Recently, one of our clients said that on LinkedIn, everyone is now calling themselves a thought leader. It’s like the term was just discovered and now it has become the “in” word for all types of people and organizations.
Well, more people/organizations may be referring to themselves as thought leaders, but the term is certainly not new. The Oxford English Dictionary dates it back to 1887. That is when author Henry Ward Beecher was referred to as “one of the great thought leaders in America.”
But then, the term vanished. It was not mentioned again, at least in the American press, until 1990, when the Wall Street Journal used it to describe the success of intellectually stimulating magazines such as the MIT Technology Review, The Economist, and The National Review.
At the same time, Silicon Valley took off. In the 1990s, Thought Leaders started crawling out of the woodwork, beginning with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, and many more.
However, only some of these early Thought Leaders were recognized as Thought Leaders at the time. Their ideas and the products they invented or promoted were interesting but often viewed as passing fancies.
Case in Point:
In 1967, inventor Douglas Engelbart developed the computer mouse. For about five years, there was no interest in it. In 1973, Xerox added Engelbart’s mouse to one of its copiers. However, users preferred pushing buttons and not pushing a mouse around. It was removed from the system after a couple of years. It was not until a decade later that the computer mouse found its niche.
Thought Leaders Crawl Out of the Woodwork
It was not until the early 2000s that thoughts, inventions, business styles, and abilities of Thought Leaders became honored and appreciated. These Thought Leaders were singular in many ways, but they all had a few essential characteristics in common:
- They could drive conversations about their passions, get others to support them, feel excited about them, and follow them.
- They introduced and championed innovative ideas and new ways of thinking, which opened the doors to new possibilities.
- They had what can only be described as intellectual “firepower.”
- They created entirely new mindsets for addressing challenges.
- They advanced pioneering ideas that most people had never thought of before.
- They had market foresight and recognized market trends long before others. This foresight often led to the introduction of new products and services not offered by others.
- Most importantly, they could clearly articulate these ideas in writing or oral presentations so that everyone could understand them and the points they were making.
Although most of these Thought Leaders share these key components, one more thing we must add:
To become a true Thought Leader, they had to earn the trust and recognition of those in the companies in which they worked, along with prospects, customers, and the public. As their ideas, products, and directions proved valuable, they became recognized as authorities in their respective fields.
These early thought leaders became well-known not by using social media but by getting published in trade and consumer magazines. They made their name by getting noticed in business and consumer publications – which is still true today.
This also means it was content — written words — that helped them become leaders, again true today.
Today, Thought Leaders – individuals and organizations – use content marketing to get known. Through content marketing, they establish a reputation and become trusted authorities. Kept up regularly, these leaders grow their audience. As they do, more prospects and customers recognize their insights and value their ideas, turning their expertise into profits.
Robert “Content King” Kravitz is president of AlturaSolutions Communications LLC., a content marketing and trade publication publishing firm. The company works with B2B organizations, promoting the value of their products, services, and expertise. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.