5 Thought Leadership Topics To Inspire Conversation and Community in 2023

Most thought leadership content fails to connect with audiences. Why is that?

Sometimes, it’s incorrectly used to focus on selling. Or it’s unoriginal and lacks new ideas. Over time, the term “thought leader” has lost its meaning.

At the center, it’s about sharing valuable information and unique insights as a business owner. So, how can you better connect with your target audience? Or find the right things to discuss on social media?

These five thought leadership topics are trending in 2023. With proper research and reference to this data, you can dive into each and have your say.

  1. Ethical business and sustainability
  2. Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
  3. Authenticity and building trust
  4. Marketing during a recession
  5. AI-powered business processes

Key takeaways:

  • 96% of large firms document and share their sustainability efforts, but Harvard Business Review reports these efforts usually have no real substance
  • Out of business, media, government, and NGOs—business is the only institution seen as competent and ethical in Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer. Because of that, they’re now expected to act and have a say on important issues.
  • 90% of consumers think it’s important for a brand they use to be authentic. And 67% of adults agree once a brand loses their trust, there’s no getting it back.
  • There’s a 98.1% chance of a global recession in 2023, with seven out of 10 economists agreeing. But brands that continue marketing will increase their visibility and market share.
  • Over two-thirds of marketers now have a fully-defined AI strategy. 90% of marketing managers, directors, and CMOs are using it to automate customer interactions.

1. Ethical business and sustainability initiatives

Investors set out environmental, social, and governance (ESG) company standards to screen potential investment opportunities. They look at:

  • Environmental impact
  • A company’s working relationships (with employees and suppliers etc.)
  • Leadership elements (e.g. executive pay)

96% of large firms document and share their sustainability efforts as part of this. But all isn’t what it seems. Harvard Business Review reports that these efforts usually have no real substance.

Here’s an example of a report from Bauer Media:

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On the other hand, there are multiple accounts of sustainability in big businesses becoming “business as usual” without any high-profile press:

  • A Unilever factory-floor suggestion to reduce the end seal of each PG tips tea bag resulted in savings of 9.3 tonnes of paper (about 20,500 pounds)
  • Retailer Marks & Spencer has “Plan A” champions in each of its 1,380 stores to continuously work toward sustainability goals

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So, what’s the chat on social media? Ethical industry news isn’t a fresh thought leadership topic. But the discussions are growing in popularity.

Climate change and sustainability-focused topics saw a 112% increase in engagement on LinkedIn in 2022.

Employees are part of the conversation too.

  • 83% of workers surveyed in a Unily report agreed their employers were not doing enough to be more sustainable or tackle climate change
  • 77% of respondents in this survey wanted more transparency from their employer and decision-makers on environmental impact

Use studies like these to look at ethical business and sustainability from a thought leadership perspective.

Search for the latest reports (to make sure you’re not referencing outdated data). Then share your own company’s experiences and your outlook.

2. Corporate social responsibility (CSR)

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is always a talking point on platforms like LinkedIn. But what does it really look like?

CSR is a self-regulating business model. Companies use it to become more conscious of their impact on wider society. It’s meant to hold them more accountable.

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Some of the most common examples are:

  • Reducing carbon footprints
  • Improving labor policies
  • Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB)
  • Community and virtual volunteering

Out of business, media, government, and NGOs—business is the only institution seen as competent and ethical in 2023. Because of that, they’re now expected to act and have a say on important issues.

It’s important to talk about big thought leadership topics. But without getting too political. That’s a fine line to tread.

But the data is clear. It pays off:

  • Studies show employees are willing to give up financial benefits and switch to working for companies that have environmental and CSR practices
  • 75% of Gen Z believe that work should have a greater meaning than just for money
  • 77% of surveyed Gen Zers also find it important to work for a company that cares about DEIB

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Companies that can demonstrate social purpose is an essential part of their organization can be thought leaders too. Leadership just needs an authentic intention to commit to meaningful changes.

Which of these CSR policies does your business place most value on? Do you have any personal reasons why? You can cover all these great thought leadership topics.

3. Authenticity and building trust

We live in an age of distrust. 53% of global respondents in Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer say that their countries are more divided today than in the past.

Unsurprisingly, 90% of consumers think it’s important for a brand they use to be authentic. And 67% of adults agree once a brand loses their trust, there’s no getting it back.

