...if you ask the right questions, you can uncover why that one post resonated so well with readers
One of your thought leaders hit a bullseye! They wrote a post that earned exponentially more readership and social shares than you typically see for your organization's content. The analytics emails have been shared internally; everyone is excited, motivated to write more. Here are the readers your organization wants ... and there are a lots of them.
What should you tell everyone about how to repeat that success?
I frequently receive a version of this question from JD Supra clients and my answer is, alas, complicated.
Complicated, because there isn't really a single, simple, repeatable formula that makes readers engage more with one piece of content versus another (especially in the world of professional services thought leadership, where issues are complex and seldom if ever reducible to a meme or 15-second Tik-Tok video).
However, if you ask the right questions, you can uncover why that one post resonated so well with readers — and what you learn from this discovery process can help determine a path forward for your authors.
There might not be one reason why content is popular; but there are, in context, reasons. And you can find them. For example:
Genre: Is your popular post Evergreen or Timely?
I recently heard from the marketing team at a law firm that has an in-depth post on limitation of liability clauses in construction that, to this day, continues to be one of their most popular. How to capitalize on this and repeat the success?
The post in question is evergreen: the information it communicates holds true as much today as it did when the post was first published eight years ago.
This distinction is important in professional services thought leadership, especially with content created around regulatory/legal/compliance-specific matters.
Generally speaking, evergreen posts help to answer the questions people face today, and will continue to face tomorrow. They respond to the ongoing issues that are central to the landscape in which your clients operate: everything from estate planning to hiring and firing employees to starting a new business to (as in this case) running construction projects.
On the other hand, timely posts focus on making sense of something that just happened: passage of a new law, a court decision, etc.
In a perfect world, your content should be a balance of evergreen and timely. In this landscape, some things evolve rapidly, others stay exactly the same. Share your insights around both.
Your timely content shows clients and readers that you're paying attention to the landscape in which they operate, that you are staying current, and that you are available as a strategic advisor/partner to help understand and respond to issues as they arise.
Your evergreen content acts almost as a pillar in your archive of thought leadership. Because the insights contained therein are as true today as they were last year, or five years, or ten, such posts tend to accumulate popularity, authority, and readership over time — as has been the case with the post mentioned above, to do with limitation of liability clauses.
Now that we've established that this particular post is Evergreen, what next steps?
A quick scan of the firm's other publications gives me two helpful data points. 1) An author in another practice group (estate planning) also publishes evergreen posts, meant to answer very specific questions to do with death claims. And 2) the author of the popular construction post has not written a huge amount in the intervening years, but did participate in a webinar last year (indicating a willingness to engage with the firm's audience).
A handful of next steps immediately come to mind:
- Ask the author to produce a webinar that covers the same subject as your popular post, and that uses the post as a resource (and means of promotion)
Proven: there are many people interested in the topic framed within this wildly popular post. So, replicate that information via other media. In this case, host a webinar. Give it the same title as the post.
The original post (mentioned above) is thorough, addressing some issues state by state, and formatted in a way that makes it readable. However, as is often the case, it is clear that there is much more to say, which might become cumbersome in text. A webinar can help — your audience is listening instead of reading. They can also ask questions during the program, which can add to the value of the content.
In the webinar, use the post (even share a link to it): a leave-behind for anyone who would like to reference at a later date. Additionally, turn the webinar recording into a video. Include the video on your JD Supra profile, along with the post. Link from one to the other, and vice versa.
You now have two posts on this proven topic. Next, consider a podcast.
- Update the original post (and/or address key reader questions in a series of follow up posts)
As I mentioned, typically evergreen posts address issues that remain the same over time. However, as the regulatory landscape changes, some information might require an update. Furthermore, over years of popularity, often readers will comment or respond with questions. "This is helpful, thanks, but what should I do when ______"
Take an inventory of how things have changed since initial publication, and look for some of the most important, frequently asked questions. Use these two data points as a basis for new content. Publish an update, leaving the original intact and referencing it in the new (as you did with the webinar). While you're at it, either include answers to reader questions in the updated version, or publish a series of smaller posts answering those questions. Or do both. (Your most frequent reader questions are one of the best sources of proven interest: write in response to them, always.)
- Develop a mini case study to guide and inspire other thought leaders in your organization
Continuing with this particular example, we know we have one wildly popular evergreen post covering a matter in the construction field. We also have an author in a different practice group (estate planning) that appears to publish thought leadership framed in an evergreen way. Look at analytics for those posts. Develop the case for your next internal marketing presentation (or newsletter, or email) in which you explain the difference between evergreen and timely content. Use your homegrown examples to inspire others, among other things, to identify timeless questions in their field of practice and write about them.
And, if the evergreen estate planning content is also doing very well ... well, then it sounds like you have the topic of a new webinar.
Next in this series, I will look at next steps when someone on your team has written an especially popular Timely post. Stay tuned.
Paul Ryplewski is JD Supra's VP of Client Services