Being an authentic thought leader is the nucleus of great public relations. Thought leaders are trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative thinking. We all have good ideas, but a leading organization harnesses these thoughts and channels them into a public realm that gets a brand recognized and respected. Demonstrating thought leadership allows you to raise more funds and gain greater support for your mission.
1) Create Your Thought Leadership Platform: This starts with identifying your specific areas of expertise. Are you an expert in girls’ education? Do you fulfill your mission statement everyday? Do you understand how to facilitate collaborative community development better than any other non-profit? Your organization may be versed in many arenas, but by narrowing your thought leadership focus, you will be able to build your platform and share your core competencies with an external audience. Owning your message platform will guide your organization with media relations, marketing campaigns, and with your client base.
2) Make Your Website An Educational Hub: What is currently on your website? Some photos, your mission statement, links to information that hasn’t changed in weeks? Websites are enriching portals that you pay to maintain, yet many non-profits don’t take advantage of their full potential. You can use your website on a daily basis to share your thought leadership platform. You can post your own content, blogs, videos, links to articles that highlight members of your community and host online forums. How about posting relevant essays from well-known speakers and thinkers that address your mission statement? What if your website became the desirable place to have this writing shared? Inevitably your website would become dynamic and alive, giving people a reason to visit again and again.
3) Conduct Your Own Research And Publish It: Your school did a comprehensive self-study on students and sleep, resulting in a changed start time for classes. Your non-profit surveyed perceptions about homelessness in San Francisco, finding that tech companies were interested in solving the problem. How difficult is it to write about or publish this wonderful research? In 2013, Phillips Exeter Academy shared the results of their “College Satisfaction Survey” online. The research contains valuable insights into various elite college campuses from the narrative perspectives of Exeter alumni. The findings clearly display the perceptive nature of their grads, while positioning Exeter as a thought leader.
4) Speak At Conferences: This tip is obvious. Speak about your expertise and soon you will have your peers approaching you for guidance and advice. No matter your field, there is usually the “go to” conference where like-minded professionals seek information. For U.S. independent schools this is the annual event for the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). Look for opportunities in less obvious places too, like global webinars, or perhaps as part of a musical concert, or a paneled discussion hosted by another non-profit. With a strong self-knowledge of your thought leadership platform, you will quickly know if the venue is a good fit for your brand.
5) Encourage Your Staff To Be Social Media Content Experts: How would it expand your brand if you had 60 of your staff members intelligently posting and commenting on LinkedIn? How many of your staff are currently on LinkedIn or Twitter? Do you know? How many of them write blogs? Start by taking inventory of who is using social media outlets and whether they are speaking to the work of your organization. You can then follow these individuals and regularly repost highlights of their thought leadership on your website. The public recognition of their expertise will no doubt lead to more of your employees taking their thinking to social media.