What Expert Articles Are For [Hint: It’s Not Sales]

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Inside Fast Company Executive Board,

One of the biggest mistakes experts make when given the opportunity to contribute content to major media outlets is … talking about their brand.

Wait, what?

That’s right.

I know, I know … when you spend most of your time marketing your product or service, it’s natural to want to keep selling … even in your thought leadership content.

Unfortunately, readers aren’t looking for pitches when they’re reading those high-profile sites. They’re there to learn something.

Prominent publications need content that readers want — content that intrigues and educates.

Recently, Influence & Co. conducted a study on the state of digital media and asked leading editors to comment on problems they see. Nickie Bartels breaks down the top three self-promotional mistakes on the company’s blog:

  • Forced mentions of company, products, services, or clients
  • Unnecessary links back to your own site(s) or products
  • Writing about the specific problem your company/product/service/client solves and presenting your company as the solution. (Yeah, I know this last one is tricky. More on that in a minute.)

The Real Cost of Writing About Your Own Company, Clients or Products

Why is it bad to write about your own company or service? Why can’t I write an Op-Ed on the problems my industry solves and present my company as the solution? Isn’t that exactly what I want?

To answer this question, I reached out to Kelsey Meyer, co-founder of Influence & Co.

"Thought leaders should steer clear of self-promotion because it breaks down trust between them and their audience,” she told me. “The point of publishing content should be to educate and engage your audience so that they view you as a trusted source of information, and begin to build trust with your company/service. If you start with the self-promotion, you hurt your chances of building trust with the audience, and of publishing with that media outlet again.”

Trust. Trust is the key word there. When you write sales copy, you’re selling directly — often to a lead who’s already signed up for your email newsletter or visited your store, for example. But when you write what we call “thought leadership,” you’re sharing essential insights and advice with a global audience in order to position yourself and your organization as authorities in the field.

Guess what? Thought leaders don’t need to sell. They are known as honest and trustworthy experts, and those are the people you really want to buy from.

How To Write Content That Your Audience Actually Wants to Read

If you’re struggling with how to frame your expertise and avoid the trap of self-promotion — specifically, with the third problem editors see too much of (the other two are pretty easy to solve) — here are four simple strategies you can use over and over again that will steer you in the right direction.

Comment, don’t pitch.

Don’t frame your article like this: “This is a problem. But, good news: Here’s how our company fixes it.” That’s like a pitch you’d make an investor or a customer, and it’s never appropriate for contributed content. Instead, try: “Here is a key challenge our industry faces and what I think about it as an expert.” Think about a cybersecurity expert discussing the recent high-profile hacks, or a leadership guru commenting on how CEOs can navigate political issues with their teams and customers.

Predict the future.

Really. Discuss what you think is coming next in your field and the repercussions it will have on businesses in the near future. In other words, show your audience that you are a credible and trustworthy expert with foresight, which is much needed in a fast-changing business world.

Identify key trend(s) in your industry.

But don’t just focus on trends proving why the industry needs what YOU do — focus on the very real, tangible things that are about to impact your colleagues, customers, and competitors. Examine what they mean for businesses going forward. Include research from top influencers and experts to bolster your connection with others in your field.

Give away some of your “secret sauce” for free.

This is far and away one of the best strategies available to you. Says Meyer, “One tip for people new to content marketing/publishing thought leadership content is to think about what proprietary information you are willing to give away for free — and publish content around that. Instead of thinking of knowledge you have about your industry as your ‘secret sauce’ that you aren't willing to share without being paid a consulting fee, give it away to your audience through your written content because it will showcase you as a thought leader and expert in the field, and will start the trust-building process."

Need more ideas? I outline several additional strategies in a previous post. (Bonus: It includes some powerful examples from other thought leaders.)

Don’t risk alienating your audience. Instead, help them. Inform them. Keep their best interests in mind. They’ll thank you for it by giving you their trust and, in the future, potentially their business too.

For more writing tips, click on the “Branding & Publishing” category in the blog menu at the top of this page.

This post is part of a series on how Fast Company Executive Board members can best utilize their personal branding and publishing benefits. If you're not yet a member, see if you qualify.