Thought leadership is now a fundamental part of public relations efforts, so much so that if advancing thought leadership isn’t a part of an overall PR strategy, you’re likely missing out on opportunities.
What is thought leadership?
At its most basic, thought leadership is the demonstration of area expertise to target audiences. Expertise is typically divided into three main areas: industry expertise, product expertise, or organizational expertise. Target audiences can be internal or external, and peers or consumers. It all depends on what your business goals are, and how your PR plan supports those goals.
Building thought leadership can help an organization build their brand and secure more media coverage. Developing a good thought leadership program begins with figuring out which business goals you want thought leadership to support, and then identifying the right people to put forward as thought leaders. You’ll want to look to people within the organization who are experts and willing to put themselves “out there,” whether that means attaching their name to a white paper or blog post or talking to the media.
What defines thought leaders?
Thought leaders are the people who immediately come to mind when you think about a company or industry—these are individuals who have such a deep knowledge of a field that others seek them out. Their opinions are valued and trusted. They are sought-after speakers and are frequently featured in media outlets. Essentially, they are the “go-to” resources who can speak on their topics with ease.
Thought leaders provide something of value to audiences—namely, their expertise. Knowledge-sharing is probably the most important attribute of an effective thought leader. Providing insight into an issue or an answer to a challenging problem or simply getting an audience to look at something in a different way—these are the ways thought leaders offer something back to their audiences.
When looking to find thought leaders within your own organization, it’s not always the most charismatic people who make the best thought leaders (although that doesn’t hurt!). What you are really looking for are those who convey a high level of competence and understanding of the issues within their field of expertise.
Using monitoring to track effectiveness
Once you have identified an appropriate thought leader (or thought leaders) within your organization, you’ll want to set up your media monitoring to track effectiveness.
First and foremost, make sure to establish a baseline. This is important because if you’re looking to measure change, you do so from a point in time. For each thought leader, run a search to see how visible they are across key publications, and note the results.
Next, you’ll want to make sure your monitoring catches content and appearances by your thought leader and immediate and long-term reactions. Shares, for example, are a good way of tracking the effectiveness of your thought leader’s message—people will share information or insight that they find valuable or interesting.
The complexity of your searches is dependent on a few factors: how common your thought leaders’ names are, how specialized the industry is, and even how much overall press the industry receives. Developing thought leaders in aerospace engineering will present different challenges than developing thought leaders in financial services, for example.
If you need help determining a baseline or working with complex searches, seek out a monitoring partner to give you some assistance. Because the correct setup will have a direct impact on the accuracy of your monitoring and analysis, it’s important to get it right.
Expanding thought leadership is an excellent way to build brand authority—and, this is an important aspect to monitor. Brand authority or the trust audiences have in your brand, is shaped by many factors. Most of these factors are trackable—audience opinion, response to issues or crises, and general sentiment are all important points to monitor.
Effective thought leadership will increase brand authority over time. As spokespeople for the organization become better-recognized thought leaders, the net effect should be an increase in trust. Whether this is trust in a product or the industry depends on the business goals your thought leadership program is supporting.
How do you measure increased trust? An increase in positive sentiment, increased mentions of thought leaders, higher positive engagement with social content, and increased tracking of key messages are all signs that point to increased trust. These aspects are measured in mainstream media and public social content—essentially any outlets that are consumed by the general public.
You can also look to other business metrics, such as sales, or increases in search volume and website visits. When a brand’s authority is increasing, its audiences respond positively, and with more passion.
Advancing thought leadership also helps to establish authority within an industry. Industry recognition can be a somewhat narrower band to track, but in many ways, the monitoring results are simpler to attribute to specific actions.
That’s because industry publications are targeted. When you secure positive coverage in an industry publication, you know that the audience will be smaller than the general public—but far more relevant.
It helps to have goals that are specific to an industry if you are hoping to leverage thought leadership as a way to achieve greater industry recognition. For example, you can set a goal of one of your thought leaders being extended an invitation to speak at a premier industry conference. Or, you can set targets related to industry publications, such as being featured in one or more within a set time frame.
Cultivating thought leaders within your organization, or building a PR plan that includes thought leadership for a client, is an essential part of a well-rounded public relations program. And, tracking that success through a well-designed media monitoring and analysis program can help you to identify what is working and which thought leaders are succeeding in meeting organizational goals.