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How To Put Thought Leadership At The Center Of Your Content Strategy

Pivot to planning your content strategy around thought leadership to put your best content where it will do the most good -and drive the most links.

The way we work has been changed forever. We may return to offices at some point but the cat’s out of the proverbial bag when it comes to remote working. 

‘Zoom-ing’ into meetings has been normalized. No one wears pants anymore. Welcome to 2020…

Since physical offices rarely contain your buyers anymore and events are out of the question for now, we’re left with a lot of business to do and only a few outlets for communicating about it. 

Communication channels are the lifeline of sales, marketing, and public relations teams, now that networking, conferences, and other in-person interactions have become necessarily taboo.

Content produced by demand generation teams (marketing, communications, and sales) has the potential to be very valuable to potential customers. Many of us are working from home and are relying on digital content more than ever to get the answers we need.

“67% of respondents said they rely even more on content than they did the year prior to research and inform purchase decisions”

Source: Demand Gen Report's 2020 Content Preferences Study

Increasing demand for content creates a great opportunity for marketers, but the old approach of letting SEO and social media tactics drive content strategy needs to be reevaluated. 

For your content to be valuable, and memorable, take a stand on something. Ask yourself, “What are we about?”, “What does our brand believe in?”, “What do we offer the world?”. The answers you find will infuse your content with purpose and provide ample opportunity for differentiation.

But having an opinion isn’t good enough. You need a platform and your corporate blog isn’t going to cut it. 

The simple truth is that no one will find your content unless you create links to it from reputable sources. 

What is link-building & why is it important?

Google and other search engines value links above all other search ranking signals (load time, CTR, dwell time, keywords, meta, etc) when calculating SERP (search engine result page) rankings. In simple terms, more links from reputable websites translates to a better search rank.

Building links refers to the practice of generating links from other sites to yours. There are a number of ways to go about this but many of them are time-consuming, annoying, intrusive, or just downright sketchy.

A reliable alternative to all of these dicey methods is the practice of producing a wealth of thought leadership content which is submitted to relevant, authoritative sites in your space which are already serving the audience you’re targeting with your content.

Many sites function as aggregators (niche news sites), publishing content from many different contributors, and welcome submissions from new writers. In exchange for your content, these sites typically give you a byline with a link or allow you to promote a free offer in the text of your article. 

Link-building is the key to a successful content strategy and the key to reliable link-building is thought leadership. By producing a wealth of content for high-authority digital publications in your industry, you’re guaranteed to generate a volume of healthy, rank-building “backlinks” (inbound links to your website).

(Photo: Life Of Pix)

Wait a minute, you want me to write more content to promote other content?

Yes, exactly! For each piece of content you create for your website you should have at least one, if not several, contributed articles published by industry blogs and publications with inbound links.

It’s a lot of content. A lot of really valuable, really important content…

Which leads me to the central theme of this post, refocusing your content strategy around thought leadership, rather than the other way around, to A) prioritize it, B) get the most out of it, and C) put your very best foot forward.

Here’s you create a thought leadership centric content strategy in 6 steps:

  1. Create a constellation of topics relevant to your brand and identify areas where your expertise is strong and your brand is not at a disadvantage (competitor has better solutions, etc).

  2. Divide these topics into 3 categories based on how closely related to your offerings they are: “Self-Promotional”, “Adjacent”, and “Tangential”.

  3. Draw logical connections between these categories so that tangential content raises questions about adjacent topics which can be answered down the line by self-promotional (but educational) pieces.

  4. Create an even amount of each category of content, publishing self-promotional and 50% of adjacent content on your blog and the rest submit to relevant industry sites, along with all the tangential content.

  5. Repurpose everything you use internally for syndication and other amplification and feature the content you get published in other places in summarized posts on your blog, linking to original articles in the text.

  6. Promote all your content equally, making the most out of articles accepted for publication, and filling your social content calendar with rich, diverse subject material.

Ok that was a lot. Let’s dig into each of those points in more detail…

(Photo: Frank Cone)

Create a constellation of topics that emphasize your brand’s strengths

A constellation is “A group of stars forming a recognizable pattern that is traditionally named after its apparent form or identified with a mythological figure.“ according to the Oxford Dictionary

By this I mean develop your content strategy by selecting topics adjacent or tangential to your strengths, where your brand excels, in your market. Have a recognizable pattern to your content strategy that flows logically from top of funnel / awareness topics to conversions through talking points that show your brand in the best possible light.

In other words, talk about what you’re good at or what leads to something that you’re good at downstream of the topic you’re covering, while always keeping the buyers’ journey in the back of your mind.

Thought leadership is worth doing because it gives us the opportunity to put thoughts into other people’s heads.

But writing for writing’s sake isn’t results-driven strategy, it’s a big waste of time and resources. Focusing your thought leadership around key topics, related closely to important features your solutions can provide, helps you build momentum around your thought leadership efforts quickly.

Photo: Tony Hand

Create content across 3 categories: “Self-Promotional”, “Adjacent”, and “Tangential”

Self-promotional content only goes on your blog. It’s very difficult to get content promoting your products or services hosted by a legitimate publication. Industry blogs may allow you to discuss topics adjacent to your offerings, but thought leadership isn’t a sales effort, so just focus on creating awareness by sharing your expertise tangentially.

For clarity, this is how I’m defining these categories:

Self-promotional: Any content that directly promotes your products / services through directly talking about their features, benefits, capabilities, etc. Generally this kind of content will not be accepted as contributed content, however, it’s possible to blur the line with adjacent content by mentioning a free resource you offer along with similar offerings from others.

Adjacent: Subjects that are intimately related to your core area of focus, and ultimately might lead someone to be interested in what you have to offer, can be considered “adjacent” in this context. An example would be a business coach writing about productivity tools; the two subjects are closely related.

Tangential: This type of content, on the other hand, isn’t closely related, in fact it’s not necessarily related at all. In this case your goal is simply to provide valuable information on a topic of interest to your audience. The only requirement is that your contribution increases your perceived expertise in your industry.

Photo: Pixabay

Draw connections between external and internal content

Draw invisible (but perceived) lines between the topics you cover externally (via contributed content) and internally (on your blog). 

For example, the company I work for builds AI technology for market researchers, marketers, publishers, and news junkies. These personas each read a variety of industry publications and many of them accept contributed content.

I produce content about the intersection of AI and marketing, how automation impacts the roles of researchers, and how the media is adversely affected by the programmatic industry (respectively). These are all tangential topics that appeal to our various buyer personas and articles I write on these subjects are submitted to relevant industry publications.

Links from thought leadership articles provide both “authority” in the eyes of search engines (translating to higher search rank) and a small amount of traffic from potential buyers reading my articles.

As people find their way to our site, they encounter content that relates our solutions to their challenges, again, tangentially related to content we’re publishing off-site. 

This typically takes the form of “How To Do X” with our software, such as “How To Curate Social Media Content In Half The Time” or “How To Discover Who’s Reading & Sharing Your Content”.

Ideally, potential buyers might read your thought leadership (tangential), follow links back to content on your blog (adjacent and self-promotional) where they can convert on one of your offers.

Create equal quantities of each category, publishing tangential content on industry sites

Across these three categories, you should have no shortage of inspiration, so just divide your efforts equally and produce a wealth of tangential, adjacent, and self-promotional content, neatly woven into a cohesive narrative.

Submit tangential content for publishing on third-party sites in your industry vertical and try to spread out your submissions between as many authoritative sites as possible. 

Do some basic research on the publications you’re pitching by A) consuming a substantial amount of their content, B) checking their Domain Authority with the Mozbar extension, and C) searching the website domain on search.twitter.com to see if anyone is sharing their content.

In each of these posts you’ll be given a byline or an opportunity to add a small number of links in the text of your article. Since you cannot link directly to product pages in contributed content, you’ll need to link to blog posts that are not overtly promotional. 

This is what the adjacent content is for…call-to-actions and “related articles” widgets can be added to your blog to move visitors into your marketing funnel.

Repurpose, syndicate, and amplify all your content equally

While you can’t republish contributed content in full on your site, or other places, you can (and should) repurpose and amplify everything you create in one way or another. 

There are a couple options for how you can do this:

  1. Repurpose as snackable content

    Turn key talking points in your articles into standalone visual pieces like infographics, social media posts, animated videos, etc.

  2. Repurpose as long-form content

    Combine a few small, related posts to create longer assets like eBooks, or an outline for  webinar series, etc.

  3. Syndicate contributed content to your blog in summarized form

    Once an article has been published externally, you can copy a paragraph or two as an excerpt and publish that on your blog, linking to the original piece.

    *This promotes your contributed content to your blog audience, adds additional content to your blog, and gives you a way to link to this content on your site when you promote it on social media.

  4. Syndicate your blog content to Medium, LinkedIn, and other self-publishing platforms

    This is a great way to amplify your content, just wait a few weeks before syndicating a recently published post to give Google a chance to index your new post as the canonical source.

  5. Amplify your content with social media and services like Triberr, Quuu, and others

    By sharing all your content on social, including thought leadership, your timeline is more diverse and appears less self-promotional (a best practice) while staying mostly focused on your original work. Services like Triberr, QuuuPromote, Zest.is, and others help amplify your content by promoting it to people looking for quality content to share.

Meeting your buyers where they are online and in their customer journey

This thought-leadership-first approach to content marketing is a powerful way to shift the paradigm of your communications efforts to touch potential buyers even earlier in their decision-making process.

Before your customers are buyers, they’re readers, consuming an increasing volume of digital media to get their questions answered. 

The rules of content marketing haven’t changed...they’ve just been slightly refined by the competition over attention that rages across the web. Only really good, really thoughtful, and valuable, content gets read these days. 

“How to” content is valuable but commoditized. Really insightful, data-driven thought leadership is in demand and centering your content strategy around this paradigm shift will help to position you for success in the future.

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