Home » What is Thought Leadership Content? 9+ Steps for Virality
Apr,2024

What is Thought Leadership Content? 9+ Steps for Virality

There’s a surge in a certain type of content. The kind that has many would-be influencers asking, “What is thought leadership content?” As with many similar phenomenon in the digital world, first appears the trend, then appears a method of naming that trend.

In this case, the “trend” in question is thought leadership.

In addition to the increase in fun dances, silly songs, and wry observations of life in general that took place across apps like TikTok (and later Reels) was individuals making clear, concise claims of something specific, and often as a disruption to formerly held beliefs.

This has since been coined “thought leadership.” And, due to the way in which many of these clips or quotes have gone viral, many want to know how to make thought leadership content, and also what it is in the first place.

How can they, too, go viral for their ideas in any given space?

That’s what we’ll get into today, starting with correcting—or actually defining—thought leadership content as a whole.

Here’s what else we’ll get into about thought leadership content:

  1. What does thought leadership mean?
  2. What is thought leadership content?
  3. Examples of thought leadership content
  4. Steps to create thought leadership content

What does “thought leadership” mean?

Thought leadership embodies the concept of being a trusted, authoritative voice within a particular field, industry, or specialty. It goes beyond just having knowledge and often involves consistently sharing valuable insights, innovative ideas, and unique perspectives that inspire others and drive meaningful change.

Thought leaders often have pointed, specific takes on commonly known understandings in their industries and share them this way. They are proactive in addressing challenges, offering solutions, and sparking conversations that push the boundaries of current thinking.

They’re not just parroting everything else online about a given topic, which is an important distinction.

But even more importantly than unique thoughts is the second part of this term and what tends to matter even more: leadership of thought.

Specifically, if you can take a widely thought concept, but one that’s hardly spoken about, and be a leader in opening a dialogue within it, that is the most potent form of thought leadership. More on this in the section on creating thought leadership content.

Put simply, thought leadership is being a leader in how one thinks.

What is thought leadership content?

Thought leadership itself is one thing, thought leadership content is another, and actually requires a different set of skills. Essentially, thought leadership content is the visual representation of these ideas created in an easily digestible format.

It can be anything from starting a speech to email newsletters, reels and TikToks to a simple quote shared as an image.

The content itself is meant to stir discussion or make a claim.

This isn’t to say that you can make any claim and it’s considered thought leadership content. True thought leadership content has been refined considerably.

At its core, thought leadership is about building credibility and influence through the quality and relevance of your ideas, especially when it comes to your own personal experience. It’s not about self-promotion but rather about contributing to the collective knowledge and advancement of a particular field. 

Thought leadership content points out trends, commonalities, and overlooked insights about widely held and accepted beliefs in a way that’s easy to understand and highly digestible.

It might look simple and created without much thought, but it’s actually the opposite.

The best way to get a feel for what thought leadership content is when compared to normal, everyday educational content, let’s look at some examples.

7 Potent Examples of Thought Leadership Content

Sometimes, you just have to see enough of something to understand its nuance. It’s easy to think that thought leadership content is just educational material when in fact, these are very different. Yes, thought leadership material can be educational, but it’s slightly different than just teaching someone something.

Here are examples of thought leadership content in various formats.

In-depth Research Reports: 

Thought leaders often produce comprehensive research reports that delve deep into a specific topic, offering valuable insights, data, and analysis that are not easily found elsewhere. But it’s not the research report itself that’s considered the piece of thought leadership content.

The research report informs the summarization of the idea that becomes thought leadership. And in fact, the thought leadership idea is what often leads to the prompting of the research.

I know, it sounds a little silly. But research journalists and authors like Adam Grant and Malcolm Gladwell are great examples of this. Here’s how their form of thought leadership often works:

  • They have a theory
  • They either create a study or perform research based on their theory
  • They take the findings and determine the facts of their theory
  • They summarize it in a form of thought leadership content (quotes, podcasts, or books)

In this way, a research report can be considered thought leadership content by itself, but we do recommend turning the findings into a version people actually want to consume.

Because let’s be real…how often do people read research reports?

Whitepapers: 

Whitepapers are authoritative reports that address a specific issue, offer solutions, or present a new perspective on a topic. They are often used to educate readers and establish the author’s expertise.

Many use whitepapers as lead magnets or forms of conveying in-depth information. They’re thought leadership in the topics and methods in which the knowledge as come to pass. Again, we usually see the results of whitepapers in shorter form content, much like research reports.

