The price of being a thought leader

Attending a recent social media “bootcamp”, the discussion of content sharing came up. Working with a collection of my organization’s thought leaders, we discussed content creation and strategy. And a question was raised that I feel is worth revisiting.

How much content do we give away? At what point are we showing too much under the hood, sharing too many of the ingredients in the secret sauce, giving away too many of those delicious CostCo food samplers… well you get the idea.

There’s no easy or 100% steadfast rule to this, but I believe that there’s a price to being a thought leader. That means putting something out there can be potentially mimicked or copied. In my business we see it all the time… where competitors suddenly find themselves spouting the same messaging and value proposition that we’ve been communicating for months. And to that I say “THANK YOU!”  Mimicry is the best compliment and only reaffirms our position as thought leaders.

Now obviously you don’t want to be giving away secret algorithms or confidential intellectual property, but there’s nothing wrong with a “how-to” that’s based on your own deep expertise.

I’ll use as an example a good friend who recently remodeled his bathroom. After reading up on all the right things, he decided he could tackle the DIY project himself. Half-way into ripping out the bathroom tiles, he realized that he was over his head. And then he called in the experts that originally advised him on his DIY endeavors.

Moral of the story is that delivering solutions is hard… and just because you have the playbook doesn’t mean you can execute. It requires expertise that can’t be stolen from a blog. It’s actually quite the opposite… that content can only serve to set you up as a thought leader.

So get out there and FREE YOUR CONTENT!


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  1. #2 by Kris Kaneta on July 20, 2010 - 6:48 pm

    The audio on the first link didn’t work for me… but I did read the FC piece previously. Great story… That said do you think that story has more to do with thought leadership or more to do with people not willing to pay for content because they can get it elsewhere?

    In other words, would you consider UK Times a thought leader or a media outlet (or is it one in the same)? Because if the latter, then you’re talking about a whole new discussion along the same lines as

    I think in the case of hulu – its a harder question to answer. Now you’re talking about proprietary content for entertainment purposes, not thought leadership. That said, I would still argue that consumers of content would demand that it be on-demand and more or less free – with maybe some paid premium offerings. Your thoughts?

  2. #3 by Sam on July 21, 2010 - 8:48 am

    For the 43folders link, probably easiest to hit the Direct Download link and listen to it locally.

    With respect to the UK Times, my point was that the things people choose to protect might not be the things they *should* spend time protecting. Whether or not the UK Times is considered a “Thought Leader”, they chose to put a wall around their content, only to find very very few people willing to pay the price of admission.

    The paywall that went up around the UK Times is a direct result of NewCorp thinking that what people get there can’t be gotten anywhere else. Not only the straight reporting of the news (the commodity service), but also the analyses, insights, opinings, and all the other words (the value-added services) that find their way onto the broadsheet each and every day. So while some might see them as just a media outlet, they most likely see themselves as “Thought Leaders.”

    I’m not sure I agree with your distinction between media outlet and “Thought Leader.” For that matter, I don’t know that I agree with *any* distinction that involves the phrase “Thought Leader.” And I say this because I think everybody has something that they’re trying to build. I say this because we’re either good at our jobs or we’re not.

    Is the UK Times a “Thought Leader”? I don’t know. Are they trying to build a business in which they’re the pre-eminent source of news? Probably. Is Hulu trying to build a business in which they’re the pre-eminent source of “premium” (read: non-YouTube cats playing pianos) online video consumption? Do they think they have new and creative ideas on how to deliver on that? Perhaps.

    Was Frank Lloyd Wright a “Thought Leader”, or was he a guy that built building really really well? Were the Wright Brothers “Thought Leaders” or were they two guys that simply fell much less quickly that everyone else?

    I’m not entirely convinced that a “Thought Leader” is anything other than THE Go-To Resource (capitals intentional) for $WHATEVER. The Most Trusted. The Most Relied Upon. Because to your point, dreaming up the playbook is only part of the job.

    • #4 by Kris Kaneta on July 21, 2010 - 1:15 pm

      Agree with everything you’ve said… but that still doesn’t get to the question of – at what point can one start charging for content?

      Should iTunes be free?
      Cutting edge whitepapers?

      For me it comes down to identifying the end game. For the UK times – its readership (either paid or ad based). Same with and the like – the content is the end game.

      For a B2B solutions organization, readership is great – but reading my case studies, blogs and white-papers is not going to pay my bills. The content is valuable only so far as it drives people to engage and move along the funnel.

      I don’t have an answer but I think when you transition from content being THE product to content being a tool, is when the discussion of thought leadership shifts and the question of willingness to pay inevitably changes. Of course there are always exceptions, but I’m just saying this is where it starts to get a little gray.

      • #5 by Kris Kaneta on July 21, 2010 - 1:18 pm

        …and yes I realize the very notion of me saying content might not be THE product in all situations may violate the fundamental principals of many a marketer out there. Sorry! Feel free to disagree!

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