Public Affairs professionals have always wanted better metrics, and this is especially true with regard to thought leadership. As is often the case with other parts of our work, we tend to lean on the metrics that are the easiest to access, not necessarily the ones that truly signal our success. There is a lot of attention paid to how many people attend our events or the number of web impressions we may leave. These metrics should be gathered, but they also diminish our ambition and often distract us from the real reasons we invest our time and attention here.
The first litmus test of effective thought leadership is engagement. Are we sharing ideas that resonate with our community, and even spur discussion? Engagement may manifest in any dozen of ways—some online, some offline. But we want to see evidence that people are commenting on what we share, and passing these materials on—there should be a groundswell of attention that forms each time we speak up. Even more important, we want people to seek us out directly to talk about our ideas. Thought leadership should help us build relationships.
But the real standard is contagion. Not only are people talking about our ideas but are they also adopting them as their own. Let's keep in mind that when we engage in thought leadership, we aren’t merely releasing interesting tidbits. Our content should over time aggregate into a vision for how to solve a problem we share with others, and your intent is to help them see that our solutions are the right ones. We are looking for disciples, something we can measure through the number and quality of partners we attract, and who takes our arguments as their own.