Back in the 1990s during my first career, I worked at Rodale Inc. – publisher of such well known global brands as Prevention, Men’s Health, Bicycling, Backpacker, Organic Gardening and more.
The publisher was well known for what was dubbed back then as “service journalism.” The idea was quite simple – give people practical, useful information and inspiration and they will become customers.
When we started Altitude in 2004, we took a page right from that book and started espousing, long before it was in vogue, that B2B companies could benefit by taking the same approach. Act smart, share some IP, produce compelling content in the right frequency and you will get eyeballs, raise visibility and ultimately drive leads to feed the sales funnel.
Now, with the proliferation of mobile devices, the insane reach of LinkedIn and the growth of Twitter, everyone is on the bandwagon. The biggest difference today is that people are calling it “thought leadership.” But really, it’s service journalism – gone digital.
If you’re a leader at a B2B company, by now you’ve either attempted to embrace a thought leadership strategy or have at least been tempted to do so.
The benefits are clear. Driving website traffic and lead conversions, getting exposed to prospects and industry peers and giving you an opportunity to put a name behind the company, product or service you are selling can be a real differentiator.
The question is – are you prepared? Here are 8 tips you need to consider before deploying a thought leadership strategy.
1. Make sure you’ve got the goods
Thought leadership doesn’t happen by accident. You actually need to be pretty smart about your industry, the market and the pains your company offering solves.
While “marketing automation” services like HubSpot provide its customers a boatload of decent content to use for in-bound marketing purposes, having a marketing manager pilfer pre-packaged, generic content is not practicing effective thought leadership.
If it’s not your own thoughts, coming from your head and your heart, in your own voice and you haven’t established some degree of credibility elsewhere, you’re just repurposing other people’s content.
What if your marketing manager gets called out on social on something he pushes out there? Can he defend it? Articulate it on his own?
Egg on face is never a good approach.
But you don’t have to necessarily be the one penningthe articles.
2. Find a good ghostwriter in your organization
While the best candidate for thought leadership is likely the CEO or chief technologist, those individuals likely aren’t the ones who have the time or the skill to write effectively.
But all hope is not lost. A good ghostwriter may be found in your marketing department.
Ghostwriter?, you ask. Yes, a ghostwriter.
Some leaders aren’t comfortable with a ghostwriter. Sometimes it’s a control thing. Sometimes it’s a “no-one-can-write-for-me” thing.
Whatever the reason, let me assuage your discomfort.
I assure you that ghostwriting is NOT cheating. It’s still all your ideas. The hardest thing for most people to do when asked to write is to start. And most people get stuck on the lede.
Instead, in true journalism style, have your thought leader interviewed so your writer can extract the golden nugget and craft the piece for review.
Take note: Thought leadership cannot be a thinly veiled advertisement for your products’ features or benefits. A wee whiff of self-serving interest is fine, but if it’s not truly service journalism – which provides readers with real, actionable information – people will tune out and the goal won’t be attained.
3. Have an editorial plan
Just like publishing a monthly magazine requires a well-thought-out editorial calendar where you know months in advance what topics will be covered, your thought leadership strategy needs to be grounded in an over-arching editorial plan. It keeps the effort strategic and provides plenty of advanced notice to get the necessary research and writing done.
4. Get over it
Despite all the reasons to do thought leadership right, some company leaders don’t want to even think about it. The biggest fear is “giving away hard-earned IP.” Well, that’s exactly the point. If you want visibility, if you want eyeballs on your website, if you want more leads and more demo requests, you have to give something away.
5. Make it a priority
So let’s say you have the goods, have the editorial plan, you are comfortable giving away some IP and you’re even comfortable with the concept of a ghostwriter. If you can’t find the time to write, be interviewed or approve the ghostwritten content, the entire thought leadership strategy effort will grind to a halt.
6. Stay the course
If you commit to the strategy and are on board with all the above, don’t abandon ship if the floodgates don’t open from one post. Thought leadership is about slowly building credibility, attracting readers, gaining attention. And while once in a while an individual post somewhere may gain amazing traction and get re-tweeted by super influential people in your space, it is more likely you will experience slow, steady progress against key metrics.
Slow progress is still progress. And little steps forward still move you in the right direction. Be patient. Be unwavering in your commitment. You’ll see results.
You can’t know if something is working or improve it if you don’t measure. On the other hand, don’t hyper-analyze the metrics on a minute-by-minute basis. Do take time to take stock of whether your efforts are resulting in moving any key metrics – number of shares, re-tweets, likes, reposts, web traffic and inquiries. Look for patterns. Are there certain topics that generate the most engagement? Do certain subjects fall flat? Which channels produce the best results?
Whenever you create a piece of content, use it as many places as practical. Post your blog to your website. Stick a teaser for it in your e-newsletter. Push it out through Twitter and LinkedIn – and encourage your team members to do the same. Tweak the format and pitch the most timely, relevant ones to industry blogs.
Most of all, try to have some fun with it. After all, if you aren’t enjoying the writing or editing or re-reading, if you consider the task of producing the content a real pain, you won’t be motivated to keep it going.