With so much information available in the digital world, what can you do to make your small business marketing content stand out from the crowd? Demonstrate thought leadership to your readers and you’re on your way to earning more customers.
But what really sets thought leaders apart from other people posting in the digital world? Thought leaders do not simply post information, they do three important things differently.
Thought leaders know their customer personas and what information is important to their businesses. They carefully curate good and timely information from authoritative sources, and then report this to their readers.
Thought leaders do not leave their readers to wonder why the information being presented is important, they tell them why it is. Many writers assume their readers know why something is relevant. In a world changing as fast as digital marketing is, that is a very poor assumption.
Most of all, thought leaders use their expertise and knowledge of the market to recommend action on the part of the reader. This is where many writers fall short: they fail to give the reader an expert recommendation of what they should do with the information.
Becoming a Thought Leader
Achieving thought leadership is certainly not an overnight process. As more and more of your small business marketing content is read, shared, liked, commented on, retweeted, and so on, you will gradually build your reputation as a thought leader.
There are four keys to becoming a thought leader, but since they all start with content, we’ll focus most of this post there.
It All Starts With Content
Everyone knows that “content is king”, and that’s just as true in small business marketing as anywhere. Thought leadership does start with content: excellent content, expert content, interesting content, and current content. To qualify for greatness, your content must meet six criteria:
Although we will discuss each of these in more detail, it is important not to cut corners on any of them. If you do, your content will suffer.
Nothing is worse for small business marketing than taking the time and effort to craft a great post that gets no interest, no likes, and no shares. Why do it?
You need to keep abreast of developments in your field (you are an expert, remember?) so that your posts answer questions that are in your prospects’ minds. The best way to do this is to use an aggregator like Feedly or the similar feature available in Hootsuite.
Although if you are keeping up in your field it shouldn’t be a stretch to find a topical subject, there are tools to help you analyze what’s trending and of interest to your readers.
To analyze how popular content currently is, consider using something like AHREFS Content Explorer. Although most of their services are fee-based, there is a free version you can use once you’ve registered.
Remember, what was hot and newsworthy two months ago, may be quite stale today.
While there are opportunities for thought leaders to update posts with new information from time to time, our suggestion is that original content is usually better.
Simply reporting information doesn’t make you a thought leader, it frankly makes you look amateurish. In the digital world, most readers are literally inundated with information. What they lack is the insight the information provides. That’s where you—the expert—come in.
As you write, assume nothing. Analyze the information, then tell your readers why it is important and what they should do about it. Again, they can get the news anywhere, they are looking for you to analyze it as an expert and provide expert recommendations.
Use great sources
Part of the value you are providing to your readers comes from the sources you cite in your writing. A good authoritative source does three things: it backs up your writing and analyses, it gives your reader an avenue to easily find more information, and it gives your piece more SEO credibility than it would have had on its own.
Likely you are already familiar with leading news sources in your industry. You should be regularly monitoring these sources and curating good content when you find it. Curation is not something to start the day you decide to blog—it is an on-going investment of time.
One doesn’t have to look far to find very poor content on the Internet. Misspelled words, the wrong word, grammatical errors, and just plain bad writing will drive readers away from your content.
Not every post must be worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, but well-written content is critical all along your journey to thought leadership.
No one likes to proof content, yet it must be done. Too often proofreading is the last priority as the writer is on deadline and has another project right around the corner. Sometimes, if any proofing is done, the author does it.
Best practices—and the success of your thought leadership program—demand real proofreading. Have a second party read the content aloud to a third party for best results. We recommend budgeting 20% of total content development time to proofing.
Brand it correctly
When all is said and done, you are developing content to support your small business marketing: your goal, in the end, is to gain customers. This doesn’t mean your post should be an advertorial at all, it does mean your content should be appropriately branded.
Most small businesses do not give enough attention to branding, usually thinking that is the realm of the huge consumer brands. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Brand is part of the “mindshare” you are trying to create in the minds of your prospects. You want your readers to associate your great content and thought leadership with your firm. And your brand is what does that.
You Need Compelling Media
Images sell, and that’s as true as it has ever been. Media draws readers’ interest from a distance, much like a book cover draws readers to pick it up. Statistics show that posts with media attached are more than twice as likely to be interacted with.
Just like your writing, your media must be on-topic and of high quality. In fact, if you can’t find media that meets both requirements, your work is better without it.
And remember, it is no longer just a computer monitor that your media will display on: more users are on mobile devices now than are on desktop computers. Modern HD-compatible high-resolution displays like those on tablets and iPads actually need a higher resolution image.
SEO So They Can Find Your Work
Great content by itself is good SEO. Google tries hard to rank sites with good content well. And you want to rank well so that readers click through to your content.
A true primer on SEO is beyond the scope of this post, but there are three basics you have to understand: use of keywords, a good title and meta, and media tagging.
The first step is to define the keywords you want your site to rank well for and include those naturally in your writing. (Naturally is the key there. You want keywords to appear in the flow of the writing, not cobbled in or stuffed throughout the content.)
Next you need to craft a great SEO title and meta description, the two pieces of information that are prominently displayed in search results. If you’ve accurately described what your content is about, then you’ve done your job.
Last you need to tag images and other media content so that search engines know they’re relevant to the written content.
Of course, you’ll promote your work by posting it on social media, but you may wish to give some thought to additional promotion for very important content.
And there are always media outlets looking for expert content such as Help A Reporter Out.
Becoming a thought leader is both an investment in time and money. You need good content. You need to promote it well. And you need a measure of patience to wait for results.
Do not think that one or two great posts will do it. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, once you become a thought leader, your readers will learn to regularly expect great content from you. And that’s a great problem to have.