Do you ever think about thoughts? Or, maybe you have thoughts about thinking?
Either way, if you’re a thinker of thoughts, you might be a good candidate to launch a thought thinking program within your organization (aka, a thought leadership program).
Successful B2B thought leadership is a big commitment to undertake with a team, let alone as one person. (But it’s totally worth it.)
You’re probably wondering…
How do I build a thought leadership program in my organization? To build a thought leadership program in your organization, follow this 10-part framework:
- Identify your evangelists
- Establish pillar pieces of content
- Determine your content themes
- Set your content focus ratio
- Determine the channel and types of content
- Identify your evangelists’ unique points-of-view
- Establish your editorial calendar
- Set your posting frequency
- Implement productivity tools
- Understand the time commitment it takes
Let’s take a closer look at the parts of this framework, shall we?
Psst: This blog post is based on a #BehindTheCurtain episode of B2B Growth with James Carbary and Logan Lyles. To hear this episode and more like it, subscribe to B2B Growth on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Also, take a look at this document that we used to plan our own evangelist program to see our thinking in action.
Your 10-part framework for building a thought leadership program
It’s not a secret anymore: People trust other people more than logos.
So why are we still trying to push the logo? By following the steps in this 10-part framework, the people in your organization will know how to use their personal brands to connect loyal customers to your organization.
(Because who would ever trust a talking Sweet Fish?)
“People connect with people more than they connect with logos.”Logan Lyles
1. Identify your evangelists
Step numero uno: Who are going to be your evangelists?
How many evangelists will you have? What kind of characteristics should an evangelist of your brand have?
Sweet Fish’s strategy
Here at SF, we have around 25 team members. So, we decided to make five of those people (including myself) our evangelists.
These five people are…
- Down with using their personal profiles for sharing professional content.
- Excited about supporting our company through authentic posts.
- Experienced in different areas of B2B marketing.
- Ready to make the time commitment.
- Exemplifying the company’s core values.
We recommend having more than one evangelist. The more people supporting your brand, the most distribution and social proof you’ll get.
Sweet Fish’s evangelists
We know you’ve been dying to know who the SF evangelists are. 😉
1. Name: James Carbary
Unofficial alias: Jambary
Nerds out to: Content-based networking, B2B podcasting, string cheese
2. Name: Logan Lyles
Unofficial alias: Lyle
Role: Director of Partnerships
Nerds out to: B2B sales, content creation, Denver Broncos
3. Name: Kelsie Montgomery
Unofficial alias: Monty
Role: Creative Director
Nerds out to: Graphic design, helping humans, Hobbs the cat
4. Name: Dan Sanchez
Unofficial alias: The Manchez
Role: Director of Audience Growth
Nerds out to: SEO, web design, juicy burgers
5. Name: Bill Reed
Unofficial alias: Dolla Billz
Nerds out to: Team development, finances, Peeps 🐤
Not only is team thought leadership great for our organization as whole, but it’s awesome for the individual, too.
When your team members have personal buy-in (like the folks above do ^^^), they tend to feel more engaged, valued, and excited about the success of your company.
2. Establish pillar pieces of content
Imagine you’re touring famous sites in Greece and you come across the Parthenon. It looks like this:
Now, without its ginormous columns — aka, pillars — there wouldn’t really be anything to see. There’d be no structure. Just some random ancient rubble.
Therefore, you need pillar content: It’s what all of your other content stems from.
Where we get our pillar pieces
You may be wondering, “Where do I generate pillar content from?”
The best way to answer this is to give you examples of the channels we produce pillar pieces from.
- B2B Growth episodes
- Online content camps + other training events
- B2B podcasting Q&As
- 1:1 Customer Masterminds
- Sweet Talk, our internal podcast
- Internal team meetings
- Sales calls
- External content we’re featured in
For instance, this very article you’re reading was inspired by the #BehindTheCurtain episode 28 on B2B Growth. There will be more supporting pieces generated from this episode as well.
“The reason pillar content is so powerful is because it’s literally the gasoline in the content engine. It’s where everything else is going to come from.”James Carbary
To compile all of this delicious pillar content, we record, like, everything. (Of course, we make sure it’s okay with everybody else on the call.)
