“It’s easy to admire a thought leader; it’s much harder to become one.”
—Adam Grant, Wharton professor and author of Give and Take
Content creation in the sharing economy
The sharing economy continues to transform nearly every sector of the global economy. A recent McKinsey report projects that sharing economy revenues will reach $335 billion globally by 2025.
Wikipedia defines the sharing economy as “peer-to-peer based sharing of access to goods and services.” Another definition describes it as “a socio-economic ecosystem built around the sharing of human, physical and intellectual resources. It includes the shared creation, production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services by different people and organizations.”
As its impact continues to grow, what does it mean for content creation?
Content creation is a challenge for marketers. Statistics from Kapost show that 39% of marketers indicate coming up with ideas is difficult, and that 1 in 2 marketers say they don’t have enough ideas to fuel their content operations.
The sharing economy is good news for content creation, offering rich new opportunities for engagement, dialogue, and creative insight. For marketers, the collaborative model is a content strategy resource for generating and developing genuine thought leadership.
It takes a metropolis
The term crowdsourcing first appeared in 2006 to reference an organization looking outside its own resources and employees for ideas and problem solving. The title of Hillary Clinton’s famous book, published ten years earlier in 1996, offers a useful metaphor for crowdsourcing: It Takes a Village.
In 2016, however, it takes a metropolis. The metropolis model is a shared production model that leverages your entire peer community. In the sharing economy era, optimizing your resources and harnessing the power of your entire “metropolis” to generate thought leadership content is a key strategy for success.
Applied to content creation, the metropolis model is a roadmap for utilizing the collective wisdom of your entire ecosystem—in-house resources, customer feedback, subject-matter expertise, and industry influencers—to develop standout thought leadership content.
Revisiting thought leadership & why it matters
While thought leadership has become a marketing buzzword, it’s essential for brands whose strategy includes establishing and maintaining a thought leadership role. 43% of marketers identified thought leadership as one of the top three goals of content marketing, along with lead generation and brand awareness, in a recent LinkedIn Technology Marketing Community survey.
Although it’s been said that the first rule of thought leadership is not to call it thought leadership, it’s worth revisiting the definition of the term. In their book #Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign, Liz Alexander and Craig Badings offer a useful definition:
“Thought leaders advance the marketplace of ideas by positing actionable, commercially relevant, research-backed, new points of view. They engage in “blue ocean strategy” thinking on behalf of themselves and their clients, as opposed to simply churning out product-focused, brand-centric white papers or curated content that shares or mimics others’ ideas.”
In a conversation with Curtis Kroeker, CEO of Scripted, an online marketplace that connects businesses with writers, he defined thought leadership as “content that’s thought-provoking to people who already know a lot about that particular topic. So it’s a pretty high bar.”
With the increasing importance of thought leadership as a content marketing strategy, how can you effectively meet this standard? How can you create content that offers genuinely new ideas, insight, and solutions?
Using the metropolis model to develop thought leadership content
The metropolis model is an effective way to tap into your entire community of talent and resources to develop thought leadership content. Using the metropolis model, you can crowdsource and collaborate with your network of in-house teams, customers, SMEs, and influencers to generate content that meets thought leadership standards.
1. Know the defining issues and trends
Author and marketing strategy consultant Dorie Clark recommends immersing yourself in the existing industry conversation as the first step toward breaking new ground. Become conversant with the culture and current thought leadership in your industry. Be familiar with the topics, issues, research, and perspectives other experts are presenting.
Armed with that knowledge, you can then start to identify what’s missing from the dialogue and where there are opportunities to contribute new thinking.
2. Crowdsource for new ideas
During the ideation phase of thought leadership content creation, your best resources are the citizens of your metropolis: your in-house teams and your customers.
Kroeker says crowdsourcing is key for effective content development, and for thought leadership content in particular. “If you’re not tapping into the crowd, you’re going to miss out on perspective, expertise, and ideas,” he told us. “Even if someone is particularly well-versed in a certain area, it’s only going to be one person’s opinion. Crowdsourcing lets you tap into multiple perspectives and make for a much richer conversation and richer content creation.”
Mobilize in-house teams
Explain your thought leadership mission to your internal colleagues and solicit their input to develop new topics and ideas. Involve your entire team including IT, developers, analysts, designers, sales, and customer service.
SMEs are another important resource for ideation. One strategy for soliciting input from SMEs is to simply ask them, “What did you do today?” Their day-to-day roles and processes involve the key issues that directly affect your customers, whether it’s technology, sales, customer service, research, or product development. Almost everything they do is content.
Walk through their daily activities and the various components of their jobs to identify relevant topics.
