Does your thought leadership stand up to scrutiny? 7 Steps to success.

Don’t just stand out,  thought leadership should stand up for something.

seven golden rules for thought leadership

7 Golden Rules for effective thought leadership

A guest blog from Sarah Lafferty, Director at Round Earth Consulting.

Let’s face it: the Internet’s arteries have become clogged with cheap, fatty, boring ‘thought leadership’ content. How many messages have you deleted today that had links to the editorial equivalent of a fluffy pouffe of candy floss? Most time-strapped people with jobs and in charge of a budgets can’t afford all those empty calories!

Most readers of this site will have read the memo: SEO is no longer being about links and keywords. Today’s algorithms are tuned to rank content on quality. So there’s no rationale left for publishing boring thought leadership content aimed at robots.

I work in PR, so I have to pitch thought leadership articles I write on behalf of clients to professional editors. This humbling, often painful experience gifts me with a strict discipline to produce unbiased articles that must inform, educate and entertain readers. Editors not only know how to make thought leadership more engaging, but the quality standards they enforce improve online visibility. I amassed the following style rules after more than 20 years of having my work scrutinized by editors:

 1. Sharpen your angle. Generic subject matter isn’t thought leadership and won’t reel in readers. I just binned something with the title ‘Leading and Managing Change.’ YAWN! On the other hand, I did read ‘Can Walmart’s physical assets fend off the digital assault from Amazon Prime?’ – because I wanted to know.

2. Don’t just rant. I used to indulge in ranting too much. But let’s face it, as cathartic and even funny as Charlie Brooker-esque rants can be, they only enlarge on a grievance. Thought leadership nails it when readers think “yeah, that’s my problem and here’s a novel way of solving it that could work at my company. Now, if I could only get some budget approved to work with those smart people who wrote that article.” CHA-CHING!.

3. Make the headline work (but don’t link-bait). If your story has a sharp angle, its that much easier to write an edgy headline that sparks curiosity and gets shared. HOWEVER you mustn’t bait your reader, then fail to deliver. Crying wolf not only provokes reader wrath but can earn you penalties on search ranking. Also, keep the headline short so it can be Tweeted (and Retweeted with flattering comments).

4. Don’t overtly plug. Thought leadership attracts people to your company because it subtly reveals the experience, creativity and intellect behind your products and services. Overt company plugs destroys this subtle ‘pull’ dynamic and with it, the credibility of your piece.

5. Lose the ‘empty-calorie’ jargon – Replace empty, subjective words and phrases like “solution”, “cutting-edge” and “high-performance” with clear, satisfying words, facts and anecdotes. Okay, I admit, we all have to use jargon sometimes (guilty as charged, your honour!), but do keep it to a minimum.

6. Open your kimono – The most popular articles are the ones where an expert share mistakes and what they learned from them. Also, don’t be afraid to stick your neck out and say something controversial (as long as it’s not mean-spirited). A client of mine achieved considerable fame by coming up with a radical idea in the field of data analytics. Several people disagreed with aspects of it, but that just gave him the floor to clarify it further and win more people around. Now he is a recognised thought leader.

and finally…

7. Get visual – not every picture speaks 1000 words, but certain information comes across better visually. Consider adding a chart, graph, picture or infographic to make your content more memorable and shareable. Editor’s rule: make sure your images are professional-quality and that you own the rights to use them.


The great thing about thought leadership content is that you can always hone your skills. You won’t follow all these rules perfectly from the start. However, the more dedicated you are to editorial excellence and inviting critical feedback, the more likely your thought leadership content is to break through the noise and attract loyal followers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sarah Lafferty.

I’ve sailed more than 20 years on the turbulent waters of high technology, sometimes on an adrenaline-fuelled ride with the wind at my back and other times languishing in the doldrums surrounded by dot.com wreckage. The journey started in Cambridge, Massachusetts and took me to London (UK) where I have spent the last 15 years. Through these experiences I’ve built an excellent network in the B2B technology sector and learned important lessons about how communications can either make or break companies.

About the Author

Charlotte Graham-Cumming

Director, Ice Blue Sky Ltd

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *