In our webinar earlier this month, Devin Knighton of Instructure dropped the line of how companies fall into a “pattern of thought followership.” He described that many companies who express interest in content marketing often times just look at a lot of the content currently being produced, and in the end only replicate what’s currently out there. They fail to add anything noteworthy and don’t take a true leadership position. In the end these companies are just thought followers.
In a discussion on Twitter, I had two statements that really stuck out to me on this point of thought followership.
In the context of corporate blogging:
If you’re blogging for thought leadership, you have to bring something new to the table. Marketing bloggers still don’t get this. #seochat
— Scott Cowley (@scottcowley) August 14, 2014
In the context of content curation:
— Joel K (@JoelKlettke) August 14, 2014
So how does a company move from thought followership to thought leadership? At Right Intel we deal with a number of companies that are in different stages of content generation on their website. We see companies grow and mature over time in their content creation process and ultimately develop a full content marketing strategy. You can almost compare content marketing and thought leadership to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
The Hierarchy of Content Marketing Needs
Need For Content
The obvious first step is to have a location for new content on your site with the blog as your typical place for this. Even in the year 2014 there are many companies out there that don’t have a blog and don’t understand the necessity of a blog on a corporate site. If the blog isn’t your content destination, sometimes a company will start with just a social channel or even a third part blogging platform like Blogger or Medium. Either way you go, a platform is your most basic need for content marketing.
Need To Be Current
Once you have a platform in place, everyone gets excited, writes that first blog post saying, “HELLO WORLD.” But it doesn’t last long before those people end up saying “now what?” Many people come to Right Intel explaining that they need fresh content on their website. It’s been three months since the last post on the blog and four months since the post before that. They obviously haven’t become the wordsmith they once dreamed they could be and have become satisfied adding curated and syndicated content to fill the gaps of their blog. At this point, the blog will be about 80/20 in curated content to original posts. There is still value in this. By no mean is the value from SEO, but it shows current visitors to your site that you are current in the industry.
Need To Be Relevant
If I had to guess, a majority of today’s corporate blogs sits at this stage. A blog at this stage is about 50/50 in curated content to original posts. It may not be exactly syndicated content, but often times the company will repeat the same news that is found on other sites. In most cases there will be minor differences as the curated content is adapted to support the company’s unique position. Usually the content is unique enough to add SEO value to the site, but doesn’t gather the supporting links and social shares to become high-ranking content. Most of the content is promoted to current customers or leads through a newsletter to remain relevant to that lead-base. This is the stage that can be the trap of “thought followership,” where the unique position is often lost in the creation process. People will be satisfied with uniqueness of the content and not work on the uniqueness of the position.
Need To Be A Leader
At this stage, true thought leadership shows. Curated content will be used about 20% of the time and in a role to support the context of the content being created. To steal a phrase from the Platformula Group, this is where true thought leadership separates from “commodity content marketing tactics.” Content is focused more on “transforming an industry and less on creating the transaction” or converting the lead. This content is extremely beneficial for your SEO efforts; attracting the links and social shares needed to rank well for longer-tail terms. In addition to SEO, you will often have people signing up for newsletters or following you on social channels to make sure they see future updates to your blog.
Become A Destination
Becoming a destination is the ultimate reward to true thought leadership. When you reach this status, you have become the go-to destination when people want information on the industry you write about. At this point, promotion of your content is extremely organic and takes off as soon as you hit publish. I admit that this concept is almost too intimidating for most companies to aspire to. The amount of work needed to reach this point can be overwhelming and daunting, but it obviously comes with its rewards.
A Path to Thought Leadership
Thought followership isn’t inherently bad. There can be value in keeping current customers up-to-date with curated content. The crux of the situation is that it is ultimately less effective in bringing in new visitors. Traffic and success of thought leadership is inversely related with the pyramid, which is why those who are further down the path will find straight curation a waste of time, as stated above.
It’s important to understand that this is a path and it is extremely difficult to jump straight to the top. The hardest part about content marketing is understanding that it can take years to reach its fullest potential. As you audit your own blog and corporate content strategy, think of where you are in the hierarchy and determine what needs to happen to get you into the next phase of the path.