Thought leadership. Is it a corporate buzzword? Yes. But it is also a critical component of your content marketing strategy if you hope to build credibility for both your company and personal brands. Publishing quality thought leadership content packs a lot of punch; it positions you as the authority on your subject or industry, boosts your influence, and builds trust in your expertise. But despite its power, many business leaders I talk to are not giving the creation of thought leadership content the time and attention it deserves.
Maybe you are just starting to dip your toes in and are feeling overwhelmed. Or maybe it has been on your to-do list for a long time, but keeps getting bumped in favor of other work that feels more pressing. Whatever is holding you back, I have good news—it is not too late to add your voice to the conversation.
How do I find topics to write about?
In order to produce solid thought leadership content, your content must be, well, thought-leading. This type of content operates on a level above the rest of your marketing. Thought leadership is all about contributing a fresh take to the ongoing industry dialogue. It should be provocative and is most powerful when it comes from a place of experience. This is definitely not the time and place to sell your products or services—it’s the time and place to sell yourself as the expert.
So how do you find your voice and tap into what makes your perspective unique?
First, talk to your peers. Thought leadership is about taking part in the broader industry conversation. What is the word on the street? What are the latest trends? Make a habit of checking Twitter hashtags and industry newsletters and publications daily with content creation in mind. And do not be afraid to build on the content your competitors are producing, as long as you’re adding something new to the conversation.
In order to produce solid thought leadership content, your content must be, well, thought-leading.
Similarly, pay attention to what your audience is saying. Tools like answerthepublic.com can help you tap into exactly what people are searching for, but you’ve got an even better resource right at your fingertips: the frequently asked questions that come up during your sales process. For example, at Trekk, we constantly get the question, “What’s the ROI for using augmented reality with print?” From that question, we’ve created a high-level informational page on our website, a more in-depth blog post, a webinar, a video and multiple social posts.
You should also talk to your team, and I mean everyone on your team. Even if C-suite executives are going to be the public face of your thought leadership content, your employees may be the ones who are the most plugged into what your audience is hungry for. Host ideation sessions to tap into their frontline knowledge. And while you’re at it, take a close look at the data you have available to you, since the basis of the best thought leadership content is original research.
Great, now where do I post?
Once you have honed in on topics, you need to decide on your format, which will be informed by the channels you plan to use for distribution. Thought leadership content can take the form of blog posts, case studies, e-books, interviews, podcasts, webinars, infographics, and much more. It could be an in-depth long read, a short and punchy video, or anything in between.
Here are some easy and effective places to start:
Your company blog — Hosted on your own website, a company blog is the most obvious platform for thought leadership content. Having it integrated into your website reinforces brand awareness and boosts SEO. Just keep in mind that if your website doesn’t get much traffic currently, you will need to work to build up your readership over time. It may make sense to publish your content somewhere you already have a built-in audience in the meantime.
Medium — Medium is a publishing platform that is still blog-like but is separate from your website. It’s easy to use, with plug-and-play functionality. It is less customizable than your own blog would be, but with 60 million monthly readers, Medium has a large built-in audience and features that foster engagement, like the ability to highlight and comment on specific quotes. If you publish regularly, there’s also the chance that your content could be featured on the platform or in their email newsletters, extending your reach even further.
LinkedIn — As the most trusted and respected business-focused social media platform, LinkedIn has become a very popular channel for thought leadership. Unlike Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, the majority of people log into LinkedIn to network and get down to business. Posting in LinkedIn groups is also a valuable way to make your voice heard, provided you are engaging in authentic interaction and not simply spamming a group with your sales pitch.
Industry publications — Not all thought leadership content needs to be self-published. Work on developing relationships with industry trade publications and you might be able to get your work placed in a widely-read and respected magazine or newsletter that’s highly targeted to your ideal audience.
Okay, but when do I get all this done?
I get it—people are busy. I will not say that producing effective thought leadership content does not take time and resources, but there are some strategies to help you prioritize it. First, think about when you want to release your content. Is there an upcoming industry event or a significant product launch that could help amplify it? Put that date on the calendar, now. Having a real deadline can prevent the project from getting kicked down the road.
Second, enlist your team. For most of us, writing quality pieces is time-consuming, and it is okay to recognize that you don’t have time to accomplish it alone. If your operation is small, designate a strong writer to work with you and meet for periodic “brain dumps” that will allow this writer to produce initial drafts for your review. If you are running a larger operation, recruit a few people and assemble a team of writers, editors, and producers who can help you create and polish new content regularly. To make it easier, keep a shared document of topic ideas.
Think of your thought leadership content as a long-term investment that will help you earn the trust and attention of the audience you are trying to reach.
It can seem like an overwhelming task, but remember that your content doesn’t necessarily have to be long. Sometimes less really is more. Above all, think of your thought leadership content as a long-term investment that will help you earn the trust and attention of the audience you are trying to reach. It is about much more than views, clicks, or social media followers. It is a reflection of something much harder to measure: respect.