10 responses to “Becoming a Thought Leader”

  1. ferd

    There has always been a big difference between posturing (“social media” today) and performing (technical conferences). The Internet just makes it easier for posers to get attention, and exposes more laymen to ideas that they don’t understand but impress them anyways. In the long run you’ll be more successful performing than posing. The marketers’ job is to dupe the public into buying the flavor of the day, but technical talent must maintain integrity. So be careful about your Internet presence, don’t post opinion as fact, and avoid confrontations.

    “Do you find it personally useful to develop a reputation online, and if so how do you go about it?”
    In my experience, one can spend too much time trying to develop and maintain an online reputation (time better spent on work itself) and too easily get caught up into social politics. I have withdrawn from social media because it is too easy to become a target for posers with selfish agendas. Before I venture into social media again I want to have my prototypes and patents in order, then present them to (and hopefully impress) established leaders in the field. Then I’ll probably allow those leaders to take the lead publicizing its merits and see how things go. There are so many charlatans championing vaporware today that I don’t want to risk getting identified with them. If I need funding I’ll research venture capitalists to separate posers from performers, and then hook into those performers. In my opinion once again, I don’t see a need to play showman when others are better suited to it.

  2. Chris Gammell

    I obviously agree with a lot of this stuff and have tried to be a “thought leader” while still actually doing some useful work. However, there’s two things I’d like to point out, as I have in the past.

    1.) This is a great reason why people should go by their actual name online. Obviously there are reasons not to and I’m not saying Miss Outlier shouldn’t (I can’t recall why she went with a pseudonym). However, I think all the time and effort spent online writing and building a persona is more valuable when its under a real name.

    2.) Another path forward is to instead of spending the time becoming a thought leader is to instead recognize and engage with people that already are. This takes work and will require that you have a compelling offering (I know that Miss Outlier does!); but often the main criteria for getting good press on what you’re doing (especially when you’re moving out of “quiet mode” into the public’s eye) is momentum. Getting one or two people to write about you often is enough to catch the eyes of others and the process continues onward. A great book about this is “Here Comes Everybody” by Clay Shirky.

    Great article!

  3. Sophi

    From my day job in Technical Marketing/Sales, I firmly believe that if the product sucks, it doesn’t matter what kind of promotions you do.

    From a product launch standpoint, I don’t think it matters much if you show your hand before the product is done. It’s pretty hard to get people to accept your product ideas even when they’re brilliant. It’s much easier to get people to accept your ideas once they’ve got some momentum (sales, $, publicity!) behind them.
    Of course, this is different in academia, where many people may be researching the same thing.

    Being a “thought leader” is a great way of looking at things. Thanks for presenting this viewpoint, I had not considered this. I always talk about products/projects before they’re launched.

    And I agree with Chris Gammell, there is a huge upside to using your real name. People can track your writings for several years back, which adds to your online presence. Even if your first forays into the online world are asking questions on forums, it’s important to build up a history.

    1. Carmen Parisi

      I have to agree with both you and Chris. Since I quit blogging anonymously almost a year ago I feel as though I’ve been much more successful in establishing my online reputation than before. Putting a name and personality behind a post or other medium has been way more effective for me. Granted, becoming a thought leader wasn’t my original intention when I started posting (and I’m not claiming to be one now by any means either) but it’s nice to Google myself and actually see pertinent results.

      1. Fluxor

        I thought about “coming out”, but then decided I’d probaby get fired. So Fluxor it is…

  4. Steve Hoefer

    Tons of good stuff here! Pardon the long comment:

    “…but it does strike me as suspicious that one can do all the things in the “thought leader” list without actually being, you know, an expert in your field”

    Yes, and people often do. And they’re ridiculously obvious about it. If you’re a fraud (ie: You’re not only not a leader, you’re barely even a follower) and you’re posting that much information it will be pretty obvious. But if you really do know what you’re talking about, at least enough to be involved in a good product, people will listen.

    One category missing from the list above: Teach. If you can teach me something in a white paper, a video, a podcast, blog post, etc. then I’m in your debt and I automatically recognize you as an authority. After all you know more than I do. I’m much more likely to spread a link that teaches something than one that’s selling something. (And if you teach me how to use your product better, it’s a great marketing move, and should be easy for you since you’re closer to it than most people.)

    When interacting online Interesting attracts Interesting. I don’t know how much of an “opinion leader” I am, but I’ve found a direct correlation between the amount of good original content I post and the quality of my online audience and interactions. The number of interesting and influential people I interact with now is many times greater than it was before I started posting to my blog and using Twitter.

  5. Anthony Fasano

    This is a great post and one that I can relate to. As an engineer turned engineering career coach, my job is to connect with engineers online on a daily basis.

    What I have tried to do through my blog and my social media outlets is to find out what engineers biggest challenges are and then I can offer blog posts, programs, books, seminars that halp them to overcome those challenges.

    Lately I have started blogging very regularly again on my blog and I am trying to hit topics that will help engineers change their lives for the better and things seem to be really taking on the blog.

    Thanks for the article, I plan on subscribing!