...use LinkedIn not merely as a place to promote content, but rather as a testing ground to make your thought leadership better.
According to the 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study, 55% of B2B decision makers use thought leadership “as an important way to vet businesses they’re considering working with.”
This finding makes sense in light of a recent study conducted by Gartner, a leading B2B research and sales training firm, which determined that buyers of sophisticated services make it 57% of the way through the buying process before they establish contact with an individual service provider.
Conclusion: Buyers are increasingly in control, are doing their due diligence online, and lawyers who hope to remain competitive—particularly for high-margin work—should invest more time and effort into creating thought leadership content. Thought leadership is what sells a lawyer when she’s not there to sell herself.
Without a robust digital footprint, you will be virtually invisible to the increasingly large pool of prospects who rely on Google and social media platforms to winnow down their options.
Your thought leadership acts as your agent—a public signal of your expertise amid all of the noise online.
If you're not perceived as an expert, you'll too often be stuck competing on price. You'll get bogged down chasing unprofitable RFP opportunities. You won't be selective enough, resulting in too many poor-fit clients, precluding you from finding ideal ones. You won't generate the profit margin necessary to create the space and time necessary to bolster your expertise through the creation of thought leadership content.
Thought leadership marketing is not easy, however, as evidenced by the fact that, according to the Edelman-LinkedIn Study, decision makers consider only 18% of the content they consume to be “very good or excellent.” No, thought leadership content is not everyday content that’s indistinguishable from that of the competition—it’s unique, valuable, and insightful, and doesn’t come across as “marketing.” It expresses a vision for the future and is contextualized for a specific audience.
One of the best tools that lawyers can use to bolster their thought leadership is LinkedIn. There are some obvious ways to use LinkedIn for thought leadership, such as sharing articles you’ve written and published elsewhere, which need no further explanation. In this article, I provide four recommendations on how to use LinkedIn not merely as a place to promote content, but rather as a testing ground to make your thought leadership better.
1. Use LinkedIn to Beta Test Your Content
There is a compounding return on effort from thought leadership marketing. The more content you share, the more awareness you generate. And the more valuable the content is, the more trust is established. A lawyer who consistently produces great content creates a large and powerful digital footprint, and an online breadcrumb trail that leads prospects to his or her website bio.
...start with a 1,300 character (approximately 250 word) “status update” on LinkedIn.
But there’s only so much time in the day, and busy lawyers can’t afford to launch too many “lead balloon” blog posts into the world. To get a better sense of whether your articles will get the reaction you want, first use LinkedIn to beta test your ideas. Instead of a 1,500-word article, start with a 1,300 character (approximately 250 word) “status update” on LinkedIn.
The beauty of a status update, like a Tweet, is that it is constrained. You can’t go on and on. You need to get your point across to members in your LinkedIn network clearly and concisely.
Studies suggest that in today’s attention-starved world, people read, on average, only 20% of an article and skim the rest. Accordingly, it’s critical to focus on one key idea in every article you write, and beta testing those ideas through the character constraints imposed by LinkedIn status updates will give you some objective feedback about which ones resonate.
If a status update generates lots of likes, comments, and shares, you’ll have a pretty good sense that your idea is worth expanding upon in a longer article. If there’s little to no engagement, it’s a strong signal that you need to either refine, or possibly move on from, the idea.
2. Learn What Your Prospects are Interested In
There is no universal definition of “thought leadership.” To me, a thought leader is someone who looks to the future, spots the patterns, challenges, and opportunities, and casts a vision that others will follow. A thought leader isn’t driven by the desire to build immediate consensus around an idea. Often, because they’re forging a new path, thought leaders are polarizing. Ultimately, but not always immediately, their ideas catch on.
Accordingly, it’s important for a thought leader double-down on a niche area in which she can build narrowly-focused expertise. That will allow her to gain experience and relationships in her field and stay ahead of the curve when it comes to identifying trends her audience wants to learn more about. One of the best ways to stay on top of such trends is LinkedIn.
...monitor and engage in the conversation happening among those you hope to inspire...
If you’ve established a narrow focus to your practice, your LinkedIn network should brimming with those you hope to serve. You should join relevant LinkedIn “Groups”—almost every industry vertical has one or more such groups. You should be following the LinkedIn “Pages” of media publications, industry associations, and businesses that make up the center of gravity in your area of focus. And, most importantly, you should be monitoring and engaging in the conversation happening among those you hope to inspire through your thought leadership. There is no better source of ideas for thought leadership content than the questions and concerns being expressed by those in your network on LinkedIn.
3. Cultivate New Business Opportunities Through Collaborative Thought Leadership Marketing
Thought leadership marketing is effective because it can introduce your ideas and insight to audiences at scale, and allow you to position yourself as an expert to prospective clients.
Often overlooked is that the process of creating thought leadership content can be an effective one-on-one business development tactic. By collaborating with prospective clients in the creation of thought leadership content, lawyers can create new relationships and deepen existing ones.
Examples of collaborative thought leadership marketing include co-authoring an article with a general counsel or doing co-branded market research with a consulting firm that is a referral source, or inviting a prospective client to appear as a guest on your podcast.
No one likes to be “pitched” on LinkedIn (or otherwise). However, inviting a member of your LinkedIn network to collaborate on a thought leadership project is not a pitch—it’a a way to offer something of value. Whether or not your prospective collaborator accepts your invitation, they will appreciate it and you’ll be on their radar.
4. Establish Editorial Relationships for Off-Site Publishing Opportunities
Lawyers often default to publishing all of the the thought leadership content they write on their law firm’s blog or website. Instead, they should look for more opportunities to publish off-site on third-party platforms. Executives, entrepreneurs, and other consumers of legal services are busy. When they spend time online, they’re visiting sites they know, like, and trust.
By understanding where members of your target market consume their information, you can seek to publish your thought leadership there. By having your byline and a link back to your website appear on a platform that the audience you are trying to reach already trusts, you can leverage the credibility that those platforms already have with their audience, thus helping you to build trust with new audience members.
The problem is that most lawyers don’t have relationships with the editorial staff members who are the gatekeepers of valuable off-site publishing opportunities. LinkedIn is the best place to establish those relationships. By connecting with the editors and reporters at publications you hope to write for, you’re a few steps away from the opportunities you desire. The interim steps involve creating and sharing on LinkedIn thought leadership content that editors and reporters will be exposed to.
Every industry has publications—from trade journals to websites—that are well-regarded but operate on a relative shoestring budget and thus are starved for quality content to share with their audiences. If the thought leadership content you share on LinkedIn catches the eye of editors and reporters at those publications, they’ll be more likely to reach out to you with guest-posting opportunities or requests to interview you based on your subject-matter expertise. Given that they’re in your LinkedIn network, you’ll also be in a position to touch base with them directly to inquire about opportunities through LinkedIn “Messaging.”
LinkedIn is often treated as a place to simply consume and share content. Thought leaders use it as a place to cultivate meaningful relationships and curate great ideas that take their content—and, as a result, their practices—to the next level.
[Jay Harrington is the owner of Harrington Communications, a leading digital marketing agency for law, consulting, and accounting firms. He specializes in helping law firms build engaging websites and digital marketing strategies through creative design and storytelling. Jay is author of the recently released book The Essential Associate: Step Up, Stand Out, and Rise to the Top as a Young Lawyer. In 2016, his first book, One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Law Practice, was published. Jay is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, and previously he was a commercial litigator and corporate bankruptcy attorney at Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner.]