Let your team know why their participation is important. As valued in-house experts immersed in the daily workings of your business and customer interaction, their insights are essential.
Set up brainstorming or gamestorming sessions that make it fun and pressure-free for everyone to contribute ideas.
You can start the ideation with questions like the following:
- What’s missing from the industry’s current conversation?
- What areas are underrepresented in our current content strategy? What issues should we be covering?
- What are your biggest challenges, and why?
- What challenges and issues do you observe among our clients?
- What new ideas and trends are emerging in our business?
You can also use tools like 15Five and Slack to help solicit relevant topics.
Your role is to direct the dialogue and provide moderation and feedback. Let participants know they don’t have to write anything—just contribute ideas. Assign a point person to keep track of the dialogue and take notes.
Solicit feedback from customers and users
Next, reach out to your users for feedback. Your online community is one of the best sources of intelligence. Customer feedback is an essential means of surfacing new business challenges and issues for your content strategy.
Polls, surveys, and incentives are ideal ways to engage with your community. Services like Polldaddy can help you create simple surveys.
Begin identifying new content opportunities by generating dialogue with your users around the following types of questions:
- What’s your biggest business challenge?
- What question do you most need answered? What information do you need that is not available?
- What’s the most pressing issue in your business?
- How could we improve our product or service?
Be responsive and stay actively engaged with your community to monitor the discussion. Solicit and leverage comments to create and maintain a topic- and issue-oriented dialogue. Encourage debate around contrasting viewpoints.
Engaging in a dialogue with your audience will help you generate useful data that can be developed into content. By asking your users about their needs and showing you care about their challenges and their opinions, you invest in them as co-creators.
3. Engage with experts and influencers
Tap SMEs for knowledge and expertise
Subject-matter experts are critical allies in your thought leadership strategy. They can contribute the deep technical, practical, or instructional expertise you need in specific topic areas. Develop a set of targeted questions for them to respond to in writing or in an interview.
Depending on the business area you’re focused on and the type of expertise required, you may also want to interview outside SMEs.
Leverage the power of influencers
Influencer marketing is one of the top marketing trends of 2016.
Engaging with influencers not only gives you access to authoritative insights and opinions from people your customers trust. It dramatically scales the visibility, reach, and engagement of your content.
New research from Twitter shows consumers now trust influencers nearly as much as their friends. And with a new study by Tapinfluence showing an 11X higher return from influencer marketing campaigns compared to other digital marketing channels, engaging influencers in your content marketing efforts is essential.
Find out who’s driving the conversation and who your users are listening to. It could be a highly visible blogger, leader, executive, or industry expert—a recognized name with authority, influence, and a following.
LinkedIn can help you identify people of influence who are already in your network. There are also web services that will help you find and engage the right influencers for your business, including InNetwork and Traackr.
Reach out to the influencers you’ve identified and begin cultivating relationships. Be familiar with their work—read their book and follow their blog, for example—and ask them to participate in your thought leadership initiative.
Invite them to contribute their perspective, analysis, and insight. Explain how you’ve identified this issue and why you believe they’re uniquely qualified to contribute fresh thinking.
Thought leadership partnerships should be mutually beneficial. When you approach an influencer, be prepared to offer something of value in return. Maybe you can offer publicity. Or maybe your offer can be tied directly to the product or service you provide—a membership, free trial, or special access of some kind. In essence, be prepared to answer the question: what’s in it for me?
If your influencer is a blogger, he or she may be willing to write something on the topic themselves. Alternatively, working with your team and/or a writer, you can craft questions, interview the influencer, and create the content yourself based on his or her input.
4. Putting it all together: creating your content
When you’re ready to write and publish your content, ensure a professional, well-written presentation. While good writing alone doesn’t turn generic content into thought leadership, good writing skills are essential for clearly communicating new business insights.
In a recent LinkedIn Technology Marketing Community Survey, 57% of marketers said “engaging and compelling storytelling” was among the top three criteria that make content effective.
“Without good writing, you risk your insights being lost because they aren’t communicated effectively,” says Kroeker. “Good writing ensures that those powerful insights are communicated in a way that’s clear and that resonates with the target audience.”
Creating thought leadership content is a kind of alchemy. Done right, it:
- Addresses new issues, ideas, and challenges
- Provides context, analysis, and synthesis of multiple perspectives
- Weaves a coherent, engaging narrative that offers new information and actionable solutions
- Is well-written and tells a compelling story
“Being able to collaborate effectively and directly is critical to the creation of great thought leadership,” says Kroeker.
As a marketer, you’re at the center of your metropolis, collaborating with your community to generate meaningful thought leadership content worthy of the name.
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