From Owned to Earned

4 Tips for Launching a Thought Leadership Campaign

Thought leadership is widely recognized as a cornerstone of a comprehensive content marketing strategy. While today’s audiences tune out overtly promotional content, they’ll tune in to valuable, relevant insights from someone they are willing to trust as an expert.

What’s new, of course, is the power of social media as a platform to share and amplify that POV and insight. Owned channels can provide effective platforms for sharing thought leadership content through white papers, blog posts, industry surveys and others.

But even self-acknowledged content marketing purists concede that traditional earned media remains a critical element for thought leadership. Placing a bylined article in a trade publication or getting your expert quoted in stories about industry trends provides the stamp of third-party credibility that complements content shared on owned channels.

So what is a thought leader? The modern concept of “thought leadership” originated in the mid-1990s, and the definition from that era still works today. A thought leader is “someone who deeply understands the business they are in, the needs of their customers and the broader marketplace in which they operate. They have distinctively original ideas, unique points of view and new insights.”

Of course, they call it “earned media” for a good reason as there is heavy competition for an ever-shrinking number of news pages. To win over an editor, you must provide timely, compelling content that addresses the interests and pain points of the publication’s audiences. Given the challenges, consider the following four tips for launching a well-targeted thought leadership plan.

  1. Define your positioning.

    Use the “3 Ds” of branding to ensure your content will be desirable, defensible and differentiating. “Desirable” means sharing expertise in ways that enhance the company’s brand – and address real concerns of the target audience. “Defensible” means your thought leaders can be both credible and, to some degree, prolific. Thought leadership requires a long-term commitment, so focus on topics that offer many angles and are likely to evolve over time. Finally, “differentiating” means there’s no one else offering the types of insights you can bring to the audience time and again. You have an ownable space. What are others saying on the topic? Is there a gap in the discussion that only your organization can fill?

  2. Conduct a media audit.

    To make the leap from owned to earned, you need to match your content to what the media wants and needs to serve its audience. A media audit will identify which publications are covering your topics, and how often. Who, if anyone, is talking about the topic? If yes, is there something you can add to the discussion that differentiates your company? What are your competitors saying?

  3. Develop a content plan.

    Establishing thought leadership requires a sustained effort, so developing six- to 12-month plans helps ensure a consistent content flow. Identify key industry events that may provide opportunities for timely bylined articles. Check editorial calendars to find topics where thought leaders may provide quotes or other content. Thought leaders are typically busy executives, so a well-defined plan focused on the best opportunities can ensure realistic demands on their time.

  4. Leverage owned content.

    For instance, you might distill a white paper down to an 800-word bylined article. Blog posts can also provide topics and content, but keep in mind many publications want only original content that has not appeared elsewhere. If you have a compelling post, consider pitching it to media first. You can always post the media placement on your blog later.

These four fundamentals can set the foundation for long-term success. So – what are your thoughts on establishing thought leadership?


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