Opinion Pieces:

Particularly on platforms like Medium, opinion pieces are huge in the thought leadership world. Thought leaders often share their opinions on industry trends, challenges, or future developments, offering a unique perspective that sparks discussion and debate.

Sometimes, you’ll often see opinion pieces in response to other opinion pieces, and both of these would serve as thought leadership in their respective ways.

You can also find one-off opinion pieces that don’t really conform to the way most of society thinks and operates. In itself, these ideas are thought leadership—leading those to think in their own ways, like Margaret Dean and her story about her life and the differences in how others see it versus how she does.

example of thought leadership content opinion piece

The specific opinion about what one’s job might look like and what one gains from it is contrary enough from popular opinion that this take stands out as its own form of thought leadership content.

Audio: Interviews, Podcasts, Speeches 

Thought leaders frequently participate in interviews or podcasts, where they share their insights, experiences, and advice with a wider audience. Podcasts offer such a good platform for thought leaders to be able to talk in-depth about their concepts.

The problem with many short-form versions of thought leadership content is the fact that you can’t support your ideas or claims.

Podcast interviews tend to house a lot of thought leaders purely because of a simple reason: competition.

Each podcast host wants to get downloads. They want people to listen. If they promise an interview that’s unique, different, special, and specific, it increases the likelihood of people listening. Plus, many podcast guests are speakers, and use this medium as a method to test their ideas and address questions they might want to answer in a more formal setting, like with a speech.

In particular, speakers find a lot of success in getting their thoughts out there via podcasts, interviews, and especially platforms that host thought leadership content like TED talks or TEDx talks. Like TED talks, many forms of audio thought leadership content are also made in video form, unless it’s an audiobook.

Plus, the more authority the platform has, the more likely it is that your thought leadership content will be received well and take off—but only if it’s well put together. That’s why there are so many resources available (like us) for landing a TEDx talk, writing a book, and sharing your message.

This is just one example of the viral potential of putting your thought leadership content into a TEDx talk, as one of our members did:

We’ll get into a bit more of the process of creating such a highly received piece of thought leadership content in the next section

Video Content: 

Videos, specifically content on TikTok and Instagram Reels, is what most people think of when they think about thought leadership content. The rise of this medium has given many access to sharing their ideas to the masses.

Thought leaders may create videos, such as TED talks, webinars, or online courses, short snippet videos, Youtube videos, and more where they present their ideas, share their expertise, and engage with their audience in a more dynamic format.

As you can see, there are various types of video content and they typically fall under two categories:

Short Form Video Content

Anything that’s under three minutes can be considered short form video content, but you’ll often find thought leadership videos that fall under 30 seconds. Mostly, this type of content is on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Youtube. You’ll also find some of this on Pinterest, though that platform is more for creating tutorials rather than thought leadership content.

Long Form Video Content

Anything longer than 3 minutes is long-form video content. While Instagram has technically allotted up to 60 minutes of a video in your feed, most don’t consume video content on Instagram that way. Youtube and Facebook are primary places for long form thought leadership content.

Here are some examples of video content you might find in the thought leadership space:

Podcasts are often recorded and used for both long form and short form video content. Podcasts are a great way to get a lot of video content you can split up so you have both types.

Written Content: Captions, Newsletters, Blog Posts

Believe it or not, “newsletters” are coming back. Did they ever leave? Yes. Once upon a time, people were sick of receiving emails 7 days a week from companies selling stuff. They missed the more intimate, one-on-one feel of receiving an email from a friend.

Enter: newsletters of 2024.

Many with platforms are using their newsletters for the purpose mentioned above. They’re not trying to sell anything (or much of anything) anymore. They want to share their thoughts with you. Their opinions. Their specific acquired knowledge and experience, condensed into a digestible email written in a casual manner. These are all over the place, but some do it better than others.

Here are a few examples of thought leadership content newsletters:

Also important to note is the fact that you can make written content in many ways. Captions, blog posts, you name it. Adam Grant, for example, takes his book concepts and writes punchy, short form content that supports his long-form idea. He then shares them on X (Twitter) and screenshots those to share on Instagram.

You can see an example of the various methods he uses below:

Blog posts are another game entirely. Mark Manson still writes articles on his site, as you can see below. Notably, he also offers the option to listen to the articles, too.

9 Questions + Steps to Create Thought Leadership Content With Viral Potential

If you haven’t gotten the picture by now, you should understand that most thought leaders create several forms of thought leadership content. You can turn a podcast into several forms of thought leadership content. The same is true for long form videos.

