How to Be a Thought Leader in Your Online Community

Adapted from my talk at the May 6 Microsoft MVP Community Connection event.

Ever wonder how people get to be “thought leaders“? Becoming a go-to, trusted expert in your niche or community is a good thing to be, both professionally and personally.

In a talk I gave recently, I addressed the often-elusive How To as someone who watches thought leaders appear and grow. Here’s a synopsis, and feel free to discuss in the comments!

How I Pick Out The Thought Leaders

In the global Yammer External Network I manage for my company’s customers, I don’t know these customers personally. But I can pick out the thought leaders.

Here’s what they use this External Network for:

  • First-time training jitters & veteran reassurances.
  • Sharing challenge-to-success moments that end up as amazing stories they don’t even know they’re telling, because to them, it’s just what they do.
  • Networking is a byproduct and happens naturally simply through conversation.

I know who the thought leaders are because:

  • Simply through these customers sharing their experiences, I know exactly who I’d go to if I see a question about X type of training, or Y type of setting.
  • I also know who to go to when I want to get a public blog post for our website, or an audio clip or podcast, or even a video.
  • And this is done simply through them being present, prolific, and helpful.

Remember, I don’t know these people personally and I may never know them. But because they’re active and sharing, I know their names. I can see whose words and stories should be brought out for others to learn from.

How you can do it, too

  • Somebody out there DOES need your knowledge. You may just not know who it is. You may never know. But what you do know is important.
  • “What I do all day isn’t interesting. It’s not a story.” Cease this line of thought! Think about this: When you Google a question, someone else has always had that question too, no matter what it is.
  • Through sharing your experience, you’re telling a story that resonates with others.
  • As you keep sharing, people start thinking of you as a Person To Go To even if they don’t know you personally. They’ll tag you in conversations. They’ll make sure you see something pertinent to you. They’ll ASK for your input!


  • Finding a community is, of course, key. It may take a few trials to find one that really suits you, and you may find yourself moving on periodically.
    • Examples of communities: A Yammer network, the Microsoft Tech Community, a Facebook group, LinkedIn (posts or in general), Medium, cultivating a Twitter presence, building up your own blog, etc.
  • You do need to find the “why” for yourself. What’s in it for you? You have to stay interested, too!
  • Build in time to post like it’s a regular appointment. Set an Outlook reminder, a sticky note on your monitor, an alarm on your watch. Over time, it’ll become like clockwork where you don’t need these reminders anymore.

What questions do you have? What’s worked for you?

Do we really have to talk about everything all of the time?

Serious question: What goes through people’s minds when, upon seeing a single topic posted or discussed, their comment is along the lines of, “This happens for X too!” or, “You didn’t also talk about Y and Z so therefore what you’re discussing right now is invalid.”

Do we really have to talk about everything all of the time?

In that case, for the record, I don’t kick puppies. I don’t think I’ve ever actually stated that I don’t, so it might come up when I talk about apples, and since the default is to assume the worst because that’s easier than thinking. . . .


I asked my friends via Facebook if this only seems to happen more during online conversations.

One responded, “It does seem that people with only tangential information are more willing to volunteer it online than in person. The lack of opportunity for withering looks seems to embolden.”

There might be something to that!

All This Twitter Account Does Is Tweet Art, And That’s Pretty Neat

There’s a name and even a face.

There are over 13,000 followers.

And all this Twitter account seems to do is tweet and retweet art pictures from other Twitter accounts.

Here’s one:


by Patrick William Adam, R.S.A, from Edinburgh, Scotland (1852-1929)


It’s particularly nice because some of these artists can’t very well tweet it themselves.

But you know what’s grand about this? Erin Harris, who first brought this account to my attention, put it thusly: “It’s like making my Twitter profile into Pinterest without having to go to Pinterest. I can look at my feed when I need to see some beauty.”

It’s true for the rest of us, too. If you follow this account, you will see beauty in your newsfeed–and new discoveries.


Childe Hassam, Apple Trees in Bloom, Old Lyme, 1904