How to Be a Thought Leader and Grow Your Business Online [30 Minute Webinars]

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Hey everybody, this is Rich Brooks from flyte new media and thanks for tuning in to another one of our 30 minute webinars where we try and get you in and out in 30 minutes. We do leave time for questions and answers afterwards. Plenty of time for you to be able to eat your lunch and enjoy whatever you brought to the desktop today, and enjoy these presentations as well.

Today is a brand new presentation for our 30 minute webinars. I have delivered this in person, but this is the first time I’ve converted it into a webinar, and it’s all about how to become a thought leader and grow your business online. So let’s jump in.

Now I have a few goals that I want to accomplish today. The first of which is I want to talk about what it means to become a thought leader. Then I want to talk about developing content that’s going to support your thought leadership. And I want to also talk about how to reach and engage your audience. That’s going to be the goals for today, we’ll see how we do.

When I first started doing research into this I started to look at what does thought leadership actually mean. And I saw a lot of different people had different opinions and different definitions of thought leaders. So I sat down and I kind of created a synergy of all the ones that were out there to something that resonated for me. And this is what I came up with; “Someone who offers insights, inspires innovation, and influences others based on their expertise and perspective in a given industry or on a specific topic.”  So insights, innovation, and influence, based on their expertise and perspective. And that’s for a given industry or a given topic.

So a lot of people may think, well how does thought leadership differ from influencers? And I feel that thought leadership is more about expertise in a vertical. And usually that expertise is internal, like its form within your own company. It could be you, it could be somebody else who works for you or with you, it doesn’t matter.

Influencers tend to be outside the company, and they may not have expertise in your individual or specific niche. And I’m not saying that one is better than the other, they both have benefits. But influencer is more about getting in front of new people and getting ‘likes’ and comments and shares on specific content. And thought leaders are really creating new types of content and showing the way forward.

So why is it important to focus on thought leadership? Well one is, having a thought leader on your team. And I’m going to talk about it going forward as if it’s you.

It’s a competitive advantage for any business. There’s a lot of reasons why this works for you, you can certainly attract new employees. A lot of people want to work with thought leaders, and they want to work on the same team as them. It certainly gives you the opportunity to increase your online visibility, which I’m going to share with you today. You get new opportunities, you’ll suddenly be asked to write books, to speak on panels or to speak in public, or to appear on TV or radio, you’ll be a news resource for journalists. And most importantly, maybe you can earn more. Thought leaders definitely get to set their own agenda when it comes to what they’re making. It certainly makes you a more valuable employee or a more productive boss.

So who am I anyways to be talking about all this sort of stuff? Well as you probably know my name is Rich Brooks and I’m the President of flyte new media, a digital agency here in Portland, Maine. We design websites and back them up with search engine optimization, social media, content marketing, and more. I founded The Agents of Change, a weekly podcast and annual conference all about search, social, and mobile marketing. I’m the Tech Guru on 207, which is the evening news program on the NBC affiliate here in Portland, Maine. I wrote a book called, The Lead Machine – The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing. And most recently I started a new project called Fast Forward Maine, which is a weekly podcast and a bi-monthly in person workshop all for growing Maine businesses.

So if you want to be a thought leader, you need to have followers. It’s been famously said that a leader without followers is just a man taking a walk. So let’s talk about some circles of influence that you may have control over. It all starts with you. And outside of you is immediately your family and friends. These people hopefully are going to love you no matter what you do.

Outside of that are acolytes. These are people who are not directly related to you but just absolutely love everything that you’re doing, everything that you’re saying, they subscribe to your newsletter and your podcast, your YouTube channel, they love sharing your content, they can’t wait until you publish something new.

Outside of that group are your fans. These are people who like what you have to say. They might subscribe to something, but they’re not going to go super out of their way to go find it. But they do tend to like it and they do ‘like’, comment, and share on what you publish.

The next group out are casual observers. They might stumble upon an article that you read or that you’ve written, they might listen to a podcast that you’re being interviewed on, but they’re not going to go out of their way to get more content from you.

And outside of that is everyone else. And part of your goal as a thought leader is to move people closer to that inner circle and closer to you.

Now partially because of the fact that I do focus on digital marketing I immediately start thinking about how can we take the ideas of thought leadership and turn them into content. That’s really the coin of the realm when it comes to digital marketing.

