By Carl Friesen published March 30, 2012

How to Use Opinions to Create Powerful Content

They’re a staple of courtroom dramas everywhere — expert witnesses. These are individuals whose professional opinion is so valued that it can help sway, or even decide, the outcome of a court case. Clearly, informed opinion from appropriately qualified people has value in our society.

It’s something that also has value from a content marketing perspective. Opinion-oriented content can be fun to read, as well as informative, so it collects eyeballs. It can be a tremendously valuable source of information for anyone in decision-making mode — such as someone deciding on a new car, trying to find a lawyer specializing in intellectual property, or looking for guidance on how to vote.

It positions the author as a thought leader; someone who is invested enough in the topic to have a viewpoint and take a stand. It’s most useful if it’s a skilled individual who’s the “product” being marketed, making it ideal for marketing professional services.

Even better: Opinion content can be in written form, or in video, a podcast, or any other medium.

Take, for example, a mining engineer client I’ll call Hussein, who believes that mining companies must do more to manage the environmental effects of their mines after they’re closed. Water leaching through the mine waste and through the mine itself can pick up contaminants such as acids and metals, causing huge issues for ecosystems downstream.

Let’s look at ways opinion content can help Hussein show his expertise to members of the mining industry — potential clients for his skills in managing the water impacts of mining.

Stand-alone opinions

In working with Hussein, the first form of content I created was an article for a mining industry trade magazine. I interviewed Hussein about the issues he wanted to speak about, and studied the text of a keynote speech he had recently given at a conference on mine closure to gather enough information to (ghost) write an article for his byline.

This is an example of what I call stand-alone content in that this article wasn’t based on a previous development (as would be the case with “Review” or “Comment” content, described below).

Also, it was stand-alone in that there wasn’t a specific news hook or other event to hang the article on — like a mine whose tailings dam had burst recently, flooding contaminants downstream, for example. So, I had to put in some words up front, explaining why the issue is important to the industry’s financial and legal future.

For stand-alone content, it’s always best if you can find a news hook, so that when you include the right keywords and phrases, your content will get a ride on that event. For example, if your company offers solutions for cruise ship safety issues, now might be a good time to generate some opinion content on that, given recent news stories on cruise ship problems.

How to structure stand-alone content:

  • Explain the issue you’re commenting on, and why it’s important to the content user.
  • Give your viewpoint.
  • Explain the reasons you support that viewpoint, acknowledging and dealing with counter-arguments.
  • Along the way, you must state why your opinion matters — offer information on your relevant experience, your qualifications, or what your familiarity with the issues is based on.

Reviews

Content that analyzes or reviews recently-released books, movies, music albums, and the like has a long history. Now, we often see reviews of software, information technology, video games, social networking platforms, and other products that are written by traditional journalists, as well as by bloggers. But anyone can write a review, including subject-matter experts like Hussein.

A review draws strength from a content point of view in that it’s “news” (at least while the subject of the review is new). It can get a search engine boost just from being associated with a hot or trending topic (for example, the new iPad, or the first line of OLED television sets that hit the market).

A review positions the writer as being up to date with developments in her or his field.

In Hussein’s case, I might consider writing a review of a new technology for removing contaminants from water flowing out of a closed mine, or maybe a review of new mine closure legislation, such as that in the state of Western Australia.

Review-oriented content needs to cover these points (not necessarily in this order):

  • A description of the product
  • Comparison with its predecessor, and competing products
  • What’s new about it
  • Analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the product
  • Potential applications of the product — as well as where its use should be avoided

Comments

If stand-alone opinion content has its origins in op-ed articles in newspapers, and reviews go back to literary book reviews, comments are rooted in letters to the editors of newspapers and magazines.

A comment is based on content generated by someone else. Like the review, it positions the author as being up to date with current developments — particularly if the comment is posted soon after the original article.

