The term "thought leadership" has been thrown around a lot lately, often tacked on to industry articles without any consideration as to whether the ideas presented are actually ... well ... leadership-worthy. Unfortunately, what should be thought-provoking posts have proven to be simply buzzword-laden pieces of content.
So, where have the true thought leaders gone? Many have fallen victim to the use of ghostwriting -- an unfortunate turn. Nevertheless, for the business leaders able to resist the ghostwriting temptation -- those contributing their own thoughts and ideas to content -- you're at a huge advantage. Here's why.
What Ghostwritten Content Lacks
Ghostwriting content is not inherently bad. The problem is that not all content should be ghostwritten.
Consider your end goal of producing thought leadership content: brand awareness, reengagement, loyalty, credibility, conversions. Now ask yourself: Should this business-building tactic be delegated to someone who knows very little about you or your industry? If you lean toward the idea that it's worth the time you save, then know that your content will lack these not-so-minor details.
Personal experience to back up content is crucial to its credibility. And you can't expect someone without significant context from which to draw to have the depth of experience and knowledge that you have, or to have any of that come out in their writing.
Producing content should challenge your knowledge and expertise, enabling you to learn more about your industry and increasing your credibility in the process. If you have a ghostwriter generating ideas and insights for you, you're losing out on the opportunity to become a more reliable, credible source of information.
There's a lot of content online, so you have to find a way to differentiate your blog posts, guest articles, and the like so they stand out from the noise. When your content is simply cranked out by a ghostwriter, it loses the personal experiences, witty comments, takeaways, and other elements that make your thought leadership articles memorable.
If you're not engaged with creating your own content, you miss the chance to share your passions, goals, and vision -- the qualities that separate a thought leader's credibility from the noise.
My company has tried everything from ghostwriting to editing an article draft produced by a client. After trying different processes, we know firsthand that the best content comes from combining a thought leader's experience and expertise with a writer's ability to develop, edit, and polish content. This way, a leader's expertise isn't lost, nor is a writer's pizzazz and polish.
The Personal Gains of Producing Thought Leadership Content
When you fall back on a ghostwriter to create your content, you're not only depriving your content of the five qualities above, but you're also missing out on three personal benefits. True thought leadership:
1) Reminds you to be a better leader.
People pay thousands of dollars for leadership coaching, but researching and being involved in the writing of your own bylined articles is one of the best ways to self-identify the aspects of leadership you want to improve upon. When you're consistently analyzing what people in your industry should be doing, it makes you ask yourself if you're taking your own advice.
I recently wrote an article about having meaningful conversations, and while writing it, I realized that I didn't even regularly do three of the things I was telling others to do. It was a much-needed sign, reminding me of the leader I want to be.
2) Makes you feel invested in the content.
I'm naturally more engaged and invested in the articles I had a part in writing. In the past, I hired ghostwriters to write my articles. To be honest? I couldn't have cared less about the finished product.
Lately, I've taken a major role in writing my own content. Because of that, I'm more inclined to discuss my articles with potential clients or partners. I share articles on social media more often and consider ways to use my content in different marketing initiatives.
3) Qualifies you to add your voice.
Creating your own content qualifies you to participate in other thought leadership activities. For instance, I started out writing articles. Now, though, I also speak at industry conferences and am even writing a book. All of these opportunities helped me build relationships with smart, thoughtful leaders.
Getting Leaders Involved in the Content Creation Process
Swaying a business leader to take a more crucial role in creating thought leadership pieces can sometimes be a challenge. There are a few key ways, though, you can get your company's leaders more involved:
Create a systematic process. Leaders are generally overextended, but a well-established process will help wrangle them in. This process should allow leaders to disregard the minor details of the content process (e.g., structuring sentences, brainstorming topics, or dealing with editors) and instead focus on the big picture.
Use topics they're passionate about. If a leader is passionate about a particular subject matter, they will naturally want to invest their time and effort.
Show the value.Track the results from content efforts -- for instance, increased website traffic or potential business leads -- so the leader sees how beneficial the content is to the company.
Pay attention to the platform. Take into consideration the publications and platforms the leader already engages with. If a leader sees their byline in a publication they already read and respect, the motivation to get more involved in the content will increase tenfold.
When I speak about thought leadership, I define it as "leading an industry by sharing your thoughts, experiences, and expertise to shape how the industry is viewed and educated." The key part of that definition is "your thoughts, experiences, and expertise," not those of a ghostwriter.
Thought leadership presents business leaders with a unique opportunity to freely communicate with an engaged audience. Don't waste this opportunity on content that lacks the expertise and unique personality of a true leader.
What tips do you have for business leaders who want to create thought leadership content?
Originally published Feb 14, 2014 11:00:00 AM, updated November 22 2017