One circle is your expertise, and the other circle is what your audience is interested in. Remember we talked about a leader has to have followers, thought leadership is no different. In between those, where those meet up, that’s your sweet spot and that’s where you need to be creating content. The area that is, that’s the content that needs to be created.

So then you’re going to start thinking about, now I need to develop some content, what kind of content should I be developing. What I’ve seen out there is three different types of content that really lend themselves well to thought leadership.

The first one is research. Research can either be done by you, or it can be done by somebody else. So let me give you a couple of examples. Mike Stelzner – who founded Social Media Examiner and Social Media Marketing World – I remember years ago when he was just getting started in this arena of social media, it was really a wild west. But there were a few early influencers out there and he connected with them, and together he put out a survey of all the social media marketers out there at the time and asking them to provide feedback to take this survey. And for anybody that completed it he would share that research with them. And he did a really nice job, he bundled it all together, and he also had some great hooks in the content so the people would follow him on Twitter and otherwise engage with him. Through that research he created – and then he recreated every year – he established himself as a thought leader on social media. Something that he continues to do to this very day. Now you may not want to create your own research or not be able to create your own research.

And I would argue that Mike’s was not the most scientifically rigorous research out there, he was doing a survey. But even if you’re not, there are ways of working off of other people’s research. For example another person in my arena is Derek Halpern, and he decided to launch a digital marketing website blog called Social Triggers, and he admitted at the time it was a very competitive, maybe oversaturated market, but he found something that he could do better than anybody else. Which was to take these really deep research papers that were coming out in psychology magazines and distill them down to something that was really valuable to the average online marketer. He really turned Social Triggers into an institution because of what he was able to do. So he wasn’t creating his own research, he was just distilling it and explaining it in a way that resonated with his audience. So a couple of different ways you might approach research and develop your own thought leadership content.

You could also try to approach it being novel or contrarian, saying there’s a recession coming and there’s no way to avoid it. You might come out with some thought leadership pieces about how we can avoid the recession or why the recession is actually happening. That will get you noticed. Now whether or not you’re right or not may depend on whether people listen to you next or not.

And the other critical thing is to niche down. So it may be very difficult to be a thought leadership on automobiles. But it might be easier to be a thought leader on specific types of American made classic muscle cars built between 1956 and 1958. So think about whatever you offer or do, how can you niche down. It might be difficult to become a sports thought leader, but maybe not so much if you decide to become a thought leader in cricket or American football leagues that cater to women.

So really niche down and figure out what your focus is. It’s much easier and faster to fill a test tube than a bathtub. And by that I mean if you focus on a narrow niche you can quickly rise to the top of your profession. And then you can always expand from there. But if you try and go broad you’ll take forever to really build up any sort of momentum.

Once you start figuring out what kind of content you want, think about how you’re going to deliver this, and what type of content you want to deliver. And this can be written content, it can be auditory content, it can be visual content, or it can be live presentations.

Now because I’m a digital marketing guy I’m usually thinking about things that are specific to digital marketing. So for me I’m thinking about blogs, podcasts, YouTube, webinars, and social sites. So let’s break this down a little bit.

Blogging I think is a natural platform for thought leadership. And this is why. Blogs are easy to create, they’re easy to disseminate, and they’re easy to consume. By that I just mean that it’s easy for you to write a blog, it’s easy for you to get published and get the word out there, and then it’s easy for people to consume blogs. Every one of your followers, friends, family members, they know how to Google. And if they know how to Google they know how to get to a blog. There’s no special software they need, there’s no barriers set out there, and it’s very easy to get your information.

And also we talked about part of thought leadership is building a following. Well a blog has a built in commenting section, so one way that you might build a following is really pay attention to the people who are leaving comments. And unlike YouTube or social sites, you have complete control over this. So if you have a troll in there you can just kick him or her out and keep that conversation from going toxic. So this is a great way that you can really build an audience.

There are also some other great benefits for blogs. Blogs have SEO benefits, search engine optimization. They have social benefits, you can certainly share this content across all of your social platforms. And they have reach benefits. As I mentioned, it’s very easy to produce a blog and have it disseminated and then have people read your blog post.

Now some tips around blogs for thought leaders. One is to do your keyword research. Now I’m not going to get into keyword research right now, but it is very important if you want to leverage the SEO components or possibilities of your blog. I have another presentation that’s more focused on SEO, I’ll include a link to that in my follow-up email, you can check that out.

