By Priscilla McKinney, Little Bird Marketing
When writing for a brand it’s easy to become focused on production and output rather than the overall strategy. Consider the last time you and your team reviewed your published content with a critical eye. Sometimes it is so exciting that we are producing and publishing content that we fail to take a step back and ask ourselves if this is truly the best content to meet both short term and long term company goals. But even content that addresses these goals sometimes falls short of truly amplifying your brand’s expertise or prestige as a leader within your industry. Content goals often deal with brand awareness and then lead generation, but a secret ingredient to taking your brand recognition up a notch is the use of thought leadership in your content strategy.
I talk to CMOs, marketing managers and CEOs every day and the reality is that many are confused about how to integrate thought leadership into day to day content output. Sometimes there are multiple leaders within a company whose thought leadership could be highlighted. This can create some confusion about the uniformity or the cohesive nature of content, but more often than not people are simply stuck on one stereotype of thought leadership as a Nostradamus type of visionary thinking as proper thought leadership. One does not need to predict the next major shift in your industry (and get it right) to be considered a thought leader. In fact, there are many types of thought leaders and their multiple gifts can be integrated into a successful, unique, authentic, and therefore very powerful content strategy.
At Little Bird Marketing we have identified 4 types of thought leaders as follows:
The Visionary – This is the most commonly identified thought leader. The visionary is focused on the future and all conversations are framed by what could be. Their day to day is fueled by goal of accelerating and streamlining the path to the bright future they envision. Think Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk.
The Revolutionary – With a deep love of history, revolutionary thought leaders tell the story of the past only to ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes. They interrogate history and facts and question authority until the truth becomes apparent. Doesn’t that sound like Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin?
The Radical – Radical thought leaders are catalysts. They make the right connections to elicit the necessary blowing up of previously held beliefs to make a path for the new, and better way. Ever had your mind blown by Simon Sinek or Brene Brown? You’ve been in the presence of a radical.
The Inspiration – When we read the thoughts of an inspirational speaker we don’t necessarily learn something new, but rearrange our priorities based on the new conviction that we too, can focus on the positive and bring about that which we desire most in ourselves, others and the world. Their humility and call for deep personal responsibility calls us to do better by simply being better. Mother Teresa, anyone?
Whether your write from a company voice, or multiple leaders are contributing, consider getting a mix of these thought leadership types into your content schedule. Now that you’re ready to add it to the mix, here are some very specific tips and best practices to bring even greater success to this effort in blogging, social media and perhaps even podcasting efforts. Before addressing these individually, remember that no matter what platform is used, all content should be written with a persona in mind. Knowing your ideal client and speaking directly to their needs, concerns and goals will also kick the amplification of your brand to a new level. For the purposes of the advice that follows, we’ll assume you have already done this seminal work and are ready to write and be read.
The first task that most people start with when implementing thought leadership is blogging. “We have a website. We need to blog, right?” While this is true, it’s important to keep in mind that blogging is just a part of your content strategy. In order to become a thought leader, you need a variety of content in different formats. However, blogging is and will continue to be one of the fundamentals of an effective strategy and so it is listed first. By now you’ve realized that anyone can write a blog. The problem is that few are writing great content that builds rapport, nurtures the audience along a buyer’s journey and also functions as a foundation for search engine optimization.
If you want your content to eventually be found and not simply have to direct people to via owned or paid media, thought should be given to keywords, topic clusters, proper use of photos and videos and effective social promotion. Here are three very clear guidelines to get your brand noticed among all of the blogging noise:
#1 THINK TOPIC CLUSTERS
If you have blogged in the past, you’ve become familiar with the concept of trying to use identified and highly used keywords in order to increase your ranking. But search engines have made significant changes recently. These changes signal a need to shift away from the use of keywords, no matter how organic you made them sound, to the use of topic clusters. In short, search engines are now more effective at understanding the overall expertise provided on your website and the ranking is now based more keenly around a more comprehensive understanding of your FIELD OF EXPERTISE. The biggest takeaway from these changes is that you should arrange your blog content around what you identify as your core competency as a brand. Find new ways to talk about your industry that stay closely associated and you will, over time, create a significant content cluster easily identifiable by search engines, bringing you potential clients who are searching for your area of expertise.
#2 IDENTIFY IMAGES
One of the biggest mistakes I see when I analyze someone’s content is the absence of alt text in images and videos. You’re already winning when you put a photo or a video into your blog. Yet, if you forget about alt text, a search engine has no idea what that content is. You need to include this text so that all those images that you took the time to perfectly place within your blog aren’t for nothing.