But you can’t make any of that without first knowing what your thought leadership content is about.

Let’s do that now:

1. What’s your idea?

It’s incredibly tempting to take the idea you think will be the easiest and that people will “like” the most. The one you think will go viral the fastest. In fact, most of us assume those are the ideas worth creating. So we do. And then when they end up getting only a few likes, a few responses, but mostly go unnoticed, we aren’t sure why.

But it was a brilliant idea, we think.

I’m sure everyone can relate to this, we justify.

The truth is that a thought leadership idea—a good one worth pursuing—should feel a certain way, and that way is not often “brilliant”. In fact, it’s often one of fear that stems from vulnerability and very personal means.

You will have many ideas as a thought leader. But you need to learn how to differentiate a good idea from a piece of thought leadership.

Here are a few ways to do that:

  1. Take your general ideas and filter them by what has emotional impact
  2. Narrow them to the ones that have affected your life the most
  3. Pick only one that you have a slight aversion to going deeper on (due to discomfort, vulnerability)
  4. Put the rest of the list aside for now
  5. Lastly, that the more difficult idea and move on to the next step

All of these still require specifying. Therefore, we’ll take a look of that next.

2. What’s your perspective?

An idea is just an idea. A thought is just a thought. Without perspective, ideas lack substance.

To create something worthy of thought leadership, your content has to have perspective. That’s where your life experience comes into play. What affects you most will likely impact others as well.

One of the biggest misconceptions humans have is that our emotional experience is singular. In fact, we all tend to experience many of the same things. When you can point out a common feeling in a large portion of the population, your thought leadership is appreciated…usually in the form of shares and virality.

You have to get a clear picture of your perspective.

Others may see something the way you do. That’s okay. They won’t see it from your specific angle, and that’s where your perspective comes into play.

In order to understand this, here’s an example from our member Kevin Breel, whose talk on Confessions of a Depressed Comic has nearly a million views. Is the concept of a depressed comic…new? Original?

No. In fact, one could say it’s almost a cliche. All comedians are depressed…right? What makes this idea—one that almost everybody seems to know already—unique is the depth.

Here are the steps to help you narrow your perspective:

  1. Identify the first time you thought of this concept, if you can remember
  2. What experiences led to this? List them out, we’ll use them later
  3. Think about your emotional state when you remember and consider this idea
  4. Consider various ways most people think about this concept
  5. Describe how your view is different from those people’s
  6. List 3 identifying factors that help others understand who you are to view this concept from this angle

Most importantly, get clear on the emotional position you were at in life when this concept first occurred to you, and the factors that led to its conception. This is the perspective you’ll use going forward.

3. What emotional and psychological states were you in?

There is no thought leadership without your experience. The best thought leadership that exists was spawned from someone’s personal experience and their deep feelings about it. The idea you had didn’t just randomly pop into your head. There is no random in the world of thoughts.

Everything came from something; a comment made by a stranger, an observation while driving down the highway, the connecting of seemingly unconnected ideas in a space designed for such coalition (aka: a hot shower after a long day). More than anything, these thoughts came from a time and place in which you were there, living through something that was significant enough in your life to remain.

More specifically though, and what most people lack in their thought leadership content, is the place you were at when this idea came to be. Your life circumstances.

Not just, “I was grocery shopping and noticed…”

But more like, “I was struggling to feel anything about life when I walked into the grocery store that day…”

Emotionally and psychologically, where were you?

So, you already drafted your experiences. Now it’s time to think about and confirm the deeper side. Stories don’t just contain events. They have an entire emotional journey alongside a play by play of events taking place.

What are yours? Go back through these experiences and get very clear and specific as to what you were feeling and why and how that impacted you psychologically at the time.

4. What’s your goal?

“To help people” is, to put it bluntly, lame. It’s not a strong reason to create thought leadership content. It might seem noble of you but you have to dig deeper if you want to create the kind of thought leadership content that is shared and goes viral.

If you really want to help people, that is, you have to be very specific in your goal for creating this content.

It’s not just to help people. What else? It’s to help people…what? It’s to enlighten people to an idea so they can…what?

In other words, what action/s do you want people to take when they hear or see your thought leadership content? Will they sit with it and think about it? Do you hope they see a certain challenge differently? Is there a more specific action you want them to take, like seeing a therapist, calling a friend, telling a loved one they miss them?

