Forrester’s 10 Attributes of Thought Leadership and Why Most LinkedIn Articles Are Not


By Susan Tatum

June 13, 2014

Has anyone else noticed a serious degradation in the quality of articles jamming up our LinkedIn news feeds lately? I have, and I’m pretty sure I know why.

First a little background. In 2012, LinkedIn introduced its Influencers program and invited known high level communicators (think Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Arianna Huffington) to publish original articles for consumption by LinkedIn members who chose to follow them. If I recall correctly, there were about 50 individuals in the original program, all of them contributing truly thought-provoking content.

Soon LinkedIn expanded the Influencers program, allowing other members to apply for the right to publish articles on the platform. The number of contributors quickly jumped to about 500 before LinkedIn stopped accepting new applicants. The review process must have been pretty good because, although the topics being covered expanded considerably, the quality of thought was still quite high.

Now LinkedIn is opening up its platform to all LinkedIn members, which means that pretty much anyone can post whatever they want. Not surprisingly, the originality and, therefore in my opinion, the value of the content has taken a nose dive as every self-professed “guru”, “expert” and “maven” has rushed to post their blog articles on the platform.

What’s wrong with posting blog articles?

From the perspective of the blogger, there may be nothing wrong with posting blog articles on the LinkedIn publishing platform – especially right now and if you’re just looking for exposure. You can, theoretically, expose your article to millions of people.

But if you’re looking to establish a thought leadership position, there is a problem with this strategy: most blog articles do not introduce new ideas. Instead, most blog articles – no matter how helpful - cover information that has been previously covered in hundreds of articles available all over the internet.

Just to give you some examples, here are a few marketing-related headlines from my LinkedIn Pulse feed this morning:

  • Make the Best Use of Social Media

  • If You Don’t Have a Social Presence, You Don’t Count

  • Why Content is Still the King of Online Marketing

  • 5 Steps to Building Power Brands

  • Essentials of Publicity and Branding

  • Why Your Last Email Got a Zero Response

Are these bad blog articles? No. (Well, probably not. I haven’t read them because I’m pretty sure I already know what they say.) But they’re not thought leadership. The ideas have already been “done” many times over. I’m sure every marketer who spends time online has seen these topics many times before.

To prove my point, let’s take a quick look at one of them – “Why Content is Still the King of Online Marketing”. I searched for that term on Google and the entire front page is filled with articles bearing the same title. Page after page of search results show other articles covering the same topic with slightly different wording. (To the LinkedIn article author’s credit, his article - published originally on his blog - does show up on the first page of Google, telling me that he or someone he knows has some genuine SEO cred.)

While publishing previously-covered topics on your blog might make sense because you have a unique audience that may not have been exposed to the ideas before, publishing the same old same old on LinkedIn does not make you a thought leader.

A checklist for thought leadership content

Forrester Research (real experts on pretty much any topic they write about) has assembled a great list of qualities that make true thought leadership. That list is featured in the image accompanying this article. Since the image might be hard to read, here are those qualities with my comments in parentheses:

  • Relevant – deals with big issues your buyers face. (Key word “big”)

  • Provocative – challenges conventional thinking (Hard to do that when you’re writing about the same things other writers are already covering)

  • Forward-looking – anticipates what’s coming over the horizon. (This does not include “X Steps to Accomplishing Y”.)

  • Distinct – Different from what everyone else is saying. (Did you get that?)

  • Inspiring – Energizes people about this way of thinking. (Again, truly big ideas needed here.)

  • Actionable – Provides actionable advice on what readers can do now. (Okay, maybe your blog article does this.)

  • Results-driven – Using the idea can produce breakthrough results.

  • Conversational – The tone encourages a dialog and feedback.

  • Credible – Your company can help people get there.

  • Independent – Makes no reference to your products and services.

Using the publishing platform in your LinkedIn marketing program

There’s no doubt that the LinkedIn publishing platform offers writers and thinkers of all types an amazing opportunity to expose ideas and influence the thinking of more people than you’d likely find anywhere else. For that reason it does have a place in your LinkedIn marketing program. It really can help position you as a thought leader. Use it for your very best ideas; don’t water it down with blog articles.

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