How to Be a Thought Leader When Anyone Can Be a Self-proclaimed “Influencer” These Days

By the SMU Social Media Team

In a time when Instagram personalities have been caught passing off stock photos as their own work, and every other person you know has the title “influencer” or “public figure” in their social media bio, the road to establishing yourself as any kind of expert is often met with a huge dose of scepticism.

Earlier last year, Facebook Asia-Pacific head of agency Neil Stewart hilariously dubbed faux influencers as little more than Z-list celebrities—and with good reason. Just because someone has a blog and a decent social media following does not immediately mean that they have any real influence or expertise.

Conversely, real experts often get lost in the information overload just because they aren’t as assertive as Elon Musk on Twitter. How then could someone build a credible personal brand and be a true thought leader amidst influencer fatigue? Here are some ideas:


1. Keep it real

First, reflect on whether you have the chops to be a true opinion leader. Before you start building a personal brand, you need to have established a strong knowledge base and actual expertise. Be a consummate life-long learner and always strive to be at the forefront of your field. After all, how else will you be able to shed new light on your area of interest?

More importantly, if you’re going to give an opinion or recommendation, be sure that you actually believe in it. Think about it: if renowned investor Warren Buffett didn’t believe in what he was recommending, he’d certainly not attach his name to it.

Pro-tip: Sign up for Google Alerts on trending news of relevant topics to keep abreast of the latest developments. Also, broaden your area of expertise by taking up short, professional courses such as those offered by SMU Academy.


2. Identify your personal brand

Establish a niche within your field, and build a profile as an authority in that area. Perhaps you have an interest in social media marketing—could you perhaps be an opinion leader in live video content or social commerce? Creating a small niche for a start will be a great way for you to stand out against big-time key opinion leaders. You can always broaden your area of expertise as you go along.


3. Go beyond a single platform

Break out of your comfort zone and expand your presence to a wide range of channels. A blog is a great place to start to share your insights. However, to really grow your brand equity, you need to be active on social media. Also, consider being a guest on podcasts, or on other websites. These appearances could then grow into further channels for content marketing—such as developing your own YouTube channel interviewing other experts; or being a keynote speaker at real-life networking events. You might also like to consider contributing to platforms like Medium as an easy outlet for creating greater exposure (and backlinks) for yourself.


4. Create a variety of content

Don’t get stuck in just one form of content. Great at writing in-depth and more academic-style essays? Try adapting them into short listicles, how-to cheat sheets, infographics, slideshows and videos. Better yet, milk that content and produce an e-book that can be gated and accessed only by subscribers of your platform—this one useful strategy for lead generation. The different formats and channels will allow you to reach different audience networks and up the shareability of your content—even if the essential information remains the same.

Pro-tip: Check out content marketing tips from sites such as Hubspot’s Blog, Contently’s Blog, and Content Marketing Institute


5. Engage, share and learn every day

It’s important to make connections and engage with active members and fellow thought leaders in your field. The fact is no one individual can really claim to know everything. With change being a constant, every day is an opportunity to gain new knowledge. By making a concerted effort to share your knowledge and listening to the different opinions of other experts, you’ll find that not only will your network grow but so will your scope of knowledge.

Pro-tip: Join relevant community groups on LinkedIn. This is one of the best places to connect with professionals and engage in discussions.