The famed author Alvin Toffler wrote in his 1970 bestselling book Future Shock that humans are not psychologically prepared for the pace of change. He coined a term for this phenomenon and named it “accelerative thrust.”
He noted that not only was everything around us changing rapidly, but that the majority of it, including human knowledge, the size of the population, energy use and technology, was all changing exponentially. Toffler’s solution to this thrust issue was to “begin some kind of control over the process, to create institutions that would assess emerging technologies and their likely effects and to guide development in the direction of social harmony.”
This last statement is the true lesson, in terms of social strategy. How does your organization guide development in the direction of social harmony? We all have watched as the methods of marketing, as we knew them, have been disrupted by social media.
The tide is still shifting, as advertising, in short 60- second bursts or lines of copy on a print ad, has been overthrown by an ongoing need for brands to create content and endorse an ongoing social conversation in perpetuity.
Many brands are still trying to conceive their role as a content creator by moving away from paid media as they try to cut costs for more earned impressions, and because there’s no place for traditional advertising on social networks. This is the phase, described by Toffler, of brands trying to “begin some kind of control over the process.” However, once brands have this process established, they need to “guide development in the direction of social harmony.” This is where thought leadership content creation enters the picture.
First, what is thought leadership? Thought leadership is content usually written, recorded, created and distributed by leaders within a business recognized for innovative ideas, with a passion and expertise to promote and share new ideas in actionable forms. I’d like to think of this particular post (though you may beg to differ) as an example of thought leadership, as I will provide innovative thinking and actionable items for why your business needs to move into thought leadership content creation as a piece of an overall content creation strategy.
Thought leadership is important in all areas of business, innovation, commerce and the social web, because it is a way for businesses to create a credible space within a given niche. It functions as a way of elevating your business above others in your sector. But simply stating you are a thought leader, or authoring white papers or books, is not enough in the social era. Thought leadership is entering a new era, one in which it must be socialized, with sharing in mind prior to creation.
Thought leadership content marketing ultimately allows your company to position itself to where you are amplified in a role as the expert, not simply because you understand a given topic, but because you understand how to elevate that subject into a conversation on the social web, and continue to participate in it. Thought leadership isn’t just about the end cerebral product living on a website, waiting for download. The best thought leadership in the socialized era now includes planning for how people will share said content, while still in the process of creating it.
For the majority of time in which thought leadership has been developed, it has unfortunately lived on owned website properties gated by registration forms, and has not been produced with the larger social sharing web in mind. In order to “guide development in the direction of social harmony,” as Toffler suggests, living in this era of “accelerative thrust,” your company must adapt a thought leadership content marketing strategy to bring your thinking to the ongoing discussion around evolving subjects.
One cannot expect visitors to travel to your website to download your thinking if they live within the social sphere. Knowing this basic premise, here are a few things to keep in mind as your business creates thought leadership content:
- Thought leadership content should not be about just your company and the products or services that you provide. This kind of content is simply an advertisement, and doesn’t help drive engagement, or word-of-mouth. The kind of content that will be appreciated, and establish your business as a reputable source, extends beyond what you have to offer. Thought leadership is about thinking. Not selling, so take the long lead approach and create content that really makes the intended audience comment, share, think, engage, question and debate.
- Thought leadership content should be served up with the modern world of design in mind. If each piece of content looks like a press release or an infographic doctored to simply sell a product, it’s not really helping target new audiences, or persuading this new audience to trust you.
- When developing thought leadership content create a cadence. Content should be created on a regular basis, so that it’s never outdated. The world is constantly evolving. An article from three months ago on a subject is now considered outdated. Keep the content fresh, and follow an editorial calendar that includes the type of content, topic, places to publish, and places to promote.
- Align your social communities with your thought leadership. Social media have altered the way customers want to continue speaking with you. It’s important that you have a blog or website that is synchronized with your social properties, so you can continue the dialogue with interested parties who want to speak with you in social. Not everyone wants to do it on your website. Don’t take offense, but traffic to your website is not always your customers’ ultimate goal. They’re looking for a solution, or a way to approach an issue. A back-and-forth discussion on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or other platforms might be a better area for them to talk with you. Too many companies are fine with simply publishing thinking, without being able to continue the dialogue. That’s a one-way conversation that doesn’t fit into the lay of the land. If there’s one thing social media has taught us, it’s that customers want to be heard, they are people and they want a company to bring them something more than simply broadcasting expertise to the situation. They want a discussion and access, and they want it with real people. Not simply a nameless Twitter handle or a Web page they find via search with “contact us” fill-in forms.
- SEO is fading as a way for interested personnel to find your opinion on a matter, so it’s important that people can find you via social search, PR, or social sharing. Make sure you set up your thought leadership content to be discovered in this manner for greater success. Too many companies still don’t have options for sharing on their owned properties. What is the point of the thought leadership content, if it cannot spread to others looking for that viewpoint?
- Publish unique or original points of view only. Be ready to take a stand. Don’t be afraid to hear criticism. Thought leadership sparks debate. Don’t want to have to deal with this scenario? Then remove yourself entirely from social media, or the business world, for that matter. We live in trying times, where new ideas are desperately needed, and will be criticized because people are afraid of change. Remember what Toffler stated about people not being psychologically prepared for the pace of change. Be that guardian for them. Let them put their trust in you. Act as their guide in the socialized era of accelerative thrust.
- Only have 150 fans? Perfect. According to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, that’s all you really need, anyhow. Don’t get mired in numbers, because global brands like Oreo have a million fans. You don’t need a million fans to create a chain of new thinking about a topic you truly believe in. Social media is not about how many people subscribe to you, anyway. Leave that to traditional media. The socialized era is about the connections, and how many of those people you speak with regularly, and who share your content. It doesn’t take millions to make that happen.
- When formulating a content idea, think of the share (the act of someone posting your materials to a social site), which is far more valuable now than a “like” or a “follow.” Influence in the socialized era is based on how many people you can get your thought leadership content to influence others. This ties in with point number seven. You only need a few people to create a chain of activity with the right tipping point.
- Listen before speaking. Statements where you are trying to push your agenda around a subject, while not tying it back to the ongoing discussions on the social web at large, are not powerful, nor very social. Analytics is a big part of life now. Before weighing in on a topic, see what others have to say about it, to better formulate a piece of content that will have more of a stickiness factor than another POV backing up another 1,000 POVs on the same topic.
- Last, but not least, if your materials are too hard to understand for your target audience, they won’t learn anything or even bother to share it, remember it or remember you, for that matter, in the long run. It’s important to produce content regularly that fits this last point. Thought leadership content needs to go on a diet and become lightweight, in order to be agile and create sharing. This is difficult in the sense that many topics covered within the thinking space cannot be surmised in five bullet points or 140 characters. Think of the format delivery which ties back to point number two. Can you do a three-minute video speech instead of a 20- page white paper? Can you do a tweet chat with experts that you Storify and distribute post-event? Can you do a weekly top- five list of things affecting your industry, so people lean on you as the “go-to company?” Let the response around your content to those who share it or ask questions be more in depth. By showing you have the knowledge and the one-on-one time to converse in an ongoing manner with those asking questions, those potential customers will feel that you are their personal guide, directing them in their development toward a goal of social harmony and higher thinking.