Co-written by Alan Rosenblatt and Suzanne Turner, with lots of help from Abigail Shirley.

turner4D recently hosted a gathering of prominent and rising women thought leaders to discuss how they may increase their influence using digital and social media tools. A list of these extraordinary women can be found at the end of this article. As part of the program, we developed this primer for Being a Thought Leader in the Digital Age:

A group of women sit around a table discussing how thought leaders can increase their influence


We all have a unique legacy to leave the world.  The opportunity to become a thought leader is less gated than it has ever been. Social media has decentralized the distribution of idea to mass audiences. But this smorgasbord of opportunity can be overwhelming.

This article provides basic tips for taking advantage of this new opportunity. The challenge is to share leading thoughts with a new and growing audience and develop new ways to leverage tools and opportunities to expand your impact as a thought leader.

define your vision

Establish your voice. Content is king (or queen, to be completely fair). That means when it comes to establishing yourself as a thought leader, you need to have a clear sense of what you plan to predominantly talk about and what your primary voice will be. Some questions to consider:

  • Are you going to be a policy analyst or an activist?
  • On what issue or issues?
  • Will you be snarky or serious?
  • Funny or matter of fact?

Remember to be true to yourself. Thought leaders are received best if they are authentic.  Although sometimes it makes sense to create a character to be your vehicle, just as actors do. (But this is generally best as a side channel to your primary channel.)

A Venn diagram with Your Unique Voice at the center, the blue left circle reads: What feels natural to you, the red right circle reads: What other people are not saying.

develop a plan

Define your audience

Be as specific as possible: Which reader will most benefit from your book? What funder will recognize your vision? Which legislator needs to sign on to your bill? In short, who will be most inspired by your vision?

Target your audience

  • Be specific with your goals to more clearly define your outreach and measure your results. Do you want someone to buy your book? Give you a $10,000 grant? Co-sign a bill?

Create a channel strategy

  • Where does your audience get its information? And where are they online? What publications and online vehicles provide them with their information?
  • Essential social media channels
    • Facebook – 71% of Americans are there, over 1.6 billion users worldwide
    • Twitter – The channel for reaching the press, influencers and policymakers
    • Instagram – The most important social media channel for teens and young adults
    • Medium – A social blogging platform used by influencers, including members of Congress and the White House
    • LinkedIn Pulse – A social blogging platform that reaches the professionals you want to influence

create your content

Polish your presence – Ladies – Sadly, we cannot rush forth into the world, all wild haired, revolution sparking from our eyes.  As our mothers’ and grandmothers taught us, we must put our best foot forward to be taken seriously. 

Present yourself in pictures–Have a professional photographer take excellent head shots and interesting candid photos. While it is always important to use flattering photos, it is equally important to use authentic looking photos. If you only use staged, professional photos, you will not be seen as “real.” Use a mix of professional and non-professional photos to represent yourself. Clean up any “digital dirt,” removing unflattering or compromising pictures.

  • Profile photo –Use a square profile photo (400X400 pixels for Twitter, 180X180 for Facebook). This should be a headshot or an interesting bust pose, given the smallness of the presentation. This is the picture that is always paired with your posts, so you want it to be recognizable in a small thumbnail form.
  • Background/Cover photo – This is the wider image behind your profile photo and adds context to your profile. (1500X500 pixels for Twitter, 851X315 for Facebook). This should be an engaging image, but make sure the text overlays on Twitter and Facebook can be read over it (white text, which show up best against a solid dark background).

Your name goes here – If possible, use your real name as your handle. If unavailable, come up with a clearly identifiable nickname that represents your brand, that is publicly paired with your identity.[1]

Wash, rinse, repeat – Keeping your online presence polished requires ongoing maintenance.

Build your thought leadership platforms —Create a landing page that expresses who you are. This page may link to other online presences, such as Huffington Post or Medium accounts, organizational websites or blogging platforms. This online real estate is today’s resume. These can be on a stand-alone website, a platform like, or your LinkedIn profile.

