One way to get ahead in your career is through thought leadership—public speaking, presenting webinars, podcasting, writing for publication (online or print), blogging, and participating in social media. These activities increase your visibility, develop your credibility, demonstrate your expertise, and plant seeds for attracting direct client contacts and referrals. You want to be known, easily found, and top of mind by differentiating yourself from the rest of your competition.
An added bonus is that, as you prepare each piece for posting, publication, or presentation, you get further educated on the subject and clarify the issues in your mind—further building your expertise.
While there are significant benefits to you, the underlying purpose for every piece is to provide value to your audiences by imparting helpful, useable information on subjects that interest and concern them. You cannot be all things to all people and, although you want broad exposure, you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. You need to target your efforts and develop thought leadership in specific, identifiable niches.
First, define your audience or audiences. Who are you trying to reach? Past, present, and prospective clients? A new industry sector? Get specific.
As legal search consultants, for example, our target audiences are:
- Prospective candidates: lawyers, job seekers, and women/diversity job seekers specifically, as DEI is important to us and our clients;
- Prospective clients: law firms, in-house counsel, law firm recruiting professionals, in-house recruiting personnel, hiring partners, managing partners, other hiring authorities;
- Pipeline: law students, pre-law students, law school career services, career services personnel in other institutions of higher education; and
- Referrals and split deal/joint venture sources: other legal recruiters, career coaches, and related consultants.
The next step is to determine content themes or general subject areas for your speeches, publications, and social media engagement. What would be of value to your defined audiences? What interests you? You’ll be more effective in consistently and diligently researching, developing expertise, and presenting your knowledge if you’re fascinated by the subject.
For instance, our content generally revolves around the following themes:
- Job search and recruiting tips and topics applicable to the legal industry and in the broader marketplace;
- Trends in the legal profession;
- Women/diversity issues in the legal profession or the workplace generally; plus
- A few holiday-related posts and some highlights of our more interesting search assignments for variety.
Focus! Stick to business (but be personable and approachable) and concentrate on only one or two social media channels to maximize your efforts and manage your time. For professionals, LinkedIn is the primary social media channel. Many businesses use Meta (Facebook), Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels, but establish a strong presence on LinkedIn first and expand to others later, if at all. Create a business page and fill it out fully.
For how-to tips, you can find social media experts on LinkedIn—of course! Follow them and learn.
In addition to regularly posting new content, periodically pop online to like, comment, and share relevant posts by others. This makes you more visible and amplifies the reach of other content posters—with the hopes they’ll do the same for you and your posts. Connect with and follow others who may be useful sources for you and whose posts you find interesting and thought-provoking. Stick to your content themes and avoid anything controversial, however.
Don’t get discouraged by low engagement numbers – you probably have a much larger “ghost audience” than you thought (people who read your posts but don’t engage for a variety of reasons). We’re constantly surprised by people who tell us they read our posts religiously but never leave a clue.
Becoming a thought leader requires consistent effort and builds over time—but it pays off. We now are contacted regularly by potential candidates and, just recently, were contacted through LinkedIn by two companies to fill high level in-house positions. Recruiters across the country refer candidates and request to joint venture with us on searches because they know our name and, on the basis of what we’ve written and posted, are confident that we know the marketplace. Reporters reach out to us for quotes and information when writing their stories, which further bolsters our reputations as experts.
Public speaking and writing for posting or publication may not be for you, and that’s OK. You can find other ways to differentiate yourself. It’s about doing what you love, which usually is what you’re good at. If you enjoy it, you’ll be more likely to actually spend time and effort doing it and will consistently work to improve over the long haul. Keep at it. Eventually, you’ll be known as a thought leader in your niche—and will reap its rewards.