What Thought Leadership Actually Looks Like

Thought leadership is more than just a trendy marketing concept. It can be a powerful vehicle for impacting the world with your meaningful message. As I’ve defined before, thought leadership is your expertise being made accessible and valuable to an audience by creating useful content and distributing it through effective communications.

The definition incorporates the five key elements that make up thought leadership:

  1. Expertise
  2. Accessibility
  3. Value
  4. Useful Content
  5. Effective Communications

The first three elements make up the “what” of thought leadership: expertise, accessibility, and value. If you lack expertise, you may be an influencer. If you are an expert, but you don’t make your expertise accessible, you may be a coach. If you are an expert and are willing to make your expertise accessible, but it doesn’t add value to an audience, you may be a scholar.

Example 1: The Interior Designer

Being an influencer, a coach, or a scholar are all perfectly valid roles. For example, if a person wanted to carve out a niche in interior decorating, she could fall into any one of these categories. She can be an influencer by partnering with brands and making design recommendations via her Instagram account. She can be a coach by working exclusively with design clients and helping them to achieve their optimal home interiors. Or she can be a scholar by coming up with innovative design concepts and ideas that can be published in design magazines or sold to design firms.

In this example, the interior designer may be doing good work in her field; she just isn’t a thought leader without meeting the rest of the definition. Being a thought leader would require her to bring all three aspects—expertise, accessibility, and value—together, and then scaling it to a wider audience through useful content and effective communications.

Thought leadership for her might begin by launching a blog about interior design that introduces readers to her particular aesthetic and educates them on how to achieve it in their homes. The blog provides content for her social media feeds, adds value to her design clients, and positions her as an expert to be sought out for interviews. Her thought leadership might grow from there into the following ways:

Example 2: The Education Nonprofit

Let’s consider another example. Many thought leaders work for charitable causes, either as individuals or as a part of a team at a thought leading organization. Let’s say you manage the communications strategy at a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to revolutionize classroom learning with innovative technology, then the framework still applies.

If your organization published case studies of tech in schools from around the world, you might be acting like an influencer, inspiring other educators to try the featured methods. If your team works in the classroom with schools to implement creative and custom tech solutions, you may be acting like a coach. And if your team conducts cutting-edge research about new methods that have never before been tried and then publishes your findings in education journals, then you might be acting like a scholar.

Thought leadership for your nonprofit, like the interior designer, will need to bring the three elements together and deliver expertise, value, and accessibility to a wider audience.

Your approach to thought leadership might be to engage in a media campaign. The top leaders in your organization can write and publish op-eds in appropriate newspapers, and you can pitch them to be interviewed on radio and television. This will build your brand and name recognition among the industry, will start a conversation around your ideas, and will drive people to your website to learn more. It might grow from there in the following ways:

How Can Thought Leadership Help You?

While thought leadership for the interior designer and the nonprofit might take a wide range of forms, none of it is going to come easily. So why would they—or you for that matter—want to take on this extra work if it’s not already in their communications plan? I’ll address that in my next article.

If you have questions about how to improve your thought leadership through useful content, we can help! Contact us today.

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3 Reasons Why LinkedIn May Be The Linchpin For Your Content Strategy

Social media is an essential channel for sharing your important message, and we've already discussed that the best approach to your social media strategy is slow and steady engagement

What social media platforms are best? You are probably using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and maybe even something niche like Pinterest or Reddit. But what about LinkedIn? The professional platform isn't just for job hunting and personal networking, it can be a powerful tool to connect your message with your audience.

LinkedIn can seem daunting since it is not the first outlet we think of when it comes to content. But in today’s social media climate, maybe it should be. Here are three reasons why LinkedIn could be a linchpin for your content strategy.

1. Less Nonsense

If you want to see photos of your friends’ cats and kids, you head over to Instagram or Facebook. If you want to debate politics or see the latest conspiracy theory, you head over to Twitter or, well, Facebook again.

LinkedIn, however, has become a safe haven for those who just want to focus on professional wins, success stories, or brand building. The vibe is positive, yet professional—basically the opposite of most social media platforms!

This is in large part because there is minimal political nonsense on the platform. Users are extremely protective of the professional zeitgeist, so member-policing is a huge part of how the platform has been able to keep political shenanigans and personal posts to a minimum. When a rogue troll makes a political statement, they are quickly swarmed by tons of members telling them to take that somewhere else.

This user self-regulation, in combination with LinkedIn’s algorithm, has prevented LinkedIn from becoming another politicized outlet, which has made it an invaluable tool for companies who just want to talk about their brand and services instead of worrying about the political noise that seems to infiltrate every other platform.

2. Captive Audience

Because LinkedIn users are mostly trying to avoid the noise found on other platforms, whenever you post, you automatically have found a more captive audience. If you are looking for a platform to share your thought leadership, LinkedIn is full of members who could benefit from your expertise.

LinkedIn users are seeking to enrich themselves; they want to learn how to improve their skills, catch up on industry news, and be the first to find new  career opportunities. As a thought leader in your space, you can create and share content through your LinkedIn page that connects with that audience and fulfills their expectations.

You can find your captive audience on LinkedIn by engaging with the relevant trending hashtags, industry groups, and other thought leaders. Pro-tip: the algorithm will favor your posting if you interact with other people more, so be sure to give a LinkedIn lightbulb reaction on your favorite posts.

