Should we kill off ‘thought leadership’? A discussion with Sarah Mitchell about thought leaders, innovators, pioneers and trailblazers!

thought leadership

Sarah Mitchell is the head of strategy at Lush Digital Media. She won’t like me saying this, but I consider her a thought leader in the area of content marketing.

Why won’t Sarah be impressed?

Because she recently wrote a blog post entitled ‘Content Marketing: Are You Still Using Thought Leaders’.

I always find Sarah’s posts invigorating. She’s thoughtful, provocative and writes persuasively.

sarah mitchell_@globalcopywriteThis particular article in question pulls no punches; it starts off thus: “Are you a thought leader? Is your content marketing full of thought leadership? It’s time to kill off your thought leaders. Trust me on this. A whole lot of people are going to be very happy if you do.”

She goes on: “Thought leaders and thought leadership have reached their sell-by date. If you’re selling yourself as a thought leader, you’re already losing audience because we’re all worn out by the phrase. We don’t believe you. So if thought leaders are dead (or should be) what does that leave?”

Given I host Reputation Revolution, the podcast dedicated to DIY thought leadership and personal branding, I thought I’d better have a chat with Sarah (left) to see what all the fuss was about. {SUBSCRIBE HERE}

It’s a real smack-’em-up affair. No, not really. Our conversation was very civilised and cordial, sorry :)

But we do dissect the issue, and I see where Sarah’s coming from. I don’t think she’s wrong by the way - I have a love-hate relationship with the term thought leader myself!

In this episode of Reputation Revolution, we cover:

  • Too many people are attempting to produce ‘thought leadership’ content when in reality, it’s the same old stuff.
  • “Innovative” is one of the most over-used of all the gobbledegook words: “If everybody’s an innovator, nobody’s an innovator” says Sarah (here, here!).
  • Just focus on what you know really well and what you know better than anyone else.
  • Consumers are sick of hearing about thought leaders too.
  • If you’re a thought leader, you don’t need to tell anyone you’re a thought leader – others will do that for you (* BOOM! * and that my friends is the crux of the issue I think – too many people banging on about how they’re thought leaders when they’re really not; you’re not a thought leader because you say you are; you’re only a thought leader if others think (and tell the world) that you are. In other words, it’s a status that needs to be earned (MORE).
  • Business doesn’t need more thought leaders, it needs more missionaries.
  • Steve Jobs is “one of the true thought leaders”.
  • The world needs more disruptive trailblazers!
  • There’s nothing wrong with being a subject matter expert or a practitioner with experience.
  • How Xerox canned its thought leadership project because it was just too hard.
  • The importance of having an original voice on social media.

I hope you find the discussion I have with Sarah stimulating and illuminating!

Connect with Sarah:

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Thought Leader Minute: Getting the most from the business events you attend

TRANSCRIPTION:

Aspiring thought leaders often attend a lot of industry events such as conferences and seminars. But how do you get the most out of these events, over and above from just attending?

Here are some suggestions.

Cover the event using Twitter. Be in the audience and report on interesting snippets, quotes, and sound bites from the speakers, or comment on things that they are talking about. Take photos of participants, and upload them into your Tweet stream. Ditto with LinkedIn and Facebook. I tend to use Twitter because I get a more timely reaction from my network.

Write a blog post after the event if you thought it was interesting enough, and you feel your readers would derive value from your opinions and observations.

And finally, send LinkedIn invitations to connect with the people who you met at the event. Now you’ve met in real life, continue that conversation and that relationship through LinkedIn.

How entrepreneur Valerie Khoo leverages the power of social media and content marketing to build her brand and her business

content marketing success

Valerie Khoo (pictured) is an author, speaker and multi-passionate entrepreneur with several growing businesses under her belt.

She is a prolific content creator who has steadily built her public profile over a period of years by personally engaging with her online community not to mention adding value in the form of words (blog posts), audio (podcasting) and video (e.g. the 30-day video challenge ‘Vidtember‘).

I regard Valerie as one of the best content marketers in Australia.

Not only that, she also leverages social media brilliantly for her business – the Australian Writers’ Centre – as well as for her personal brand.

Getting the balance right between business brand and personal brand is difficult; indeed, it’s an issue many professionals entrepreneurs face, and grapple with. Another issue professionals face when it comes to ‘putting themselves out there’ on social media is managing one’s professional versus private self on social media.

valerie khoo personal brandingValerie says: “There’s a huge difference between personal, and personality.”

You don’t have to share details about your personal life. But it’s important to show elements of your personality (without necessarily showing elements that are controversial or are going to polarise people).

You’re fully in control, she says.

“I might share we’re having a cake at work but I don’t share the whole business strategy … once you have those boundaries or distinctions in place, then it becomes easy what to share and what not to.”

You don’t have to be on everything. 

When it comes to creating content, pick the one or two things you love doing most … “you’re going to employ it and you’re more likely to do it”.

You also need to understand that just creating your content is not enough, says Valerie.

You need to amplify it!

“When you connect with other people, they are more likely to share that stuff for you and cross-promote you if they’ve got some sort of relationship with you.”

If you’re unsure of what to create content-wise, take a course (or get somebody to review it).

“Don’t be afraid to ask people’s opinions on whether it (your content) has resonated with them or not.”

In this interview on the Reputation Revolution podcast, Valerie chats about:

  • her approach and use of social media and content marketing;
  • the power of podcasting, and why it’s an effective marketing tool;
  • how she manages to find the time to fit in all her social media and content creation commitments.

Cats, dogs and Bon Jovi also get mentioned (but weren’t hurt in the production of the podcast).

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The importance of cultivating a ‘village of support’ for your personal brand

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It’s one thing to have a network of professional contacts – friends, peers, and acquaintances that you can call upon for all manner of favours: such as making introductions on your behalf, tipping you in to new business or career opportunities, or simply inviting you to the corporate box to watch your favourite major sporting event!

But it’s another matter entirely to have a vibrant and engaged ‘village of support’ underpinning YOU (and when I say you, I don’t just mean you the person, but Brand You’ and all that comes with it – your reputation and standing within the professional community).

A village of support is much more than an amorphous network of contacts, and goes way beyond the collection of random people you’ve come into contact with at seminars and industry events and with whom you’ve simply swapped business cards – it’s much deeper and more valuable than that.

A person’s village of support represents a groundswell of people with whom you’re not just acquainted with but who know you well (or at least feel like they do), and who like, trust, and respect you.

These are people with whom you have a deeper connection with because you’ve cultivated relationships with them; you’ve contributed value to their lives, relentlessly, over time – without the expectation of getting anything in return.

How have you been able to do that? You have:

  • Shown up and been 100% genuine about everything you’ve done (not only in the flesh but virtually via social networks as well);
  • Connected individuals with one another if you’ve felt there was common ground and both would be better off for the experience of having known each other (whether personally or from a business perspective);
  • Attended events when people have invited you, tweeted proceedings, and highlighted nuggets of gold presented by the speakers (maybe you’ve even given up your time to speak, or be on a panel where you’ve provided insights and learnings based on your knowledge and experience);
  • Contributed or kick-started conversations on and offline, for example participated in hashtag discussions on Twitter, been active in Google+ Communities, provided answers on Quora, or commented on a regular basis on articles shared by your connections on LinkedIn;
  • Invested time and effort creating rich and compelling online content that has struck a chord with people (so much so they’ve shared your stories and ideas with their personal friends and followers via social networks);

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  • Made the effort to instigate coffee catch-ups with people with whom you’ve developed a rapport with online;
  • Sat on community-based committees and working groups and freely shared your experience and your advice;
  • Given your two bobs’ worth to polls or questions people have asked on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn (i.e. “Can anyone recommend a good accountant?”);
  • Publicly via social media shone the spotlight on other people, hat-tipped their work, acknowledged their ideas, and referred them to others where relevant;
  • Collaborated on some really cool projects that created buzz in the community and attracted ‘like minds’.

Again, you’ve done all this without the expectation of getting anything in return.

Anyone can build a ‘village of support’

In the past (not that long ago actually!) to build any meaningful-sized village of support would have taken years and years of strategically attending meetings, networking events, and industry functions, along with the required and unceasing personal follow-up.

This was very difficult and time-consuming to do and even then probably amounted to someone becoming highly connected versus ‘taking things up a notch’ and having an engaged community of followers, advocates, supporters, and enthusiasts for what it was they did and stood for.

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Here’s the kicker: It’s not a case of being born into the ‘right’ family or going to the ‘right’ school – not any more; today, the combination of social networking technologies and online publishing platforms means that anyone can develop and nurture a meaningful village of support based on trust and mutual respect with scale, in real-time, and virtually for free (personal effort notwithstanding).

Often the relationships you have with supporters will be kick-started online via social media and then strengthened ‘in the flesh’; sometimes however you might not really know the inhabitants of your village if your following gets to a certain size, but they know and are trusting of you and what you stand for, and thus more than happy to promote your work and talk you up positively within their networks. Treat these relationships with the utmost respect – they’re gold!

The secret is you need to give in order to get back.

Leverage the power of social media to give relentlessly, without the expectation of getting anything in return. That will happen, it always does. It’s known as the Law of Reciprocity, and it’s what fuels your village of support.

Start today. Build your village with heart and purpose. It will serve you well over your professional journey.

Why content marketing should be top of mind for owners of professional services firms

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Here are a couple of reality checks for owners and managers of professional services firms operating in today’s hyper-connected marketplace.

One, prospective clients are increasingly checking out you and your people online before committing to doing business with you (indeed, before they even put a call in to your office!).

If social media (indeed, the web generally) has done one thing, it has turned us into expert ‘hunters and gatherers’ of information. We’re out there doing our homework, checking you out online, asking questions of our social networks and forming our opinions as to whether or not we should put you on our ‘to-contact’ shortlist.

QUESTION: If we visited your website and social channels, what would we find? Would it add value to our decision-making process, or give us confidence your firm knew what it was talking about?

Secondly, the explosion of digital channels in recent years has brought with it a heck of a lot of noise. Your existing and potential clients are bombarded professionally and personally from every angle, not just from brands but also friends, family and their extended networks across multiple social channels.

Needless to say, many of the traditional communication methods (usually used to broadcast one-way promotional messages, I might add) are increasingly being filtered out by the intended target, rendering them way less effective than, say, five years ago.

QUESTION: Is your firm cutting through the noise with its communications and resonating with potential clients? 

All this suggests that professional services firms need to fundamentally reconsider the way they communicate with the marketplace. And by reconsider, I mean think seriously undertaking a thought leadership-based content marketing program as a way to increase visibility, grow influence and build brand authority.

 This article was written for the Authority Partners blog – READ IT NOW

Content marketing in Australia continues to grow (report)

Sixty-three per cent of Australian marketers plan to increase their content marketing budget during the next 12 months, according to the 3rd annual Content Marketing in Australia: 2015 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI).

However, marketers are still ‘learning the ropes’ when it comes to content marketing, with just under a third of respondents claiming their content efforts are effective.

The report, undertaken with the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA), represents findings from 251 for-profit marketers in Australia who responded to a mid-year survey; these marketers represented business-to-business (136 ), business-to-consumer (40), and 75 both B2B+B2C).

Here is an interview I recorded today with Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute, in which he extrapolates on the findings of the report, and what they mean for the Australian content marketing industry.

Key takeaways from the research:

  • Slightly fewer Australian marketers consider their companies effective at content marketing (33% last year vs. 29% this year). Interestingly, however, is that 44 per cent of those who have a documented content strategy believe their content marketing activity to be effective. (MY TAKE: Marketers who make the effort to develop a strategic plan are more likely to be successful at content marketing).
  • Only 20 per cent say their organisations are successful at tracking ROI of their content marketing. However having a documented content marketing strategy helps (33% of those who have one say they are successful at tracking ROI).
  • Compared with last year’s results, Australian marketers are using fewer content marketing tactics on average – 12 this year vs. 13 last year (MY TAKE: After trialling a number of tools, marketers are probably starting to focus a bit more).
  • As with last year, the top three tactics are social media content (other than blogs), articles on your website, and e-newsletters (MY TAKE: Good to see the ol’ e-newsletter still alive and kicking; articles on website could include a blog or online newsroom!). 
  • 63 per cent of Australian marketers said they plan to increase their content marketing budget during the next 12 months, a slight decrease from 69 per cent last year (interestingly though, 73 per cent of Australian marketers with a documented content marketing strategy plan to increase spending over next 12 months).

DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT.

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Brand Quarterly Magazine announces its 50 Marketing Thought Leaders Over 50 List

50 Marketing Thought Leaders Over 50 list.

Brand Quarterly Magazine has just published its 50 Marketing Thought Leaders Over 50 list for 2014.

According to Brand Quarterly:

“Each of the Marketing Thought Leaders highlighted on this year’s list have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with fellow marketers; and have gained the respect of their peers through their words, actions and achievements, in print, online and in person. They are proof that age has little to do with ability; that you’re never too young OR too old, when you’ve got talent.”

There’s a bunch of smart and savvy marketing people on the list worth checking out, including quite a number I follow via their blogs and/or various social channels:

Check out the full 50 Marketing Thought Leaders Over 50 list.

Here’s a dedicated Twitter List so you can follow all 50 Marketing Thought Leaders on Twitter in the one hit (the fact that all 50 are on Twitter is telling, no?).

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How Jeff Bullas built a global personal brand through blogging and social media

Social Media Indicates World Wide Web And Blogging

Jeff Bullas is a blogger, author, strategist and speaker who helps companies and executives optimise their online presence with digital and social media marketing.

Jeff’s blog – JeffBullas.com – clocks up over four million page views a year; his Twitter following numbers over 276,000 and Forbes has listed him as a ‘Top 50 Social Media Power Influencer’.

From selling beds to blogging to millions

However, it wasn’t always that way; Jeff’s beginnings were very humble indeed – a former bedding retailer, he was broke and unemployed when he started his blogging journey five and a half years ago. But passion and persistence, coupled with a desire to learn and iterate along the way, has seen Jeff build an impressive global online platform that continues to provide him with unexpected opportunities on a regular basis.

In this interview on the REPUTATION REVOLUTION podcast, Jeff discusses how he has built his global personal brand using blogging and social media. It’s a great yarn!

So how did a former bedding retailer end up writing a blog that attracts a readership in its millions, building his brand on a global basis and thus sparking a wave of opportunities that otherwise would have been closed to him?

There was no ‘magic dust’ involved, Jeff just started (literally). When he began blogging five and a half years ago, did he know what he was doing? No, he was just following his curiosity and was keen to “start having conversations about social media … because it fascinated me”. No grandiose expectations, he was just interested in following his passion.

Sure, he knew the world was starting to change. Best-selling books by Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Work Week) and David Meerman Scott (The New Rules of Marketing and PR) lit the fire, while social media (particularly Facebook, which Jeff saw as the intersection of humanity and technology) really resonated with him.

But while starting a blog was quite a simple, sustained effort was required to ensure success.

At time of writing, Jeff had amassed 1200 articles on his blog, equating to in excess of a million words. For years he got up at 4:30 am to write and/or edit his blog with the goal of getting a post published every day by 8 am. The man is nothing if not relentless!

This attitude is something I see among many successful bloggers. “Done is better than perfect”, says Jeff. In other words, ensure your articles are good but don’t sweat it if they’re not perfect, otherwise you’ll never publish anything!

Given the size of his global platform, Jeff (below) is now in a position to invite people to guest post on his blog (and of course, they say yes because it helps them reach a massive new audience).

Jeff-Bullas

Some of the things we cover in this wide-ranging interview include:

  • Jeff’s blog posts are roughly 1000-1500 words long.  Long form content is “very attractive to Google” he says as it creates a lot of inbound links; when you become a resource, there’s much more demand for your content to be embedded in other people’s blog posts because they’re using you as a point of reference, and that’s when the magic starts happening.
  • Visuals are very important in blogging (as such, his posts each feature multiple images). Jeff employs a virtual assistant to help with the loading of blog posts including the visuals, although he still takes a hands-on approach with editing and optimising article headings for SEO purposes.
  • Two things you need to work on as a blogger: One is the content, the other is distribution. With Jeff, the latter is email, social media and optimising for search “which gives me search distribution”. Email and search are not given the credence they deserve, says Jeff. (53% of his traffic currently comes from search engines, but that’s a long term game he says, so this is where the persistence and consistency comes into it with long-form content).
  • Opportunities from blogging have included local and international speaking gigs (including Italy, Kuwait, Turkey, New Zealand, Finland); being invited to be on the board of a New Zealand tech startup – a crowd-sourced content platform called Shuttlerock, which recently signed up Lady Gaga as a client).
  • The importance of having an underlying mission or purpose (Jeff’s is helping people to succeed in business and life in a digital world).
  • Why telling stories are a powerful way to get your message across (however this also necessitates a willingness to be vulnerable – “you need to touch people’s hearts and minds, that’s where the art of storytelling becomes very powerful” – says Jeff).

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Who does Jeff keep an eye on in the online marketing and digital space?

Plus he keeps tabs on Upworthy and BuzzFeed in terms of the way they craft their headlines.

What tools does Jeff use on a day to day basis?

And a final word from the man himself?

“It continues to surprise me the power of great content and building your own platform and your own distribution to position yourself globally,” Jeff says.

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Two reasons why your company is now in the publishing business

publishing company

Content marketing might be one of the hot buzz phrases in business circles at the moment but the notion itself – that companies create relevant and interesting content that informs or empowers or entertains their customers – is not new.

Founder of the US-based Content Marketing Institute, Joe Pulizzi, often regales people with the story of John Deere Tractors, which first published a custom magazine for farmers way back in the late 1890s.

Heck, as a very young PR practitioner in the late 1980s, I spent considerable time producing hard-copy newsletters (remember them?) for my clients; several years later, I added video production to my kit bag, albeit they were horrendously expensive to make at the time.

Granted, a good proportion of the content I produced in those days was more about the clients themselves than relevant information for the intended audience, but nonetheless, companies have always created and distributed multimedia content, albeit in ways that were less strategic than today.

So, why all of a sudden is the phrase ‘content marketing’ on everyone’s lips? Why are smart companies becoming bona fide publishers in their own right, with some even employing journalists to seek out and tell stories from within company walls?

There are two core drivers that stand out for me.


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1. People’s behaviours have changed

More and more as consumers we’re eschewing paid-for advertising in favour of doing our own research via the internet, searching for information on Google and seeking tips and advice from our personal networks via social media.

Not only are we ignoring advertising and corporate spin en masse – indeed, we are openly derisive of it much of the time – we’re more than happy to take in information from credible sources such as internal company experts or external independent authorities, whether it’s in the form of written blog posts, audio or video content, or visual media such as an infographic.

Yes, we also look to traditional media as a source of information, but make no mistake, we’re more than happy to play the content field. Not only has this broadened our view, but it makes one-way advertising and corporate spin look frivolous and seriously lacking in substance.

2.  The barriers to entry no longer exist

The second major shift has been the emergence of new media and social networking technologies that allow anyone – and yes, I mean anyone (with a computer or smartphone device plus internet connection) – to create their own multimedia content and publish it in real-time on the social web.

Not only that, but Google today is ruthlessly efficient at indexing fresh content such as blog posts or YouTube videos; in other words, the content you produce today (often at zero cost) is available for the world to find via Google as good as instantly. This, of course, has levelled the playing field with all the subtlety of a virtual atomic bomb.

The publishing business for companies used to be quite expensive and cumbersome; you’d have to write copy for your corporate magazine or newsletter, get it type-set, have it printed and then distribute the damn thing. This generally took months to do. And worse, most of the time corporate publications were nothing more than chest-beating exercises, just another way in which companies banged on about how great they (thought) they were.

Of course, pump out ‘me-me-me’-type information today and you’ll be totally and utterly ignored, if not lambasted privately (on Facebook) or publicly (on Twitter). The world doesn’t need any more corporate chest-beating adding to the tsunami of ‘white noise’ that washes over us daily.

However, by understanding your audience, by creating useful content specifically for them (and relevant to your business) – just as a real publisher would do – then you’re adding genuine value that will earn the attention (and maybe eventually respect) of potential customers and influencers.

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Importantly, you don’t have to simply write articles to put on your website or post to your blog; today it’s ridiculously simple (and free, or ultra-cheap) to create and distribute video via YouTube; producing audio content also gives companies an excellent medium through which to deliver real-time information to customers. And that’s not even taking into account other content marketing tactics such as ebooks, white papers, infographics and webinars!