All in all, write a list of your highly specific goal with creating thought leadership content, as this will stir you to craft it in a way that makes this clear, and will drive you to do more with it.

Most importantly, it gives you a north start for yourself, to help you share this even when it feels difficult, as we’re sure it was for Eli Nash. More on his story below.

5. Choose a creative medium

Firstly, it’s important to note that you can create all of the different mediums of content if you want. Nobody will stop you. But we all have strengths and weaknesses.

For example, not everyone belongs on camera. Sorry. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be coached for a TEDx talk or learn how to be good on video. It also doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to be a better speaker.

It just means that we all have better ways to communicate a message. Which is yours?

A good way to understand which is better is to think about how you process information. How do you initially brainstorm? Do you call up a friend, jot down a bunch of notes?

You can also ask people. Do they think you’re stronger in the written form or through videos or does your voice stand out to them?

Use this as a guide, but not a rule. That is to say, if there’s a type of content you enjoy creating more, stick with that.

6. Draft your thought leadership content

Whether it’s a quick 30-second video, a long form video on Youtube, or an entire TEDx talk, you have to draft what you’ll cover. If you’re not much of a writer, these drafts can just exist as videos or voice recordings.

The point at this stage is not to have a final form of your thought leadership content. It’s to have a general sense of what you want to say, how you want to say it, and what you’ll use to back it up. Get all of this out the best you can, and lean into the discomfort of it if you need to.

Meaning, you know you’re onto real thought leadership when the idea of sharing something this vulnerable with the masses is terrifying.

Take Eli Nash, one of our members, for example.

Do you think the idea of talking about something like this was exciting for him? It probably wasn’t the idea he initially wanted to go with, not when he first thought to talk about his message. The idea of getting in front of an audience—one of 5.7 million and counting—was likely paralyzing…

But he kept going until he found a balance between his goal and his thought leadership.

Leadership in itself is the idea of being out in front. It’s the most exposed position. So draft your idea until you feel exposed. That’s when you know you’re onto something that others consider leadership.

7. Cut it down

It’s likely that your draft contains stories, multiple, and various other means of justifying your point. This happens with most thought leaders initially and has more to do with uncertainty and imposter syndrome than anything else.

This step is fairly simple:

Cut down the draft so you only have your most impactful, emotional story. Which of the experiences you drafted had the biggest emotional impact on you as it relates to your thought leadership content?

It doesn’t have to be the original instance. It just has to have the biggest gut punch.

8. Beef it up

Yes, we just cut it down, but now it’s time to beef it up…emotionally.

Some of you won’t have trouble with this. Others will find it difficult to get emotional. What matters most is that you paint a picture of where you were emotionally enough that the person consuming the content can feel it. Moreover, they should be able to recall a memory of themselves feeling that way too.

If you go overboard, you’ll be able to trim it down but first make it have feeling.

Next, beef it up by adding outside supporting evidence. Make this research-based or pull from experts. You can even reference other thought leaders who had a similar concept. Because remember: your perspective is what makes you a leader in this specific space.

Revise, get feedback, and edit this down until it’s crisp and clear.

You might even make multiple versions of this to get feedback from friends, or to save for making multiple types of thought leadership content.

9. Create your thought leadership content

When you have what you want to say and how you want to say it, it’s time to make your content!

Shoot a quick video for short form content. Sit down and talk at length for a longer video.

Writing newsletters or blog posts or opinion pieces may take more steps and refinement, but you already have the outline from your draft.

Record a podcast if it’s for your own, or use a condensed version of your thought leadership content to pitch to be on other podcasts. Remember to include this along with your media kit or even on it in order to ensure the podcast host understands what you want to talk about and why.

The specific way in which you create your content will be specific to you.

BONUS: Engage, Boost, & Iterate

Sometimes, people go viral without effort. Other times, a person has shared and reshared and commented and boosted a post into oblivion before it’s picked up. You can do that too.

In order to drive a point home, sometimes you need to make it in various ways. That means iterating your original idea. Using more or different stories. Clarifying points of confusion.

Review and respond.

If you want to really take it to the next level, hire a speaking coach and get on some stages. Apply for a TEDx talk to gain authority with your idea. Share your ideas enough and you’ll be a leader in thought.


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Author

Bella Rose Pope
I'm a multi-creative in pursuit of doing exactly whatever I want in life. Former speaker of book things, fiction author in progress, life figure-outer in progress, societal rule breaker extraordinaire. Smells like: homemade bread, book paper, potted plants, & potential.

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