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When you're influential, everyone knows it. That's why so many companies want to build influence.

The problem is that a company can't build influence. Only its people can.

Now, you might argue that companies can leverage their proprietary systems, information, products, services, or solutions to build influence. That's true. However, everything on that list was created by people.

So a company can become influential only when its people become influential. And the fastest way for people to gain influence is by becoming thought leaders.

Thought leadership is an important business differentiator. Edelman recently released a study on the impact of thought leadership. Fully 64% of survey participants based a company's trustworthiness and competencies on its thought leadership messaging, not its marketing, researchers found. And 63% said they used corporate thought leadership to decide whether a company understood their challenges.

Here's the best part about thought leadership, though: It's not an exclusive, invite-only club. Anyone in your organization can learn how to become a thought leader: you, your executives, your best customer service representative. As long as someone has deep expertise and is excited to share it, that person can stand out in a big way.

How do you begin to improve your corporate influence by bolstering your organization's thought leaders, including you? Here are six paths you can take that will position your company as a market leader.

1. Give actual employees bylines on your company's blog

Have you ever noticed that many organizations sign their blog posts under a generic name? "The Team at X Corp." "The Totally Unique Group." "The Generic Co. Marketing Department." That is a waste of a byline, and it throws away a perfect opportunity to promote one of your established or budding thought leaders.

Each time you publish a post on your company blog, have it bylined by someone on your team. Highlight that person's expertise in a short bio. That way, readers will feel an emotional connection, particularly if what's being written resonates with them.

Genuine connections are golden, especially if you're a B2B brand trying to win leads.

In B2B marketing, having influence means having the power to cause an effect. The effect of a properly bylined, well-written, educational thought leadership blog post is to move readers toward making the decision to engage with and ultimately work with your company.

2. Treat influence-building among your team members as an ongoing commitment

Let's look at a hypothetical situation to illustrate this point. Say you spent 2018-2020 becoming a go-to thought leader in your field. Smart move. By 2020, you had built a ton of influence in your space, and that influence was naturally passed on to your company, which made it easier to get clients. Then, the pandemic hit, and you decided to stop focusing on thought leadership as much.

Yet, another business owner used the pandemic as a chance to swoop in and become the thought leader whom everyone—including many of your leads and clients—needed during a difficult season. Because you'd gone silent, you left that opportunity open for your competitor. And when audience members decided they're ready to buy again, they were more likely to approach that other company because they felt supported by that person and, by extension, that brand.

The two morals of this story:

  1. You can't build influence overnight. It takes time and buy-in to build the thought leaders in your organization from the ground up.
  2. You have to nurture the process and be consistent—even when other priorities vie for your attention.

3. Tailor all your thought leadership messaging

You can't build influence unless you know whom you're trying to influence. For instance, you can't just try to influence a far-reaching general business audience. It would be better to focus your thought leadership content on the interests of a more niche audience.

The more lightning-focused your audience is, the simpler it is to tailor your thought leadership delivery, tone, and information. Instead of trying to write an article or create a video that will appeal to everyone, concentrate on a select population.

Don't worry: That doesn't mean you have to focus only on one narrow audience forever. You might be able to repurpose some of your messaging and customize it for a different audience, allowing you to get the most mileage out of your thought leadership content.

4. Identify your thought leaders' unique points of view

"Unique" is a critical word in the world of thought leadership. You can't build influence around points that others are already actively covering. You don't get to ride on the coattails of someone else's influence. If there's nothing new you can bring to a conversation, your influence is minor at best.

That means you have to take time to figure out what you and your company's thought leaders know that's unique.

What does each thought leader at your organization bring to the table? It might be a theory, a backstory, or a philosophy that seems fresh and original.

Home in on what makes your business's influencers special. That way, you can use the uniqueness as a springboard to create content, give interviews, deliver keynote addresses, and engage in all the activities that thought leaders regularly do.

5. Give others the megaphone

Although it's fine to publish thought leadership information through your company, it's even better if you can sometimes let others do the talking for you. A referral or testimonial goes a long way toward validating a thought leader's expertise. It means much more to audiences if someone else talks about how great a thought leader is.

Of course, you might need to help others open up and share. That can be done in many ways, including by securing press. Making yourself available to credible journalists, editors, and columnists gives them the green light to tap into your insights when they need quotes for their content.

Being mentioned in a published article on a respected site is a wonderful way to build third-party credibility, not to mention influence. As a side benefit, you can get some solid SEO juice if the piece includes a backlink to your company site.

6. Apply for speaking gigs and relevant industry awards

Every industry has its conventions and awards. If you haven't already, put your name and your colleagues' names in the running for honors. At the same time, be on the lookout for calls for presenters or speakers. Event organizers are always looking for influential people to speak at meetings or participate in panel discussions.

Thought leaders don't necessarily have to travel to showcase their abilities and expand their influence. Virtual events have stuck around as viable ways for businesspeople to exchange knowledge and grow their networks.

* * *

You've spent years developing yourself as a professional. Your most talented coworkers have, too. Together, you can set out to become recognized thought leaders.

When you do, your company's influential reputation will come along for the ride.

More Resources on Thought Leader Influence

Using Research for Content and Thought Leadership with Michele Linn

How to Find Your Company's Most Powerful Thought Leaders--and Your Company 'Story'

How Not to Think About Thought Leadership (and How to Do It Right)

How to Build Thought Leadership [Webinar]

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Six Ways to Build Brand Influence Using Thought Leaders in Your Organization

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image of Becky Ruyle

Becky Ruyle is the VP of marketing at Influence & Co., a content marketing agency that helps its clients achieve measurable business results through content marketing.

LinkedIn: Becky Ruyle