Identify trends to become a thought leader

Thought leadership is a central principle in effective public relations. By becoming a thought leader, you can shepherd your industry’s overall direction in a collaborative PR environment, or take the lead in an innovative PR environment.

What does it mean to be a thought leader, and how do you become one? Recall that our definition of thought leadership is simple:

A thought leader’s thinking changes how everyone else leads.

If you want to be that thought leader, you must be creating the thinking that enables others to lead better. To do that, you have to be able to see where your industry is going, rather than where it is and where it’s been. As hockey expert Wayne Gretzky said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

One of the simplest ways to understand where things are going is to use listening and monitoring tools to gauge what people are talking about. For example, let’s look at the simple phrase “social media marketing”. What are the words and phrases associated with this term? Using nearly any major social/digital listening tool, you’ll probably come up with a list that resembles:


This list gives you a single snapshot in time of words used and the frequencies of their use. Take enough snapshots and you’ve got a movie; take enough data snapshots and you’ve got the makings of trend analysis. Use the spreadsheet or data analysis software of your choice to make a rank chart over time:

social media marketing

What we see in the chart above are some terms that have accelerated their discussion volume considerably in the last month, such as terms around social media tools, white papers, and Twitter. These are the keys, the trends that are difficult to see in the raw data itself. From these discussion terms, we’d dig into the context of each to better understand why.

For example, many of the discussions featuring Twitter revolve around identifying real users versus automated profiles, and how to use the service more effectively for traffic generation. Knowing that the topic has trended upwards so strongly in the last month, a thought leader would naturally create more content on that topic and related topics.

If people are talking about traffic generation using Twitter, it’s logical and sensible to test whether they’re also talking about traffic generation on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, etc. Instead of waiting for conversation on those topics, proactively create thinking and content so you can take the lead.

Do this process for your industry and see what comes up. This process can also be repeated/extended for nearly any large body of text as long as you’re able to quantify the number of times a given word or phrase appears, so even if your industry isn’t active on social media (or all discussion happens in non-public forums), you can use it. Use it on search terms, use it on email newsletters, use it on trade publications – as long as you can gather the text, you can analyze it.

The first step to becoming a thought leader is to understand what thinking is needed in order to lead.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology


Posted on September 21, 2015 in Analytics, Content Marketing, Public Relations

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology. A recognized thought leader, author, and speaker, he has shaped three key fields in the marketing industry: Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR, and email marketing. Known for his high-octane, here’s how to get it done approach, his expertise benefits companies such as Citrix Systems, McDonald’s, GoDaddy, McKesson, and many others. His latest work, Leading Innovation, teaches organizations how to implement and scale innovative practices to direct change. Christopher is a highly-sought keynote speaker thanks to his energetic, informative talks. In 2015, he delivered insightful, innovative talks on all aspects of marketing and analytics at over 30 events to critical acclaim. He is a founding member of IBM’s Watson Analytics Predictioneers, co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. Christopher is a Google Analytics Certified Professional and a Google AdWords Certified Professional. He is the author of over two dozen marketing books including bestsellers such as Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer, Marketing Red Belt: Connecting With Your Creative Mind, and Marketing Blue Belt: From Data Zero to Marketing Hero.
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