How to Empower Your Small Business PR with Thought Leadership

In small business PR, it’s easy to suffer from product or service egomania.

OK… so I made up that diagnosis.

But the point is to succeed as a small B2B business, you need to believe in the greatness of your product or service. It can get to the point that you never stop thinking, dreaming, and babbling about your creation. After all, that unwavering attention is what you need to make it. Yet, ironically, that maniacal focus can be the kiss of death when it comes to thought leadership.

Why Small Business PR Often Fails at Thought Leadership—And How to Fix It

Thought leadership demands that you step aside from what you’re selling to consider your customers’ challenges. As Forrester analyst Laura Ramos, says, “Business buyers don’t buy your product; they buy into your approach to solving their problems.”

Yet, small business owners are typically so enamoured with their product or service that they can’t get outside of it to see where their customers are. Let’s say you add some additional bells and whistles to your product. Yes, it’s amazing, and of course you want to talk it up. But at the same time you want to go beyond that to tie your new features to day-to-day challenges faced by your prospects.

Ramos notes that marketing mindsets are often at odds with thought leadership since they focus primarily on brands, products, and offerings, rather than their prospects’ needs.

Consequently, it’s easy for a small business to put the cart before the horse – selling when someone is still in the sniffing-around stage. The result is that you lose the opportunity to reveal your thought leadership – demonstrating that you know the issues prospects care about.

What is a thought leader?

The phrase “thought leader” implies someone who knows more than the rest of us. Yet the unvarnished truth is that you don’t need to be the smartest person in the room to excel at thought leadership. Instead, you need to know what keeps your customers up at night.

The engine of thought leadership is content. This is not marketing hype that masquerades as thought leadership, but authentic, helpful content. For this to be effective, you can’t just beat out a white paper or eBook, and think you’ve met your content quotient. You need a B2B public relations strategy and process.

Joe Pulizzi, Founder and CEO of Content Marketing Institute, explains this in his excellent book Content Inc.“To be the expert in your industry,” Pulizzi says, “you must first define your customers’ pain points and the niche industry you will cover that will make a difference in your business and in your customers’ lives.”

Pulizzi continues with this insight: “Think of yourself as the trade magazine for your industry.”

Marcus Sheridan, Partner of River Pools and Spas, who rocketed his troubled business to stardom and himself to rock star status both in his space and in the content marketing world, started blogging about every question customers had about fibreglass pools. This seemingly small step meant survival for his business. Why? Because it was geared toward his customer’s pain points, and not his products.

The best way to humanize your brand is to be transparent and showcase content that provides a real-world perspective that people can believe. –Juntae Dulane

What are your customers’ questions? Answering their questions is a good place to start. It ensures you are addressing their needs. It focuses you on your audience, not your company — exactly what you need to survive. It’s the perfect prescription for business egomania.

5 Practical Ways to Reach Your Thought Leadership Goals

1. Be organized

Before we get into the more action-based methods of growing thought leadership, you need to be organised. This organisation boils down to having a team dedicated to the pursuit of thought leadership. This pursuit can be initiated by the CEO of the company, and then handed over to a capable individual to develop it further. This individual will be entrusted to keep the content calendar filled, meet regularly with a team, provide incentives, and regularly track metrics to gauge progress in thought leadership.

This team will identify who the target audience is, as well as pain points, and develop a content strategy to engage that audience. This engagement could be through traditional, digital, and social channels. Then the team can assess the results of its efforts, and improve on its strategy.

You need to have a focused and strategic plan to get your name and your work out into the world. –Peter Winick

2. Leverage Bylines

A strategically placed byline can be key to thought leadership. Choose a hot topic or issue within your industry, use an executive’s byline, and pitch it to an appropriate publication for placement. That may be the basic formula, but as with most things, timing is everything. Plan that byline strategically to get the most out of it.

For example, if your new security system package is due to be released, wait until about a week after its launch to get that piece on 10 Weakest Security Areas for Your Small Business published. This well-timed release will ride the waves of interest generated by your product launch, and will be more successful because of it.

3. Host a Panel

When you host a panel, it puts you in a position to be an acknowledged leader, and own the conversation. Choose a topic for the panel that you’re passionate about, and that demonstrates your depth of knowledge and expertise.

When carefully documented, such an event can live on long after it’s over. Invite the media to cover the event. Then, after the panel is over, create byline articles and white papers centred around the information that was discussed.