What we make out of pillar content
Out of all of these episodes, meetings, and training events, our team makes a ton of supporting content.
- Educational articles
- Actionable micro-videos
- Engaging slide decks
- Fun social media posts
- Effective PPC ads
- Smart email campaigns
- Hilarious memes
We wouldn’t be able to produce all the content we do if it weren’t for all the channels we’re extracting pillar pieces from.
What channels of yours could you pull pillar content from? Maybe your blog or your YouTube channel.
3. Determine your content themes
You want your thought leadership program to work, right? Well, that means your content needs to be planned out across all evangelists. The team members involved can’t just be posting all willy-nilly.
What would be the point of the program be then? You’ve got to be strategic about this.
Pillar content guides themes
Luckily, by leveraging your pillar pieces, nailing down common content themes shouldn’t be hard at all.
Plus, when your pillar content is geared towards what your ideal buyer cares about, they’ll appreciate the recurring themes.
Sweet Fish content themes
From all of our pillar content comes three main themes our evangelists iterate upon:
- Content marketing
- B2B podcasting
- Content-based networking
These themes are ones that have proven to be of major interest to our ideal buyers. In other words, VPs of Marketing tend to dig these three content themes.
You don’t have to repeat yourself
Our team’s content themes are broad enough that there’s limitless stuff to say about them. Therefore, each of our five evangelists is able to find different points to focus on in each category.
Depending on the evangelist’s point-of-view, they may reemphasize a concept they’re really passionate about. But you can count on the context being refreshed every time.
(We’ll hit on this idea more in step #6.)
4. Set your content focus ratio
The content focus ratio you set for your thought leadership program will likely differ from ours, and that’s completely okay.
You should set this ratio according to your evangelists’ strengths and expertise.
What is a content focus ratio?
A content focus ratio is how we refer to the amount of material an evangelist posts that either is
- Directly related to your agreed-upon content themes
- Relating to a personal experience
Take these two posts for example:
The above LinkedIn post is directly connected to B2B podcasting, our second content theme.
This post was straight from the heart. Obviously, personal/professional experiences inspired this one. You can see, though, that people appreciated me sharing a part of my job with them.
Finding the balance
Our content focus ratio is 50/50.
50% content themes, 50% personal experience posts. Understandably, this could change in the future. But for now, this is what our team agreed upon.
Keep in mind, your personal experience content can certainly still relate to your content themes. The content focus ratio is simply a way to balance the type of material your thought leadership program is producing.
To stay relevant to your ideal buyer and keep everyone on the same page, aim to strike a balance.
5. Determine the channel and types of content
FYI: We are ultra-focused on LinkedIn right now. It’s working wonders for us, so we’re capitalizing on it.
Your buyer might be on Instagram or YouTube or Pinterest. It all depends on your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).
[RELATED: Discover 12 ways to promote your podcast within your existing marketing channels.]
Ideally, you already have at least one ICP created to focus your marketing efforts on.
Where do they like to hang out online? What’s their role at work? What are they interested in learning about?
“When you hyper-focus on something, you can understand how the nuances of that particular platform work and the type of content that works there.”James Carbary
Our ICP is a VP of Marketing and they like LinkedIn.
The type of content
What type of content does your ICP like to consume? Video? Blogs?
The types of content we’ve found work well on LinkedIn include…
- Text-only posts
- Slide decks (like this one)
- Failure posts
- Devil’s Advocate posts
- Inspiring videos from other sources
- Audiograms (when you don’t have video)
The awesome thing about organic LinkedIn content is that you can always be testing different types. We suggest trying out multiple mediums to see what performs best on your channel of choice.
6. Identify your evangelists’ unique points-of-view
It’s entirely possible your group of evangelists doesn’t know what they’re going to take a stand on.
This is when you need to help coax out their unique perspectives.
“So many people want to be thought-leaders but they don’t want to have original thoughts.”Andy Crestodina
Setting a foundation
Each evangelist in your thought leadership program needs a foundation upon which they iterate their ideas.
To help them lay this foundation, determine 5-10 topics they’re really passionate about.
These topics could be mistakes they see other people in the same role making, things they think other pros should be leveraging, or a method they really believe in.
