One blog where I regularly find something to stimulate my thinking is B.L. Ochman’s whatsnextblog.com and today is no exception. Although the title of the post that drew my eye – Nine Great Reasons Why Your Company Should Blog – gave me a fleeting “hasn’t that been done?” moment, I was glad in the event that I kept reading. It’s not your predictable numbered or bullet pointed list. More of a conversational instant essay.

One of the reasons given for a company to blog was “Be a thought leader“.

Now I’ve used that statement, or words to that effect, many times over the past three or four years and listed it regularly as a bullet point in presentations, but today I realised that in all that time I can’t recall anyone asking me what I meant.

Which does not mean, of course, that everyone felt they knew what I meant.

There are a lot of polite people. And maybe some of them thought they should know.

So right now I have been wondering, if I had been asked some time in the past three or four years what I meant by being a “thought leader” what might I have said? And how would I have explained what blogging had to do with that?

But first, what do others say “thought leader” means?

Here are a couple of statements:

Thought leader is a buzzword or article of jargon used to describe a futurist or person who is recognized among their peers and mentors for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable distilled insights (thinklets). From Wikipedia.

…the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates. Elise Bauer – quoted on several online sites, not always with attribution; quoted also in the Wikipedia entry referenced in the previous paragraph.

Brian Carroll, who also references Elise Bauer, makes this observation:

Thought leadership is an outside assessment based on what others say about you NOT what you say about you.

Whether you agree with Brian Carroll, that you have to depend on others to make the assessment of you or your company as a thought leader, or believe you can simply project yourself as a thought leader, the outcome of the exercise in practical business terms will be that you are recognized (or not) as a thought leader.

The point of all this, from a business perspective, is summed up by Steven Van Yoder:

Thought leadership positions you and your company as an industry authority and resource and trusted advisor by establishing your reputation as a generous contributor to your industry.

So where does blogging fit?

What you can do with blogging, much more effectively and much faster than with, say, a traditional, more static web site, is to accelerate the process of your being observed and recognized as a thought leader.

Does that mean you have to write profound, intellectually challenging blog posts day after day, or week after week? Not really – and I would suggest that the chances are that, if you try that approach, either you or your readers will soon get bored.

If you feel you have a good understanding of your industry, or how your business contributes to the broader community, or some other issue related to your business, and can happily write about that and share your ideas, your readings, interesting links about that, week after week, then you could well be in a good position to establish yourself as a thought leader. Or if you are already recognized as a thought leader, a blog can help you entrench that view more deeply.

Especially if your competitors are not blogging, or only doing so very rarely.

It’s not just blogging, but blogging is one very accessible way to project your thought leadership to a wide audience.

Have you had experience of establishing yourself as a thought leader or reinforcing that, with the help of blogging or other new media? Can you think of examples of others who have done so? If so, I hope you will share them in the comments.

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).