By Mo Waja
With AFP Congress arriving in a short 2 months, burgeoning and tenured thought leaders alike are preparing themselves and their talks to bring new, ambitious, and exciting ideas to the world of fundraising. But ‘thought leadership’ as a marketing activity isn’t something done just once a year or even once a month. It is not exclusive to large scale speaking events or even to a single guest blog post. Thought leadership as an activity or, more accurately, as a result is something that individuals and organizations commit to as a regular piece of their marketing mix.
Now, the idea of thought leadership is not new. In fact, ‘thought leadership’ as a marketing strategy has been in vogue for a number of years now. The challenge is that many individuals and organizations, particularly smaller organizations, can find the concept of taking on thought leadership daunting, particularly in the face of many larger organizations or more tenured leaders out there leveraging their much more developed content machines to pump out a near-continuous stream of articles, interviews, blogs, podcasts, and talks.
The first step is to recognize that ‘thought leadership’ or becoming a ‘thought leader’ is not a strategy. It’s not even a tactic. It is the result of consistent, quality content that is useful to your audience. To become a thought leader and create thought leadership content is to become an authority on a certain subject, within a certain field. Just as not everyone who picks up an instrument is a musician, not everyone who puts fingers to keyboard (feet to stage, voice to podcast, etc.) is a thought leader.
Thought leadership is something that must be established, not simply done. While one talk, interview, or piece of writing might put you on the map – it’s the cumulative work, experience, and expertise that brought you there that builds your foundation as a thought leader. For an organization seeking to become a thought leader in their industry, that becomes the collective work, experience, and expertise of all of your contributors.
So, if we accept that becoming a thought leader in an industry is a long term goal reached by producing consistent, quality content, how do we go about producing that content?
This comes down to answering two straightforward questions:
- What are we going to talk about? (Topic)
- Where were going to talk about it? (Channel)
Topic: What are we going to talk about?
The idea that ‘everyone is good at something’ applies well here. Every successful organization has some aspect of their process that they do particularly well. Whether, for your nonprofit, this is donor relations, partner prospecting, niche programs that help your population, or even internal functions such as human resources, your nonprofit has something that has helped differentiate it from other organizations within your space.
Your topic is the thing that you do particularly well. Keep in mind, this isn’t about being the very best – that’s a moving target that will always shift as your nonprofit and nonprofits around you flex and grow – instead, think of your margin as simply being above average at that particular thing. Once you’ve settled on a topic, think of how you can use your expertise in that topic area to help your audience. Producing useful, engaging content is key because it’s what keeps people coming back for more.
It’s important to note that every piece of content you produce doesn’t need to be some new discovery never before seen by your industry. Building off of or even echoing sentiments and perspectives expressed by other organizations within and beyond your space has value because doing so serves as a tool to reinforce useful information for your audience from a source that they trust (you). It is also completely possible that, in the vast ocean of content out there, your audience may not have discovered the information that you are echoing or reinforcing; so, from their point of view, this is new and useful information that they might not have found otherwise.
Have a topic you want to talk about but aren’t fully confident in your internal expertise or your ability to produce consistent content on the subject? A ‘life hack’ for thought leadership is to seek out established leaders in the space and offer them access to your audience through contributing a guest blog post or interview to your channel. This can help begin establishing you or your organization as a hub for thought leadership content, which can also be a powerful draw for your audience.
Channel: Where are we going to talk about it?
This is not social media. Social media is a distribution channel. It’s a loudspeaker to shout where your content is to your audience and, in some cases (such as YouTube, LinkedIn Articles, IGTV), a place for your content to live.
Instead, you can think of these as access channels:
- Written – articles, blogs, written interviews
- Audio – podcasts
- Video – vlogs, produced videos, and documentaries
Which of these are you or your organization most comfortable with? Most organizations engaging in consistent content creation use some combination of two or all three, but usually with one primary access channel.
If you are new to the content creation game, however, I would suggest you choose one primary channel and focus on establishing yourself there. Personally, I tend to fall on the side of podcasting as my primary access channel due in large part to the efficiency and ease of podcast production, the variety of dedicated distribution channels that a podcaster can tap into (Apple Podcasts, Google Play, iHeartRadio, and Stitcher being only a few), and the fact that with a little bit of strategy it allows one to transition fairly seamlessly between content expert and content hub.
Once you have your topic and have chosen your channel, it really is all about getting it done. With any piece of writing, audio, or video, the hardest part is often overcoming the inertia that holds us back from taking action.
About the Author
Mo Waja is a professional speaker, marketer, entrepreneur, the author of presentIMPACT: The Speaker’s Guide, the Host of the Let’s Talk Speaking podcast, the Host of the Toronto Story Archive podcast, and works in Digital Marketing at a Toronto nonprofit. Mo has worked with clients in the software, finance, and e-commerce sectors, among others, developing their digital storytelling strategies. Currently, Mo is producing the She Speaks Project, a documentary covering barriers women face in professional communication in the workplace.