Take, for instance, the ideas that make up my point-of-view.
- Your podcast should NOT be about your expertise. Make it about subjects your ideal buyer can speak to.
- Every B2B pro should be building contributor networks. The reality is, your team doesn’t know everything. Use external sources of expertise to expand your distribution.
- Have people outside of your company co-host your podcast. This may sound counterintuitive, but again, this enhances your distribution. More people will care about your show if you have external co-hosts.
Those three topics are ones I talk about all 👏 the 👏 time. 👏
I speak about them in different ways and in different contexts. But those are things I’m super passionate and knowledgable about.
Help your evangelists uncover their unique points-of-view. Because if they really care about something, it’s likely someone else does too.
7. Establish your editorial calendar
Confession time: We don’t decide on content based on the post date.
We decide the post date based on the content.
‘Member when we were talking about pillar pieces?
Well, the supporting content that comes from a pillar piece (micro-videos, memes, articles, etc.) is similar to a waterfall.
It’s this content waterfall that guides our editorial calendar. In other words, our social media team doesn’t stare at a date on the calendar wondering what would be good to post that day.
They look at a supporting piece of content and choose the date/time that works best for it.
This approach makes it *way* easier for our social media team to pump out consistent content.
Get a good mixture
Now, just because your team has produced a bunch of content from one podcast episode doesn’t mean you post all of it at once.
You gotta get a good mix.
Touch on some topics here, other topics there. Keep it fresh, otherwise, your audience will get bored.
8. Set up your posting frequency
Setting a posting frequency for your thought leadership program is essential for keeping your evangelists accountable.
Our goal for the five SF evangelists is three LinkedIn posts per day, something we’re still working up to.
“When you look at the people who are crushing on LinkedIn right now, they’re putting out content 2 or 3 times a day. And that content is freakin’ good.”James Carbary
Remember, not all of your posts are going to *pop.* It’s okay!
The important thing is to keep posting. The odds of putting out a high-performing post are going to be better if you have more at-bats. Continue flexing your content muscle!
9. Implement productivity tools
If your posting goals are lofty, you’re going to want some productivity tools to help your team out.
We suggest using Shield App for organic LinkedIn reach analytics.
If you’re anything like us, you started out using spreadsheets to manually track your organic LinkedIn analytics. Now, we use Shield App to automatically collect the data and deliver the sets in a comprehensive dashboard.
No manual data entry. Team collaboration capabilities. It’s pretty great.
If you’re interested in Shield App, here’s a promo code you can use: B2BGROWTH
Veed.io is the tool we use to create micro-videos.
Let’s just say, it’s saved us A TON of time.
We use Casted for grabbing and editing audio snippets. It makes it super easy for our audio engineers to pick out the most insightful snippets from our shows.
Our writing team uses Descript to transcribe audio from our podcast episodes.
The amazing thing about Descript is that you can edit the audio from within the transcript — take out filler words, cut out bloopers, all the good stuff.
10. Understand the time commitment thought leadership takes
This is a big’n.
If you’re the leader of an organization like me, you have to be all in if you want a thought leadership program to work. Seriously, this has to come from the top.
The time commitment
To spearhead our thought leadership program, each evangelist is taking 4-6 hours a week to work on their personal brands. That’s 4-6 hours of work time, not personal time.
So, regular duties need to be moved around and even taken off our evangelists’ plates.
Other members of our team are taking on time commitments as well. We’re using writers, designers, producers, and video editors to support our thought leadership program.
You have to be convinced
This sounds like a big time and resource commitment because it is. But, I’m completely convinced it’s worth it.
The cold hard truth: Leaders can’t be wishy-washy about a thought leadership program. You’ve got to be all in.
If you can’t make the commitment as a leader, how do you expect your team to make it?
Ready to rock
Think you’re ready to launch a thought leadership program in your organization now? Keep these things in mind:
- Use pillar pieces to guide the rest of your content and to keep your evangelists on the same page.
- Get a good understanding of what your ideal buyer wants to learn about and where they spend their time online.
- Be prepared for the time commitment. It’s the only way this thing is gonna work.
Now, go forth and thought lead!
For more B2B marketing knowledge bombs, subscribe to B2B Growth wherever you listen to podcasts.