4. Be Particular About Speaking Engagements

Once you have established a little influence in your industry, you may be approached to be a speaker at some industry events. But before you uncork the champagne and give the green light to all these requests, pause to consider, and carefully choose which engagements you will accept. Why do we say this?

You don’t want to devalue yourself by taking every speaking engagement that comes your way. Be discerning about which engagements you accept — always looking ahead to gauge how each speaking role will affect your end goal of thought leadership.

5. Write a Book

This may at first seem like a monumental task, but you probably already have the material you need. If you’ve been developing your B2B blog, white papers, and other marketing materials, this content can be moulded into a book.

The great part is that in this digital age, self-publishing has never been easier. You no longer have to submit to the whims and fancies of a publisher. For instance, a tool like Beacon makes it a snap to convert your blog posts into a book, and publish it.

Being a published author can be a great boon to your B2B public relations, and lead to other great thought leadership opportunities, B2B leads will also see you as a serious contender in your space.

Some Things to Keep In Mind…

  • Thought leadership is about the customer’s needs, not your product or service
  • Creation of authentic, helpful content should be a priority
  • Organise a team dedicated to boosting thought leadership
  • Use bylines, industry panels, and book publishing to fuel your thought leadership

It isn’t always easy to pursue thought leadership in small business PR, but the rewards are worth it. Keep your B2B public relations focused on this goal, and watch your B2B leads grow.

This article originally appeared in The B2B PR Blog. This article was written by Wendy Marx from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

5 Ways to Battle Fake News and Maintain Brand Integrity

Fake news. The term has become almost overused this past year, as stories from less than legitimate news sources ran rampant during the 2016 US presidential election.

How is fake news defined? “The word fake means not genuine—a forgery or a counterfeit. It implies an intent to deceive,” says a recent Slate article. It’s used to describe unsubstantiated stories or media sources.

Add to that Oxford Dictionaries word of the year, “post-truth,” an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’

All this has the heads of many in PR spinning. Because we work with reporters on a regular basis (some of us even went to Journalism school), it’s difficult to see these false stories taking precedence over those of respected news sources.

It also brings up an important question for those in the public relations profession. Fake news reduces the public’s trust in the media, in turn affecting what we do as PR pros. If the public doesn’t trust the media, then what good does it do to secure earned media placements for clients? No trust equals no value.

So, how do we in PR manage to do our jobs when faced with the prospect of fake news? What can we do to combat false stories?

First, we ought not to panic. Public relations practitioners have long battled the issue of rumours or outright lies circulating about the clients or the brands we represent. While fake news has taken on a life of its own in recent months, it shouldn’t change our fundamental approach to our work.

“Stories, whether true or false, can go viral. Once that happens, it’s hard to stop the momentum,” said Martin Waxman, President, Martin Waxman Communications and social media professor. “But we in PR are trained to handle issues and crises, and that’s the approach we should take when fake news threatens our organisation’s reputation.”

Here are some practical ways PR professionals can battle fake news in their day-to-day roles:

1. Build a community of loyal fans and followers: Fostering a community of fans can help your brand in many ways. One important benefit is that, if you consistently nurture it, it will be there for you if you need it.

“One way to prepare for the possibility of fake news about your company is to build a community before you need it,” says Waxman. “If you have loyal followers and fans, they’ll speak up on your behalf. If a brand tries to go on the defensive, it can sometimes have the opposite effect, but if a brand’s community defends it, it’s much more credible.”

2. Plan ahead for the worst: Planning is key to combatting fake news, as with any crisis. Add the scenario of false stories appearing about your brand or executives to your crisis preparedness plan. Be ready to wallop social media to fight back and influence public opinion in your favour, should someone attack your brand or CEO. Using a media monitoring platform can help by notifying you whenever your brand is mentioned so you can immediately respond if necessary.

3. Verify and fact check: Of course, PR pros understand the importance of verifying and fact checking their work. The approach to a press release (or any piece of content) should be the same—don’t make claims you can’t backup.

4. Work with reputable outlets and journalists: While there may be more disreputable media outlets than there used to be, there are still plenty of reliable ones out there. Be sure to work with reporters and publications who have a reputation for and value their status as trusted truth-tellers.

