All Eyes On You: Building an audience through thought leadership

To build thought leadership, you need to build an audience.

After all, without people to embrace your ideas, learn from you, and be motivated by your expertise and thinking, your ideas will only ever get as far as you and your clients.

We’re not talking faceless people who follow you blindly – we’re talking about a community. As a thought leader, it’s your job to build a community of people who are excited about your ideas and are invested in supporting you. Ideally you’ll also build a community who challenge you and push your thinking further.

Over the last decade, we’ve learned that building your audience and developing the community around you often encompasses four steps:

  1. Identifying your audience,
  2. Finding and claiming your position,
  3. Choosing your channels, and
  4. Connecting and leveraging.

So let’s dig in!

Identifying your audience

One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to appeal to everyone. Too often, people think that if they appeal to everyone, they’ll gain more customers or followers.

But weirdly, the inverse is actually true.

The more specific you are about who you exist for, the easier it is to connect with and give value to those people.

When it comes to building thought leadership, it’s not about the size of your audience, but about their engagement with what you’re saying. It’s better to have people who are excited about your ideas, who want to talk to you and learn from you, rather than a whole bunch of people who aren’t bothered.

Having a clear audience allows you to do what’s known as narrowcasting – when you share content that’s so specific to your audience that they can’t help but want to engage.

To figure out your audience, you need to ask yourself some questions.

  • Who are you talking to?
  • What’s their position or what type of business are they in?
  • What are their goals and priorities? What are the things that get in the way of them achieving their goals?
  • How does what you do benefit them? How will your ideas make their lives better?
  • How do you want them to change or think differently after engaging with your ideas?

Claiming your position

Think about the thought leaders you most listen to – chances are you know what they stand for and what they are an expert in. Think Brené Brown and vulnerability or Greg McKeown and essentialism.

They attract such a community because people know exactly what they stand for and where their expertise lies.

Articulating your positioning and what you can be known as the expert in is vital if you want your audience to see you as the ‘go-to’ for your area of thought leadership. It makes it easier for them to understand your ideas and place them in context.

If you do lots of things, that can be okay – but understand what ties those together, what your specialty is, and what path people are going to take when coming to you. Once you’ve got those details sorted, make sure all your messaging is crystal clear around your particular position.

Choose your channels

Connecting with your audience means you have to figure out where they actually are and what platforms they’re using to seek information.

Figure out where your audience is (hint: try asking your favourite clients!), then focus your efforts on 2-3 main channels. Over the years we’ve learned that our audience is on LinkedIn, they read books and listen to podcasts, and they are also a part of professional associations. So we concentrate most of our efforts on those platforms!

Focusing on fewer channels helps you get better cut through, because you can really devote your time to nurturing your audience. Too often, people try to be everywhere at once (including any and every form of social media!) which just disadvantages them when it comes to truly connecting with and building their audience.

Connecting and leveraging

Creating an audience or community is all about connection. It requires building real connections with people you may never have met but who are willing to listen to you, engage with you, and support you.

Unfortunately for the less extroverted among us, this means you can’t be afraid to reach out or put yourself out there. You have to initiate connections with people to gain the momentum you need to build your audience.

Who can you connect with on LinkedIn or reach out to via another channel? Who do you know who has a podcast, or has been on one and can introduce you? What partners do you have who you can work with or do an event with?

When it comes to LinkedIn, some of us Inkers like to follow the 5-3-1 rule. If you can devote ten minutes a day to LinkedIn, try commenting on five people’s posts, connecting with three people, and sharing one piece of content.

You’ll find that although you have to put in a lot of effort to start with, it’ll get easier as you go on. The effect begins to snowball as people start seeing your name pop up time and time again – and you’ll find people reaching out to you themselves.

Why it’s all worth it

Building a community and audience for your thought leadership is tough work. It requires hard, sustained effort to really be effective – but building an audience is one of the most important foundation blocks of thought leadership.

Working hard to find and nurture your audience means you’ll have supporters of your ideas. There will be people there to listen to what you’ve got to say, engage and interact with your ideas, and will further challenge your expertise and expand your thinking.

Building an audience is one thing, but nurturing your community is a whole other thing entirely – which we’ll dive into in our next blog!