3. Publishing Platform

LinkedIn’s engagement offerings aren’t limited to sharing on their feed—the platform provides a unique publishing platform that anyone can use. If you don’t have an established blog or site, you have an opportunity to create and promote your content directly on LinkedIn. In fact, many respected brands and thought leaders use LinkedIn as their sole publishing outlet.

When publishing on LinkedIn, it’s important to remember these rules:

  1. Keep your external links to a minimum. Their algorithm will deprioritize articles with an excessive amount of links because, like any website, they don’t want users to leave.
  2. Timing is everything. Most people access LinkedIn while they are at work. Peak time to publish your articles is between 10 and 11 in the morning, Tuesday through Thursday. The users get to work, sit down at their desk with their cup of coffee, catch up on their emails and look at their daily calendars, and then they need a few minutes to decompress before they get started for the day. When I think about my own average workday, the timing makes sense.

These three reasons are why I recommend you utilize LinkedIn for your content and thought leadership. Doing so will enable you to establish thought leadership with less noise.

That should encourage you if the idea of running one more social platform is daunting. Don’t think of LinkedIn as just another platform in your stack—think of it as one of the best for your content strategy!

On that note, don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn!

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How to Define Your Voice as a Thought Leader

Creating great content is a journey, but if you haven’t traveled down this particular road before, it can be hard to know if you are headed in the right direction. That’s why I’m giving you a map, to help you reach a wider audience with better, more useful content.

So far in this content journey, I’ve described the first two landmarks:

  1. Create an in-depth audience persona
  2. Write an audience transformation statement

After you do these two things, you’ll want to take a turn and think about how you sound to your audience. Are you a motivating coach, a distinguished professor, or a relatable friend? How your audience perceives your voice will determine whether or not they’re interested in listening to you.

Define your tone in three adjectives.

Many people don’t take the time to carefully consider the tone they want to project in a particular piece of writing or content even though this is a basic communication skill we use to navigate social situations in real life. You wouldn’t make the same joke to your friend as you would your grandmother, would you?

You may think the way in which you speak to your audience is intuitive and will come naturally, but I’ve found that defining your tone in three adjectives will hold you accountable to a signature voice that remains consistent across different content mediums and resonates with your audience over and over again. 

To start, think about your audience persona and how you might talk to this person in real life. Are they looking for professional instruction from a teacher or a friend to walk alongside them and gently encourage them? Are they looking for someone to tell it like it is, with a humorous twist? Do they want to be motivated and inspired?

Then, think about who you are and consider your communication strengths. If you’re not sure, read over emails or letters you’ve written, think back to presentations you’ve given, or ask a friend or family member how they’d define your daily communication style. What adjectives would you assign to your voice? If you’re naturally witty or a natural encourager, keep these positive qualities in mind. 

Finally, ask yourself, where does your natural tone overlap with the tone your audience needs? Choose three adjectives you believe best meet this criterion.

Let’s circle back to the example of “Convenient Chloe” who I introduced previously. If you’ve defined Chloe as someone who values convenience and efficiency in her busy home, maybe you’ll decide that you want your tone to be “practical” rather than “academic.” You know Chloe so well, you know she responds better to an affirmation of her values and gentle encouragement rather than the blunt facts about how her purchasing decisions are harming the environment. 

As for you, you are a natural teacher, encourager, and activist. Though you love to tell it like it is when you’re talking about the environment with certain friends or family members, you know you have to soften your tone for Convenient Chloe. The three adjectives you’ve used to describe your tone are practical, affirming, and encouraging. 

Don’t overthink it!

These two exercises should take no more than ten to fifteen minutes each. Once you’ve described your audience persona, written your audience transformation statement, and decided on your tone, you’ll want to continue on to write your editorial mission statement. I’ll cover that in my next article. Stay tuned!

PS: If you have been inspired by these articles, subscribe to our blog below to make sure you don’t miss any. (As a thank you, you’ll get a free e-book from me too!)

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10 Creative Engagement Tactics For You To Try During COVID-19

History is in the making with every news cycle this month. A global pandemic is on the loose, national and state-wide emergencies are called, and the stock market is on a downward slope of a bad roller coaster ride. While the marketplace seems fundamentally uncertain right now, there is one certainty: this too shall pass.

While your audience is social-distancing from you, you can’t distance yourself from them. Both your organization and your audience will benefit if you stay visible during this chaotic time. This may be a challenge if you’ve already had to cancel meetings and can’t allow visitors to your office, but here are some creative ways you can increase your audience engagement during the chaos of COVID-19.

1. Convert Events to Online Courses

Never before has there been such wide-spread cancellation of events and conferences. Many of the organizations that aren’t canceling out-right are making their events available to their audience as a livestream. But livestreams don’t always work for your audience’s schedule and can be hard to monetize.

Instead, consider making your planned events into courses through tools like Teachable and Thinkific. You can charge a fee comparable to an event registration and your audience can participate at times that work best for them. You could also make them available for free and include additional resources for your audience. The best part? These courses can keep bringing in cash flow and leads long after the crisis has passed.

Our friends at Author Media have done a fantastic job offering courses for fiction authors. Check out their courses here for inspiration.

2. Create Activities for Kids

It’s not just adults who are shut up in their houses, many of them are finding themselves quarantined with their children for several weeks. These parents are going to need a near-endless stream of activities, including educational material to keep their students on track. The segment of your audience that falls into this category probably doesn’t want to pay full-price for a year-long homeschooling curriculum, but they might gobble-up some short-term material as a stop-gap measure.

