Thought leadership is the new black. Having an awesome product or service is only half the battle. People want to know who is the person selling it? And what do they know about it? In today’s social media frenzied marketplace, personal branding is everything. And making sure you’re seen as an expert in your area is the key to increasing traffic, sales and exposure.

In order to write a piece that shows you’re a leading expert, you’ll need to follow a few tricks and avoid  common pitfalls. Millennials, here’s how to do it:

Actually Be an Expert

Sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many people write about things they aren’t actually experts in. Put in the time, kick the idea around to peers and colleagues. Do web research, extensively (that means beyond Wikipedia). Go to conferences, meet with other experts and share ideas. Learn as much as you can. Then, write your piece. It would be awfully embarrassing to write a poorly-researched piece that becomes widely published. The comments section can start to look like a gruesome battlefield in these cases. And you’ll have damaged your reputation before you even get started.

Find Out What’s Relevant Today

Okay, assuming you’ve got the first part down and you actually are an expert, make sure you stay that way by keeping current. Find out what’s happening in your area by checking out Google Trends, Quora, Yahoo Answers, Google Keyword Planner and UberSuggest. These sites will tell you what people are looking at, what questions they’re asking and how you can tweak your particular idea to match it to what’s trending today. By keeping yourself up to date, you’re more likely to write something that addresses the issues people are actually interested in. Hence more clicks and more potential to go viral. Your thought leadership is a service. Make sure you’re providing the right kind of service and not wasting your efforts with yesterday’s advice.

Load Up On Social Media

In addition to your blog, your Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn accounts should all be included in your publishing repertoire. It’s no use trying to keep your social media accounts private if you’re trying to brand yourself as a thought leader. People want to know whose advice they’re following. Let them in. Keep all of these accounts professional and directed towards your brand, but let a little bit of your personality shine through too.  Nobody likes too stiff or generic thought leader. Would Mark Zuckerberg’s personal brand be as effective if he wore a suit and tie instead of a hoodie?

Be Original

Speaking of stiff or generic, despite all the research and trend-spotting you’ve been doing, you don’t want your piece to sound as if you’ve been doing research and trend-spotting. You want to write as though you were born with this knowledge. Anyone can do a Google Trends and Quora search. The trick is how to present it in a way that’s original and entertaining. Create a style, voice and language that’s all your own. Put your personal stamp on the subject. Overly technical and overly formal do not translate into viral. Everyone should be able to read your post with relative ease, even if they’re not an expert in the area themselves. An expert’s job is to explain something to the lay person, not to explain it to another expert. Read this guide from James Parsons for suggestions on different approaches you can take.

Study the Competition

Other thought leaders in your area are likely doing the same thing you’re doing: looking up trends, attending conferences, researching and posting. Some of them are doing it better than others. And, most likely, some of them are doing it better than you. Find out who the most successful thought leaders in your area are and study their tactics. While it’s never okay to copy someone’s content, it is useful to copy their tactics and improve on them. Read this post by Brian Dean on how to do it safely and ethically.

Successful thought leaders demonstrate expertise by staying current, studying their competition and dedicating time to coming up with an original twist. When your post goes viral, it’s because you’ve absorbed these techniques and made them your own. When your posts become extremely popular on regular basis, it means you’re mastering thought leadership. Good luck!