5. Encourage audiences to vet what they share—and to share from reputable sources only: Whenever possible, encourage your audience to look closely before sharing news stories. And don’t share fake news yourself. “Look at a piece of content critically,” says Waxman. “Analytically approach media sources to identify which stories you should share.”

If we do our best to ensure we’re not part of the fake news epidemic by adhering to high standards and preparing in advance for the worst, we can help stop fabricated stories from taking over—and help our profession keep its credibility.

When to Use Sponsored Content

Sponsored content is a hot topic right now. How does a savvy PR pro know when it’s best to use paid content, and when to avoid it? First, it’s important to understand that sponsored content is a subset of native advertising. Unlike native advertising – actual ads that are designed to look like the places in which they appear – sponsored content is intended to bring value to the person reading or viewing it, in addition to being a type of long-form ad for a service or product. However, the “ad” aspect should take second fiddle to the “value” aspect of good sponsored content.

Why the stress on adding value? Thanks to over-use of native advertising to spread questionable products and news stories, sponsored content has developed a bit of a trust problem. Since other brands slap-dash efforts might affect opinions of sponsored content, your brand will need to work a little harder to earn and keep the reader’s trust.

Some brands have a clear path to offering valuable information for their readers. For example, HKT has placed several items of sponsored content into South China Morning Post, promoting HKT’s smart home by making their potential value clear, and by offering advice on smart living. There are good things happening with these articles. First, the host publication, South China Morning Post, has them clearly marked as in collaboration with HKT and has taken it a step further by making their sponsored content searchable. This presents the content in context – important for trust building. Second, the pieces are simple blog posts – very attainable on a tight budget for most companies – and offer information that the reader can use. While the idea is to inspire the reader to reach out to HKT for more information, the approach is “helpful first, sales second.”

What if you sell a service and not a product? Sponsored content works for that also. It’s not uncommon to see a business that offers a service, like consulting or marketing, write a sponsored post on a site like Marketing Interactive to get in front of their readers. In keeping with our previous example, sticking to text and submitting long-form articles or blog posts with plenty of visuals is going to be your most cost-effective way to get into sponsored content.

Some well-known examples of sponsored video content come from big brands like Budweiser, but small to medium sized business aren’t priced out. Thanks to social media platforms like Facebook offering an in to sponsored content, you can get content like a sponsored video published in new places on a tight budget. In fact, it’s probably going to cost you more to have a good video made (unless you have a video wiz on your team) than it will to have it placed. However, our assessment is that words on a page with good images are still your best bet.

What are some guidelines for sponsored content?

1. Understand your target market. For example, a recent study of global executives showed a surprising result: 84% of those surveyed are open to high-quality, clearly marked, helpful advertising from brands. Younger users of tools like Instagram, Imgur, and Facebook are also open to appropriate ads as long as they aren’t pandering in tone, and readers of blogs like Buzzfeed and Bustle have come to expect sponsored content, making them more open to it (as long as it is well done – if it is not, they will let you know!). Great PR analytics can help you find where your audience is and if the sites and platforms are open to your content.

2. Assess multiple potential venues. Social media platforms and news sites are usually the first to come to mind when brands think of doing sponsored content, but much of the business world is still stuck using email, for example. Partnering with a great email newsletter to reach their audience should not be overlooked. Other potential contenders include popular podcasts, where you can create audio content that fits their market.

3. Make sure your content is in a format that is welcome. Auto-play video and audio are seen as incredibly intrusive, and are one of the top reasons people use ad blocker and audio blocker plug-ins and extensions. Take a good look at the future host of your content to understand what their audience wants to see, then work hard to fit in.

4. Do a thorough assessment of cost and audience before partnering with an influencer for sponsored content. Influencer marketing is popular right now, and Instagram and Snapchat certainly have their share of influencers creating sponsored content with brands. However, there are few industry standards when it comes to compensation and contract, so you’ll have to set your own guardrails here, and work with your PR firm to evaluate fit before reaching out.

5. Disclosure, disclosure, disclosure. Governing bodies around the world are setting clear rules about disclosures these days, so make sure you understand them and comply. Being creative with images and hashtags can help with disclose requirements on sites that are tight for space, like Twitter. If you’re not comfortable disclosing that your ad is sponsored, an old school guest post swap might be a better way to go for your brand.

If you’re wondering if sponsored content is right for your PR strategy, do your due diligence while setting up your communication plan.

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