Do you have any information that could be educational to a child? It’s not that complex to package it up in a PDF with some recommended activities. If you work in finance, you can create a highschooler’s guide to what’s going on in the stock market. If your business sells camera equipment, you can create an introductory primer for 3rd-5th graders on photography. The topics could literally be about anything, and the parents will be grateful and you will have added value to their lives.

Our friends at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics usually create content for adults, but a few years ago they compiled some of their material into an elective homeschooling course for highschool students which has been very popular. Check it out here.

3. Offer Self-Paced Alternatives

Our lives are currently disrupted to unprecedented degrees, and it can be hard for your audience to participate in their normal commitments, even if they want to do them. Maybe they aren’t coming to your exercise classes, or they can’t keep your counseling appointments. Creating ways for them to still participate in their regular activities, that they can do on their own time and at their own pace, will help maintain a sense of normalcy. It will also keep them in the habit of engaging with you so you don’t have to win them back in a few months.

My brother-in-law is a pastor, and his church (like most) has canceled its services for the next several weeks. While most churches have simply livestreamed their services, I was inspired by his church’s approach of making the service into something that can be self-paced and participatory. The congregants could work through the liturgy, watch the sermon, and sing the songs on their own or with their families at home. Check it out here.

If you operate a gym that has had to close exercise classes, try to create step-by-step workouts with how-to videos to send out to your regular attendees. If you are a mediation coach, try to send your clients new twenty-minute mediations with instructions that they can do at home.

4. Run a Contest

People are working from home, cooped up with their roommates, significant others, and children. They have extra time on their hands, and many of them might be interested in doing something more engaging than re-watching old shows on their streaming services. If you ever considered running a contest, either as a way to engage your current audience or grow it, now is the time!

Ask students to write essays on a topic, have amateur photographers submit photos, or have your listeners submit questions for your podcast. You may be surprised with how many submissions you can get with a relatively small prize on offer. The best part? You then own all of that material and can pull from it to fill your content streams for months.

I helped run a contest for a previous employer asking highschool students to submit videos on certain topics. The total contest cost $10,000, which included the scholarship prizes, the operating costs, and promoting the contest on social media. Well over one hundred videos were submitted, with several dozen being very good. The cost-per-video (less than $100) made my employer very happy.

5. Self-Publish a Book

Authors and publishers I’ve heard from are hoping that the increase in home-bound consumers will mean an increase in reading and book-buying. If you can quickly produce a quality book to self-publish in the coming weeks, it just might be worth prioritizing. The good news is that you don’t have to start from scratch to write a book. If you have interesting content about a single topic scattered across several years of your blog archive, it can be as simple as pulling it all together into a single ebook and just writing a new introduction.

Of course, if you have been working on a manuscript, now would be a great time to kick the writing and editing into high gear. Or maybe you have some material you started a few years ago, but then never returned to? We work with clients every day to help research, write, and edit their books. If that’s you, we can help! Contact us today.

6. Be Heard

Just because people aren't commuting as much, doesn’t mean they are going to give up their podcast listening habits. If you have considered launching a podcast for your organization, but haven’t known where to start, now is the time to get going. You don’t have to re-invent the content wheel, you can start your podcast by discussing the same information that you have on your blog or website.

Another great way to be heard during this time is to convert content you already have into an audiobook. Remember our idea above about compiling a bunch of blogs you already have into an ebook? Well, you can also hire a professional (hi!) to record that ebook into an audiobook. Making that available on platforms like Audible will get your ideas into the earbuds of a new, wider audience.

We published our first audiobook for a client on Audible last year, and we are already working with more clients to convert their most popular titles into audiobooks. Do you have content that can easily be turned into audio? Let’s talk.

7. Be Magnetic

Marketers refer to the “free downloads” offered by businesses and organizations as magnets. They draw people into the engagement funnel and create reciprocity by offering something of value to people, and in return ask for an email address. This may be an inspiration ebook, a pdf with ten free recipes, or a worksheet to see if your finances are stable. A good magnet would also “push” the audience to take the next right step:

This kind of content tool is important for thought leaders to use when growing their audience, but it’s also a great way to continue engaging with your current audience. A lot of organizations will make one ebook and then stop, but you should be aiming to create a constant stream of new and relevant magnets. Sending each new one out to your entire email list, not just the new people, will remind them why they like to get your emails.

To see an example, our company is currently offering a free ebook about op-ed publishing, which you can download here.

8. Let the Byline Do the Work

Speaking of op-eds, have you ever written an opinion article for a newspaper? They aren’t that much longer than a blog post, usually 600-800 words, and anyone can submit one. What newspapers are mainly going to look for is a unique analysis of a current event. While it may seem like the only thing in the news right now is COVID-19, that’s not true! Most people are still interested in all the things that were going on before the outbreak: the economy, celebrities, technology, and so on. Oh yeah, and there is also an election happening this year.

If you have a unique take on a topic that is in the news, now would be a great time to write an op-ed on it and submit it to some newspapers. Having articles published improves your standing as a thought leader, opens up more opportunities in the media, and can drive traffic to your website. The latter happens because your article will run with what’s called a “byline,” which will list your name and also usually a quick statement about why you are interesting. Something like:

See that? Now the name of your book, company, or organization is in front of all of the readers of that article, which will inspire some of them to dig deeper and buy your book or look up your company. You can learn more about how to use op-eds to start a conversation here.