Clean up your SEO

Set the agenda by ensuring online searches present you as you want to be seen. Google yourself and see what pops up. If the first page of links does not represent you well, fix it with the tools below.

  • Flood the zone –Flood the internet with good examples of your work and information about who you are. The more content you post online, the better. And the more other websites link to your content, the better. Link to your articles and press clips from your own social media channels in a way that gets shared/retweeted.
  • Removing the bad stuff, if you can –Removing the bad stuff about you can be very difficult and often impossible. If you know the person who posted something you want removed, you can ask them to take it down. But that is usually not enough. Information will live on in the cache of search engines long after they are removed from the web. There are premium services that you can use to help this removal process.
  • Consider some keyword ad buys – If you have the budget, you can buy keywords on search engines to ensure good content about you is presented in the results.

start a conversation

Establish your web presence –Thought leaders project their thoughts into the national conversation, into industry conversations, into conversations that matter. They do not wait for people to come to them.

Weave your presence together– While you should not auto-cross post from social network to social network, selectively cross-posting is a good way to connect your many audiences to your many channels. You should use the same handle on all your social media channels and make sure that whichever social media channel where people first connect with you, they can find all of your other channels. This is what it means to have a web presence.

Twitter, your biggest megaphone –Weaving the broadcasting aspects and networking abilities of Twitter together is the secret to success

  • Original tweets­­ –– Be sure to not just share titles and links to articles, share a comment about the article you want people to know. Ideally, 12-15 tweets a day maximizes the number of retweets and engagements. A few retweets and a few original tweets a day is perfect.

Facebook, your personal network –Facebook is where you build your personal network of friends and family, but Facebook is also a channel to reach beyond the people you know to the people you want to influence. Once or twice a day is plenty, but be sure to include your original thoughts or smart observations about the content you share. Thought Leadership with Facebook offers two choices outlined below.

  • Profile only – Use your personal Profile for both personal and public sharing of ideas. This approach merges your personal and public life into a single channel.
  • Profile and Page – Create a Facebook Page for your public presence and leaving your profile for more personal interactions, separating your personal and public lives into separate channels.

LinkedIn, your professional network –LinkedIn started as an online resume, a professional roll-a-dex and job hunting outpost, but LinkedIn has become a powerful social network connecting millions of professionals. Everyone who wants to be a thought leader needs to be posting and cross-posting their thought leadership writings on LinkedIn’s Pulse blog platform to ensure they get distributed to your professional network. Try to write something every week. More if you have the time.

Medium, your network of influential bloggers –Medium is a rising blogging platform with amazing networking capacity. Any blog you post to Pulse should be cross-posted to Medium. And since Medium was created by a couple of Twitter co-founders, if you link your Medium and Twitter accounts together EVERYONE that follows you on Twitter automatically follows you on Medium. Medium boasts many Members of Congress, White House staff and other influencers and decision-makers. Just like LinkedIn try to write something every week. More if you have the time. Cross post your content to both Medium and Pulse. Then share your post to your other social media channels… promote yourself!

Instagram, your future professional audience –  Instagram is fun and the most important social network for teens and young adults. It is a place to tell your stories in pictures. A daily post or two is plenty. Make it interesting and not always serious.

keep the party going

Generating content – You need to feed the beast with content and you need to grow your audience. You cannot, nor should you only focus on generating original content. Aside from the fact that you probably don’t have enough to say to keep the wheels of your posts turning, people expect more from thought leaders than just their own thoughts.

  • Curate content – People want to know what you are reading and whether they should read it too.
  • Recommend people – People want to know who inspires you, share/retweet their posts along with your own comments.
  • Say what you want people to know – When you reach people with your post, don’t waste the opportunity. If you don’t say what you want people to know and they don’t click through to read the article, you have told them nothing and wasted a valuable touch. Don’t shy away from using a couple of tweets to make several points from the same article.
  • Not every post needs a link –Remember, as a thought leader you ARE a source. Own it!

