In a recent post that rattled the SEO industry, Google's Matt Cutts, the search engine's chief spam fighter, rallied a call that has many marketers quaking. The days of guest blogging, he said, are over for SEO. If you're just guest blogging to get links, he goes on to say, you're in bad company.
What he's referring to is awkward guest blogging that essentially mimics the article marketing of old: bombarding mediocre content at every site on the web in hopes of scoring a link, without a thought to branding, audience, or relevancy.
Even with Google cracking down on spammers (which is a good thing), not all is lost. But it's critical to treat guest blogging respectfully.
Here's a closer look at how guest blogging can be one of your best tools for establishing credibility, authority, and thought leadership.
Understand Why Thought Leadership Matters
There are many different kinds of writing available to content marketers, from in-depth content like ebooks or white papers to quick blog posts meant to entertain and delight. Thought leadership elevates content creation to new heights by focusing in on quality insights, good writing, and taking a forward-looking position on key issues.
According to the Harvard Business Review, it begins with your brand which is "your personal promise to the market and to the world." They go on to explain that it's not enough to be the person that speaks Spanish, the most efficient sales leader, or some other similar skill-based position. These can be eliminated, or someone can come along who does what you do better, faster, or cheaper.
The best way to become irreplaceable is to build a brand centered around your unique strengths and contributions.
Instead, reframe the question to ask, "So how do you build a reputation as a singular expert – someone who doesn't just participate in the conversation, but drives it?" You drive the conversation by identifying trends, formulating well thought-out points, and taking them to highly visible venues to begin to share.
Thought Leadership Starts With Defining a Position
Thought leadership is about expertise. To move into the realm of writing or speaking for thought leadership purposes, you first have to determine your unique positioning.
What is it that you have to say and that you want to say that's different than everything else that's already being said? The answer can range from offering a radically different position on the key trends and issues of your industry to simply putting a different twist on execution.
For example, if everyone talks about the value of video marketing from a theoretical perspective, but you're creating 3,000 word in-depth tutorials that really move people forward, that's your niche.
How you define your position can be based on several things:
- What are your underlying goals for thought leadership activities? Are you promoting a specific business, or building your brand as the foundation for a career in a specific industry?
- Where are your strengths? Are you able to write quickly? Are you comfortable on camera? Can you make people laugh with quirky top 10 lists, or do you have access to unique contacts that could be the foundation for a powerful interview series?
- What series of smaller objectives are you going to tie to your content marketing, such as specific bylines or becoming known for talking about certain issues?
- What unique experience or perspective do you have that's in demand in your industry, but hasn't been claimed by an expert yet?
- From an industry perspective, what are some urgent questions that you and your peers and competitors are facing? What is the hot news or the biggest trend? If you think six months to two years into the future, can you answer the same questions and start talking about them now?
These questions offer a starting point to evaluate specific opportunities for thought leadership that can benefit your business and find a sustainable niche in your industry as you move forward.
Develop Your Content Strategy
Thought leadership has many different components. Determining your strategy for "getting your message out" is a critical aspect of a viable thought leadership campaign.
Choosing your channels is as weighty a decision as defining your message. There are numerous opportunities available to you, for example:
- Establish a blog or website that becomes an authoritative brand in your space.
- Contribute to other publications.
- Speak at conferences, panels, and other industry events.
- Write articles for trade magazines or custom publications.
- Guest post in a variety of online venues.
- Host a podcast, video program, or interview show.
- Invest in writing longer works, such as books, ebooks, and white papers.
If nothing else, remember this one key takeaway: the most effective thought leadership efforts are systematic, and help you achieve a series of goals that build your brand along the way.
Make Some Key Decisions About Brand You
"Thought leadership" is a term that's used and abused to describe many things. Mostly, it refers to having a platform to affect the discussion through your writing, speeches, work, and more.
At another level, thought leadership also means that you're respected for your expertise and someone that others consult when they want to hire someone in your space. In extreme cases, "thought leader" becomes almost a job description, describing someone who writes books and travels to conferences for a living.
The question that every professional needs to answer is where thought leadership fits in for them. As argued above, it can be a key tool in brand building.
By getting out and speaking, writing, guest posting, and even having an active social media presence, you're raising your profile. This opens the door to career opportunities, bigger chances for platform exposure, and more.
Most profoundly, you're able to reach many people and even have an impact on the direction of your field. Depending on what moves you, this is a powerful opportunity to really evaluate what your brand is and how thought leadership can serve your bigger goals over the long term.
Expect Part of the Game to be Psychological
It's hard to move from thinking of yourself as an employee to a manager or leader. But stepping outside the idea that you're not just leading a company, but that you're taking a leading role in your industry also requires some major mind shifts.
Some people experience resistance (now's not the time; it's too hard; no one will take me seriously). Others struggle with self-confidence (who would listen to me?; who am I to say these things?).
Whatever comes up for you, addressing these issues in a clear and open way is the best strategy for getting through them. Understand that reservations can pop up at many different junctures in the process. You may have concerns at the beginning that you overcome, only to find yourself given the opportunity to publish a piece in a big brand magazine or speak in front of 3,000 people.
The magnitude of some opportunities will stop you in your tracks. You realize that you suddenly may have to speak to rivals, former mentors, or your hero.
There are three simple pieces of advice that I can give you to help you move through this:
- Don't feel shame: If you're feeling scared, overwhelmed, or out of your depth, don't be ashamed that you're having that experience. It's totally normal. If you try to hide it or fight it, or you struggle with suppressing it, you'll end up paralyzed from moving forward. Instead, simply meet yourself where you already are and acknowledge that you're feeling stress from pushing your thought leadership boundaries.
- Acknowledge where you want to go: For example, you might say "I'm overwhelmed by all the opportunities to write and speak out there. I'd like to get clear about which opportunities are right for me at this time, both ones I'll feel comfortable with and ones that move my business goals forward." Another scenario could be, "I'm terrified of saying something stupid or wrong, so I'm going to craft tightly researched and honed pitches that I test with at least three colleagues before I send. I'm going to move slowly, and focus on a series of 'safe' victories to get my feet wet."
- Develop a micro plan:Develop a brand plan that includes a column on a high-profile publication like Forbes, regular quotes in media such as The New York Times, and maybe even a TV appearance. Breaking down a goal into micro steps gives you something you can do each day to achieve your goal. For example, consider that you want to become a contributor for a high-profile publication. You could:
- Research the process for becoming a contributor.
- Contact contributors in your network to learn more about their experience, and ask for a recommendation.
- Develop your best and most persuasive personal bio for the editors to read.
- Brainstorm and refine column ideas you're going to propose.
- Write stories for other venues that reflect your writing strengths, so you have strong clips to present.
- Write a letter of introduction that initiates the process.
Cutts' call to action is an important opportunity to look at guest blogging as just one component of building your personal thought leadership plan. Thought leadership is about defining your brand, connecting with an audience, and moving the conversation forward. Many tools are at your disposal to make that happen successfully.
What are you doing differently with your writing in the months ahead in light of Cutts' post? Let me know in the comment below.