Video is also becoming a big player in content marketing. People like watching videos, plain and simple. Use it to your advantage. Videos accomplish several things at once. They allow for blog content to be shorter as the text within the article is essentially just a set up for the video within it. They automatically add links to your content (from your blog to your company’s YouTube page). And, they are easier to rank for. Think about it, since the creation of the internet people have been uploading text. The quantity of text on any given topic is going to outnumber the amount of videos available for that same topic. Therefore, ranking for video will be easier if you optimize it correctly!
#3 SELF PROMOTE
Once blogs are written, optimized and published your work is not done. If the content was worth writing, it is worth promoting. While there are some time sensitive blogging that must be done, most of what is written in longer formats for blogging is truly evergreen. That means that if the piece was worth writing, it is worth sharing over time. In the next section we cover best practices for spacing out posts, but make sure the mindset shift is made about a “one and done” mentality. While the easiest way to promote your blogs is through your social media channels, it is not the only way; nor is it the most effective in many cases. There are may other ways of promoting your blog content including:
- Communicate the expectation that your team share a blog as a reason for reaching out to a significant client who has been quiet lately
- Consider including a valuable blog in a LinkedIn sales solicitation message
- Send the blog to an industry trade magazine to establish contact and request consideration for syndicated content
- Calendarize a specific email as a “blog round up” maybe once per quarter to highlight recent blogs to owned contacts
The easiest way is through your social media channels. The biggest mistake I see companies make with this is they promote it once and expect it to be seen. Instead, assume that the first time you share it, no one will see it and in order to get visibility you have to share it several times. You can’t have a “one and done” mentality when promoting your blogs. Schedule it out to post multiple times over the course of a year using several variations of the text to tee up the content. Over time, you’ll be able to measure what blogs, and therefore what content is most interesting to your audience and you’ll be able to hone the right voice for the company.
I’m often asked, “How much posting is too much posting?” I find that due to anxiety people end up at one or the other extreme – either the never share their own work, or they barrage their social media streams. My answer is, “Who do you like to hang out with at a cocktail party – the guy with who talks about himself ad nauseum or the guy who makes interesting suggestions or insights about your interests? Social media should be metered out with that obvious answer in mind. Sure, you can talk about your company, your services and how awesomely you deliver them, but you must balance that with things that truly show you care about the audience. At Little Bird Marketing, we use what we call the RULE OF 15 when posting social media. If you want to directly strut your stuff, consider doing 14 actions which show you care. Then your pitch has a chance to be heard. We break it down like this:
- 10 posts that are interesting or intriguing to your audience
- 4 posts that are directed at a tool or something helpful for your target market
- 1 post intending to highlight the key differentiator of your product or service
This is the balance you need for an effective social media strategy whereby you earn your write to ask for the business. This strategy leaves a lot of room for thought leadership.
When done properly it is a fantastic way to really set your brand apart from the competition in a way that is very accessible to your audience.
Podcasts have gained a lot of popularity over the past few years and are continuing to increase in engagement. They provide a very accessible and inexpensive way to gain authority and allow leaders in your organization to express their knowledge in a very engaging and intimate way. At first, many dismiss my suggestion of using a podcast to amplify brands because they immediately tell me they don’t have a podcast. The proliferation of podcasts simply means that you don’t need to have your own podcast to make this a key part of your content and thought leadership strategy. Great podcasts abound with hosts who commonly interview experts to round out their shows and bring value to their audience.
Not only does getting onto a podcast give you the opportunity to establish your expertise and authority, but it also provides additional content. Many think to send out social media announcements highlighting interviews, but these interviews can also be transcribed (with the approval of the podcast host) and used in a longer format such as a blog. The key is to speak to your ideal client, keep the interviews around your desired topic clusters, and be sure to use that one interview as a basis for creating multiple promotional activities. Just like blogging, there are many ways to share podcasts and simple links bring people right to the recommended content.
Having a strong marketing strategy in place that incorporates thought leadership in with brand awareness and lead generation is the key to gaining clout within your industry. Done properly, it creates a snowball effect as people begin to seek out your content, giving you more opportunities to speak from a place of authority about not only your products and services, but the entirety of the industry. Of course, focusing on quality over quantity will yield best results. But adding thought leadership to the mix will yield results that amplify your brand’s expertise for long-term gains.