Grow your audience

  • Follow – Follow people you want to influence and people you want to be influenced by. Many will follow back. On LinkedIn and Facebook, you send a friend/connect request, which is reciprocal.
  • Tag – Tag people you want to see your posts; people you want to influence; people you want to retweet/share your posts; people with whom you want to deepen your relationship.
  • Hashtag – Use hashtags to reach conversation communities that you want to belong to. Find moderately busy hashtags communities where you will be noticed above the noise and pair them with busy hashtag conversations to expand your reach.
  • Engage – Interact with people on social media. For example, when live-tweeting a conference or event retweet other people at the event, ask them questions and respond to their tweets. Don’t just broadcast, network. Follow people participating in the conversation at the event and keep the conversation going after it ends.
  • Keep engaging – When you engage with someone on social media and then stop, the relationship drifts away. Keeps the relationship going. Continued engagement deepens relationships.
  • Be generous – Social media is about exchanging value. When you retweet someone, they are more likely to retweet you. When you tag someone with information that is useful to them, they are more likely to do the same back. The more generous you are on social media the more you are using it socially. If you only use social media to broadcast information, you are not being social. If you are not being social, you are not really getting the most value from social media.

Don’t go crazy trying to keep up – All of what we recommend can seem overwhelming, but there are ways to keep it under control. Here are a few tips.

  • Use Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to monitor Twitter – Just like you leave your email inbox open in the background, leave Tweetdeck open in the background. That makes it easy to see tweets as they scroll by and quickly retweet interesting ones and click to read interesting articles as you do other work.
  • Monitor keywords, hashtags & lists –Create columns for monitoring keywords, hashtags and Twitter lists This will make the flow far more manageable and relevant.
  • Set your phone to notify you – Your phone can be set to notify you when you are mentioned on social media channels and when people you know publish something. However, be selective. Don’t turn on all the notifications, just the ones that matter to you. Each social media app has its own notification settings but once you have them adjusted, your phone will be a great tool for managing your social media flow.
  • Get the Pulse app – LinkedIn has created a stand-alone app for Pulse. It will notify you whenever you or someone in your network publishes a post or is mentioned in one. This is invaluable for finding and sharing useful content and sharing that content will deepen your relationship with the people who created the content, increasing the chances they will share your posts.

remember this

Being a thought leader is not just a process. It is also a state of mind. If you consider yourself a thought leader, if you are confident that you have something to say that will be useful to people, you will find yourselves implementing the processes above… or some facsimile of it.

Now, more than ever, we need more and better thought leaders. We need thought leaders that break the mold; thought leaders that represent hitherto underrepresented perspectives. We need your thoughts and your leadership.

Attendees at the Women and Thought Leadership Round-table:

  • Bonnie Erbe, PBS “To the Contray” @BonnieErbe
  • Kim Gandy, National Network to End Domestic Violence @Kim_Gandy
  • Valerie Holford @ValerieHolford
  • Myra Jackson, UN Representative in Climate Change @EarthMetric
  • Avis Jones-DeWeever, author “How Exceptional Black Women Lead” @SistahScholar
  • Celinda Lake, Lake Research Partners @celindalake
  • Kawana Lloyd, PICO National Network @LLOYDMediaChamp
  • Giselle McAuliffe, Bigger Impact @curiousadvocate
  • Alli McCraken-CodePink @AlliMcCrak
  • Shireen Mitchell, DigitalSistas @digitalsista
  • Diane Ohlbaum @dohlbaum
  • Rachel Perrone, Rewire @RachelPerrone
  • Mara Veraar, German Marshal Fund US @MaraTypes


[1] Pseudonyms Some people want to preserve their anonymity on social media and use a pseudonym on Twitter, Instagram and other networks. Facebook requires you to use your real name as your account name, even if your custom URL uses your nickname. In other words, hiding your real identity on a Facebook Profile is NOT ALLOWED. You can, however, create a Facebook Page with your pseudonym and omit any references to your profile and real identity.