Best Practices For B2B Thought Leadership Blogging in 2016

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When I was finished, I swallowed hard, folded the paper sharply, and pushed it to the way back of my drawer. What the heck was I thinking? My column – the one I had labored over and perfected and submitted with great pride 16 years ago – was a poorly written, bombastic, barely coherent piece of journalism. In my youthful zest, I had used just about every big word I could find, tackled concepts that I didn’t truly understand, referenced my own life an inappropriate amount, and managed to sound glib while doing it all.

It just so happened that later that day I was preparing for a presentation. I typically present to groups of CEOs on the topic of thought leadership. Before each presentation, I review all the companies I’m about to address, reading through their blogs and seeing if I can make any suggestions on how they can improve their content.

In the midst of reviewing one of the company’s websites, something struck me: these blogs were kind of like my high school newspaper column! I mean sure, they were better written and about a business topic rather than the meaning of love or whatever I was trying to tackle, but there were some real similarities.

First, these B2B companies used industry terminology and general business jargon so much that sometimes I couldn’t even figure out what they sell. Second, there was quite a lot of salesy writing and self-promotion, something that is completely okay (and indeed, expected) on a product or service page, but not on a blog. Third, many of the blogs covered “internal” subjects such as new hires and product lines, which I might care about if I were already a client, but otherwise caused me to lose interest pretty quickly.

When I was finished reading through these companies’ blogs, I wondered if any of them had taken the time to ask themselves the basic question “Is this interesting to read?” It’s possible that articles like these would have gone over well in 2005, when there was little high quality content available on the Internet. But in 2015, the amount of good content that is produced in a single day is probably more than you could read in the whole year. It’s a competitive reading environment out there!

With that said, I’m calling on B2B businesses to think about the people they’re trying to reach – people just like you and me, who purchase products and services on behalf of their businesses – and consider what they’d like to be reading. Because if you can get a potential client engaged in an article, there is a good chance they will later convert to a client. That’s the purpose of creating a blog in the first place.

With the principle of engagement in mind, here are my 7 best practices of B2B thought leadership blogging in 2015:

  • Share real insight. The Internet is filled with factual summaries, but potential clients won’t convert after reading a Wikipedia article. They are looking to understand not just what is happening, but why it matters. Your firm’s unique take on an issue through the lens of its experience is what people are seeking out.
  • Be informal and charismatic. When you were reading your textbooks in school, did you ever feel like contacting the authors and thanking them for their insight? Probably not, because textbooks rarely make an emotional connection with their readers. When you are writing a thought leadership blog, you want to do exactly that – after all, in the end, much of business comes down to emotion. That is why I’m a proponent of using the word “I,” making small jokes, and generally writing in a way that entertains people.
  • Be conversion oriented (to the right degree). The main reason you’re writing this thought leadership blog for your B2B business is to convert new clients. Possibly not right away; perhaps you’d like to simply attract more attention to your brand and get members of your industry commenting and sharing your content – but in the end, your company and what it does for a living still needs to be made clear. That is best done in a subtle way. Especially with how hot native advertising is right now, people will soon grow weary of product pitches hidden inside genuine-seeming editorials. That’s why your blog needs to actually be genuine; and that can be done while mentioning who you are and what you do at the same time. It just has to be natural. Some companies we write content for choose to not have any call-to-action in the text, but instead trust that people’s eyes will wander to the sidebar, where there is a photo of the writer and a quick summary of what they do. It’s good to keep in mind that B2B thought leadership blogs are meant to be “top of funnel” conversion tools – i.e. the first step in engaging a client as opposed to the one right before they convert (which would likely be a Services page).
  • Speak in an authoritative voice. When I’m reading an article about a company’s products or services, one of the main things that convinces me that they are worth my attention is the feeling that the company creating them has a deep well of experience from which they are speaking. When a writer uses a strong voice, I sit up and take notice, regardless of whether I agree with what they’re saying. There is something satisfying about reading concise, clear-minded sentences that the writer seems to firmly believe.
  • Be excited. Excitement is contagious. If you look at any of the most viral videos on the Internet, all the human subjects in that video are likely to possess an excited energy. A passive, boring voice will elicit a similar reaction from the audience. If you can’t get excited about a subject, then you shouldn’t be writing about it – no matter what that subject is.
  • Tell a story. The human brain engages with storytelling from a different area than it engages with fact-gathering. The part of the brain that gets activated when a story is being told is the one that controls empathy. In other words, your brain naturally tries to put yourself in the storyteller’s shoes. In contrast, when your brain perceives that facts are being presented, it goes into a mode of storing and prioritizing information – a much less impactful scenario. When writing a thought leadership blog, wouldn’t you rather have readers who are mentally there with you as you’re speaking to them as opposed to briefly collecting the data you’re transmitting? Simply put, if you want engagement, tell stories.
  • Offer something special. Whereas in the days of print journalism, commissioning a study or conducting an interview was a multi-week or month affair, today we can pull together custom research, case studies, interviews, and statements in a matter of days. Adding authoritative elements such as these to your content gives the reader the feeling that they are privy to something special that was prepared just for that article. Some of our most successful client work has come from publishing thought leadership pieces replete with special features in them, such as exclusive interviews and custom research.

I hope these 7 points make B2B thought leadership blogging just a little bit clearer for you. If you want to learn more about producing thought leadership articles, I write about that subject a lot. I’ll leave you with a few last points: try to publish multiple times per week, assign a dedicated thought leadership blogger (not someone who writes only when they have time), cover topics of genuine interest to potential clients, and be as hands-off as possible with the “sell” of your articles. The ROI that proper B2B thought leadership writing can produce for your company is enormous.

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