How to Become the Next Thought Leader

For the past decade, Robert Scoble has been one of the most influential voices in online technology. Earlier this year, I interviewed him at the BusinessNext Social conference in Las Vegas, so it was only natural to ask him: what steps would he recommend for those aspiring to become thought leaders? Here are four tips he shared.

Start with one thing. You may dream of becoming the go-to pundit about “politics” or “sports” or “the Internet.” Guess again. Those areas are so large, and so well-trod, they make poor starting points: you’ll be lost in the crush. Instead, says Scoble, “I’d try to become known as a world expert on something, to take a small niche you can define.” For instance, he says, “Who’s covering every sensor thing in the world? I don’t know of anybody who’s doing that.” (This strategy worked well for Brian Stelter, now a New York Times media reporter, who got his start with TVNewser, an in-depth blog about the television news industry.)

Ride a growing wave. If you specialize in a flat, stable industry, there won’t be much room for upward mobility. But if you pick a growing field, then everyone will be clamoring for your expertise. “I knew tech was going to be increasingly important in my lifetime, so I focused on it early,” says Scoble, who started by writing a technology column for the San Jose State University newspaper, parlayed it into “a job at a programming magazine no one knew about,” and then continued to build his portfolio.

Expand your empire. “Once you become known for one thing,” says Scoble, “it’s easy to become known for a second thing, a third thing, and a fourth thing.” That spillover “halo effect,” which Prof. Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford has written about, also benefited Nate Silver, the New York Times political blogger who initially made his name as a statistically-savvy baseball writer and then transferred those skills to the world of electoral polling.

Go where the people are. Scoble, a well-known blogger for many years, surprised many in the past year by shifting focus from his blog to social media. “People thought I was an idiot, but I saw social networks were going to be more important, and it turned out to be true. A year ago, I had 15,000 followers on Facebook and now it’s 43,000, and on Google+ it went from zero to 2.9 million. I saw it was worthy to focus all my energy in these new areas.” You can’t be held back by established ways of doing things. Blogging was in Scoble’s comfort zone – but when he saw the growth potential of new channels, he went for it.

What are your best strategies for becoming a thought leader in your field?

This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on March 14, 2013.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.