One of the questions which often arises, especially from those new to thought leadership, is how to allocate your time. For example, how much time and energy should you put into each of the three pillars? We have built up a picture of the kind of allocation of time and energy made by successful thought leaders, which may provide some insights for those new to the role and for those struggling to find the right balance.
Engagement is both a task and the outcome
Many people starting to work in thought leadership, and especially if they come from a sales background, often make the mistake of focusing on engagement and personal contact, and in particular, meeting potential customers in groups or one-to-one. After all, if you don’t engage with people, you can’t sell to them, can you? However, you also can’t sell to someone if you have engaged with the wrong person, or on the wrong topic. It’s worth spending quite large chunks of your time focusing on the first two pillars, topic and audience, before you start to engage with customers. And even after you do start to engage, don’t forget to revisit your topic and audience periodically and continue to update your approach. Devoting equal time to each of the three pillars will almost certainly pay off, and from what we’ve seen, the best thought leaders probably devote about a third of their time to each of audience and community development, and topic discussions. Some of both of those will be in discussion with customers, of course, and could therefore be considered ‘engagement’ time.
Refining your topic and audience definition
How can you refine your thinking on your topic and audience? Use peer discussions, and draw on the experience of those around you in your organisation and the wider thought leadership world. Some B2B companies are finding that a very good way to develop their thought leaders is to use sales team discussions as a way of considering how to approach particular customers and subjects. This draws on the full team’s experience, supporting individual development, but without disempowering anyone. Each member of the sales team still has their own portfolio to develop, but the backing of the team in doing so.
Social media is also a great source of insights, some better than others. And by starting to engage with potential audiences using social media, you can develop a sounding board for topics and ideas, and see which ones really ‘fly’. The best thought leaders spend about a quarter of their time amplifying and developing channels, which will include developing the use of social media, or other ways to engage.
Alongside topic development, thought leaders spend about a quarter of their time on curation and contextualisation. Curation, as we have previously discussed, is the process of drawing together information, and then deciding which is most useful to your potential audience. It is a very good way of refining your message, because you get to read and research a lot of information. Given that you should probably be discarding at least half of what you read, you’ll explore plenty of ideas, enabling you to develop your expertise, and also hone your critical faculties to help you identify what’s really worthwhile. You can then pass on the gems to your grateful audience. Curation therefore supports not only topic development, but also audience development. It allows you to reach out to those who are not yet in contact with you, and spread your ideas a little more widely.
Making it work for you
Having looked at how good thought leaders divide their time, it’s also worth touching a little on ways in which you can make sure that you’re working productively. First of all, multi-tasking is not very productive. Contrary to popular opinion, most people cannot multi-task well. So get into the habit of working out your priorities, and doing one thing at a time. It’s very easy to get distracted, especially when you’re paid to think, read, and engage, so you need to make an effort to ensure that you remain focused.
Secondly, establish a routine. Consistency is key to thought leadership. It’s no good posting 25 updates on Twitter one day, and then nothing for a month, because people will stop looking. So work out when you’re going to pay attention to each of your channels and stick to your plan, tweaking it if necessary to make it work better. Over time, develop ways of working that are right for you, and also work for your audience, to support the three pillars of audience, topic and engagement.