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For content managers racking their brains to find resources to bolster their content marketing efforts, the key is to look internally. Why? Because employees know their companies inside and out. They’re the ones who use their skills, knowledge, opinions, and experience to contribute to the company’s success. So, how do you inspire these internal experts to generate content? Why is it so important to leverage employees as thought leaders in the industry?
While the term “thought leadership” might seem like an overhyped buzzword, it’s a critical tool for brands to stand out. According to Michael Brenner, former CEO of Marketing Insider Group, “Thought leadership is where you tap into the talent, experience, and passion inside your business to consistently answer the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience on a particular topic.”
Direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands need to tap into their internal teams' expertise for thought leadership content because:
It builds brand authority. 88% of business decision-makers say thought leadership increases their respect and admiration for a company. Why? Because thought leadership content is based on authentic knowledge, experience, and a unique point of view. Publishing this type of content helps build a company’s reputation among consumers as a trusted, authoritative source of information.
It gives the company a human face. As one marketer succinctly puts it, “People trust people, they don’t necessarily trust brands.” It’s the reason why user-generated content (UGC) is increasing in popularity and why thought leadership content is so effective. Thought leaders put a face to a company’s name and show customers that there are real people behind the scenes, making brands relatable.
It produces excellent content at a lower cost. The need to consistently generate content is an ongoing struggle for many marketers. Content creation can be very costly, as it often requires employing more writers or outsourcing. However, a company’s existing staff is a rich source of internal content at no extra budget.
It builds networks and collaborations internally and externally. Thought leadership marketing builds the personal brands of participating employees. They're given more opportunities to connect with other industry figures, media contacts, and customers.
The most challenging part of creating a thought leadership strategy is the initial work of getting coworkers on board. In most organizations, people are focused on their jobs and targets — generating content isn’t one of their priorities.
Given that, it's important to create a culture in which thought leadership is essential. Coworkers must understand the role and importance of thought leadership in the company’s marketing strategy. The executive team needs to take the lead on thought leadership efforts and make their time and expertise available — successful thought leadership strategies start at the top.
In addition, let coworkers know that although their content is being used by the company to help build brand authority, their knowledge is and will always remain their own. Stress that thought leadership marketing is an opportunity for them to develop their professional profile and boost their reputation.
Like any marketing strategy, building an internal content machine requires thorough planning. Here’s a step-by-step approach that will help drive consistent, high-quality thought leadership content:
Before creating thought leadership content, look at the broader questions that will form the basis of your overall strategy. Who’s the target audience? What messages do you want to convey? Are there different messages for different audiences? Should the focus be on traditional articles in industry journals, or visual content like infographics and videos?
Then look within the company to identify the experts in each department: Who are the potential thought leaders? Finally, think about what the thought leadership strategy should achieve. Should it generate leads or create brand awareness? Which KPIs should you measure?
Plan out the content for the next three to six months. What topics will be covered? This will require some industry research into the kind of content that’s already out there. Identify high-profile thought leaders and see what they’re talking about. Try to focus on unique angles that these individuals can offer. Think of ways you can take the industry in new and exciting directions.
Chances are, thought leaders will need some level of assistance in producing their content. If they enjoy writing or have writing experience, they may only need help with final edits or proofreading. However, if that isn't the case, someone may need to write for them. For instance, a writer can interview the thought leader and then ghostwrite a blog post.
Remember, creating internal content is an “extra” task from the perspective of the coworker. In most cases, it’s not part of their expected job description. Make it as easy as possible for them to generate content — it’ll reduce stress for everyone.
Different content forms will naturally have different places where they perform best. For example, a more technical or research style article is best suited in an industry publication. In contrast, editorial or opinion pieces can do well on the company blog or a networking website. It would also be worth researching which websites or publications might be interested in publishing content from these thought leaders.
Find a way to distribute and promote thought leadership content to maximize exposure to relevant audiences. Promote thought leadership content through social media pages, newsletters, email, web push notifications to subscribers, and more. If the company runs groups or forums online, this is an ideal opportunity to strengthen its brand authority with thought leadership content targeted to the aims of the group. Distribute thought leadership content internally and encourage employees to share it on their social media accounts.
Originally published on December 12th, 2019, last updated on June 22nd, 2022.