This post is the sixth and final in a series about the six new rules of thought leadership marketing. Today, Rule #6: Perpetual online communities are displacing intermittent marketing campaigns.
In the preceding five parts of this series I’ve talked about how white papers can be better marketed, leading to the conclusion that it is much better to have the material posted on a site, with an audience that returns for periodic updates, than it is to produce one-off white papers. The logical conclusion of this is that the site should morph into an online community.
This won’t work for every point of view on every topic. But for a topic which is big enough, has an enthusiastic enough following, and for which a company can reasonably lay claim to be a natural home, it can be a powerful way to retain and build an audience. Having a community on a topic can also enable a firm to involve its followers in further refining and developing the point of view.
Palladium Group, a management consulting firm specializing in strategy and performance management, has such a community. Palladium is something of a natural home for an interest group on the topic because, although they are not the only players in the market, the founders had pivotal roles in the development of the discipline – Robert Kaplan for instance devised the Balanced Scorecard. Today Palladium has 1200 members of its online community, in three levels of membership. Community facilities include discussion forums, video libraries, blogs, expert Q&A, membership directory with peer-linking features, and quick-polls created by members. Also objectives, measures and best practices by industry.
Palladium uses the community to test and refine points of view, pre- and post-publication, and to keep connected with people between in-person events. Some of the keys to its success have included a preexisting body of intellectual capital (centered on, but bigger than, Balanced Scorecard,) continual addition of new material, and a full time staff of four to support it.
In a survey on consulting firms’ use of social media which we have just completed and will publish shortly, we found that the social media activity with the highest return on investment so far is microsites and online communities featuring a firm’s content. This ranked 4th of 30 different marketing activities—behind seminars, conference presentations and search engine optimization. The next highest ranked social media channel was Facebook, fully 10 places behind.
Microsites are more effective at generating awareness and leads than most other marketing channels because they enable a firm to build a dedicated group of followers who are deeply interested in an issue. As well, a microsite enables a firm to provide a great deal of informative content on an issue in one place, which makes it easier for viewers to find information than searching the Web
When points of view are used to anchor topic microsites, thought leadership marketing campaigns never need to end. They evolve into online communities whose audience grows ever larger—and more disposed than ever before to recognize the host as someone to turn to when they need help.