By Jon Gelberg published August 25, 2013

How Powerful Content Trumps the Myth of the Expert, Rock Star, or Guru

powerful content guruDo a search on LinkedIn and you’ll be shocked at how many brilliant people there are out there — or, at least, how many people who think enough of themselves to tell the world just how brilliant they are.

Looking for an “Expert?” LinkedIn’s got nearly 2 million of them. A “Guru?” My search came up with over 171,000 (some of which I’m willing to guess aren’t actual gurus). Need a “Rock Star?” LinkedIn’s got more than 22,000, including “rock star” sales reps and “rock star” real estate brokers. Want someone with “Genius” in his or her profile? Unless they happen to work for Apple, stay far, far away!

My point?

If you are going to present yourself as some kind of an expert or thought leader, you’d better be able to back it up with powerful content. The web has made it awfully easy to sniff out BS and, as many have learned, it has also made it easy to call out those who don’t quite live up to their billing.

True thought leadership is hard to come by. It requires proven expertise, not claims of grandeur by self-promoters who waste their time with sharing empty or obvious “insight” in their blogs, social media posts, and webinars. They make it sound like anyone can become a thought leader simply by leveraging effective content marketing strategies.

Content marketing does work, and works brilliantly — when you’ve got something of value to say. For thought leaders who truly have unique, insightful, or useful information to share, the web provides endless opportunities to show it (not just tell it) to the world.

So where do you start?

Before you produce a single piece of thought leadership content, you need to think about your target audiences and the kinds of information that would be of use and interest to them. It is always better to approach content marketing from the point of view of “How can I help?” instead of “Look how smart I am.”

The aim of most content marketing campaigns is to build trusting and loyal relationships with your target audiences by truly filling a knowledge vacuum for them — which, in turn, drives you toward the ultimate goal of increasing sales or gaining new clients (this is content marketing, after all).

Once you’ve figured out what your audience wants and needs, then it’s time to look in the proverbial mirror and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I possess knowledge or expertise in the areas of greatest interest to my audience?
  • Do I have specific experiences I can share with that audience?
  • Do I have actionable advice for this audience?
  • What differentiates my messaging from my competitors?

I’ve found that a great way to answer these questions is to imagine the book you’d like to write for your target audience. What would the title be? What would the chapter headings be? When you complete this exercise, you should be equipped with multiple ideas for stories, articles, videos, blog posts, and myriad other content formats.

This is where the real work begins. One article is not enough to make you a thought leader; one tweet won’t make you an “expert,” and one clever or flashy video won’t make you a “rock star” — no matter how many views and comments it received. Be committed to producing enough quality content to keep your audiences engaged over a long period of time. I’m not talking about a single content marketing campaign here. I’m talking about a full and ongoing commitment to communicate, educate, and entertain your audiences for the long haul.

Once you’ve created enough content — and a consistent messaging strategy — that communicates the value you offer, you’re ready to broadcast it to the world. From there, it’s all Content Marketing 101:

  • Publish your content in a blog or on your website.
  • Offer your content to sites where your target audiences are likely to be found.
  • Use your content as your “audition” for speaking gigs.
  • Promote your content through multiple social media outlets.
  • Link your content when you are commenting on other articles.
  • Use your content as a key ingredient in your press/media pitches.
  • When you produce new content, send an email blast.

Will all of this work? That leads us back to where we started.

If your content produces no response, or a negative response, then you may have to face the fact that you may not be the expert you thought you were — and that it may be time to do more listening, and less talking for a while.

But if people are sharing your content widely; if publications are gladly printing your articles; if you’re being quoted widely across your audience and industry peers, congratulations: You’ve earned true thought leadership status.

You may never be a Guru, a Rock Star, a Genius, or even a Ninja (did I mention there are 18,000 of them on LinkedIn?). But you will realize the significant benefits (and satisfaction) of being a legitimate, recognized, and followed thought leader.

Looking to connect with content marketers who have truly earned their status as thought leaders? Join us at Content Marketing World 2013, where some of the best and brightest in the industry will be sharing the secrets of their success. 

Cover image by Dmitry Kalinovsky via Shutterstock

Author: Jon Gelberg

Jon Gelberg is a Principal at The Dilenschneider Group. The Dilenschneider Group provides access to the finest communications professionals in the world, with experience in fields ranging from mergers and acquisitions and crisis communications to marketing, government affairs and international media. Educated at Brandeis University and Columbia University's School of Law, Gelberg’s eclectic resume includes stints as a sportswriter, media lawyer, e-commerce executive, digital marketer and stand-up comedian. Gelberg was also recognized as a finalist in the Visionary Brand Marketers category at the 2012 Orange Awards. Follow him on Twitter @jon_gelberg, or on LinkedIn.

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  • Barry Feldman

    Love it Jon. I took a similar stance in “7 Things Thought Leaders Don’t Think.”

    Makes me crazy when people appoint themselves titles like these and “rock star” and “guru” are awfully lame metaphors. It’s like when someone describes themselves as “honest” you have to wonder why.

    Great tips too. I love the “shut up and listen” advice you gave for those whose content isn’t gaining any traction.

  • martin

    Funny, in the first moment I thought, what makes my showcase here, because I have a pretty similar thme – look here I used that guru as well 🙂

  • julia

    Thanks for the great article Jon. As an absolute newcomer to content marketing I still have times when no one is liking or sharing, a bit of a downer but feel I have to give it a bit more time to find my feet …. and my audience? Not always that easy.

  • Tangerine Digtal

    Hey Jon, an insightful post. We agree with your point of claiming
    oneself as an expert or genius in his Field Work is not sufficient but the
    business needs to provide and prove the consumers with enough Quality Content
    to support it. We at Tangerine Digital ( completely
    believe in providing with best possible Quality of Content because the consumer
    today wants to get educated rather than being amused by flashy promotional claims.

    Thank you so much.

    Team Tangerine Digital


  • Kate | EntrepreneurOnFire

    Hi Jon! Excellent post – thanks for sharing; the LinkedIn stats alone gave me a great Monday laugh. Knowing your target audience is so critical – a step that many seem to miss. I love your advice about imagining that you’re writing a book for your target audience: what would the title be? the chapter headings? This is a great exercise for collecting content topics!

    • Jon Gelberg

      So glad you enjoyed!

  • Joseph

    This is great, Jon. The point about commitment to producing thoughtful content over a long stretch of time hit home. Often, I find that people (myself included) are ready to run off and write about the next topic far too quickly. Yet it takes a steady effort to prove your expertise on a particular subject. It’s probably worth establishing thought leadership on a small number of subjects instead of posting on a large set of skills, values, etc.

    My question though: when linking your blog on others’ articles, do people seem to generally respond positively? Do you look for articles relevant to your topic before linking your blog? I often find people force their URL in front of people instead of organically incorporating it.

    Thanks! -Joseph

  • Cat Fyson (Koozai)

    Hi Jon,

    I’m not a great fan of any of that terminology (guru, rock star, ninja etc) – as you clearly point out, it’s definitely overused!

    Being a thought-leader on any topic is going to be tough, no matter how much you know and how much you’ve shared, because there will always be many others with the same goal. Can anyone truly say that they are the only one who knows anything worth knowing? The online crowd is tough to please.

    You hit the nail on the head with the term commitment – you truly do have to commit to continually and consistently creating useful content that goes beyond a single campaign.