How To Create Compelling Thought Leadership Content

There’s a fine line between controversial and insightful. Make sure you know how to stay on the right side.

LinkedIn shared its annual Content Insights report this month, which lists its most engaging topics of 2017. If you spent time on LinkedIn regularly over the past year, you can likely guess the most popular topics: leadership, management, and sales.

For anyone marketing their business or themselves on LinkedIn, however, the Top Articles list is more insightful. The top articles show how to write thought leadership articles and how to get them shared on LinkedIn.

The top article on LinkedIn for 2017 was “The Best Answer I’ve Ever Heard to ‘Sell Me This Pen’” by Dailius Wilson. The article has received 56,000+ likes, 600+ shares, and 3,200+ comments.

draw your reader in

Draw the Reader In

The title is a crucial piece of the content marketing puzzle. This title tells the reader three things:

  1. The article is about sales.
  2. It is revealing the best of something that many sales people can relate to.
  3. It is an insight from the author’s (presumable) years of experience.

These elements draw the reader in without being too click-baity. The title promises to offer a valuable — or at least interesting — opinion from someone who seems to have lots of experience in sales, the #3 hottest topic on LinkedIn in 2017.

No article will get such a high level of engagement, however, if the content of the piece doesn’t provide value once readers click through.

Keep Them Curious

The sales interview request, “sell me this pen,” has seen a resurgence in relevance lately thanks to the movie The Wolf of Wall Street. The real man the movie is based on, Jordan Belfort, supposedly coined the phrase.

Hitting on this pop culture touch point is a great way to appeal to the sales community — Wilson calls it “one of the best sales movies of all time.”

After building up the mythology of “sell me this pen,” Wilson poses the question of why it’s an important part of an interview. He then starts explaining the two most common methods of “selling the pen,” and why they are insufficient.

The reader now has two questions they need answering:

  1. What is the best answer to “sell me this pen”?
  2. Why is “sell me this pen” an important part of a sales interview?

Before answering the first, bigger question, Wilson answers the second. He argues that it is a way to identify a sales rep who approaches the question with the problem creation technique — a “one in a million find.”

A Final Question

By providing this answer, Wilson actually raises a third question:

3. How do you use the problem creation technique on the “sell me this pen” request?

Throughout the whole article, until he finally reveals the answer at the end, Wilson is both giving explanations and raising new questions. He is providing support for his eventual answer at the end of the article, and ensuring the reader stays curious by asking new questions.

Opening up Debate

The article is not very long and Wilson soon gets to his answer, using an anecdote of an interviewee who was asked, “sell me these sunglasses”:

The candidate sat there in silence and asked no questions. Seeing the iPhone- they simply turned on the flashlight (which can be done without knowing the passcode on the latest versions ) and said “How would you like some sunglasses now.

His point is that “good sales people often solve problems but the best are able to create and then solve them.”

This is a fairly controversial answer and it generated over 3,000 comments. The comments range from supportive to negative. Most of the comments are from other sales people offering alternative solutions or perspectives.

Ideally all comments on a piece of thought leadership would be supportive or at least neutral. This article is an extreme example of how to write thought leadership articles, how to get them shared on LinkedIn, and is useful for studying the strategies Wilson uses.

You can use some of Wilson’s techniques to help draw readers in and keep their attention, but be wary of getting controversial for the sake of comments. Not all press is good press in the case of thought leadership.

thought leadership

Key Takeaways for Creating Thought Leadership

  • Write on a topic that is both in your area of expertise and is a hot topic in your industry.
  • Draw readers in a with a compelling title that promises insight or value.
  • Deliver on that promise with unique insight or new data.
  • Keep readers engaged by posing and answering questions.
  • Spur conversation by discussing a topic that has more than one right answer or approach.
  • Keep things positive and well informed — fewer positive comments are better than more negative comments.

Using these techniques in a moderate way may not get you the #1 most read article on LinkedIn, but it can help make your content more compelling and share-worthy, without opening your content up to criticism.

If you’re looking for more information regarding how to write thought leadership articles but feel overwhelmed, reach out to us. We are happy to help.

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