Ask a Content Strategist

Ask a Content Strategist: Does Thought Leadership Mean Anything to Regular People?

For most, Memorial Day weekend means barbecue, beers, and jealously glaring at Instagram pics of your co-workers in the Hamptons. For me, it also means spending Sunday morning filing my monthly column so that our managing editor doesn’t kill me.

So let’s get into it. Here’s what you asked this month:

We’ve been using the term “thought leadership” internally for a while. Is it okay to use that term for the general public? Does it mean anything or resonate with people outside of content marketing, communications, and publishing?

-Jason, New York

On Friday night, I was sitting on my roof with some friends when the subject of content marketing came up. Or more specifically, the subject of how I won’t ever stop talking about content marketing with two my friends, Contently co-founder Shane Snow and Jessica “Jess at Contently” Black.

My roommate Brandon, who doesn’t work in content marketing, looked at us and ranted: “I go to the bathroom for thirty seconds, and when I come back, you’re screaming at each other about thought leadership and brand storytelling. What the hell are you guys talking about?”

We laughed, but there’s an important lesson here: You have to remember that not everyone lives in your industry-speak bubble.

True thought leadership consists of thought-provoking ideas, perspectives, and research. It should pique people’s interest and make them think about concepts in a new way. There’s no situation where you should have to tell people that they’re reading “thought leadership.” That’s incredibly pompous and lame—it’s the equivalent of going around telling people that you’re really smart.

In my experience, people outside of marketing and communications have no idea what thought leadership means. Media professionals may not have any idea either. Yesterday, I asked some editor friends if they’d heard of the term, and they thought it was absurd.

The term definitely has value for those of us who work in marketing because it’s part of our common language. But it should only be used inside that bubble, and we should use it carefully. A lot of what we call thought leadership isn’t thought leadership at all, It’s one of the most poorly used buzzwords in marketing (as I explain here, in GIFs.)

Are there negative repercussions to repeating messages/content/posts across your media channels all at once versus sharing the same message at different times?

-Michael, Chicago

I’d question whether you want to share the same message across all of your channels. Each channel is unique. An effective LinkedIn update will have different copy than a tweet, which will have different copy than an email blast. It helps to think about the context of your message when planning these posts.

While there aren’t any major repercussions for blasting out an update across channels, it’s not a good strategy. There are a lot of tools that’ll make educated guesses about when your audience will be most engaged on each channel. For social, we rely on Buffer to automate the best time for posting on different networks. For newsletters, a lot of email service providers (such as MailChimp) have this functionality as well. This is one of those situations in which it helps to trust the algorithms.

Where is the best place, virtual or otherwise, to take classes for content writing/creation/strategy for those of us who are not digital natives?

-Margaret, Providence, RI

Most people would suggest that you take an online content marketing class like Copyblogger’s well-regarded Authority course, but I’d suggest that you start somewhere else: take an in-person writing workshop.

We’re in an era when only the best content breaks through. The top five percent of branded content garners 90 percent of the attention. As a result, the first step for anyone interested in content marketing is to get your writing and storytelling skills up to that level.

I went to Sarah Lawrence College, a liberal arts school just outside New York City. Although I left college a happily employed journalist/blogger, I didn’t take journalism classes. Instead, I took a number of non-fiction and fiction writing workshops where my writing was torn apart. In the process, I developed my voice, tightened my language, and became a better editor. Those skills made me a more effective editor of our college newspaper and helped me pick up digital media gigs in New York.

Once you start to develop those skills, then look into a content course like what Copyblogger offers. Additionally, you should just start writing on your own. Storytelling is like any skill—you’re going to struggle at first, but with practice you’ll only get better.

Joe Lazauskas is Contently’s director of content strategy and editor-in-chief of The Content Strategist. Ask him your most pressing content strategy questions here, or email him at

Image by Flashpop / Getty

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