Establishing Real Thought Leadership: Why Educators are a Natural Fit in A Virtual World

There's an old saying that goes something like this: "The problem is often the solution." Take the Internet, for example. Unquestionably, information offered via the web has provided myriad benefits to humanity, yet the same information overload is one of the greatest challenges humans — particularly those who Google — are facing today. Call it a paradox, but when it comes to finding a solution or solving a problem — whether it's related to health and wellness or products and services — millions of people turn to the Internet with not just the hope but the expectation they'll find exactly what they want and need: an educated answer or advice from a trusted source.

With unbridled content and opinions from infinite web sites, blogs and media channels clogging our brainwaves, it logically begs one to ask the ultimate question, "Who can I trust?" Hence, the rise of a new breed of experts and pundits — the thought leaders.

With a little luck and a lot of savvy marketing techniques, just about anyone can establish thought leadership, but that doesn't mean they should — or that they will survive. Those with longevity and respect eventually pull out in front with not only useful and valuable information but also the experience and wisdom to know when and how information best serves a particular constituency.

Consider the Source
Considering that the job of an educator is to educate, there's probably no more suitable field for establishing real thought leadership than within the education space, where some of the brightest minds work tirelessly to teach new skills and present new ideas. In fact, in this new Age of Information, establishing thought leadership within an educational environment is as necessary as positioning a trusted brand or commodity — and just as important. Maybe more so... Here's why:

  • From teaching assistants to tenured professors, it's an educator's job to educate. There's no better or natural place for establishing thought leadership than that of an educational institution or organization.
  • Even if you have a loyal alumni base, competitors will constantly be working to capture a greater market share — particularly your current or future students.
  • As new technologies emerge, techniques and teaching models evolve; your population at present — as well as the future — will undoubtedly have questions and concerns that require the attention of a source they can trust.
  • Loyalty results in a steady profit over time but new growth requires a strategy for continuously standing out on the cutting edge with new thoughts and ideas.
  • Google. Eventually, even the most savvy — and educated — turn to the Internet for a trusted source. Make sure you're at the top of the list.

From shifting industry trends to forecasting future markets, thought leaders provide information and advice that others value and respect. With opinions ablaze on just about every subject, however, there's more to establishing thought leadership than posting a few articles on a blog or espousing advice from time to time. As a starting point, consider these factors, which are crucial to the success of a thought leadership initiative:

  • Utilizing the right platforms for the organization
  • Capitalizing on authority, particularly as an educational institution
  • Staying consistent with engagement and posting
  • Providing quality and originality in all content posted

The Building Blocks of Thought Leadership
There are a number of resources available for building and maintaining thought leadership. LinkedIn, for example, now offers every member its LinkedIn Publishing service, previously a premium tool reserved for a few high-profile thought leaders like Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates. In addition to providing an avenue to develop specific industry credibility, leaders in education can add value for their target audience by posting relevant articles and comment on responses to other posts, which ultimately result in more page views and a higher level of engagement from followers.

Thought leadership efforts don't stop with LinkedIn, though — and it would behoove industry professionals to familiarize themselves with the broad spectrum of thought leadership-building resources they have at their fingertips.

  • Issue Press Releases. Press releases can demonstrate authority in a particular field or industry, highlight advancement and progress and showcase milestones.
  • Secure Media Opportunities. Tap into third-party credibility of the press by securing interview and article placements with broadcast, online media and print outlets.
  • Award Nominations. Awards help bolster leadership reputation and highlight their successes.
  • Create Original Content. Professionally ghostwritten articles showcase industry knowledge, expertise and opinions.
  • Spread the Word. Across many relevant traditional and digital channels, engaging in active pitching to targeted and relevant parties helps increase brand presence.
  • Get Social. Create social media campaigns and promote engagement by commenting in both general (e.g. Yahoo! Answers, Quora, Klout Experts) and industry-specific forums, as well as any applicable social networks available. General forums allow organizations and individuals to capture the attention of new audiences while industry-specific forums help build relationships with those who already have some interest in topics relevant to the industry. With more than a billion users on both Facebook and Google+, in addition to the 300 million using LinkedIn and 550 million using Twitter — all at a growth rate of 33 percent per year — the benefits to sharing content socially and commenting across various platforms are limitless.

Leslie Licano, co-founder and CEO of Beyond Fifteen Communications, Inc. (www.beyondfifteen.com), is an award-winning public relations strategist, renowned for her ability to spotlight individuals and companies as trendsetters, innovators and newsmakers.

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