9. Be Popular

If you’ve read this far, you may be asking how you can use all of these content strategies if you don’t have a platform at all. How are you supposed to offer an ebook or curriculum if you don’t have a website and an email list? The twist here is that you may not need to build a new website or sign up for an email provider—you may already know someone who has a platform!

If you have friends or connections who run a blog, write for a newspaper, or record a podcast, they are going to need resources to keep producing their content during this time. You can write a guest blog for them, offer your expertise for their article, or be a guest on their podcast, all from the safety of your quarantine. By making the rounds with these other outlets, you can gain the benefits of useful content without having to maintain all those platforms.

For example, I was a guest on a highly-rated podcast last summer to promote the audiobook which we released. I’ve never been more popular in my life than I was for the few weeks after my episode ran. People who just heard me on the podcast were adding me on Facebook! I even had people recognize me at a conference months later just by my voice. It was weird, but I’ve got to say it was effective!

10. Do More of All of the Above

Ok, what if that’s not you? What if you do have all of these platforms up and running? To you, I say that now is that time to ramp up your content production. Instead of running a blog every so often, commit to running one every week for the time being. Instead of relying on your current email magnets, try producing a new one every month.

Now is the time to be visible and engage with your audience well. You can add value to their lives by sending them new articles to read, activities to do with their children, and contests they can participate in to win prizes. This engagement will add value to you too by being front-of-mind with your audience when life begins to return to normal. They will keep shopping with you, donating to your cause, or reading your blog because you were there for them during this tough season.

We are in this Together

It may sound trite, but a beautiful silver lining of this current crisis is that it is forcing us to rely on each other more than any other time in recent history. Your audience can rely on you, and if you need help creating any of this content, we’d like to invite you to rely on us.

We create a wide range of content for our clients every day through our writing, editing, and strategic planning. We are a small, women-owned business and we believe that when you have quality content, you can be positioned as a thought leader, and your brand and business will grow.

To help you get started, we are offering 20% off of all of our services for new clients for the rest of 2020. Contact us today and mention this offer. We look forward to discussing your content goals! Together, we can help you respond to COVID-19 with creativity, not cancellations.

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Why You Should Watch More Reality TV (for Work)

Have you ever wondered why people watch reality TV? What’s so enticing about watching a famous celebrity try to live a normal life behind a pair of aviators? Why are we so captivated to follow a bachelorette as she dates a dozen different guys? How come we are glued to the television when a house is transformed from dilapidated to magazine-worthy? And why do we watch a chef attempt to incorporate a strange secret ingredient into an everyday recipe? 

Though many are reluctant to admit it, we all watch at least one guilty pleasure reality TV show. I actually watch two: House Hunters International and Dude You’re Screwed. There’s nothing shameful about it. In fact, watching a reality television show is one of the best things you can do to improve your content development. 

The Curiosity Gap

According to podcaster Andrew Davis, the curiosity gap is a marketing method that relies on innate curiosity to attract and retain your audience. It falls right between what the audience already knows and what they don’t yet know. By emphasizing that gap, you lure the audience in long enough to stick around for your pitch. 

News channels have been doing this for ages. Right before a commercial, the host will say something like, “Stay tuned because after the commercial we’re going to explain how the Coronavirus is related to your Amazon Prime deliveries.” 

That’s not an actual quote, nor is it factual. But if you’re aware of the recent contagious disease or frequently order items from Amazon, I just hooked you with the curiosity gap.

But news isn’t the only industry applying this tactic. Reality TV does, too—and I’d venture to say they do an even better job at it. Consider these common tropes:

The reality shows grab your attention on the edge of a cliff hanger… only to be followed by a promptly timed commercial. No one actually enjoys watching commercials, yet the viewer sticks around because their curiosity must be satiated. 

How It Works

The curiosity gap invites your audience to stick around long enough to hear your pitch; truthfully, they just want to ease the tension that’s electrified in the air. That is the exact reason why this is a must-use technique for every content creator. Here’s how it works.

1.  Present the case. Every reality TV show sets the stage right away. Introduce the major characters, setting, and relevant details.

2.  Develop the tension. Every good story includes conflict, and your content is no different. Tell your audience the questions they are already thinking, the ever-present problems that are unsolved in their life, and the barriers that are a mile high with no end in sight.

3. Mind the curiosity gap. Strategically linger, pause, and delay. You may not always have the option to cue a commercial break, but you can be sure to sit in the tension, hold the pressure, and bank on the uncertainty. Earn their attention, then reignite their enthusiasm. 

4. Introduce the solution. This is the moment the audience has been waiting for. This is the moment right after the show comes back on after the commercials. Resolve the tension, answer the questions, and remove the barriers. Make your pitch.

5. Gain a loyal customer. The curiosity gap has hooked people to the nightly news and glued viewers to the new weekly episode of a reality TV show. At this point, you’ve gained a loyal customer because you identified their tensions and lingered in the uncomfortable just long enough to earn their attention before providing a solution.

Mind the (Curiosity) Gap!

When riding the Tube in London, an automated announcement is made every time the doors open: “Mind the gap.” I’m challenging you to “mind the curiosity gap” every time you watch a reality TV show. Observe when you’re on the edge of your seat. Make note about what causes you to stick around through the commercials. Glean from their stellar content techniques.