With the tendency for many online news media to have space for comments after each article, there has been a huge outpouring of this kind of content, much of it not worth the pixels and server space. A quick look through some entertainment-oriented sites like “OMG” will find thought-free gems such as “I think J-Lo looks fat in that dress.”

So, where to comment? Choose venues that are:

  • Monitored to keep out the spam, name-calling, and personal attacks
  • Frequented by the kinds of people you want to reach
  • Able to generate content on which you can usefully comment

Of the three types of content, the comment is likely to be the shortest — maybe just a few sentences. So just like composing an effective tweet on Twitter, an effective comment must say a lot, but should do so in as few words as possible. Most importantly, though, is that the comment must include the author’s name (otherwise, what’s the point?) and give her or his credentials. A comment on J-Lo’s fashion choices by someone signing off as “Snooki” would presumably have less weight than that of the editor of “Vogue.” Similarly, mining engineer Hussein might reasonably comment on an article on mine closure in a publication, website, blog, or other medium.

Comments are a quick and easy way to stay top of mind for the people you want to reach. But when contributing this type of content, be sure to protect your brand by posting only thoughtful, informative comments.

What I call “value-added tweeting” falls into the comment category. Rather than just an RT, your tweet should add your comments to the information being passed along — remembering to give credit to the original source of the information you are re-tweeting (using an “@sourcesname” attribution).

Review content needs to include these elements:

  • The reviewer’s opinion on the content being reviewed
  • Recommendations that the reader might take
  • Qualifications of the reviewer (briefly!) indicating why the reviewer’s opinion matters

Opinion content needs to be done with care, in that there is a good chance that someone will disagree with your opinion. Hussein needs to be careful about being too critical of the industry in which he makes his living. He can help protect himself and his reputation by backing up his views with facts, acknowledging opinions different from his own, and creating his comments using a positive tone. This way, he acts as an expert witness of sorts, contributing to the base of knowledge on mine closure. He’s also able to add to the discussion, helping keep the “social” in “social media.”

Author: Carl Friesen

Carl Friesen uses his background in journalism to dig for “the story” to develop content that will show his clients in their best possible light. Many of his clients are business professionals who need to show their expertise to people in their market. Carl is Principal of Global Reach Communications, based in the Toronto, Canada area. You can follow him on Twitter @CarlFriesen.

Other posts by Carl Friesen

  • donnapapacosta

    Excellent post with very useful suggestions! This could be very helpful to anyone trying to establish thought leadership.

  • http://www.strucinfo.com/ Jerry Fireman

    I thought this was a very good article. The idea of writing a review is a good one that hadn’t occurred to me before. I can see how this could be very beneficial for establishing thought leadership in some fields. It seems to me that the subject of the review should be carefully chosen to make sure that the author doesn’t appear to have a commercial interest in promoting or panning the product. Would love to hear your thoughts on this Carl.

  • http://www.showyourexpertise.com Carl Friesen

    I agree that comments are a big part of showing thought leadership. They show the writer to be an engaged member of the community.

    Jerry’s point is well taken — it is important to avoid conflicts of interest, or if unavoidable, be sure to disclose them up front. The point of Opinion-oriented content is to demonstrate one’s knowledge, and also show caring (you’re investing time in helping someone else get a good outcome from their buying decision). You can do this from reviewing any of a wide range of products, so it should be easy to find something to comment on, without going near a conflict of interest.

    One thing I forgot to mention in the post is that video can be particularly good for reviews. If you’re reviewing a physical product, you may be able to show it in use. It works with non-physical products too, such as software, or an information product like a database. I’ve often thought that Walt Mossberg could do more in that regard, in his reviews on the Wall Street Journal. 

    Does anyone have any good examples of reviews done using video, that they can share?

  • andymcckin

    Well you have suggested well over there. It seems to me that the topic of the evaluation should be properly selected to create sure that the writer doesn’t appear to have a professional attention to promote or panning the item.

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