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Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

The following is guest post from Craig Badings of Cannings Corporate Communications. It originally appeared at www.thoughtleadershipstrategy.net/

There is a lot of a commentary flying around the web at the moment about content, optimising that content for search engines , content curation (filtering and aggregating relevant content) and how best to deliver content to your publics.

But…and this is a big but – content alone does not make you a thought leader.  It may help a company’s publics, it may make their lives easier, it may drive traffic to a site and it may position that brand as a trusted source of particular information.  But does it make that company a thought leader?

No it does not.

Let’s have a quick look at my definition of thought leadership:  Thought Leadership is establishing a relationship with and delivering something of value to your stakeholders and customers that aligns with your brand/company value. In the process you go well beyond merely selling a product or service and establish your brand /company as the expert in that field and differentiate yourself from your competitors

Key to thought leadership is innovative content

The key to being a thought leader is offering something of value, insights that position you as the expert in that field.  By that I mean stuff which frames the debate and conversations on a particular issue or issues.  Content that challenges the paradigms and the thinking of your own staff as well as your publics if not an entire industry sector, and content that delivers deep insights around a particular issue or sector.

Content that doesn’t do this cannot and should not be labelled as thought leadership.  It is merely information.

This is not to say that it’s not useful but it doesn’t make you a thought leader.

Content curation

HiveFire has produced a thought provoking e book on content curation.  You can download it here : http://info.hivefire.com/eBook.html  and I suggest you do.  It is a good read and raises some very interesting questions about how you manage your content.

But as they say, competitors are drowning in a sea of information overload and they are challenged to decipher what information is relevant and which sources are trustworthy.  My view is that it is particularly because of this that to be a thought leader, the content you deliver needs to differentiate you from the crowd, must be different and challenge insights and should position you as the pre-eminent company/commentator in that space.

The spin-offs of doing this right are huge as many marketers, particularly in the professional services arena will attest.  True thought leadership is one of the most valuable marketing assets in which a company can invest.  It inspires trust in your brand and in process imbues in your company and your people a perception by the marketplace that you are the ‘go to’ authorities and knowledge experts on that topic – a perception that no amount of advertising can buy.  OK maybe a bucket load could buy it but it would cost a bomb .

Publishing alone will not help

Publishing on its own is not going to help.  It’s what you publish and how you take it to market that makes the difference.

Before you become an aggregator or curator of content ask yourself the following questions:   What is our thought leadership position?  What do we stand for in the market place?  What is our differentiator in terms of leading the market?

Only once you have established a position in this regard are seen as the go to place for insights in your area of specialty is it useful to become a content curator and specifically for content that relates to and helps inform that position.

 Until then I’m afraid, you will just be a follower.

Could a new social search service with a name synonymous with ‘earth pig‘ have implications for marketing and communications? I think so.

Aardvark let’s you ask questions anonymously and receive answers from individuals in your or your friends’ social networks who may have relevant expertise.  The service is opt-in, anonymous and questions can be asked and received on the Web, through Twitter, email and so on.  There’s a homepage where you set up a profile but the process takes seconds and you never have to go back.

I’ve used Aardvark over the past few weeks and it’s enabled me to tap into distributed expertise – from people several degrees of separation removed from me – quickly and easily. It works so well that I find myself using Aardvark over Google for knowledge discovery.

So what are the implications for marketing and communications? Here are some preliminary ideas:

-       Internal Communications: It’s no secret that large enterprises have a problem with knowledge transfer and it’s no secret that social networking has been suggested as a possible solution.  I think Aardvark is more realistic for connecting employees. Why? Because an Aardvark-like service could be implemented and used so easily.

o    HR managers could log new employees into the system without those employees having to take any action. Job descriptions could be used to set up areas of expertise.

o    Employees would use it because the system can be accessed from virtually any medium.

o    Older employees not comfortable with traditional social networks? That’s fine; they can use the system perfectly well through email.

o    Younger employees more comfortable with a Twitter interface or mobile app? That’s easy to implement too.

-       Customer engagement: Imagine enrolling every new customer/user in an Aardvark-like service when you close the sale.  Customers would immediately be plugged into a network of experts (other customers) with similar challenges or issues and with almost no effort on their part.  Customers could be empowered to ask questions about products as well as issues relevant to their industry, job function etc.  As the broker of the relationship vendors benefit from delivering another value-added service (at minimal cost).  There’s also the potential opportunity for valuable data mining.

-       Thought leadership and expert visibility: This is the one that’s really captured my attention. Currently Aardvark is anonymous and the system routes you to the best resource based on user profiles. What if users had the option of selecting to receive answers from identified experts affiliated with a company, product or service?  How might this work?

o    Users might opt in to direct their questions to qualified and identified experts to obtain answers that require a higher degree of credibility (medical questions for instance)

o    Vendors, of course, would benefit from having a direct channel to promote their expertise and thought leadership.

o    Taking it a step further, users could rate vendor responses. Top rated vendors on a topic would get the first crack at relevant questions, thereby incentivizing them to provide value each time.

Answer sites, social networks and the chaos that is Twitter address each of these ideas/opportunities in their own ways but somehow Aardvark, because of its filtering, its simplicity, and the fact that it eliminates the burden of creating original content for a destination site, seems much more attractive to me. What do you think?

Half Moon Bay that is at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech. Reflecting on what I found to be some of the best ideas shared yesterday:

- How can social media be leveraged to make your employee talent more highly engaged? Gary Hamel of London Business School cited a Towers Perrin study across 16 countries, and it found that nobody has more than 20% of employees who say they feel highly engaged. If we can engage customers, allow them to congregate and engage with collectively work around a problem, why can’t we do more with our talent?

- Where is your platform strategy? This was a recurring theme; that innovative companies are providing platforms as a strategy to allow others to build things for them.

- CC Per Annum. OK, I just made that up, but after hearing CEOs Michael Dell, Marc Benioff and Brad Smith all cite at different times in the afternoon just how many customer conversations their companies are having annually, I think we’re going to start seeing that as a communications department proof point in an effort to show innovation from the outside in. For the record, Intuit has two billion customer conversations per year.

- Books, toys and web services? I had wondered how Amazon Web Services had come to be. Jeff Bezos shared that Amazon built web services for themselves over four years ago in an effort to free up their engineering hours that were not directly adding customer value. The idea came up a few years after that to get into the web services business. I also like the analogy he used – that we’re moving into a new world where like a brewery, they’ll be able to focus on the beer and not on having their own power generator to produce it.

- Best insight of the day: Small business owners will happily share tips and advice with other similar small business owners as long as they’re not in the same zip code. Florist to florist, etc. Just think of the opportunities to facilitate that for a company like Intuit.

Which brings me to the some of the best remarks of the day, made by Intuit CEO Brad Smith. I had never seen Mr. Smith speak before, and he has a pretty polished approach, so much so that I worried he was going to be too smooth and salesy. Many around me agreed. But he ended up surprising us all and really delivered a candid commentary on his challenge; He said they’re asking themselves at Intuit, will their 25 years of success be an accelerant or inhibitor? He says the answer is with the youth in the company. He gave a great anecdote. TurboTax is a 20+ year old product, so there is resistance to change. An engineer proposed that they put the live user community inside the product for the first time – so users can talk to other users while doing taxes. They took a risk, did a test. Guess what happened? 44% of users asked the questions and got community answers, and at a higher accuracy rate than ever before. He concluded, “And it cost us zero.”

It was a great day. And I’m looking forward to more. Oh yeah, and Neil Young is here.

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide