How do you write about your company (or yourself) without sounding like a used car salesman?
It's a serious question -- and one you’ll need to answer if you plan to get your expert content published.
In my experience, when you're trying to figure out where to draw the line between storytelling and promotion, the best thing to do is familiarize yourself with what does work. Seeing thought leadership in action is key.
With that in mind, here are four common approaches other members take with their content that we think work particularly well, how they can benefit you, and a few examples of each.
1. How I Did It
What: Use a story or a narrative about your own company (e.g. how you solved a major problem) as a framework for discussing a bigger takeaway or lesson learned.
Benefit: Telling part of your company’s story is a great way to share your organization’s culture and values in a highly engaging way.
How to avoid being promotional: Be authentic, not boastful. Share the good and the bad. (Readers relate to the bad even more than the good.) Much like your favorite novel, a “how I did it” post has drama, conflict, resolution and a few takeaways or lessons learned.
Tip: You’re not a household name (yet), so focus on communicating the essential details of your story clearly and briefly, leaving enough room to tie it all together in the form of a lesson or takeaway.
- "A Better Approach To Training Your Engineers: Distributed Leadership"
- "How To Maximize Your Nonprofit's Impact"
2. How YOU Can Do It (aka Advice, Tips, How-To's)
What: While you may use first-person anecdotes here too, rather than a story-based structure, this kind of article opens with you explaining what you intend to teach and why.
Ideally, you use this kind of post to share knowledge unique to you or your company — a special hiring practice you use, for instance, or an actual skill or strategy your business specializes in (e.g., a PR expert writing about how to pitch the press).
Benefit: When you show readers you genuinely care about their success, it’s a win-win: you earn their trust while showcasing the depth of your knowledge to customers, hires, partners, investors and others.
How to avoid being promotional: If you want to teach something related to your industry, the key is balance and transparency. Don’t bore your reader by spending 100 words on why you, your company or your client is awesome. Instead, use personal anecdotes that illustrate how something should be done. (If you're not sure, ask yourself, “Is this information helping the reader make a better decision or take an action, or is it only helping me?”)
Tip: Avoid generic how-to’s — they rarely get results. Stick to topics you are uniquely qualified to teach and that align with your goals.
- "No More Two Weeks' Notice"
- "Is There A Down Round In Your Future?"
- "Creating Sustainable Growth Through Franchising"
3. Industry Trends/Commentary
What: Present and analyze the biggest changes in your industry. Use them to identify trends, discuss your future predictions or share a list of “must know” developments. (These are sometimes similar to the post type described in No. 4, op-eds.)
Benefit: This approach proves that you’re not just a figurehead, you’re an expert — and a reliable source of information on a certain topic. The goal? Becoming a “go-to” person in your niche.
How to avoid being promotional: Don’t pick and choose what data or trends to share based on what puts your company in an enviable position. Give an honest and intelligent appraisal of what’s really important and explain what this means for other leaders and executives.
Tip: Establish credibility upfront by explaining who you are — and backing up your points with credible research.
- "10 Things People Are Getting Wrong About Diversity In Tech"
- "Who Will Win The Publishing Battle? Early Predictions For 2016"
4. Expert Opinion (aka Op-Ed)
What: Take a strong (even controversial) stance on a business issue using your own knowledge as well as outside research to support your view.
How to avoid being promotional: An op-ed should not be written to support your company’s particular product or selling proposition. It should be a genuine reaction to a larger trend (e.g. new regulations in your industry) that leads to a clear and well-supported opinion or solution.
Benefit: Well-written opinion pieces, both on your industry and the larger business ecosystem, put your personal brand and values front and center. (Put another way, “controversial opinions imply confidence.”)
Tip: Op-eds get much of their power from two sources: (1) the author’s breadth of knowledge and (2) the author’s ability to build a persuasive argument based on personal experience and compelling research. If you want to simply rant, or echo other opinions already out there, try a different approach.
- "How PR Can Assist The Media Industry In A Time Of Need"
- "Why Bezos' 'Call Me Maybe' Strategy Won't Work"
What Not to Do: A Simple Formula
We've established what does work, and how. But what never works? Here are a few don'ts:
- Write articles with titles such as “Why You Need X Product/Service” (where X = what you do)
- Link to your products, services or clients
- Forget to mention who you are, why you are writing and what readers can expect to learn
Of course, do's and don'ts are nice, but there is a more useful way to think about it. When you sit down to write, start with just one premise: that you are writing in order to build trust, not pitch or promote.
If you do that every time, you'll quickly become a capable judge and a better writer too.