For consulting firms and other B2B companies, self-publishing has a place. Articles by a firm’s thought leaders on the company website can serve as a portfolio of subject matter expertise for current and potential clients. Self-publishing also helps establish articles with SEO power around search terms like "data analytics" – terms that potential customers will use to identify relevant firms, and which conference bookers will use to scout for speakers for their events.
All this can produce new leads, which is what you want. And publishing content yourself means you can avoid the tedious work of jumping through the hoops held by various editors at third-party business publications.
But self-publishing is not enough. Says who? Your customers.
In an April 2015 study on thought leadership content and marketing conducted by The Association of Management Consulting Firms (AMCF), The Bloom Group, and Rattleback, we asked consulting firm customers where they went to find thought leadership content. (The survey, now in its 6th year, queried 692 consulting customer executives in eight industries, the majority in companies with revenue of at least $1 billion, plus 108 consulting firm executives.)
What sources do these customers rely on? The top three were The Wall Street Journal’s online edition (60%), Harvard Business Review/HBR.org (54%), and Forbes.com (48%). Other sources included trade magazines covering their industry (43%), Fortune.com (36%), and Bloomberg BusinessWeek.com (34%). Only 24% of buyers said they depended on content from consulting firms’ websites, while 21% cited LinkedIn’s Influencer columns.
The message here is to be realistic about how frequently people will visit your firm’s site. As one consulting firm content leader noted at a recent AMCF event I attended, potential customers don’t wake up in the morning and buzz over to your firm’s site to see what’s fresh.
That’s just the way things are, so if you want potential customers to see you, you need to be in HBR, WSJ, and Forbes (and relevant industry publications.) Will this require more time and effort than self-publishing? Yes, absolutely. These publications set the bar high. Editors at HBR.org, for example, have stated at AMCF events that they accept less than 10% of submissions. (HBR print is even more selective.)
To join that lucky 10%, your articles must have strong arguments, unique points of view or insights, compelling customer or company examples (ideally with real names, and quantitative data), and useful advice for readers. A strong thought leadership article in HBR.org illuminates a topic with analysis, then gives the reader broad lessons to apply to his own company’s challenges (or perhaps an individual’s career challenges.) In editor lingo, this is called "actionable advice," and it’s a must-have. What can the reader do after digesting your article?
If you are self-publishing, you can skip all or part of this. But every time you do, you give readers another reason to dismiss you and your firm. There’s a reason people turn to third-party, editor-validated publications.
I’m not saying you should give up self-publishing. It serves a purpose. But the results of the AMCF study show that customers think of this content as a corollary to third-party business publication articles, not a primary source.
And if one of your thought leaders does get an article into HBR or Forbes, readers will likely follow up by visiting your site to learn more about the firm’s expertise. At this point, you need to deliver a well-rounded, high-quality package of content.
What exactly are these potential customers looking for? According to the AMCF study, the top three things they want are "Relevance to my issues" (65%), "deep knowledge on a problem and its solution" (60%), and "evidence that the solution works in the form of real, named companies that achieved results" (59%.)
That sounds a lot like what third-party publication editors seek. Skipping those factors, even when you self-publish, can produce shallow content, and that can backfire. As the AMCF study said, "Some 94% of buyers say that when content is poor it lowers their opinion of a consulting firm."
Self-publishing is easy. That’s why it’s dangerous. Guard the quality of your firm’s content, or risk leaving a poor impression with customers.
For more on how we at The Bloom Group define and ensure high content quality for clients, see "The Seven Hallmarks of Compelling Intellectual Capital." And to learn more about the AMCF study results, and the content habits of successful firms, see "Consulting Firm Thought Leadership: 4 Key Habits of Winners."