Q: If you’re blogging, are you a thought leader? (A: maybe not)

Mar 15, 2017

Anybody else noticing it? These days, it seems like more and more professional services firms are turning to blogs as their preferred expression of thought leadership.

Here at Ergo Editorial, we’re getting more requests like this: “We’re launching a new blog series…” or “…We’re looking for a writer for a three-part blog series…” or “we would like the writer to interview the client and help us articulate their story in a blog post.”

At first glance, no problem with that. Of course marketing managers should want to publish blogs. (Hey, isn’t that what I’m doing right here?)

But here’s what I worry about.

I’m concerned that in weighting their thought-leadership initiatives so heavily toward blogs, marketers are much less able to differentiate their companies or ideas or points of view.

Think about it. How much deep thinking goes into the typical blog? Where’s the thought in the thought leadership? What penetrating insights can be developed in 750 words or less? How nuanced can any argument be in eight or 10 paragraphs?

Honestly, how different can your blog’s viewpoint possibly be on something as layered as the Internet of Things or leadership development or supply-chain finance?

I think I know why there’s such a push for blogs. For one thing, most blogs are short – therefore obviously faster to produce than a white paper spanning, say, 3,500 words. (Yes, there’s a shift toward longer blogs, with one poll showing that almost 1 in 10 bloggers are averaging 1500+ words per post. But in our experience, blogs don’t often get beyond 800-1,000 words.) Being short, they’re much easier to get budget for. Also, being short, blogs are far easier for senior subject-matter experts to engage with – kind of a one-and-done approach rather than the ongoing grind of having to think through the logic of every section of a white paper or long article. They require far less thought going in; perhaps a 20-minute interview with a writer, or a few off-the-cuff notes in an e-mail.

And when they’re done, it’s probably easy for SMEs to think they’ve met a big chunk of their marketing obligations. Blog published. Thought leadership box checked.

I’m not arguing for an end to all blogs. They have their rightful place in a panoply of thought leadership deliverables. (Read on.)

But where are the research-based reports? The long-form white papers? Or even 1,750-word articles? These days, they’re fewer and farther between, I think.

Here’s the parallel problem. A steady diet of short hyperlinked pieces doesn’t allow for the kind of deep reading that wires (and constantly rewires) our brains in really important ways. It robs us of the ability to reason and comprehend.

In a seminal article in The Atlantic in 2008, Nicholas Carr asked the provocative question: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” In that article, and in his follow-up book, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains”, the former executive editor of Harvard Business Review raised profound and disturbing questions about the cognitive impairment he argues is the consequence of constant page-skimming and link-skipping.

I would contend that the same is happening on the input side – that there are levels of cognitive corrosion that go with creating nothing more than snapshot pieces.

So here’s my recommendation. By all means continue publishing blogs. Develop some as opportunistic one-offs, certainly, but do this too:

  • Build more of them as spin-offs of deeper research that also generates full reports and white papers.
  • Repurpose blogs out of existing commentary pieces or bylined articles.
  • Produce some as trial balloons for some more speculative ideas.
  • Publish knowing that your blog is “me too”, but as the first-step placeholder for a thought leadership campaign that becomes progressively more insightful and influential.
  • Extend them out of the white papers that, in turn, are the carefully thought-through products of empirical experience.

But don’t use blogs as a proxy for the core of your thought leadership initiatives.

Don’t think of them as the default for content marketing. Mix them in with continued commitment to those white papers and articles and research reports. Make them part of the flotilla of deliverables that give your thought leadership initiatives scope and scale – and depth.

On their own, blogs aren’t likely to get customers’ eyebrows climbing their foreheads. As part of more diverse thought-leadership initiatives, they will.