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How to write thought leadership content? A comprehensive guide

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

If you’ve ever been on Twitter or LinkedIn recently, you’ll know exactly what this blog is about.


Thought leadership is a fairly recent phenomenon, actually. It’s turned into a way of marketing. A way to position yourself as an authority figure in your field.


As a freelance writer, thought leadership content is all about personalization. If you have a client who wants to market via thought leadership, you have to focus on the client’s personal experiences and draw content from them.


And this blog will help you do just that. I’ve been a writer for more than five years and this is a comprehensive blog on how to write thought leadership content for your clients.


We’ll go over everything, right from what thought leadership content is, all the way to building a great social following using thought leadership content.


Finally, I’ll be using ‘you’ and ‘your client’ interchangeably throughout this article. It could mean you or it could simply mean your client, depending on if you’re writing for yourself or your client.

How to write fantastic thought leadership content - image

So, with all that out of the way, let’s get started.


What is thought leadership?

Thought leadership is the idea of creating content that positions yourself or your client as an authority figure in a particular area.

Thought leadership content is content that serves this purpose. It’s content that’s not focused on selling a product or a service but on providing valuable information or insights to the readers. You have to display a deep understanding of your subject area and provide a true, unique perspective on industry trends, challenges, and innovations.


Thought leadership content comes in various forms, such as blog posts, whitepapers, reports, webinars, podcasts, videos, or even social media posts. Regardless of the format, the focus is on delivering value, stimulating discussion, inspiring innovation, and establishing trust and credibility.


The goal of thought leadership content is to build a reputation for the author or the business as a go-to resource in their field. When done well, it can strengthen brand image, build trust, foster customer loyalty, and position the author or the business as an influencer in their industry.


A few basics of thought leadership

What are the key characteristics of thought leadership?

Thought leaders are distinguished by their expertise, influence, and the significant value they bring to their respective fields. Here are the key characteristics that define them:

  • Expertise: Thought leaders possess a deep understanding of their field. They stay abreast of industry trends, innovations, and key shifts, making them a trusted source of insights and perspectives.

  • Influence: Thought leaders are not just knowledgeable; they also influence others with their ideas. They shape conversations and drive innovation in their respective industries.

  • Vision: Thought leaders have a clear vision of the future of their industry. They understand where things are headed and can articulate this vision compellingly and accessibly.

  • Trust: A thought leader is trusted by their audience, colleagues, and the industry at large. This trust is built through the consistent delivery of valuable content and a proven track record of expertise.


Differentiating Between Thought Leadership and Other Content Types

While all content aims to engage an audience, thought leadership is unique in its objectives and impact.


Regular content informs and entertains, while thought leadership does these and more – it positions the author or brand as an industry authority.


Thought leadership content has to be deeply insightful, leveraging the unique expertise of the author to illuminate complex topics or offer fresh perspectives on industry challenges. This is unlike regular content, which often rehashes existing information.


Furthermore, thought leadership content is forward-thinking, identifying future trends and providing actionable insights. This differentiates it from news content, which is often reactive, reporting on what's already happened rather than forecasting what's to come.


The Role of Authenticity in Thought Leadership

Authenticity is the bedrock of thought leadership. It's about being true to your unique voice and perspective. Authentic thought leaders do not merely parrot popular opinions; they articulate their unique insights, even when these are controversial.


Authenticity also involves honesty and transparency. Thought leaders acknowledge their sources of information, are open about their process, and admit when they've changed their views.


This authenticity fosters trust with the audience, strengthening their influence.


Authenticity further extends to acknowledging limitations. Thought leaders admit when they don't have all the answers, positioning themselves as learners as well as teachers. This humility makes their content more relatable and believable, bolstering their credibility.


How to write thought leadership content

Identify your unique perspective

Thought leadership begins with identifying your unique perspective or expertise. Your distinct viewpoint is what will set you apart in the saturated content landscape. It's not just about what you know but how you interpret and apply that knowledge that counts.


First, identify your core areas of expertise. What field do you have deep knowledge of? Where have you gathered significant experience? Remember, your expertise could be industry-specific, like data science or digital marketing, or it could be a cross-disciplinary skill, like problem-solving or strategic thinking.


Next, find your unique perspective within that expertise. This involves introspection and analysis. Consider your experiences, values, and insights. How do you see things differently from others in your field? This unique perspective is your thought leadership edge.


If you’re a writer who’s writing for someone else, this means that there will be a lot of interviews and conversations.


There’s a trend these days where writers simply come up with industry-related thought leadership content. They then simply brand it under their client’s name and that’s that.


