Rule #2: An Author’s Admirers Now Do the Promoting

This post is the second in a series about the 6 new rules of thought leadership marketing. Today, Rule #2; an author’s admirers now do the promoting.

supportersThe most effective way to distribute a thought leadership piece (such as a white paper or article) has always been to have readers recommend and pass it along to colleagues. People are far more likely to read an article endorsed by a peer than one that shows up unannounced in their inbox. However, before the emergence of social networking sites, word of mouth marketing was logistically difficult; managers are not likely to email a link to or a PDF of an article to a large number of people, especially those they don’t know. With today’s social networking tools, this is no longer the case. Word-of-mouth recommendations of a notable paper or article now can reach thousands of prospects in hours.

In making buying decisions, people using online social networks are three times more likely to put stock in the opinions of their peers than they are to trust advertising, and the clear majority takes a friend’s opinion over a professional critic’s review.

Social media + thought leadership content is a marriage made in heaven. The members of any social network are always on the prowl for good information to pass along to their contacts. By definition, thought leadership content is educational, not promotional. The members of an online business community won’t pass along advertising copy, but they will circulate thoughtful insights on issues they think are relevant to their friends and contacts.

But you still have to prime the pumps. In the new world of thought leadership marketing, marketers have to seed the content of their best articles in places like Facebook and LinkedIn before they can sit back and let their members spread the word.

In the management consulting industry, one firm—McKinsey—has a big advantage in seeding new content. It is way out in front in establishing an audience on Facebook. McKinsey’s print and online publication, McKinsey Quarterly, has attracted more than 50,000 Facebook fans.

But despite McKinsey Quarterly’s big lead over BCG and Bain in Facebook fans (Exhibit 2), much smaller consultancies can quickly gain share of voice in these social networks without large investments. Unlike the tens of millions of dollars that are necessary to burnish a brand with broadcast, print and online advertising, creating a Facebook group doesn’t cost a dime. And this is starting to bother big, sophisticated marketers like Procter & Gamble. “What I worry about is that [social media] democratizes scale,” P&G CEO Bob McDonald recently told a reporter from Advertising Age magazine: “It allows the little guy to get scale almost instantaneously.”

Social media marketing is about peer endorsement—in the case of thought leadership pieces, getting members of a social networking site to endorse and link to your article or paper. Scale helps, but having content that people will want to pass on to their friends is more important still.

In the next post I'll cover Rule #3; how influencers have become critical marketing targets.

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