others. Lately this activity has been referred to as “content curation.”  Some characteristics of great content sharers:

  • They read before they share. Nothing makes you look more foolish than tweeting a link that doesn’t work or features slapdash content.
  • They are discriminating. Every content share is a home run share … or at least an extra-base hit.
  • They are enthusiastic. Their tweets and likes and links don’t just go through the motions, instead they talk up the author and describe the content’s value.

A Final Tip

Last night I was thinking about what I would do if I had been stranded on an island for two years and wanted to get caught up on content marketing developments. Which content marketing blog would I turn to first? What content marketing company would I want to talk to?

Think about that in terms of your own industry. Whomever you would turn to is your benchmark for thought leadership.

Do you have some other suggestions for how to be seen as a thought leader? Please share in the comments below.

*Our clients do things like high heat resistant gloves and merchant accounts for small business. Their prospects, like yours, are looking for expertise, though they would probably never think of it as “thought leadership.”