Online marketing has changed rapidly in just a decade’s time, and social media is more important now than it ever has been before. Understanding the value of being a social influencer is not just important; it’s vital to your own success, either as a personal brand or a company.
Now, we all know it’s gospel that you have to cultivate your personal brand, but because just about everyone has one nowadays, simply having a brand isn’t sufficient if you want to outshine the competition. That’s where establishing yourself as a thought leader comes into play. Good employees and good executives are nice to have, but thought leaders are irreplaceable — and indispensible!
So how do you build a reputation as a singular expert — someone who doesn’t just participate in the conversation, but drives it?
Let’s go off-piste here and take David Bowie as an example. He wasn’t the greatest vocalist, or even the greatest musician on the 1970s market, yet he was regularly labeled as a pioneer, an innovator, and a huge cultural influencer. Whatever Bowie did, the world followed suit, so let’s look at why.
Bowie’s creative process was bold and inspiring, and it translates into many fields, including yours and mine. He was poetic yet exact, and he had a compelling vision that both required and exuded fearlessness. He viewed himself as an instigator of new ideas with the intent of turning people on to new perspectives, and he transformed ordinary ideas into his own. He collaborated with other influencers and he always embraced change.
In my view, it was Bowie’s evolving process of personal brand marketing that not only made him an iconic pop star, but also infinitely interesting to his audience. Based on that observation, here are six things you should be doing in order to become both a powerful brand and an influential thought leader:
- Be Courageous
Create a robust online and offline presence that rocks the boat by questioning popular concepts and tipping “sacred cows” with new and innovative ideas. Dare to be different, and develop your credibility as a cow-tipper by taking to the stage. You don’t need to wear a silver jumpsuit and dye your hair orange, but you do need to bring confidence, conviction, and strong reasoning to the table when speaking, whether that be in person at a conference, through your blog, or simply when posting on social media. If you’re not naturally outgoing then book yourself a few sessions with a public speaking coach — it’ll be worth every penny.
- Transform Ordinary Ideas Into Your Own
I’m probably not the first to view Bowie’s rise to superstardom as the ideal model for building your brand. Similarly, Ziggy Stardust, Bowie’s most famous invented character, was modeled on Vince Taylor (i.e. someone else). My point is that while original ideas are few and far between, it’s always interesting — and usually very helpful — to give your audience a fresh perspective on things. If that perspective ruffles a few feathers, all the better, because then it’s likely to start a comments-section debate, which is EXACTLY what you want.
So, just because your competitors are killing it with thought leadership already, that does not mean that YOU can’t follow their lead. Additionally, if their content has already touched a nerve on the inter-webs, then why not leverage that signal by creating a similar, better piece of content? Just sayin’!
Two words: Under Pressure.
“Under Pressure” was Bowie’s iconic collaboration with Freddie Mercury — something that still gives me goose bumps to this very day!
Collaboration amid social spheres is central to elevating your profile because there’s undeniably an “if you follow me, I’ll follow you” sense of social courtesy out there that is often referred to as “marketing mindfulness.” When you reference someone else – particularly by dropping a hyperlink into your blog that directs your readers to observe the expert insights of another thought leader – then you will eventually start to see thought leaders doing the same for you, and driving a whole new audience over to you in the process. In addition, referencing names, websites, whitepapers, and publications that are instantly recognizable and credible to your industry asserts your level of professionalism, adds gravitas, and shows that you’ve done your homework. It won’t hurt your SEO rankings either.
The key thing here, and always, is to write good content that will relate and appeal to the audiences of your industry’s most successful bloggers, thought leaders, and key influencers. Some of the best advice on how to do this comes from David Meerman Scott, the trailblazing online marketing strategist and author of the bestselling book “The New Rules of Marketing & PR”.
See what I did there?
- Embrace Change
David Bowie was labeled the ultimate chameleon. His career was one of constant reinvention and creative exploration, and your quest for brand recognition should be the same. All successful brands have gone through, and will continue to go through, an evolution process. That’s what keeps people engaged, because ideas and marketing campaigns that stood out before will eventually get replicated and tired, particularly if they were very good ones.
That’s why I advocate tipping “sacred cows” on a repetitive basis, which in turn harks back to my advice about being courageous. Keep yourself abreast of what’s trending on social media, involved with hot topics of discussion within your industry, and innovative with your views on current issues. There’s nothing wrong with changing your opinion about something either — just be sure to tell people why.
How much we can relate to others — particularly on a human level — is what draws us to them, and people will be drawn to your brand and what you have to say in much the same way. Your audience wants something they can relate to, something that stirs their emotions. So ask yourself: what does my audience care about today — right this minute? It could be the future of their business, or it could be the future of their country; but whatever it is, you need to tap in to that. You need to be a voice for the times.
- Integrate Your Tactics
Bowie was a singer, a songwriter, a playwright, an actor, a fashion designer, and a painter. He integrated his brand across all channels and wasn’t afraid to reinvent his brand whenever a new and better idea came to the fore. The Man Who Fell to Earth, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and The Elephant Man were all different expressions of the same brand, but they all confirmed the same thing: that David Bowie could be brilliant at whatever he put his mind to and could reinvent himself to satisfy any time and any audience.
Today’s consumers are spoilt for choice by the vast variety of services being offered to them everywhere they turn, but what if they were to discover that a number of these attractive services were actually leading them to one place? What if your brand was impressive and far reaching enough to reassure them that they need only make the request, and you would find a way to deliver beyond expectation?
Be everything your clients need you to be, on different levels, across different channels, in different countries, and wearing different outfits! If you refuse to limit your approach to marketing, then there will be no limit to whom and how far you can reach, and how prominent your brand can become.
- Be Patient yet Persistent
Sadly, there’s no fast-track ticket to international prominence (unless you’re doing a live TV interview with the BBC and your kids come dancing into the room behind you), but if you’re looking for the right place to start then writing a blog is particularly good because it showcases your knowledge and expertise. It’s a Shakespearian tragedy that most blogs are unloved and unread, but as with most worthwhile things, that will change with a little time and persistence.
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: having good content is absolutely key to acquiring a large following of the right people, but so is making friends with other bloggers to create a virtuous, networked circle — something we touched on earlier.
No matter how brilliant and talented you are, or how much of an expert you are in your field, you won’t be sufficiently appreciated within your organization or by your customers until the broader public recognizes you.
David Bowie once said:
“I don’t know where I’m going, but I know it won’t be boring.”
There is an important lesson for us all in that if we want to be successful at social influencing.