More and more, as I work with clients on content planning, I get requests for “thought leadership” content. But that’s where the direction ends. Oftentimes, when I ask what those thoughts might be, there are no answers. And sometimes we have a difficult time even coming up with who in the organization could lend their byline to such a piece. 

Thought leadership is a content marketing buzzword that everyone wants to get in on, but I’m here to take the pressure off. We all want to have the next big idea that’s going to take the industry by storm, but such things can’t be forced. Not everyone is a thought leader. Not every business has a thought leader in its ranks. And that’s OK. Really. 


So, first, what is thought leadership?

To be a true thought leader, you need to have an original, you know, thought. You need to be the first person to have an idea, method or product. You need to be asking new questions and doing original research and solving problems. You need to be the first person to introduce a wellness program into a corporate environment. The first person to suggest mobile bank deposits. Or the first to ask, “What if robots could assist in surgery?” Basically, you need to be Bill Gates or Elon Musk. 

True thought leaders are rare, and not every organization has one. 


But how will my articles get picked up if there’s no thought leadership?

Obviously, putting out groundbreaking ideas is going to garner attention. But if you’re not truly providing thought leadership, then your content will probably be picked up at the same frequency with or without that spin. 

The way to get traction for your articles is to present your take on industry news or a new way to think about things. You might not have had the original idea, but maybe (hopefully) your company is doing something really interesting in the space. You don’t need to be first. You need to be thoughtful


How do you know if I’m a thought leader?

Here’s how I know: When I press for details, do I get blank stares or do I get answers? If you’re really leading on a topic, you should be able to talk a writer through your idea. If I can read other articles about this same idea and fill in the gaps for you, then you aren’t truly a thought leader. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have something new to add to the conversation. Maybe it’s a localized perspective, for example, or you’re able to tweak the idea for small businesses as opposed to large enterprises. 


But I really, really want to do thought leadership pieces.

I get it. I do. And by all means, share your ideas and insights. (Like how I am right now.) But let’s think of it less as thought leadership and more of expertise sharing. Unless you have a groundbreaking idea that would get you on the TED stage, focus simply on producing engaging, informative content that gives your audience something they can use. In time, you’ll be recognized as an expert in your field. And being an expert is pretty darn important, too.