Are You Really Publishing Thought Leadership Content?

So, you have a corporate blog. When you’re not swamped with fourth quarter financials or your business’s next big initiative, you’ll sit down and write a three or four paragraph post about the company’s great new product. Then, you sign off, go back to your day-to-day activities, and post again next month.

Boom. You’re a thought leader, right? After all, you’re sharing insight and expertise with your customers and having a blog at all is a key qualifier for thought leadership.

True, blogging was the top vote getter in OpenView’s recent poll that asked 60 respondents what they thought were the most effective practices for establishing thought leadership. In fact, Harvard Business Review contributor Dorie Clark lists blogging first among the six things companies can do to become thought leaders.

But it isn’t good enough to just have a blog and post to it when you find time. Thought leadership is cultivated from regular blogging. That means writing relevant and informative posts frequently that help your readers gain clarity on an industry topic or concept. Those posts must happen at least once a week (if not more often) and they need to focus on just about anything other than how great your company is.

It doesn’t stop with blogging, either. The best thought leaders produce ebooks, bylined articles, whitepapers, podcasts, webinars, newsletters, and other information-based resources that position themselves as experts in the field — not experts of their products.

True thought leadership is not a sales pitch. If you’re posting stale content that you think your audience wants to see because it’s safe, comfortable, and helps sell your product, then you’re not really posting thought leadership content at all.

According to a research report OpenView released in December, that’s a common mistake for expansion stage companies.

In our research, we surveyed the websites of the top 50 expansion stage software companies with annual revenue of $5MM to $25MM on the 2010 Inc. 500 list. Not surprisingly, we found that a fairly small percentage produced content that cultivated true thought leadership:

  • 56% of those companies featured a regularly updated blog
  • 64% produced whitepapers and 54% provided webinars or podcasts
  • 34% published a weekly newsletter
  • 28% wrote bylined articles that were then picked up by industry publications

Truthfully, almost all of the 50 companies surveyed had a blog or published some form of content. But, more often than not, those blogs and content didn’t meet a key criteria for our research: in order to qualify as thought leadership, the content needed to expressly address market concerns and pain points, providing solutions or information to address them. That disqualified a lot of companies right out of the gate.

So what is true thought leadership?

Based on our research, if you truly want to be a thought leader, your company must commit to consistently updating your blog and you might want to consider producing an eBook or creating helpful or useful tools that customers can use on your website. But whatever you produce, the content should be insightful and genuine.

If you do it well, the benefits of being a thought leader can include:

  • People in your industry promoting your content, giving your ideas a greater chance of going viral.
  • Better visibility in your market, driving more leads to your business’s website.
  • Your thought leadership translating into new opportunities like speaking engagements, trade publication interviews, and guest blog posts.
  • Increased appeal to potential investors, who will be drawn to your influence and expertise in the market.

If you need a more detailed guide to what thought leadership should be, David Meerman Scott penned a great article for Pragmatic Marketing that thoroughly discusses thought leadership’s importance, relevance, and benefits, especially for B2B businesses and marketers. Since I couldn’t say it better myself, I’ll defer to one of David’s quotes to summarize thought leadership:

“To embrace the power of the Web and the blogosphere requires a different kind of thinking on the part of marketers. We need to learn to give up our command-and-control mentality. It isn’t about ‘the message.’ It’s about being insightful. We need to stop thinking ‘advertising’ and instead get our ideas out by understanding buyers and telling them the stories they want to hear. Done well, Web content that delivers authentic thought leadership also brands a software or technology company as one to do business with.”

So, ask yourself this question again in the mirror: Am I really posting thought leadership content on my website? Be honest and change course if you’re not.

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