Measuring the “soft stuff” like thought leadership

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“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” – Japanese proverb

I’m a measurement junkie. I’m not as proficient as Mr. Penn mind you, but I have the equivalent of a master’s degree in statistics and love to dive into difficult measurement problems.

Here’s the very present problem I faced. I just published a book called KNOWN, which lays out a path to building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age.

The problem is devilish because being “known” is not the same as being famous. It’s not about having millions of fans and red carpet appearances. It’s probably relatively easy measuring “famous” by your number of appearances on “Entertainment Tonight.” But being known is more subtle – it’s about approaching your web presence with an intent that creates the proper authority, reputation, and audience to realize your potential and achieve your goals … whatever they might be.

To determine if anybody can become known, I interviewed about 100 people who are “known” in their field. I talked to people who are regarded as thought leaders in education, real estate, retail, construction, business, medicine, finance, fashion, music, art, and many more. I talked to people in Africa, Asia, Brazil, Canada, Australia, America, Mexico, Europe, and the Middle East.

And this is what I found. Every person, in every field, in every country did exactly the same four things to become known:

• They found a distinctive sustainable interest (which is different from a “passion”).
• They found an un-contested space to publish content.
• The created excellent content consistently, for years.
• They worked tirelessly to nurture an audience big enough to matter.

So with that diversity of interviews resulting in this unanimous perspective, I’m confident I’m on to something. There is indeed a path to become known. And that’s what the book is about.

So if you follow this path, how do you know it’s working? This is a critical question because through my research I discovered that many people quit too soon. On average, it took the people in my book 2.5 years of hard work to get to the point where they were achieving their goals. I can understand how it could be disheartening to work for a year, or even two, and wonder if you should quit. It takes persistence and grit to make it.

How do you know whether a stumble along the way is a life lesson, or a sign from the universe that you’re heading in the wrong direction entirely?

When it comes to quantifying a soft concept like “thought leadership,” or personal branding momentum, there are four measures that can help you determine whether you’re trending up or down.

1. The first is a measure of awareness. Awareness can be quantified through easy measurements like social media mentions, “likes,” site traffic, and the number of times your content is being shared. Are people more aware of you this month compared to last month? This year compared to last year? A growth in awareness is a leading indicator of positive personal results over time.

2. The second measure is inquiries. If your reputation as a thought leader is being established, you would expect to see this show up as signs of interest in your professional work. Record inquiries of any kind – organizations who want you to speak, contribute content, provide advice, answer a question, offer a recommendation – all signs that your reputation is improving. Tallying these inquiries month by month provides an effective indicator of momentum.

3. Money is an excellent sign of the mounting value of your skill. People will only give you money if they’re receiving value, so even if revenue isn’t your end goal, money is a great source of honest feedback that your skills are appreciated.

4. The fourth measure should be connected to your personal goals. Why do you want to become known? Is it to achieve recognition? Share your ideas more broadly? Reach some professional milestone? Establish more flexibility in your worklife? Only you can determine if you’re reaching these intrinsic goals and if your work is providing personal reward.

The simplest way to think about measurement is, are you seeing indicators of continuous progress? As long as you’re moving forward and enjoying the work, keep on going because it may take years for your brand to finally tip.

Here’s an example of how you can apply these measures in the real world.

My friend John Espirian is an experienced technical writer based in Wales, and through our social media connections, I learned that he was re-evaluating his career path. He had dreams of being recognized as an authority in his industry, he wanted to write a book, and he hoped to be invited to speak at conferences one day.

In other words, John needed to become known.

He believed that building a profound presence on the web would create a network that could help him realize his goals and lead to new business opportunities. So he started following the four-step process I describe in my book.

The first step in measuring progress is to define success. He wanted to be regarded as a thought leader in the U.K. and we decided that progress needed to be measured through indicators of awareness, opportunity, and ultimately, financial benefits.

John was smart enough to recognize it might take several years of brand-building before those benefits began to be accrue, and he committed to start.

Following the steps in the book and realigning his focus had an immediate impact on John’s life and business. He had been slogging through his career but was energized now that he had a plan instead of just an idea.

Within the first three months, his awareness measures had increased by 500 percent. There were bright indicators of momentum through awareness and inquiries:

• He was featured in a video interview.
• His Twitter following had increased ten-fold.
• He was invited to become involved in a UK professional organization.
• He was interviewed on an industry podcast.
• He received an invitation to appear on a second podcast.
• He was invited to create a training course with a trusted colleague.
• He started working with many new influencers who were helping him build his audience.
• He was featured in a blog post about Twitter success strategies.
• He was offered seven new freelance job opportunities.
• He received a request to create guest posts at a prestigious industry site.
• He got his first invitation to speak on a conference panel.
• Subscriptions to his new newsletter stood at 85, an impressive start for a beginning blogger in a crowded niche!

These are all powerful indicators that John is heading in the right direction. He’s becoming known! By recording these types of accomplishments month by month, he recognizes progress, which is encouragement to keep going.

Not all these accomplishments are quantitative (something you can count, like money, a sales lead, or a new contract), but that’s OK. You need to embrace qualitative measures such as awareness and new connections as legitimate indicators of progress.

And as long as you have momentum, you must persevere.

Will John reach his goals? It may take years to know for sure because ultimately success requires vicious consistency, patience, and grit. But by measuring along the way, he can more accurately assess his trajectory.

Mark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions and has written six books including KNOWN. There is also a workbook that accompanies KNOWN with the exercises and bonus content. Both are available through Amazon.

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