Stay curious—and next time someone says you watch too much reality TV, tell them that it’s for work.

Do you have a favorite reality show that employs the curiosity gap? Share your recommendation with us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn!

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This Important Step Will Transform Your Content

In 2020, if you have an important message to share with the world, you know you have to be in the business of creating good content. But you can’t just dive into blogging without thinking through a few key things that will help guide the content you create. 

First, you have to create an in-depth audience profile, which will help you understand the specific demographic and psychographic information about your target audience. The second step is to think through how you want your content to impact your audience.

Ask yourself, how will my content transform my audience?

Let’s say you’re an environmental expert passionate about sustainable materials and you want to help families cut down on non-recyclable waste in their homes. You’ve deeply defined your audience as “Convenient Chloe,” a busy and financially-conscious mom with two to four kids living in the suburbs along the east coast who values convenience and efficiency in her home. You’ve decided to start a blog offering educational information about the environmental impacts of different household products. You’re off to a great start!

But imagine “Convenient Chloe” stumbles upon one of your blog posts about why silicon is more environmentally-friendly than plastic. She might learn something new, and even think your blog post was interesting and very well-written. But if she doesn’t know what to do with the information you’ve given her, you’ll not have accomplished your goal of helping families cut down on non-recyclable waste in their homes.  

The way to avoid this mistake is to decide how your content will transform the lives of your audience before you begin publishing any content.

How will your content change the choices they make and the actions they take? What will your audience believe and do differently after watching your Youtube video or reading your book? Will they purchase different household products? Will they earn more money next year? Will they vote differently at the polls in November? 

Begin by reviewing your audience persona and imagine them watching, reading, or listening to your content. Decide specifically what knowledge you want them to take away and how and how that knowledge will transform their lives, and write that down into a statement.

For example, you don’t just want “Convenient Chloe” to know about green, reusable household materials. You want her to change her buying habits because you think her life and the world at large will be better off if more people like Chloe reduced their single-use plastic consumption. 

Your audience transformation statement might be: After reading my blog, Convenient Chloe will choose to purchase more reusable household products for her family. 

Formally writing down an audience transformation statement will guide you to create the most useful content for your audience.

It will guide you to provide specific, practical tips for busy suburban moms like Chloe on how to switch over to reusable products without breaking the bank or creating more work for her. Rather than merely educating your audience about reusable materials, maybe you’ll recommend she swaps plastic sandwich bags for silicon sandwich bags and replaces saran wrap with silicone stretch lids, and then you’ll show her where she can order these products. 

That kind of simple, actionable information is what your audience needs to change their habits and transform their lives for the better—and what you need to make an impact in the world with your expertise.

In my next article, I’ll cover the third step to creating useful content: defining your tone. We hope that these insights are helpful to you, but they aren’t the only way that we are available to help you build your content strategy.

We work with thought leaders and thought leading organizations every day to get their meaningful messages in front of their audiences and achieve their goals. Do you need that kind of support? Let’s talk!

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Why Slow And Steady Wins The Social Media Engagement Race

We all know social media should be an essential part of our audience-engagement strategy, whether you are an individual thought leader or manage communications for a thought-leading organization. How to use social media well and craft quality micro-content for your feeds will look a little different for everyone. No matter who you are, how much experience you have, or what platforms you are using, succeeding with social media can be a daunting task.

Just look at Facebook—there is so much on the back end that is constantly changing that staying up-to-speed can feel like a full-time job. Is that setting in ads manager or business manager now? Why is this ad running on Instagram? Why did my organic reach go down this week over last? I grew a brand on Facebook to over a million followers in less than a year through targeted ads, engaging posts, and brand marketing, and even I get lost back there sometimes.

The good news is, using social media to engage your audience well doesn’t have to be scary. You don’t have to make a huge splash or go viral. In fact, slow and steady engagement often leads to the best results with social media. Here are three tips to set the right pace for your social media that will work no matter where your starting point is.

Tip 1: Make every post count.

Do you have one of those friends who posts twenty, thirty, or fifty times a day? Most of those posts are nonsense, and they hardly get any engagements because most of us have clicked the unfollow or mute buttons. This is frowned upon by the platform algorithms, which will serve your content up to users less often, leading to even fewer chances for engagement. Business and brand pages can over-share their way to being unfollowed—or worse, unliked—if they aren’t careful.

Make sure every single thing that you share has value, whether it’s an article, an original blog, or even just a funny or inspirational meme. If you only post worthwhile content, your audience will reward you with engagements and reactions, and the algorithms will share your content more often. As time goes on, these actions will compound and your content will become increasingly engaging because you’ve proven yourself to be a reliable brand with interesting content and no nonsense.

Tip 2: Really, don’t overshare.

This may be an extension of Tip 1, but I feel so strongly about not over-sharing that it warrants its own comment. Remember your friend that posts fifty times a day? Not only is she posting meaningless content, she is posting entirely too much. A page or brand that does that can be flagged as spam, and will start to have issues getting engagement because the algorithms will treat you the same as the infamous robot accounts. You risk getting shut down entirely.

