Here’s a definition:
A thought leader is a futurist or person who is recognized for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable distilled insights.
For me the key word here is recognized. Unfortunately by this definition, 99% of our self-styled social media “thought leaders” are precluded.
That’s a shame.
As a former colleague once commented to me about their boss – who desperately desired that their PR program position him as a thought leader – there were only two problems; a lack of leadership, and a lack of original thoughts.
In case you’ve missed it there have been a growing number of posts and discussions online recently about the subject of Personal Branding. Some from those who despair at the homogenous claims of thousands of people who are self styled thought leaders, and some seeking to provide some honest advice on the matter.
I’m not quite sure why this has suddenly become the topic-de-jour among the digerati – nor am I sure if I care terribly much. (Yes this post is turning grumpy).
But let’s face facts.
People have been claiming themselves as social media gurus and social media thought leaders for years. There’s something about this social media stuff that encourages those people – who in all honesty you would typically avoid spending a lot of time with in real life – to make fatuous and in most cases uncorroborated claims about their own wonderfulness. (Aside: This is most often observed on Twitter where someone with 12 followers claims in their bio they are a Twitter guru – expert in building followers. Now if they had only waited until they had 15 followers that would be a little more credible – in my humble opinion.)
Can I be honest with you for a moment?
If you are peddling views on how to use Twitter, Facebook and blogs to drive followers and traffic, you are the same as about 1,000,000 other people. If you’re calling yourself a thought leader or a guru based on those opinions, then by definition, you’re not. Sorry about that.
So let’s stop all this fluffy self promotion.
The best way to build your personal brand is to be yourself.
By all means share your opinions, your experience, your time and your knowledge. Engage with people.
That’s how you’ll be successful, not by telling anyone who you happen to corner that you’re a thought leader.
Actually while we’re on the subject of personal branding, I’m not sure my own is going terribly well.
I was talking to friend and former colleague recently. He’s a gentleman with whom I worked for many years and he made the observation, out of the blue, that he hadn’t actually realized how grumpy I was until he started reading this blog.
Subsequently another friend commented to me that I clearly “wasn’t what you’d call a thought leader on all this social media stuff”. When I asked what had motivated that compliment she pointed to my many negative posts about Twitter and the fact it took me a long time to catch on. (of course like any good PR practitioner although I *thought* Twitter was a ridiculous fad, I didn’t have the courage of my convictions and did sign up in January 2007 – phew).
Besides discovering that I had tripled the readership of this blog and that I need to disable the search function, I thought it was a useful reminder that people can quickly have perceptions about you from your online ramblings, social network postings etc.
Luckily, in my case, the summary of my personality as a grumpy luddite, isn’t too bad at all. I’m happy with that. It’s better than many of the potential alternatives…