Brand authenticity and the earned trust that comes with it have never been more critical as thought leadership topics.

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Slightly less than half of millennials and Gen Zs also think that business positively impacts society. This figure has been on a steady decline for the past few years. So, these younger generations could take more convincing.

Corporate digital marketing isn’t what it used to be. Getting your product in a tv ad or the hands of a random celebrity won’t lead to conversions. Businesses need to focus on longer-term efforts to show authenticity. 

This means sharing more of these types of content:

  • High-quality user-generated content
  • Behind-the-scenes videos of your team
  • Background into your social causes and values
  • Intimate information in your “About” page
  • Funny and value-filled content

San Diego Zoo is a brilliant example of sharing authentic social media posts:

Companies are in a fortunate position of being viewed as more trustworthy than the government and media. Those that are able to connect most deeply with customers will thrive. 

4. Marketing during a recession

People have been recovering after a global pandemic. But we’re still in the midst of turbulent times. High inflation, energy price hikes, and supply chain problems—it’s a pretty bleak state of affairs.

Now, there’s a 98.1% chance of a global recession in 2023, with seven out of 10 economists agreeing.

Entrepreneurs and startups trying to break into the market will struggle. But businesses born in times like these can still thrive. They just have to adjust their marketing strategies in line with global outlook.

Customer experience has always been key. But this holds even more power when marketing in a recession. Because everyone tends to reevaluate their consumption priorities.

The four categories of consumers during recessions

Harvard Business Review splits consumers into four categories:

  1. Slam on the breaks
  2. Pained but patient
  3. Comfortably well-off
  4. Live for today

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Luxury items are subjective. Most will cut back on these (apart from the live-for-today lot.) If you have a way to shift your product’s usage to better fit the new climate, consider it.

Creating loyal customers should be a company’s priority. They keep the cash flowing and your business growing. Marketing to find this group isn’t optional. It’s essential.

Business owners should aim to build and maintain a strong brand prior to any downturns. Those that customers recognize and trust are the ones who make it through.

But lots of companies slow down or stop their advertising efforts in recessions. Those that don’t will find a lot more brand visibility and market share available. Whether it’s podcasts or webinars, content marketing strategies should be value-packed.

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Thought leadership marketing should be considerate and respectful of the tough times. Build your personal brand with bricks of pure value. Switch to sharing knowledge without asking for anything in return.

The best piece of advice for a recession? Stay flexible. Be prepared to adjust your strategy for a long-term slump. Then be ready to bounce back with the upturn when it comes.

5. AI-powered business processes

Digital transformation is always a hot thought leadership topic.

The pandemic forced technology into nearly everyone’s homes. It changed business models and accelerated investment in automation, cloud computing, and cybersecurity.

Over two-thirds of marketers now have a fully-defined AI strategy. 90% of marketing managers, directors, and CMOs are using it to automate customer interactions.

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Since the launch of ChatGPT (a conversational research chatbot), there’s been a lot of talk about how AI will take over content marketers’ and writers’ roles. 

When tech companies are cutting thousands of jobs, you may feel it’s insensitive to jump on these topics. But the trick is to help people see how they can benefit from it.

Like this Tweet from Julia MacDonald referencing ChatGPT:

It’s also important to explain tech in simple terms. Every industry uses some kind of technology. But not everyone is as well-versed. Everyone should understand the language you use.

The artificial intelligence robot market is expected to grow to $35.3 billion in 2026. Globally, there are 113 robots per 10,000 workers. In South Korea, this jumps to 800.

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These are fascinating numbers. But they scare some people. 36% of adults say they fear artificial intelligence. So, be prepared to hear the other side of the argument.

How to apply AI and maintain a human-centered approach will be one of the big thought leadership topics under the spotlight this year. So, think of the value you can add by unearthing these insights.

Conclusion

Your thought leadership strategy and content plan should revolve around value. It’s about having a unique point of view based on solid facts and data. 

Too many people share the first stat or metric they see (without bothering to check it’s over a decade old). So be that person who finds the most recent reports and studies.

Take advice from industry experts. Share your pain points as a business owner and consumer. Add unique insights to every relevant thought leadership topic to provoke discussion. Be transparent. That’s how you inspire a community without even realizing.

Which thought leadership topics do you find most interesting to discuss? Are there any important tips you think we’ve missed? Don’t forget those when building your own strategy.