Establishing yourself as a thought leader is one of the most impactful things you can do for your business. Thought leadership places you head and shoulders above your competition. It allows you to develop a much closer connection to the audience you are serving because they trust your insights. In fact, 78% of senior executives surveyed were more likely to trust or listen to a company that produces quality thought leadership.
And yet, recent evidence has found that the vast majority of thought leadership content currently being shared is having the opposite effect. It's no secret that thought leadership content needs to be informative and relevant to your audience. But these criteria simply aren't enough to elevate your brand above any other in your market.
To answer the question, "what is thought leadership?", it's important to also explore what thought leadership isn't. Applying these lessons will ensure that the content you publish will elevate, rather than detract from, the reputation of your brand.
A 3-year study conducted by LinkedIn and Edelman has shed light on some of the key stumbling blocks to establishing thought leadership. 3275 global business decision-makers contributed to the survey. 48% of respondents spent an hour or more per week engaged with thought leadership content.
The results identified a significant missed opportunity when it comes to thought leadership content. While 88% of the decision makers in the survey agreed that this strengthens their opinion of a company, only 17% rated the quality of most content as good or excellent.
This damning revelation is extremely insightful; while quality thought leadership builds a brand's reputation, poor content will tear it down.
A staggering 38% of thought leadership consumers had less respect or admiration for a company after reading poor quality content. Even more concerning, 27% said that sometimes reading thought leadership content had led to the decision not to award the company their business.
The characteristics of low quality thought leadership content were detailed in the study results.
First on the list was repetition of frequently discussed topics. Readers wanted to learn about fresh topics or new points of view on existing debates.
Furthermore, insights that were superficial or elementary were seen as holding little value to readers. Rigorous research and data to support conclusions are necessary to ensure the content digs deep into audience pain points.
Finally, a heavy focus on selling or promoting products drove readers to develop a lower opinion of the content they were reading.
Alongside the study data, Edelman and LinkedIn published a flywheel of advice for success in thought leadership. The wheel sets out actionable tips that address each of the challenges identified by survey respondents.
The data from this study should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone embarking on a thought leadership strategy for their business. Get it right, and the benefits will be far-reaching; get it wrong, and the consequences equally so. Sense-checking the strategy against Edelman and LinkedIn's criteria is a must, as is continual review of results and engagement.
Ultimatedly, thought leadership should be exactly as it sounds: lead, don't follow, and prioritise conversation over promotion.