In this hyper-competitive social age of the web, it’s never been more vital for brands to establish themselves as a credible, authoritative thought-leader in their industry.
The primary reason for this is the same reason that content marketing is effective: The primary driver of any purchasing decision is trust, and a scalable way of building trust is educating.
This fundamental idea is what fuels content marketing and, therefore, we can safely assume that the process of establishing ourselves as a thought-leader will have a close affinity with the content marketing paradigm.
So that begs the question:
How in the world can I, company X, leverage content marketing practices to effectively emerge as a thought-leader in my industry? And furthermore, how can I do it affordably?
Three months ago I found myself asking myself the same question. So, I embarked on a journey to try and solve it. After a lot of trial and error I’ve come up with a scientific approach that I believe can solve this problem for anyone.
Quick Primer on Content Marketing
As this point, I think it makes sense to take a moment to go over what content marketing is. I’m sure you’re already familiar with the concept but in favor of being exhaustive I want to briefly walk through what it means and the role it played in my journey.
The canonical definition taken right from Wikipedia is:
Content marketing is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers. This information can be presented in a variety of formats, including news, video, white papers, e-books, infographics, case studies, how-to guides, question and answer articles, photos, etc
While the above text provides a succinct definition, and a comprehensive list of media formats, there are two modifications I would make.
Content Generation: Creation + Curation
The definition mentions content creation, which is important, but far too limiting. Content marketing isn’t only content creation, but also content curation. Meaning it doesn’t all have to be original.
Subscribers are not religious about authorship, but are more concerned with quality. This was one of the fascinating insights that I came across during my quest.
For more details about content curation and a list of tools that can help you curate high quality content, there’s some great information here.
The second thing I’d change about the definition is that I would extend upon the sharing that it only briefly mentions, and give it priority parity with content generation.
Having a distribution channel for your content, is just as important as generating high quality content.
So I would add the following to the definition:
“This information is typically distributed in one of the following outlets: social networks, e-mail list, blog.”
Let me know what you think, maybe I’ll officially submit it to Wikipedia ☺.
To wrap up content marketing, I put together this graph:
Now that we’ve distilled content marketing into its fundamental components, let’s take a step into the pragmatic world and show you how to put these components into practice.
The Social Media Arms Race
It’s no secret that social is an extremely effective means of distribution for brands. Aside from the obvious distribution benefits, it has an inherent social proof benefit. This goes a long way in order to achieve our ultimate goal: to establish ourselves as an industry thought-leader.
Therefore companies are embracing social media as a means of acquiring follows & likes (henceforth to be referred to as subscribers).
There’s an entire industry dedicated to acquiring subscribers on social. And the most talented practitioners amongst the industry, are the folks who can amass the largest following, while exhausting the least amount of resources (time & money).
Joining the Subscriber Arms Race
As marketers, we have many different options for subscriber acquisition. Of course these different options have varying costs and ROI, and the variance is usually dependent upon a number of factors, such as industry, market segment and competition.
For the purposes of this article I will only be covering one very special distribution channel, Twitter.
Gaining Followers on Twitter
Twitter is very special because of two reasons:
- Its inherent focus is on followers, as opposed to friends or likes. This notion of being a fanboy or fangirl is ingrained into the DNA of the network.
- It embraces a physiological phenomenon known as reciprocity, which has become part of the cyber-culture.
The first is obvious, but the second not so much. So let me elaborate.
It turns out that this second one is extremely interesting for our purposes. When you follow someone on Twitter with similar interests, there’s a good chance they'll follow you back.
I’ve found this is due to one of two reasons:
- You’ve made them aware of your existence, and because they’re genuinely interested they decide to follow you back. (These are super subscribers, and have significant value.)
- They follow everyone back that follows them as a common courtesy. (These are really only nice as a vanity metric, and only add nominal value.)
These characteristics make Twitter an ideal acquisition channel and greatly work in our favor as you’ll soon find out…
Targeted Lists on Twitter
“Gaining followers is cool, but you know what’s really cool? Gaining targeted followers.”
As it turns out, Twitter’s follower model has one more interesting property that comes in handy given our new targeting requirement. It’s self-organizing.
From a micro perspective, people follow brands and other people that they find interesting in order to consume their content. An interesting by-product of this is that humans have organized themselves into interest groups … without even knowing it.
Let me explain.
These interest groups I speak of are Twitter account follower lists. To turn this into an example, if I was looking for people interested in competitor research, a good place to start would probably be SEMrush’s followers on Twitter. And furthermore, if I’m a brand new platform for competitor research it would probably be greatly advantageous for me to follow SEMrush’s followers.
Congrats, you are now a skilled in the arts of amassing large targeted followings on Twitter. Go get yourself a six-figure salary growing social media followings for Fortune 500 companies.
Followers is Only Half the Story
To truly be a thought-leader you need to be constantly enriching your follower’s lives with relevant and compelling content.
This goes back to the content generation principles we covered earlier when discussing content marketing.
The rules I follow for my content generation are:
- Add value
- Stay relevant
- Remember I'm human
Keep the Content Stream Flowing
ABT: Always Be Tweeting. Being a thought-leader isn’t all fame and fortune. The moment you acquire someone as a follower, you have a contractual responsibility to add value to them.
The fact is, research and ideation are expensive.
Buffer is a social media scheduling service that has the capabilities of suggesting tweets based on who you're following.
This makes it incredibly easy to keep your followers entertained, while also increasing your engagement.
Numbers Don’t Lie
Yeah yeah. I know. You want to see some charts and graphs to prove this stuff works. After all, we live in the “data” age or something like that.
In the three-month testing period, I gained 16,000 followers.
- Degree of Targeting: As you can see, I did a decent job at targeting the tech startup community as my audience.
- Engagement: 134,700 impressions is not too bad in a month.
You are now equipped with the social media chops to establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry. All that’s left for you to do is some competitor research.
Go and be an industry celebrity!