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Some advice on becoming a thought leader

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It takes a lot of time and effort to become a thought leader in your industry, and many companies never achieve this status. However, if your company wants to be seen as a go-to resource for a particular market segment, you need to be consistently putting in the work.

The best way for companies to succeed is by creating a content marketing strategy that builds trust with its target audience.

That task can feel quite daunting and elusive. So how can you build trust? Where do you even start?

Building trust online can be accomplished by creating a content-rich community where users can engage with each other and access the valuable information they need. To do this, community managers can take some content-related steps, such as hosting a site that establishes thought leadership.

No matter how big or small your team is, there are several advantages to creating an online community:

  • You can grow your sphere of influence by expanding your network and audience.
  • Maintaining open communication with your community keeps you informed about what improvements need to be made to your products and services.
  • Digital communities can help you stay in touch with your audience when you can’t be in the same physical space.
  • increase referrals to your business by turning your current customers into brand evangelists.
  • A community will help foster more engaged followers, increase retention, which can ultimately increase sales.

It’s not about you, it’s your community

If you want to keep people coming back to your site, you need to make sure they’re engaged with your content. Make sure your branding, ads, and marketing promos don’t overwhelm your community to figure out what they want, and give it to them. Interact with them to keep them coming back.

“The advent of social media and new generations of consumers with much different values have fueled this shift to community-conscious brand building,” says Stauber. He adds: “Brands have become more human, real and adaptable and in some cases are being co-created with consumers acting more like constituents.”

Consider your online community’s placement in your three-pronged marketing strategy. It’s a supporting piece, not the central focus. The key is to generate quality content. If people are interested in learning more about your company, they’ll visit your website. To get them engaged on your online community, make sure the content is relevant and interesting to them.

Asking your visitors for their opinions is a great way to show them how much you appreciate them. This will also help to improve your community as their input can be used to drive its continuous evolution. For example, you could ask your audience what they would like to see added to the community, or give them a rating scale to rank different content pieces or discussion topics. The more you engage with your audience, the more likely they will be to return to your site.

You can get your audience more engaged by adding incentives or promotions, such as offering a reward to the best blogger or video submitter of the month. This will not only give you content ideas from your audience, but also show them how valuable they are, thus building their trust in you. However, don’t be too aggressive with your promotions, as if you’re trying to buy their relationship. It’s more effective to center promotions on content, which makes it a trustworthy exercise around community building, rather than just a numbers game.

Educate openly and honestly

Different online communities have different objectives, and many managers use “gating,” or requiring a sign-up form to view certain content assets. I understand the need to protect intellectual property, but I believe there needs to be a balance when developing an online community.

To earn trust, some content must be given willingly and for free. For example, case studies, videos, eBooks, data sheets, articles, and discussions are all things that are available openly and for free on the web; if a community visitor is looking for information that you won’t give openly, they’ll likely look somewhere else for it. For your research reports or white papers, provide enough information that’s valuable (such as graphs, full chapter excerpts, or a summary of findings), so you’re giving your visitors some information and establishing your credibility before asking anything from them.

This also means that you should be open and honest about your competitors on your site, and that you should keep any feedback about your own services, whether good or bad, available. The more information you have available about your competitors, the more confident and secure you will appear to your audience.

“Giving customers additional information through email and blog posts can be a great way of building community,” says Smith. “Throw in some perks and promos along the way to keep your open/click rates high. “This free value is important,” she continues, “because buyers won’t feel like your products are that expensive when they hear from you on a regular basis with useful information.”

Build social bonds

If you integrate social media into your online community, you will be able to build a stronger relationship with your site visitors. Not only will they appreciate the great content that your community provides, but they will also appreciate the open and honest conversations, the ability to comment, and the opportunity to interact with other site visitors.

Including a Twitter feed and mentions in a widget, as well as how many people like your company on Facebook and the latest comments, can be useful. You can also use popular LinkedIn discussions for blogs articles on your website. Giving shout-outs to top contributors is beneficial as it will make them more likely to share your content. Although this takes time, it is worth it.

The most important aspect of social media posting is to share information that makes customers’ lives better while also promoting a sense of community around your business. “Sponsor a Facebook group and make it the most vibrant within its subject matter,” suggests Andra. “If you’re a food company, start a recipe-sharing group. If you’re a shoe company, start a running group. Periodically have giveaways, including sponsored trips. Be transparent about the sponsorship of the group, but otherwise let it be about the topic, not your brand.”

In the end, what matters most is being open. The internet is no longer a hidden place and there is a lot of content out there. This means that there are more opportunities for people to talk about you, whether it is good or bad. If you are in control of the conversation, take care of your community, and give them the information they want in an easily understandable way, you will be on your way to being a thought leader.

Your role is to nurture

If you want to build trust with your audience, a great way to do it is by using content to nurture them. For example, you can collect and distribute your community content through a regular newsletter, keeping visitors educated about what’s going on even when they can’t directly engage with your community.

A newsletter can also be used to provide updates on the community, welcome new members, or highlight popular discussions or contributions. By being nurturing, you can make the community all about the visitors and help them see you as a company that truly cares about their input.

What content and community practices have you found to be successful on an online community? What hasn’t been successful? Let us know in the comments.