In today’s business world, one of the hottest commodities a company can have is to be identified as an expert in their field. Indeed, this categorization is in such high demand that some brands self-identify as experts (or ninjas, or jedis, or wizards, or magicians). Information, content, new perspectives, and deep insights are the new currency, especially in the world of social media.
Often times the desire to offer expertise to an industry or to your audience can result in content that is truly insightful. However, there is also a great risk inherent in working to establish a company’s thought leadership. That risk is that sometimes your content can come across as extremely condescending, so much so that perhaps your actual message is overshadowed by your tonality.
As exhibit A, consider this article from Fast Company, titled “Why B2B Marketers Still Don’t Get Social Media – and 7 Steps for Fixing That.” Fast Company has published a lot of content about social media over the last few years and have drafted a lot of social media practitioners to write for the publication. The magazine is clearly trying to build itself as a resource, or as a thought leader, in regards to social media and social media marketing. It’s hard to get far beyond the title before realizing that the article is framed in a way that could easily rub readers the wrong way – especially B2B Marketers who *do* “get” social media (like us, for example).
As you strive to build your company’s value as a thought leader, how can you make sure your content is informational without hedging into a style that could insult your audience? Here are some tips.
1. Write intelligently but simplistically
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough. As you work to pass on your knowledge and present your company as a thought leader, explain things so that people unfamiliar with your ideas can find them easily accessible while people with more knowledge will not feel insulted. This can be a fine line. A good idea is to find another company that produces content that you find appealing and try to emulate that style.
2. Avoid sweeping generalizations
One of the problems with the Fast Company article linked above is that there are a lot of broad sweeping statements. For example, the author writes, “A big part of the problem is that most B2B companies don’t understand that social media requires both a technology and a business approach.” On what is this statement based? It’s a fairly bold thing to say about a large swath of the business world. Make sure that if you are building a case, you do so with some support, or make sure your claims are well understood by the general audience you’re targeting.
3. Do not assume you are an expert
Even though you may be extremely confident in the content you are producing, it is best to assume that there are other perspectives or facts you are simply not aware of yet. Especially with blog posts, leave room for readers to add information to the dialogue. This does not diminish your status as an expert. Rather, it makes your company appear more accessible and receptive to outside ideas, very important factors in today’s business world, especially online.
4. Do not identify other groups as inferior
The biggest mistake the Fast Company author made, in our opinion, was designating B2B marketers as a group with less knowledge than the author. If people come to read your content, one can assume they are there to learn from you. Inviting people to learn from your experience is very different from saying, “You don’t know as much as me so I’m going to help you.” A good way to avoid this last problem is to picture one individual from your audience and pretend you are just talking to them. Hopefully you would not take a person aside and say, “Look, you’re really ignorant about this topic and I want to help you out.” Consider how you would work with that person on an individual basis and carry that kind of approach into your content.
A standing as an industry expert or thought leader is extremely important today, but just as important is how you are perceived on a personal level. If someone perceives of your brand as being condescending or even offensive, they may not care how good your advice is. Make sure you treat your audience with respect. That is one of the best ways to earn respect from your readers.
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gr8matt/14052620/ via Creative Commons