Writing good thought leadership content isn’t easy. Writing great thought leadership content is even harder. Follow these 10 Tips for Creating Great Thought Leadership Content to transform it from good to great.
10 Tips for Creating Great Thought Leadership Content
Write about what you know. If you are researching a topic and trying to find a position, then you are not a thought leader. It doesn’t mean you can’t share your exploration and learning journey with the world, it just means you can’t take an authoritative position. You just don’t know enough.
Thought leaders typically steep themselves in their topic. University professors offer the prototype of an authoritative expert. Business people cannot always afford academic concentration, but they often supplement study with real-world experience. For instance, an executive who created a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software system, or has supported one for many years, can be an authoritative expert in CRM even if he or she has not conducted formal research or been certified in CRM. They perhaps built a business that lead others to the need for certification. That kind of experience is an invaluable thought leadership asset.
Get to the point. There is a journalistic phase that says, “don’t bury the lede.” That means make the point in the first paragraph without meandering through other ideas at the top of an article. (If you want to research the spelling and the history of this term, Merriam-Webster offers a readable narrative here).
Structure the content so readers can find something to intrigue them. Thought leadership content often arrives in the form of a white paper. White papers can be lengthy. Be sure to include a table of contents, sidebars, callouts, and other informative clues to help readers get to what is interest to them.
Create a content architecture.
Thought leadership content rarely consists of a single post, paper, or video. Thought leadership is cumulative. Creating an architecture for thought leadership maps out the story and helps writers understand what level of detail to provide for a topic at a given level of the architecture. For instance, writing about video conferencing could include drill-downs on technology, etiquette, time-shifting, and other related concepts teased in a higher level paper and built out with more detailed explorations. The content architecture can also identify areas for variation, such as video, or an interview in lieu of another paper. Selecting the order and timing for each piece becomes a content calendar or content agenda.
Include references. Although I suggested formal research isn’t necessary for people to write about what they know with authority, doing some research is not a bad thing either. Thought leaders read. Hopefully, they take notes. As thought leaders craft their positions, they should include references to influences or supporting positions from others.
Write a great title. Before someone can read the lede, they need to get to it. Their first impression comes from the title. But titles aren’t just for humans anymore. Titles also play a key role in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). A good title should do dual duty as a human magnet and informative metadata for search engine bots.
Include informative graphics. A picture is worth a thousand words. It still is. It may even be worth more than a thousand words on the web. But don’t just use clip art. Thought leadership usually focuses on relationships between two or more ideas, things, processes, etc. Take time to create a graphic that illustrates your point. It doesn’t have to be an infographic, but it should be informative. Clip art graphics break up a post or paper and make it more interesting to read, but they don’t add value. A good thought leadership graphic will make people pause to reflect, and it will inform the narrative.
Leverage original research where possible. Thought leaders often form a hypothesis. Their writing centers on exploring the hypothesis in the abstract, informed by personal experience. The best thought leadership goes to the next level by using the thought leader’s informed intuition to act as the basis for a funded research project that will test the potency of the thought leader’s assertions. For marketing purposes, year-over-year studies that show how ideas shift over time can become buzz-worthy evergreen sources of earned PR, but they require significant investment.
Align to industries where possible. I once had storytelling expert Steve Denning tell me to go vertical or go home as I was developing thought leadership content for a large software firm. If the topic is general, it may sound great, and even make good points, but it won’t land if readers cannot see themselves in it. A big topic like the future of work can only offer high-level, generic recommendations unless it aligns with vertical audiences.
The Future of Work in Manufacturing will be a much more interesting article to manufacturers than generic observations and recommendations. Going vertical means more work, and it may require bringing in outside, supporting voices, because vertical issues will challenge the authenticity of a thought leader not aligned with the vertical.
Make it look good. Thought leadership is not just about the thought. Be it a paper, post, tweet, or video, thought leadership content should look professional and represent its brand, even if that brand is an individual. Fonts, colors, layouts, and images contribute to the professionalism of content. Pay attention to all of them.
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