When it comes to social posts, less is more. For most audiences, a few quality posts a week will be plenty to engage your community. For Facebook, we recommend no more than one post a day and no fewer than one post a week for regular engagement. This way, you always have the option to ramp up when you are launching a campaign or otherwise need to grab your audience’s attention, and (bonus!) you won’t have to keep posting a ridiculous amount of inane, unoriginal content all the time.

Tip 3: Discover your optimal posting time.

Every social platform has peak times to post and poor times to post. When exactly those times are will vary depending on the types of content you are posting, how your audience behaves, and which platform you are using. Yes, that’s right—the exact same content may need to be posted on Facebook and LinkedIn at different times, or even different days.

When you are starting out, try posting at different times throughout the week. You can start with what your industry recognizes as good times to post, but don’t be afraid to try random times. If your audience is college students, try posting at eleven at night on Instagram. If your audience is parents of young children, try posting on Facebook when they get up with the kids at six in the morning.

After you’ve been sharing useful content for a while, look at the results of your posts. See which did best and when you posted them. Take note of when your key demographic is online, look to see when you get the most engagement, and make that a priority posting time. The more you post, the more data you will have to inform you, and you will easily be able to tell when you should and should not post. You’ll get in a rhythm, and your worthwhile posts will get lots of love.

The bottom line: Take your time!

You can build your social media engagement slowly with steady, worthwhile, and well-timed posts. This may mean that you need to readjust your goals and think in time-frames of months and years, rather than days. If you are going to use social media to engage with your audience, you should be committed to doing it well, and that usually doesn’t mean doing it the fastest.

When you see a page that shares entirely too much, what does that make you think about their brand? How often do you think brands should post on Facebook? Let us know by answering our poll!

Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

Do This Before You Create Any Content

Have you thought about starting a blog, a podcast, a video series, or maybe even publishing a book? If you have an important message you’d like to share with the universe, you probably know that you’ve got to get with the content craze and start producing some. 

But before you start creating any content, there’s one thing you should do: Get to know your audience as well as you know a good friend.

Too many people—from aspiring authors to college professors to policy experts—rush into publishing blog posts, podcasts, and video content before they’ve deeply considered specific demographic and psychographic information about their target audience. 

It’s not enough to simply say you want to reach “college students” or “Christian women” or even “baby goat enthusiasts,” as niche (and cute) as that sounds. You need to know your audience as well as you know a good friend. What are their dreams? What keeps them up at night? How do they spend their free time? Marketers call this creating a customer persona.

Before you create any content, create an in-depth audience profile by answering these questions. (Note: If you already have a following audience, you may have a good idea of how to answer most of these questions. If not, give it your best guess. But if you’re just starting out, answer these questions based on the audience you want to reach.)

After you’ve answered these questions the best you can, read over the answers a few times and give your audience a nickname that you think best describes them. Stressed-out Steve. Whimsical Wilma. Midlife-crisis Martin.

This is a pro-tip I learned from a successful author that helps personify an audience, reminding you to always think of them as one close friend rather than a faceless mass of many. Write down the name you’ve given your audience on a sticky note and place it near your computer or wherever you are when you’re creating content to remind yourself exactly who you are speaking to. 

But Elise, I want to reach as many people as possible. Not just one person. How is this approach going to help me share my message with the world?

The trick here is that you need to start small to go big

The world’s most successful authors, politicians, brands, and businesses start with a small and narrow scope. Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook as a social media website just for Harvard students. Today, people of all ages from all over the world use Facebook. Another great example is Anthropologie, a retail brand that knows exactly who their customer is:

30 to 45 years old, college or post-graduate education, married with kids or in a committed relationship, professional or ex-professional, annual household income of $150,000 to $200,000. [...] She’s well-read and well-traveled. She is very aware—she gets our references, whether it’s to a town in Europe or to a book or a movie. She’s urban minded. She’s into cooking, gardening, and wine. She has a natural curiosity about the world. She’s relatively fit.

Anthropologie’s customer description goes on and on, but there are plenty of women who shop at Anthropologie who don’t fit that description perfectly. In other words, if you aim for the headpin, you’ll knock the rest of the bowling pins down. 

That is what I mean by starting small to go big. Anthropologie is an extremely successful company that doesn’t spend a penny on traditional advertising, and it’s because they treat their mass of customers as one, unique friend. Do you know your audience as well as Anthropologie knows their well-traveled, curious customer? 

If not, the best way to get to know your audience is to interact with them on a regular basis, whether online or in person. Host a webinar and take note of who attends and what kind of questions you receive. Go on Facebook Live and ask your audience what information they want to learn from you. Take note of who is following you on social media and who is signing up for your email list. If you attend conferences or have the opportunity to speak at events, engage with individuals you believe are a part of your audience base. Take note of their unique characteristics and pain points. You may be surprised by what you learn. 

It’s also a good idea to re-evaluate your audience a few times each year as you learn more and more about them and adjust your content based on what you learn. 

Before you create any content, make sure you know your audience as well as you know a good friend.

Do you use this technique in your communications? What tips and tricks have you learned to develop your audience persona? Let me know on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

In my next post, I’ll share more tips on speaking effectively to your audience that you should know before publishing your next piece of content.

Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash

3 Things To Ask Your Creative Freelancer

We live during an era with a rapidly growing population of creative freelancers. Whether you’re a thought leader in your industry, a high-level leader in your organization, or an entrepreneur, chances are that you have already worked with or will collaborate with a freelancer at some point. In fact, contracting with a creative freelancer may be one of the best business decisions you can make.