You just need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing, experiment a bit and measure where needed … oh, and don’t forget to always approach your content marketing and social media efforts with the utmost openness, humility and enthusiasm.

So, in a world where smart companies are grabbing the opportunity to produce content for their customers, adding value to their lives by providing genuine utility without the expectation of anything in return, are you running the risk of being seen as yesterday’s news?

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN SMART COMPANY

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Introducing AUTHORITY PARTNERS: Building visibility, influence and trust through thought leadership

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I’m pleased to announce the launch of my new venture – a consulting business named AUTHORITY PARTNERS.

At Authority Partners, we have one goal:  To help companies, organisations and individuals build visibility, influence and trust through the development and execution of strategic thought leadership marketing programs.

We do this through the use of content marketing and social communications to position business professionals and company experts as influencers and thought leaders in their industry.

In addition to creating compelling thought leadership content for our clients’ own channels, we also place it with industry publications and relevant online news sites with a view to extending reach and reputation.

Why Authority Partners? Why now?

A few reasons.

As anyone who reads this blog knows only too well, I’m neck deep into social media and content marketing (and have been since 2007). I just love the fact that individuals and companies can publish (globally, and in real time) interesting, useful and thought-provoking content that helps others and builds their reputation at the same time.

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However, while people (companies and individuals) are jumping on to the content marketing bandwagon making it a very squishy place to be right now, I’m attempting to (a) differentiate my offering by staking out a portion of ‘social content’ territory that, to me, seems wholly under-serviced at the moment, and (b) focus on the area of content marketing which, with my PR consulting background, is 110% up my professional alley (indeed, it’s where I currently do the bulk of my consulting work anyway).

The discipline of content marketing is evolving at an incredible rate.

There are so many moving parts to it and much of the focus tends to be on what I call ‘utility-based content’ – that is, content that is useful, relevant and helpful and (generally) is designed to take consumers down a path often referred to as the ‘sales funnel’. I talk about this often in presentations and teach it in my PR Warrior Content Marketing Bootcamps.

However, there’s also what I like to call ‘thought leadership content’ – that is, content designed to build a company or individual’s reputation and influence; when implemented strategically and in concert with social and traditional media, it can help grow the level of trust people have in a particular brand. In today’s social marketplace, that’s a serious competitive advantage for some organisations (especially professional services and those in the B2B arena); importantly, however, trust needs to be earned over time – you cannot buy a rock-solid, respected reputation with a one-off advertising campaign!

The other thing with thought leadership content – it’s not necessarily helpful; indeed, it may be thought provoking – a ‘poke in the eye’, so to speak – it may challenge a person’s views and get them thinking in a different way about a particular subject, topic or issue.

So that’s where Authority Partners comes in.

We develop and execute strategic content-driven thought leadership programs designed to build a person or company’s reputation over a period of time.

It’s not for everybody. If your organisation lacks heart, depth (intellectual horsepower) and a wherewithal to participate actively on social media, then a thought leadership program is probably not right for you. Social media can be taught, but passion, ideas and expertise (and a willingness to share those ideas and that expertise, relentlessly and with passion) need to be ever-present.

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What services does Authority Partners offer?

  • CONSULTING - We develop and execute content-driven thought leadership programs for business professionals and subject matter experts.
  • WORKSHOPS - We run workshops for company experts, leaders and business professionals to develop the skills required to build a strategic thought leadership positioning in the marketplace.
  • SPEAKING – Authority Partners represents my good self (and in the long run, potentially others) for keynote presentations at conferences, seminars and business events on topics focused around around content marketing and thought leadership.

Who does Authority Partners work for?

If experience is any guide, over the past few years I’ve been advising progressive-thinking, motivated professionals (individually, or working for their own or someone else’s business) who are keen to raise their profile by (a) publishing content that educates, informs and empowers a specific target audience, and (b) participating on social media with a view to connecting with people and building relationships.

This will continue. I want to work with organisations run by savvy business professionals and help them build their reputation, humanise their business and connect more emotionally and intellectually with the marketplace and community in which they operate.

If you know of a company (or individual) who might benefit from such a service, please feel free to let them know about what we do here at Authority Partners. We’re based in Richmond, and I can be contacted on 0412 368 683. Thanks!

FURTHER READING:

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