The phase “thought leadership” is bandied about almost as frequently as “viral video,” and likely equally misunderstood. NRPR provides this simple definition: “In a nutshell, great thought leadership involves cracking into the brilliant minds of your company’s top executives, figuring out what it is they know and do best, and sharing that knowledge and experience to help other professionals learn the right ways.” I would also add to this definition that thought leadership is a process through which a company and/or executive builds trust and credibility with the audience with engaging, high quality content.

How does one build thought leadership? First, keep in mind that it is an ongoing process and not a goalpost. An organization needs an integrated communication strategy, which includes thought leadership content in order to share a cohesive message. There are several components of successful thought leadership regarding purpose, content, and audience benefits.

The first step in setting up any project is to determine what you want to accomplish? While it is easy to say, “sell more widgets,” like with any public relations initiative, thought leadership is not a magic bullet in which the person engages with the content and automatically decides to purchase your widget. If only it were that easy to make a sale. The purpose of thought leadership, whether a blog post, case study, e-book, interview, video or commentary, is to provide value to the audience in order to gain their trust so that they will look at you and your company as a leader, who can solve their specific problem, and then be interested in doing business with you.

Content needs to be new, informative, entertaining and help the audience to understand and solve a problem. What new insights can you share? The author can be an executive, product manager, engineer or other subject matter expert at the company. The content also needs to be geared for the appropriate audience. If you are writing for a specific publication, who are the readers—are they executives or engineers? Regardless of the audience, content should not be overly promotional. Thought leadership is not about you and your products, it is about providing value to customers by discussing topics that are of interest to them. The topic needs to be relevant, well researched and written in a grammatically correct and interesting style.

The benefits of thought leadership include generating new sales leads, shortening sales cycles, building credibility and trust based on the quality of the information shared. Information must be shared in a timely manner and with a regular interval so that audiences keep your company on their radar. If you have a company blog, you may want to swap blog posts with a business partner or customer. Both companies benefit from the visibility with another audience. You can also like, comment and share content from other organizations on social media with appropriate hashtags. If you are using social media such as Twitter for business purposes and sharing articles to be careful about what other posts you share on that account—no photos of illegal activities or activities that may appear to be unprofessional.

It takes time to build a reputation as a thought leader in your industry. The key is to start producing content in an area that interests you and your intended audience and in which you can provide expert knowledge.