As the curtain comes down on the annus horribilis of 2016 and rises on 2017, here are five things thought leadership could do without that might – just might – make 2017 marginally better, at least for those of us who toil in the thought leadership industrial complex.
- Using the number of Google search results to validate anything. For example, anyone who might read this blog knows content marketing is popular; it’s what businesses do today. Is it helpful or meaningful to say that “content marketing” gets almost 69 million results on Google (as it does)? Does that prove that content marketing is the bee’s knees? Or is it a lazy and most often unnecessary way to give an assertion a spurious authority? I think the latter. The all-knowing, all-seeing Sauron-like eye of Google is useful for many things, but counting the number of times a word or phrase is searched for is rarely one of them.
- The word “content.” And speaking of content marketing, what is content? Content can be anything. It can be foam peanuts or packing noodles. It can be what you stick in your kid’s lunch bag, or toss in the trash. According to Google (see above), it can be 69 million different things. But what it can’t be is anything special. If it were, you wouldn’t call it “content.” You’d use a more attractive word. Like ideas, or insights, or even thought leadership. “Content,” used in conjunction with marketing, or to describe articles or images, disguises what something is and suggests it is a commodity, probably of low quality. I know this is a losing battle, but in 2017 just try to avoid calling what you produce or disseminate “content.” You may find you will take more pride in, and have more fun selling products, writing articles, or generating ideas than “content.”
- Advice to plan proactively. I’ve read “develop a proactive plan” in about 69 million white papers this year, and every time I wonder what other kind of plan exists. A plan is something you create for a situation that has not yet occurred. That’s the definition of a plan. If something has already happened, whatever you do afterward is a response. Therefore, the word “proactive” is empty and useless as applied to a plan. It’s also pretentious. One could advise someone to plan earlier than he or she is accustomed to, or simply have one, but calling a plan proactive is redundant. Stop doing it in 2017. I offer this advice proactively; that is, before you do it again.
- Re-discovering digital transformation. I think I’ve read that digitization changes everything about 69 million times this year, and so, I’ll bet, have 69 million other people. (Note to self: Check Google.) In other words, we get it. Thought leaders can tell us, specifically, how digitization demands a change in a company, industry, go-to-market strategy, or business model. But it’s way past time to let go of the notion that you’re telling anybody anything new when you say that the world has changed thanks to our phones, computers, and connected devices. We live it; we know it; we don’t need anyone to remind us.
- Lessons on how to become a thought leader. Over the years, this has become an established (and shopworn) genre on LinkedIn: How to become a thought leader in five easy steps. By tomorrow. There are about 69 million of these posts, and all of them boil down to a collection of tips about self-promotion. Promoting yourself is something you can learn to do and practice doing better. You can write books, publish articles, comment on other articles, pen posts on LinkedIn, tweet, re-tweet, and so on. Unfortunately, becoming a thought leader requires coming up with novel, insightful, useful ideas. No lessons will help you do that; no post will teach you how to become smarter. Sorry to be a negative Nancy.
On a more positive note, here’s hoping 2017 will be better than 2016. I’ve got my fingers crossed. Proactively.