However, it’s not a strategy that’ll work. Yes, it might gain you a few followers on Twitter and LinkedIn, and so on but in the long run, people really do want a unique voice.


“17 AI tools that you should definitely check” out is great but 3 “AI tools that I completely depend on” is better.



Understand Your Audience

Understanding your audience is crucial to effective thought leadership.


You need to know who they are, what they need, and how they consume content. Use audience analysis tools to gather demographic and psychographic data.


Study their behavior patterns, including the type of content they engage with, the platforms they use, and when they are most active.


Knowing your audience's challenges and pain points is equally important. This information will allow you to create content that addresses their specific needs and concerns, thereby positioning you as a valuable resource.


Remember, your audience's needs and behaviors can change over time. Therefore, make audience analysis an ongoing practice to ensure your content stays relevant and engaging.


Cultivate a Strong Personal or Brand Story

A strong personal or brand story underpins effective thought leadership. It's the narrative that connects you to your audience on an emotional level. This story should communicate who you are, what you believe in, and how you can help your audience.


Here's how to cultivate your story:

  1. Define Your 'Why': Your 'why' is the reason you do what you do. It's your motivation, your mission. Defining this gives purpose and direction to your thought leadership.

  2. Highlight Your Journey: Your journey involves the experiences that have shaped you or your brand. Sharing this journey adds authenticity and relatability to your story.

  3. Articulate Your Vision: Your vision is your idea of the future. It's what you're working towards. By articulating this vision, you inspire your audience to join you on your journey.

  4. Be Consistent: Consistency in your story is key. Ensure your narrative stays consistent across all platforms and pieces of content.

If you’re interested to know more about personal branding, you can these articles below:


Good research is half the battle

Creating compelling thought leadership content starts with comprehensive research. This involves not just understanding your subject matter deeply, but also staying abreast of industry trends, innovations, and relevant studies.


A strong commitment to continuous learning and research allows you to offer fresh insights and informed perspectives, enhancing the value of your content.


Additionally, researching audience needs and preferences is crucial to ensure your content resonates with them.


A combination of primary (e.g., surveys, interviews) and secondary research (e.g., industry reports, existing studies) can provide rich insights to shape your content.


Research is a genuine skill and as a writer, it's one of the indispensable skills for the job.


Choose the Right Content Medium

Thought leadership can take various forms, including blog posts, whitepapers, podcasts, videos, webinars, and more.


The right medium depends on your audience's preferences, your message, and your personal strengths.


For instance, complex topics might be best explained through an in-depth whitepaper, while a motivational message might resonate better through a video.


Consider also the distribution platform.


LinkedIn, for instance, is great for business-oriented content (you can read more about business writing here), while Instagram could be better for more visual content.


Diversifying your content formats and platforms also expands your reach and engagement.


Write with a Distinctive Voice

Your voice is the unique tone and style in which you communicate your message. A distinctive voice makes your content memorable and recognizable, fostering a deeper connection with your audience.


This voice should reflect your personality or brand, be consistent across all content, and resonate with your audience.



The Role of Originality and Innovation in Thought Leadership

Originality and innovation are key differentiators in thought leadership content. Originality implies offering unique perspectives, not merely rehashing existing ideas.


Innovation, on the other hand, involves challenging the status quo, proposing new ideas, and providing solutions to existing problems.


By bringing original and innovative ideas to the table, you position yourself as a trailblazer in your field, encouraging your audience to see things from new angles.


This cements your reputation as a thought leader and helps your content stand out in a crowded digital space.


Use Data and Evidence to Support Your Content

Thought leadership content should not be based on opinions alone; it needs to be grounded in facts and supported by data. Utilizing relevant data, case studies, and research findings lends credibility to your content and reinforces your arguments.


When presenting data, ensure it's from reliable sources and is presented accurately. Be mindful of the context, and don't manipulate data to fit your narrative. Visual representations, like charts or infographics, can help make complex data easier to understand.


Moreover, it's important to explain the significance of the data and link it back to your message. This helps your audience appreciate the relevance of the data and grasp your point more effectively.


Distribute your content effectively

Once you've developed your thought leadership content, selecting the right channels for distribution is crucial.


The chosen platform should align with your audience's consumption habits, the nature of your content, and your brand's image.


For long-form, in-depth content like white papers or case studies, your company's website or professional networking sites like LinkedIn might be appropriate. For more casual or visual content, platforms like Instagram or YouTube could be a better fit.


Consider multi-channel distribution to expand your reach, but remember that every platform has its own 'language.'