But a creative freelancer doesn’t have an office down the hall or abide by your 8-5 work schedule. They’re often self-employed, and often are trying to capitalize on the flexibility of a freelance schedule as they negotiate life commitments outside of work.

Maybe you don’t have a minute to spare in the office, so you’ve decided to contract a freelancer to help with your overwhelming workload. Or maybe you need a creative person to complement your skills and expand your work. Or maybe you recognize the exponential value of a freelancer who can enhance what you’re already offering to the world. 

How do you—a traditional manager employed by a business—communicate and engage with your creative freelancer?

#1: Ask your creative freelancer for their schedule.

Did you know that some people thrive with daily rhythms, while others work better with weekly patterns, and still others benefit most from monthly routines? Creative freelancers have the benefit of choosing their schedule, but they also need to set one and operate by it in order to succeed.  

Your job may set required work hours, even if you work from home once or twice a week, but you can’t assume your freelancer lives a similar lifestyle. They choose when is the most optimal time for them to work on your projects—which may be eleven on Monday night or ten on Saturday morning.

Ask your freelancer for their work schedule. Don’t hesitate to get specific:

#2: Ask your creative freelancer how they track client work.

Now that you have an idea of your freelancer’s schedule, you can discuss how to communicate about your project.

Every worker, from an entry-level assistant to a high-earning CEO, tracks their work differently. Some prefer paper planners with sticky notes or wall calendars that offer a month-at-a-glance view. Digital planners with notifications are a popular option, as are shared online platforms like Monday.com or Asana.

As a self-disciplined independent contractor, your freelancer has to be organized in order to be successful. Find out what method works for your creative freelancer. Ask these kinds of questions:

Why do you care how your freelancer tracks their client work? Because effective communication will enhance your relationship and make your project a greater success. 

For example, your freelancer may give you access to a shared folder in Asana for your project. You can view the freelancer’s assigned tasks and deadline date. Your freelancer can also assign you tasks or tag you to ask for feedback as the project progresses. This keeps all of your communications and information organized and shared in one platform. 

Of course, you can always ask the freelancer to use a system that you already have in place, but by asking them how they work, you may find that you are both using the same platform or, perhaps, discover an easier method of communicating with each other.

#3: Ask your creative freelancer how you can establish expectations and accountability.

We all learn from an early age that reality doesn’t always align with our expectations. A toddler wants a baby brother, until he realizes that the baby takes Mommy’s attention. A teenager can’t wait to own her own car; then reality hits as her pockets empty due to the cost of gas, insurance, and maintenance. 

Adults do this, too, and you should expect some situation to arise with your creative freelancer where expectations don’t match reality. Establish early in your working relationship how to communicate about sticky situations. In fact, don’t hesitate to be bold and lay the groundwork from the start. Consider the following:

A thriving relationship with your creative freelancer.

Hiring a creative freelancer could be the right decision to make for your project. Their work will complement yours, and you should aim for a complementary relationship too. Ask your creative freelancer about their work schedule, how they track client work, and how to establish expectations and accountability.

There are no wrong questions, but the right questions—like these three—will set you up for a thriving and successful relationship with your creative freelancer.

Editor’s note: Keep reading about how to manage a team of creatives, including freelancers, with this article: 6 Effective Words for Managing Your Creative Team.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

These 5 Factors Will Make You A Thought Leader

The term “thought leadership” is near the top of the list for trending buzzwords in the marketing industry as we enter the 2020s. It’s such a ubiquitous term, and so many people are using it, that I’m surprised there isn’t a universal-accepted definition. It’s about time we have one.

Some people use the term as if it’s synonymous with content publishing, such as writing blogs or publishing books. Other people think that a thought leader is someone who speaks for a living, like a keynote speaker at a professional conference or even a college professor. You might have even heard someone link thought leadership with your social media following, as if you need so many Instagram followers or a blue checkmark on Twitter to be a thought leader.

Now, every industry has its own unique jargon. While it tends to be the source of industry humor, jargon also plays an important role in our work. It actually helps connect the people within an industry and allows them to be more specialized through a shared vocabulary. That’s why it’s important for those of us who work in communications and marketing, convergent industries in which content has been king for a while, to have a shared definition of thought leadership.

Here’s the definition we use with our clients at Bellwether Communications, and that I recommend be adopted industry-wide:

Thought leadership is your expertise being made accessible and valuable to an audience by creating useful content and distributing it through effective communications.

Right away we see that there are five key elements that make up thought leadership: expertise, accessibility, value, useful content, and effective communications. Let’s unpack each of those a little bit more to explain why this definition works.

Expertise

Expertise leads the definition of “thought leadership” because it is the main factor that determines whether or not you’re a thought leader. If you have expertise, you can add value with useful content, but that doesn’t work the other way around. You don’t become an expert by creating a lot of content, and this is a huge misconception about thought leadership.

Some consider themselves to be a thought leader because they produce a large amount of content or have a big audience. They write dozens of blogs, post loads of articles, upload numerous videos, and write too many social media posts to count. If they’re simply sharing information or opinions with their followers, even thousands or millions of followers, but they don’t have expertise, then they’re more properly defined as an influencer.

These are individuals who produce tons of content with an audience that pays attention. Influencers have thousands of followers, not necessarily because they’re experts, but because people just like them and their content is enjoyable. But being likable and having expertise are not the same thing. Being likeable means that people are influenced by other people or brands who are like them or who they find relatable. While having expertise says that people trust you and your brand because you’re in a position of authority on the subject.

