Yardsticks to be considered a credible thought leader


We live in the era of information marketing, so just being good at what you do is not enough. The ability to be found, be regarded credible and establish oneself as a subject or industry expert attracts eyeballs, the money, the customers, even the employees. Organizations with inspiring experts at the helm have the competitive edge in terms of both business and reputation. Recognized experts who work as independent consultants, writers and entrepreneurs run higher chances of being trusted with critical projects and funding.

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In the era of social media cults and tribe-like followings, charismatic, talented, inspiring C-Suite, such as the likes of Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Larry Page (Google), Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) and Anand Mahindra (Mahindra & Mahindra) and Vanita Narayanan (IBM) closer home, have the ability to attract the market’s top talents.

Building one’s credibility as an expert does not always need an endless stream of billion dollar deals or one’s name on the global power listicles. Although, nothing succeeds quite like the success of a Fortune 500 CEO, so these do help.

As an entrepreneur who is striking out on his own, an ambitious mid-level employee, an independent political and social commentator, or a PR consultant tasked with designing executive communication, what are some of the essentials of a good thought leadership reputation program? What does it take to establish one’s reputation as an expert?

Pick a subject close to your heart

People tweet a lot about governments. Does that make them policy experts the public can look up to? No, it doesn’t. Before one gets on the bandwagon of blue tick marks on Twitter, or a cult following in the industry, it is important to know what their core strengths are.

In my experience in executive communication, I started with an open-ended conversation with CEOs on the topics and causes they felt the most strongly about. It ranged from leadership and effective work-life balance skills from a tech CEO to responsible travel from a B2B services CEO, in addition to their niche work subjects. A good balance of subject matter expertise and life skills one has picked up along the way makes for interesting, authentic content. 

Choose platforms wisely

Is the subject is better suited for long-form content? A blog or LinkedIn pulse is the best bet. Want to engage with young people within the industry? Go to Quora and Twitter. Working your way towards becoming a recognized independent designer? The rich visuals of Instagram help. Choosing the platforms that can really work for you is the first, most important step towards finding relevant, engaged audience. 

Offer well-researched data and fresh insights

Regurgitating universal knowledge is convenient but rarely effective. Offer fresh theories, ideas and new perspectives, but back them up to be credible. Offer industry predictions, new ways to do things, drive change from the front, comment on social impact of trends and unsettling truths, and watch your audience get increasingly engaged in what you have to say.

Network right

If you have a full-time job other than being a social media or industry influencer, then being seen at every networking event, coming up with 10,000 word op-eds on every small development and spending all your time on Twitter does more harm than good. Network selectively but with people who matter. Most importantly, have meaningful conversations.

Speak like a human being

This is especially tough if you are in a niche industry. But offering your opinions in a comprehensible plain speak is harder than indulging in jargons that only you and your echo chamber understands. Be funny, if humour comes naturally to you. Engage in dialogue with people on the peripheries of your industry, including young, articulate fresh graduates. Be a mentor when you can.

In a world where everyone who can string sentences correctly can find a voice and a platform, becoming a self-proclaimed expert is not difficult. But credibility takes more than a voice and a platform. Even having thousands of Twitter followers does not translate to being a true thought leader. Getting into a position where people seek your opinions on the matters you care about is hard, constant work. It needs years of focus, true knowledge, a deep understanding of the impact of your industry and its trends, and the ability to articulate them.