Adapt your content to fit the norms and expectations of each channel, whether it's writing an engaging caption for Instagram or crafting a compelling LinkedIn post.


SEO matters, a lot

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plays a pivotal role in making your thought leadership content discoverable. By optimizing your content for relevant keywords, you increase its visibility on search engine results, which can significantly boost traffic to your content.


However, SEO is not just about keywords. It's also about creating quality content that provides value to the reader.


Search engines reward content that is engaging, well-structured, and valuable, seeing it as a signal that the content is worth ranking.


Consider also other aspects of SEO, such as mobile optimization, page load speed, and using meta tags and descriptions, which can affect your content's search engine rankings.


Nail your social media game

Social media is a powerful tool for promoting thought leadership content. It offers a platform for sharing content, engaging with the audience, and fostering a community around your ideas.


Share your content on appropriate social media platforms, and use these channels to start discussions, answer questions, and engage with your audience.


Networking, both online and offline, is also invaluable. Building relationships with other professionals can open opportunities for collaborations, guest posting, or content sharing on their platforms.


Attend industry events, webinars, and online forums to connect with like-minded professionals and potential audience members.


Common mistakes when writing thought leadership content

Lack of Originality:

This is, by far, the most common mistake. Simply rehashing what others have said won't establish you as a thought leader. Thought leadership requires offering unique perspectives and fresh insights.


If you’re working with a client who isn’t willing to spend a lot of time, get their resume. If they’ve appeared on podcasts or videos, get the links. Learn as much as you can about the client.


Everything that you say must fit the profile of your client.


To write with context is the biggest secret to success when writing thought leadership content.


Ignoring Audience Needs:

Focusing solely on what you want to say without considering what your audience needs to hear can lead to disengagement. Always ensure your content resonates with your audience's interests and concerns.


This does not mean that you begin pandering to the audience, of course. But what this means is that you need to be aware of what your audience wants. Try and align your content and their needs as best as you can.


Inconsistency:

Sporadic posting or inconsistency in your voice and message can confuse your audience and dilute your impact. Maintain a regular posting schedule and ensure your content consistently reflects your voice and narrative.


This doesn’t mean that you carpet-bomb your audience with content. It’s alright to post only one article a week. But you must post one article every week. It’s alright if you want to tweet only once a day. But make sure you’re definitely posting one tweet every single day.


Neglecting Engagement:

Simply publishing content and ignoring the conversation it sparks is a missed opportunity. Engage with your audience's comments and questions to build a community around your ideas.


And building a community is more important than you might think. You get to learn from your peers and have interesting conversations, of course. But social media algorithms also reward content that sees a lot of engagement. So, by taking some time out to talk to people, you’re also helping yourself!


2 Tips to create fantastic thought leadership content

Maintain credibility but don’t sound pretentious:

Maintaining credibility in thought leadership is essential, but there's a fine line between sounding authoritative and sounding pretentious. Here are some strategies to maintain credibility:

  1. Stay Authentic: Speak from your genuine experiences and knowledge. Don’t claim expertise you don't have.

  2. Use Evidence: Support your claims with data, research, and factual evidence. This not only strengthens your arguments but also demonstrates your commitment to accuracy and integrity.

  3. Acknowledge Different Perspectives: Respect the diversity of opinions in your field. You can disagree with others, but do so respectfully, acknowledging the validity of their views.

  4. Admit Mistakes: If you make a mistake, own up to it. This humility enhances your credibility and humanizes your persona.

To avoid sounding pretentious, avoid overcomplicating your language, keep your content accessible, and remember that your role is not to lecture but to engage in a conversation.


Balance promotion and value creation

While it's important to promote your content and personal brand, striking a balance between promotion and value creation is crucial. Overly promotional content can turn off your audience, while insufficient promotion can limit your reach.


Ensure your content delivers significant value to the audience. This value could be in the form of insights, solutions, inspiration, or practical advice. Your promotional efforts should then focus on highlighting this value rather than self-aggrandizement.


In your promotion, always make it about the audience – what they'll learn, how they'll benefit, and why they should care. This audience-centric approach ensures your promotion enhances rather than undermines your value proposition.


Conclusion

Thought leadership content isn’t the easiest to write, but it’s not impossible either. Make sure you speak to your clients a lot, understand what they have to offer, and start building from there. Results shouldn’t be too far behind.


In the meantime, if you’re looking for high-paying writing jobs, check out Simple Job Listings. All jobs on Simple Job Listings are remote, most pay amazingly well, and a significant number of jobs that we post aren’t listed anywhere else.


Visit Simple Job Listings and find amazing remote writing and editing jobs. Good luck!


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