Email your list. You should be building a list of opt-in email subscribers, when that blog goes out let your people know. Let your tribe know. And then promote it on social with specific hashtags that are relevant to the topic and the industry. 

And if this is a really big piece – and I’m not saying do this on every blog post – but if this is really important that you want to get out there, reach out to friends and associates and acolytes before you even post this and say “Look, I’ve got this really important blog post coming out, it’s going to be published on this day at this time, I would love if you guys would get behind it and push this out and share this with your network.” Again, you don’t want to over use that, don’t go back to the well too often. But it is powerful.

Now podcasting, I also am a huge fan of podcasting, it’s very powerful. I would say that the audience is smaller compared to blogging I would guess, but I find it to be much more passionate. It’s a very intimate platform. People are often consuming your podcast while they have headphones or earbuds in, you are literally inside their head talking to them, and that does make a difference.

They can be consumed passively unlike a blog post or a video, I don’t have to be looking at anything. I can be consuming your podcast while I’m at the gym or while I’m commuting, or while I’m washing dishes. And although it’s a smaller audience, the number of platforms and listeners are both on the rise. Spotify getting into the podcast game earlier this year is definitely a game changer in terms of reach.

I know that flyte tends to attract a very local audience. A lot of people want to work with a digital agency that is local. However, because we have The Agents of Change Podcast we reach a much wider audience, and some of our best, recurring clients have come through the podcast and they never would have heard of us any other way. So a podcast can definitely be a great way of enhancing your thought leadership.

Some tips around this. Podcasts are all about building subscribers, so rally focus on building your subscriber base by promoting it in your podcast, by mentioning it in different places, but just get people to go to their favorite podcasting platform like Apple Podcasts, or Stitcher Radio, or Spotify, and get them to subscribe.

Podcasts are often delivered while we’re doing other things, and delivered on a small mobile device, so include calls to action that people out of that mindset and onto possibly a desktop computer or other way that you can engage with them. Maybe you want to have some sort of download relevant to a podcast, “If you want to learn more go to my website and you can download this.”

Have an online platform. Your podcast should not exist only as a podcast, you should have a website that has a section for a blog or podcast where people can listen to the podcast there is they don’t want to subscribe, and have at least show notes and maybe a full transcript of every episode.

Then there’s YouTube. Really this is all online video, but YouTube has such a great built in discovery platform in it, and I really recommend that YouTube is where you put your attention. YouTube is great for posting your presentation, so if you’re giving presentations, make sure somebody is videotaping at least a few of them and put those up to YouTube.

Now you may have thoughts in your head about what a thought leader is, but a thought leader exists in any industry. Let’s say that you’re an accountant and you want to show people how to do certain things on a spreadsheet. That would be a great YouTube video and a way of showing your thought leadership in that industry. In fact, really anything demonstrable, consider creating a YouTube channel and putting your videos up to YouTube.

Some tips around getting the most out of YouTube.  Use the search suggest for ideas. So start typing in something. If you want to be a thought leader in vegan cooking, go and type in “how to cook vegan“, and then let YouTube show you all the searches that people have done in the past. This will give you an idea of the type of content people are looking for and the type of content you should be creating.  Embed those YouTube videos back into your website – I’d probably recommend putting them on your blog – and then surround them with a transcript from the video or just some related content on that same page.

And include calls to action in your video as well.  So at the end of the video, just like in the podcast, have a reason why people should leave YouTube and go to your website. You can include a clickable link in the description to download something, or some reason that’s relevant to go to your website. Because we want to get them on your website and we want to get them subscribing to your email newsletter.

The next place you can establish your thought leadership is webinars. Webinars are really powerful, I wouldn’t be doing one now if I didn’t think so. Some people don’t like webinars because they don’t want to be on camera. Don’t worry about that. You can do them on camera, you can do them off camera. I’m not on camera today, it’s totally fine, I’m just sharing my slides. You can do them live or on demand. I would actually recommend doing them live and on demand, which is what we’re doing with this one.

We’re doing it live so people can ask questions and stick around for Q&A, and also it kind of gives it an event feel. But also we make them available on demand because this isn’t a good time for everybody and they may want to watch it at a time that’s better for them. And this way I can put them on my website, have them transcribed, and all of a sudden I’m having another opportunity to drive people to our website and another opportunity to rank well at the search engines. And they’re great for lead generation because everybody who signs up for the webinar can automatically be added to your email list. 

