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Measuring the KPIs of your thought leadership program

Published 2017-07-14, updated 2023-04-06

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Summary - For many, thought leadership is little more than some abstract status. But many components of it can be measured. Here are the top thought leadership KPIs.

Thought leadership is a hot term these days.

Everywhere you look companies are rolling out strategies designed to establish themselves as experts in their field.

But how do you measure the success of a seemingly nebulous notion like thought leadership?

This post will delve into how you can develop measurable, actionable and achievable key performance indicators for your thought leadership strategy.

What is “thought leadership” anyway?

Pat Kelly Thought Leadership

Thought leadership is closely tied up with the notion of influence.

When you speak, do people listen? Do they put what you said into action? Or is your influence more at the “person with 46 Twitter followers randomly tweeting at celebrities” level?

The legitimate thought leaders out there are:

  • Authentic and original. They say something new and exciting, rather than simply recycling old ideas.
  • Respected. People in their field pay attention to them.
  • Trusted. People are willing to stake their reputation on what they have to say.

Let’s say you’re trying to learn more about space exploration. You probably don’t need me to tell you that NASA is a “thought leader” in the field. You (and everyone else!) already know that they’re an authentic, respected and trusted source.

Why bother with thought leadership?

Think about all the smart, talented and passionate people who work at your company. You already know they do great work on putting together the products that you sell. But they also have a lot to offer from a marketing perspective.

A thought leadership program allows you to spigot the well of untapped talent hiding behind your office walls.

It harnesses the passion of the people who make your company hum and bundles it up as part of your content strategy in the form of blog posts, white papers and videos.

Like any form of content, there is an investment of resources. But it can be a great way to build awareness and expertise early on in the customer’s journey, while also letting existing or lapsed customers know you remain at the top of your field.

Those who have carved themselves out as a trusted expert in their field will have a far easier time selling their product.

How do I measure thought leadership?

Measuring thought leadership isn’t simple.

How do you track a notion as vague as “influence?” People have “influence” all the time, but it doesn’t mean that they matter (I’m a big influence on the amount of junk food my family buys, which isn’t exactly a good thing).

The first question you need to answer with any thought leadership KPI is: who matters? Who are the people you really want paying attention to you?

If you’re an investment blogger, getting Warren Buffett to mention you in a CNN interview would be like striking gold. Getting referenced at your mom’s quilting meeting? Not so much.

Find the current thought leaders in your field and start measuring whether they’re paying attention to you.

What are the best thought leadership KPIs?

There are many metrics you could use to measure influence. The number of visitors you have to your website is, in some ways, indicative of how many people are paying attention.

But not all metrics measure how important your audience members are in your field or the extent to which they are paying attention. Here are a few KPIs that will help measure your influence.


A big part of thought leadership performance is tied up in output. After all, if you’re keeping your expertise locked up behind your office walls it’s not likely to have much impact in the wider world.

Set targets for the number of thought leadership blog posts, white papers or videos you want to produce and then get to work.

Media mentions

Nothing says influence like getting a respected media outlet to reference you. If a reporter calls you up and asks for your opinion it’s a sign to the world that what you are saying is worth paying attention to.

But you don’t need to end up on the front page of the Globe and Mail or The Wall Street Journal to have an impact.

Identify the niche publications and news outlets that work in your field and set targets for how many times you need to be mentioned for your thought leadership strategy to be a success. Tools like InfoMart, Meltwater or even Google Alerts can help you.


A great way to test your thought leadership success is to set awards targets. Nearly every industry has them—honors dedicated to recognizing leaders in their fields. Example: If you’re an entrepreneur in Ottawa, receiving a 40 Under 40 award is a badge of honour.

Quality website linkbacks

A reference on an influential website is worth its weight in gold. Start tracking the number of times the people you’re trying to influence link back to your content in key areas.

Speaking engagements

Keep track of the number of conferences, webinars and speeches you participate in. Nothing says thought leadership like being asked to address a room full of thought leaders!

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Final thoughts on KPIs for thought leadership

The nebulous notion of “influence” makes it easy to let your thought leadership strategy run off course. By identifying the KPIs that truly matter in your field, you can start measuring the areas where you need to improve.

Which KPIs have you found particularly useful for measuring thought leadership? Let us know in the comments!

Mark Brownlee is a digital marketing strategist in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He is currently completing his Digital Marketing Certificate from the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa.

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