Likability relates to familiarity and connectivity. Expertise relates to authority. Likeability can make you an influencer, but expertise can make you a thought leader.

Accessibility

Accessibility is a key part of thought leadership because a thought leader is an expert who intentionally shares their knowledge with others. A person becomes a thought leader, and not just an expert, when they choose to make their expertise accessible to other people. Someone who just attends conferences with peers or only publishes in niche journals is not a thought leader because they’re not influencing an audience. Their expertise stays confined to their small circles.

If an expert chooses not to make their expertise accessible to a wide audience, they may be acting as a coach. A coach’s knowledge is only accessible and valuable to the proteges they train and not a broader audience. If they did expand their reach into the world, they’d be a thought leader. For example, the much-beloved basketball coach John Wooden expanded his influence beyond the teams he coached to the rest of the world by writing several popular books on leadership.

Value

It’s not enough to just make your expertise accessible to people. To really be a thought leader, there has to be a reason for people to seek out your expertise. You need to offer a clear explanation about why your ideas and insights are worth their time.

For some thought leaders, the value they add to their audience is pretty straight forward. A small business owner’s expertise, for example, is an integral part of what they sell; so communicating that to people will help them reach customers. For others, the value may be more indirect, such as advocating for social change that your audience finds desirable. The value doesn’t have to be tangible to be meaningful. 

A person who is an expert in their field, and is willing to make their expertise accessible, but doesn’t know how to make it valuable to a wider audience, is a scholar. A scholar may be someone who is an expert in a field not many people are not interested in (septic systems?) or a field most people won’t understand (cancer research?). We can all recognize and respect their expertise, and maybe benefit from it in ways we don’t understand, but they aren’t thought leaders if no one benefits from accessing their expertise.

Useful Content

Useful content is goal-oriented, produces a certain outcome for your audience, and generates a result for the thought leader. Whether you’re an individual, a small business owner, or a thought-leading organization, your content has to invoke a response from the reader, listen, or recipient, or else it’s not worth your time.

This will be familiar territory for people who work in marketing, but the way you’re going to make the content is useful is to be sure it has a “call-to-action” (CTA) in it. So that when your audience has consumed your content, it ends with an action item for them to do. It’s what inspires the person to take the next right step. A CTA may not be large, such as an ask to purchase your expensive product or book you to speak at a conference, it could be a small ask such as a button to click, an email to sign up for, or a link to follow you on social media.

People struggle to make CTAs because they can feel "salesy." It can feel forced, but the important thing to understand is that calling your audience to take action is part of your job as a thought leader. You are the authority on this topic. Your expertise is adding value to their lives and they’re trusting you to guide them toward the next right step. If you leave them where they are and hope that reading your blog alone will dramatically change their lives, that’s not likely to happen, which means you are not being a thought leader.

Effective Communications

Unfortunately, a lot of people just have an “if we build it they will come” mentality with their content. Don’t fall into the trap of writing the blogs, recording the YouTube videos, producing whatever form of content soaks up your expertise and your brilliance without considering how to connect with your audience. You need to do this by strategically implementing communications tactics. Communications is the comprehensive term we use because it includes marketing, PR, social media, content creation, and the various methods you would be using to get your useful content into the hands of your audience, in front of their eyeballs, or into their earbuds.

To do communications well, and to make it effective, you will need to invest time and treasure. You can minimize how much of your time it will take if you are willing to invest more money into hiring professional help. You can offset it the other way as well, spending more of your own time to save more of your money. But however you manage that trade-off, you need to be prepared to make the investment necessary to ensure you are communicating effectively.

Who is a thought leader?

One thing you may notice from this definition is that thought leadership is not industry-specific. Anyone in any industry who has expertise and wants to share it can be a thought leader.

One of my favorite examples of a thought leader is the late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. He is one of the most famous names in the highly technical field of cosmology and astrophysics, right up there with Albert Einstein. He wasn’t a thought leader because he was the best; he was a thought leader because he made his expertise accessible through the book, A Brief History of Time. It was a widely-popular bestseller that explained astrophysics to the layperson in a way that an entry-level science consumer could read. It added value to their lives by making the universe accessible and exciting. For the first time, anyone could have a working knowledge of black holes and the big bang theory, and that’s what made him a household name. It wasn’t just that he published in journals or taught at a fancy university—he chose to take his groundbreaking knowledge and share it with the world.

Who is NOT a thought leader?

In our definition, the first three elements make up the “what” of thought leadership. That is expertise, accessibility, and value. If you lack expertise, you may be an influencer. If you are an expert, but you don’t make your expertise accessible, you may be a coach. If you are an expert and are willing to make your expertise accessible, but it doesn’t add value to an audience, you may be a scholar.

Being an influencer, a coach, or a scholar are all perfectly valid roles. There are plenty of reasons why someone would want to be any one of those things. They just aren’t thought leaders without meeting the rest of the definition, and we all need to acknowledge that.

If you are an expert and are willing to make your expertise accessible and valuable to an audience, then you have to meet the “how” of thought leadership. That is, you have to produce useful content and distribute it through effective communications to be a thought leader.

So what?

What do you think about this definition of thought leadership? Would you add or remove anything? Let me know on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash