April 17, 2014 | Mac Bartine

So You Want to Influence an Influencer: Thought Leadership Strategy

Influencing Thought Leaders in Your Industry

Invariably, as we get serious about blogging and social media networking to promote our businesses, we find ourselves saying, “if only I could get [insert an important person’s name here]’s attention, I could make some real progress!”

I, for example, have always believed that if I could just get Keith Richards to hear me play and sing a few of my songs, he’d totally ditch Mick to form a band with me. Totally!

We’ve all got those “if only” dreams for our careers. You already have the desire; now it's time to apply some strategy and make those influence dreams into a plan, if not a reality.

In this post, we’ll discuss five questions of thought leadership strategy:

  1. What is thought leadership?
  2. What is influence?
  3. How do you find thought leaders?
  4. How do you influence thought leaders?
  5. Should you attempt to be a thought leader?

What Is Thought Leadership?

Wikipedia defines a thought leader as, “an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.”

In other words, ‘thought leadership’ refers to being at the forefront of understanding and innovation in an industry or vertical market, and oftentimes, being a ‘disruptor’ of the status quo in that industry. For example:

  • Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is a thought leader in ecommerce. He took the concept of an online store selling one category of items and envisioned a world where his store would sell everything.
  • Elon Musk is a thought leader of space travel. He ignored the common thinking that “only a major economy’s government could afford to effectively travel into space” and built effective technology for a private corporation to profitably travel into space.

Intimidated? You should be! But don’t let that stop you.

Not everyone can be a Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, but we may be able to be leaders in our own niche industries or regional markets, and that’s a good place toward which to work.

What Is Influence?

The most important principals of influence to this thought leadership discussion are authority and social proof, which we’ve discussed on our blog before.


Do you have a deep knowledge of your industry or market? Demonstrate your expertise through the following tactics.

  • Prominently display (both online and in your physical office) your certifications, degrees, and other professional credentials; and
  • Write insightful and helpful blog articles that are targeted to the pain points of your buyer personas.

Social Proof

  • Have you been in business a long time? Share the number of happy customers you’ve served.
  • Not been in business long, but have some very happy customers? Get them to write testimonials for your website and social media.
  • Create case studies that explain how you helped important customers to solve their problems.

POWER TIP: Use video to demonstrate your authority and social proof! People are much more engaged by a speaking person than they are by just text, an image, and a headline. Can’t do video? Make sure you use a great headline and an attractive image.

How Do You Find Thought Leaders in Your Industry?

Finding thought leaders in your industry is easier than you might think. Here are 4 quick tips.

  1. Google search for “[insert your industry] thought leader”. If that doesn’t work, try “[insert your industry] leader” or “[insert your industry] CEO”.
  2. Read your industry’s trade journals, newsletters, and blogs. Who’s being featured, interviewed, or mentioned as an important person in your industry?
  3. If you don’t subscribe to any of your industry’s trade publications, you should! But in the mean time, you can call up your local public library and ask to speak with a research librarian. Tell them you’re looking for leaders of your industry, and ask if they can help you to find them.
  4. Research and attend major conferences for your industry. Who’s speaking?

How Do You Influence Thought Leaders?

This topic is a difficult one, because what this question really asks is, “how can I get an important, successful and very busy person who lots of people want a piece of to take time to pay attention to me and consider my ideas?”

Let’s break that question down into its parts and answer them one at a time.

Important, Successful, Busy People

Keep in mind that even if you work with someone like this and see them every day, it can be difficult to get their attention. That’s because they’re busy working their butts off to maintain their position and grow.

Be realistic.

This is likely to be hard, and will probably take a lot of time. Think about influencing a thought leader in terms of trying to date a celebrity. Same level of difficulty.

Go into this process accepting that you’re fighting an uphill battle that you may never win. Decide right now: is it worth the amount of time, effort, and money you’ll expend (yes, this may cost you money) to get this person’s attention?

Be respectful.

It’s not your target thought leader’s responsibility to help you or to pay attention to you, so don’t be rude if they don’t immediately (or ever) take notice of your efforts.

Join the Club

Lots of people want to achieve the same thing that you want to achieve. You’re trying to leverage someone else’s achievements by getting them to consider your work as also important, and take some action on that revelation.

So how are you going to stand out from that crowd? Here are two points to consider:

  1. Fully understand what their most important ideas are, and the implications of those ideas.
  2. Follow their blogging, social media, business moves, speaking engagements, and engage with them (respond to their posts) in meaningful, thoughtful ways. Do this religiously. NOTE: if you don’t do point 1 first, point 2 won’t work.

Pay Attention to Me and Engage with My Ideas

Influencing thought leaders really comes down to earning their attention as a thought leader yourself, but how do you become one? In the next section, we’ll explore how.

Should You Attempt to Be a Thought Leader?

If you want to influence other thought leaders, by definition, you have to be working toward the position of being a thought leader yourself.

If you’re not prepared for the hard work and study that this will take, you’re not ready to influence thought leaders.

The benefits are potentially tremendous. Here are 2 to consider:

  • People look to you and your company as experts in your field, and pay top dollar for your products and services.
  • Others do your marketing for you by sharing and discussing your industry-leading and market-disrupting ideas, products, and services.

The cons are significant, too:

  • You’re the new favorite target of people who want to prove that they know more than everyone else.
  • Your failures (we all have them) are much more public than when you were just another workaholic.

If you feel that you absolutely must become a thought leader in your industry or the world as you know it is going to end, then you just might have the motivation and drive necessary to succeed. Let’s hope you have talent and good ideas, too.

Here are some tips for increasing your likelihood of success, borrowed from one of my favorite books on thinking, The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird.

  1. Have a deep understanding of the basics of your business and industry.
  2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Embrace them and learn from them.
  3. Ask probing questions regarding the problems that you face in your industry, and see that you answer them.
  4. Follow the flow of ideas. What ideas brought about changes in your industry? Where will those ideas take your industry in the future? What are the implications of that?
  5. Embrace the fact that our world and your industry is changing, and be committed to change with it – and to help lead that change.


This topic could fill a book, but no one wants to read that much in a blog post, so it’s time to wrap this up.

My recommendations:

  1. Work hard.
  2. Keep learning.
  3. Blog and engage through social media.

Throughout a career of doing those three things, (notice the white hair and wrinkles on most thought leaders), you can achieve much.

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Mac Bartine

Mac Bartine

As one of VIEO Design’s four owners, Mac Bartine served as our COO and web strategist until July 2014. Today, he advises VIEO as a partner and uses his considerable skill as a digital strategist in his positions as CEO of several startups.

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