Some tips around webinars. Promote it everywhere. We have ours on a popup box on our website. We also promote them through Facebook, sometimes we’ll even do some Facebook ads around them, we even send it out to our email list, and we talk about it on different social media platforms.

Keep it moving. I’m sure you’re paying full attention to this webinar right now, but not everybody is like you. A lot of people tune in for a webinar but then they start checking email or they’re also reading a blog post. Because who can’t read a blog post while listening to a webinar, right? But what you want to do then is keep it moving. And what I mean by that is have more slides then you might have more things changing on screen to keep people engaged. And although I didn’t take my own advice today, build in points of engagement, build in pauses, and ask people to ask questions or build in surveys. For a 30 minute webinar I don’t tend to do this because it moves pretty quickly itself, but if you’re doing anything that’s longer than 30 minutes, really think about natural break points.   

As we switch to some of the social sites, the places where we have a lot less control over , one of the first places might be Facebook. Now you may not think that Facebook is a place for thought leaders, but definitely it is. Again, thought leadership can be in any category. It doesn’t have to be about technology, health care, or some big topic like that, it can be a very narrow niche. And it can be very consumer facing, too.

If you are going to use Facebook to build up your thought leadership, make sure that you’re present on that platform. Some of the biggest thought leaders out there I know are active multiple times a day on Facebook and then re-engaging when people leave comments on their content.

Join groups. Groups can be very powerful. Dana Malstaff, who spoke as a closing keynote at The Agents of Change Conference this year, sge;s built up a huge group under the Boss Mom brand name, where Boss Mom’s from around the world come together to have conversations. She’s established herself as a  thought leader and has built an audience that way. And when you’re ready, consider creating a group. Now she’s mentioned to me that a lot of the moms on that group will ultimately create their own group around a specific topic, and she’s all for that. So consider at some point creating a group that’s specific to your topic.

And also consider a page. You may not be comfortable sharing everything that you’re doing in your personal life with Facebook, that’s fine. My dad speaks all over the world and has written a number of books, and he’s got a huge following. He does have a personal Facebook profile, but that is really only for close friends and family. And he has a page set up for Dr. Robert Brooks that if people want to engage with him and he doesn’t necessarily want to engage with them as a friend, he can always point them towards the page and say this is where I put my best content.

Now lately I am so all in on LinkedIn. This is such a great platform for B2B, in my opinion. If you are in B2B, this is your platform. It has 300 million+active users a month, and compared to a lot of other places – especially Facebook – it’s a very low time commitment. If you spend 5 minutes a day on LinkedIn, you’re in the 1% of LinkedIn. It’s really easy to make a big splash there.

Your LinkedIn profile – I’m not saying should look like mine – but think about what I’m doing here compared to what you see on a lot of LinkedIn profiles out there. First of all, I’m not sticking with a generic background that LinkedIn gives us. I did one and then I had our Creative Director do a better version, but you can do this in any sort of image editing software. I created a header that talked about what I do and how I want to be perceived; digital marketing and social media, speaker, author, consultant. And then my three brands; flyte, AOC, and Fast Forward Maine. Then I have a professional headshot that was taken. Don’t take that photo from the party where you have to cut off your friend’s arm to make it fit in the section. This is your professional headshot and you want to be seen as a thought leader.

And then your headline is critically important, too. You’ll notice I don’t just say, “President and Founder”, I say “Digital Marketing and Social Media Consultant” to lead it off. Because LinkedIn’s search is very rudimentary compared to Google. So you can easily tweak the system by putting in some of your keyword phrases right into your header.

And then the other place that you really want to focus on is your “About” description section. Because again, LinkedIn is looking for some of your keywords there. So make sure that you talk in the first person, that you talk about what you do, and then also that you work in some of these keywords.

Some tips for getting the most out of LinkedIn. I’d say optimize your profile likeI just showed you. There’s a lot more to it and I do have a LinkedIn presentation, a 30 minute webinar you can checkout. Post articles, not just updates. When you go to the newsfeed on LinkedIn and you want to go post an update, you’ll notice there’s a “post an article” option. You can actually click on that button and go to a content management system that’s like WordPress but simplified, and just create a new article that’s posted on LinkedIn.

And if you’re feeling like, whoa, I don’t have the time to create any more content, that’s fine. Take that blog post you just wrote, or take that podcast transcript that was just created for you, and put that in as an article. Just wait one or two weeks so that Google knows that the content was first published on your website before you publish on LinkedIn.

And then also tag people in important posts that you think are relevant. And again don’t overuse this tactic, but when you tag people in those posts, LinkedIn will email them to let them know that they’re in one of your posts.

And I just want to round out social media. I know that there’s more than these three platforms, but I want to mention Twitter, a platform that I absolutely adored for the longest time and still have a soft spot in my heart for. But honestly it’s helpful if you’re the President of the United States or if your last name is Kardashian. But for us mere mortals, it may not have the same impact it used to have. I will say it won’t hurt, and I think it can support some of the things that you may be doing out there in the rest of your social media. You could look for hashtags and chats that are specific to your industry and engage in those types of conversations to support your thought leadership.

And the last thing I want to talk about is email, in terms of platforms at least.  Email, in my opinion and the opinion of many other people, is still the most valuable property on the internet. Which is why I use this background image of Boardwalk. It’s your #1 marketing and engagement tool. And I’m talking about opt in emails, I’m not talking about spamming anybody.

Every other platform that we’ve talked about today and any we haven’t, should all link to an email signup on your website. The goal of all these other things is to build your list while you continue to stay in front of people, and they’ll give you access to that all important inbox.

Now if you’re listening to all this and you’re like, “Wow, being a thought leader means creating a lot of content and I just don’t know how much I can create and how I can keep up with it. “ One thing I’ll tell you is you really need to think about repurposing your content. Creating content is hard, there’s no two ways about that. And if you really want to create thought leadership caliber content, that’s going to take more time than just cranking out some blog posts.

Also keep in mind that no matter how much you may publish it or how you may publish it, not everybody is going to see it. So if you can take that content and kind of reinvent it to another channel or another format, you’re going to increase the number of people who are going to see it. Find ways to repurpose this.

For example, if you are writing a blog post on 25 Ways To Save Money For College, then you also want to create a slidedeck with your own company’s branding on that, publish that to Slideshare, and Slideshare then can get all these views for your content. We used to do this for The Marketing Agents – which was a brand we used for a while – and we would publish an article called, 13 Things Small Businesses Need To Know About Facebook Marketing,  then we turn it into a slidedeck and we published it to Slideshare. Just on Slideshare alone we’d get like 9,000 additional views for like 15 minutes of converting that blog post into a slidedeck. Really think about how to repurpose your content.

Everything we’ve talked about today has all really been on your own platform. But if you want to expand your reach, if you want to amplify what you’re doing out there, then you really need to think about publishing elsewhere. One place you should go is guest blogging. So if you’re already blogging you can go onto Google and do a search for your specific audience. So let’s say you’re a dog catcher, you can go onto Google and  search for “dog catcher + guest post”, and you’ll find all the blogs out there about dog catching that are looking for guest bloggers. And so then you can reach out to them – they probably have a form – and your point here is just to create a blog post on their website that will link back to yours, which has SEO benefits but also you’re now reaching a new audience.

Now I used to blog three times a week, now I’m lucky if I blog three times a year, because the bar has been raised for what is a quality blog that will actually get some traction out there. But I find that podcasts, because of that, podcasts are so much easier. And being a guest on a podcast is simple, it’s like 20-30 minutes of your time. You show up, they interview you, you’re done. And you still get that visibility in front of their audience and you still get a link from their website back to yours.

And take a look at Medium, which is a blogging platform that has a huge reach, much bigger than your website will probably ever experience. And that’s another way of just creating or repurposing your content, putting it up to Medium or creating new content and putting it up to Medium to reach a new audience.

There’s a lot of ways you can measure your results on all this work. Take a look at your Google Analytics or traffic reports and see if anything you’re publishing is causing more traffic to come to your website, you can use tools like Google alerts or mention.com to see if y9our content that’s out there is getting any mentions. And then you can look at vanity metrics. Are the things that you’re publishing getting liked, commented, and shared.

The takeaways I have for you today. If you’re looking to become a thought leader in today’s digital age, you need to turn your expertise into content. You also need to choose the right platform or platforms out there. The ones that are relevant to the people that you are trying to get in front of. And speaking of those people, you need to build your audience. Think about those circles of influence we talked about, think about using all these different platforms to get people to opt into your email newsletter where you can really break through the clutter and get to them. Think about building your audience.

Thank you very much for your time.