Some of the best content is written by thought leaders with a distinct point of view on a subject.
I’ll give you an example. What do you think of when you hear the name Gary Vaynerchuck? Hustle. Brene Brown? Vulnerability. John Maxwell? Leadership.
The reason people voraciously consume opinionated, and highly “niche-y” content is because it offers such a clear and compelling reason to practice, think or try something in a specific, detailed way. Along the way, these content-creating thought leaders even build systems and communities out of their ideas. They get invited to give TED talks. Their methods go viral and they become known in their industry for a unique perspective.
Now, flip these thought leaders’ mantras.
What would people think if Gary Vee pondered taking the slow road? If Brown advised you to be balls out brazen, and admit no weakness? If Maxwell instead taught his people how to be good followers?
And what about you? What would it look like if you went against your own grain? If just once, you contradicted yourself?
I’m throwing out this curveball today because of an article that sparked an idea that was new to me. It inspired a thought that went against everything I preach about building an email list and creating free opt-in offers. It made me think about content creation in a new way, one that could potentially help my clients reach a broader audience.
The problem is that this enlightening idea contradicts certain beliefs I’ve held for a long time.
Has that ever happened to you? You’re rolling along, perfectly happy with your established mindset about a certain topic, when all of a sudden you get a glimpse of a logical, and opposite reality?
This is a problem for a lot of people, whether they consider themselves thought leaders or not. As a culture beholden to a range of personal beliefs, we expect a one-sided perspective from the most dominant figures. In fact, it’s unpopular these days to embrace ambiguity. We expect the loudest, most distinct voices to race to extremes. A single-minded point of view is memorable, at the very least, and it can be the glue for a following of true believers.
What would happen if you were caught in careful consideration of a dissenting point of view? Would your readers flee if you openly explored all opposing opinions? What if your next paragraph began, “On the other hand…”
I wonder if your most loyal followers and readers would think you’d sold out, become lazy, or deluded? Probably not. Chances are, people who read your blog or listen to your podcast, etc. are there because you offer an interesting point of view in a given field. They enjoy your deep and thoughtful exploration of your subject matter. You’ve carved out a space for yourself by focusing on developing content with purpose and clarity. (At least that’s the best recipe for success if you want to plant a flag in your corner of the market or the Internet.)
But I’m playing Devil’s Advocate on this today. If you really want to explore a topic, why not turn one of your long-held beliefs on its head, and try to uncover a different angle?
If you think that might be a fun project, then read on. I’ll give you seven great reasons to explore an alternative viewpoint on something you profess to believe, and then you can decide for yourself. You might discover a worthy and desirable outcome by taking the less traveled road once in awhile.
Even if it’s just as an experiment, contradicting your usual stance and arguing the other side could help you solidify your established thought leadership position.
But first, you may be wondering, what was this firmly held belief that took a tumble?
Stephanie Flaxman, an editor at Copyblogger, recently wrote:
Content marketers can create mini packages for their audience members to share with their friends.
For example, you could offer a beautiful PDF as a free download that summarizes who your site is for and how you help them, with some snippets of particularly useful advice. You’d then encourage your visitors to share the PDF rather than just share your website link.
It’s a more direct way to show what you’re all about, rather than hope a first-time visitor immediately clicks on the most engaging parts of your website.
Now, you’re a savvy content marketer, so you already know that one method of building an engaged following is with content that’s good enough to trade for an email address. You offer a freebie in exchange for subscription to your list. That way you don’t lose your interested tribe members, but rather build a relationship through email.
But this one tip got me thinking that you could easily create content designed to find people who might not normally follow you. The big difference is that you’d rely on folks to share it with their tribes freely, no strings attached… not even an email address.
A good-looking, downloadable PDF carries a bit more clout than an article or blog post. So if you can design it to appeal to someone who might not normally subscribe to your list, yet still offer a compelling reason to view it, then you’ve opened up your world to a whole new segment of people.
This idea flies in the face of the age-old tenet to always be building your list. Instead, it’s geared more toward an SEO goal of driving more traffic. This strategy relies on influencers in an overlapping audience to spread your content to a new-to-you audience for your website. Once they’re on your site, then it’s up to you to create an offer to grow your list — something juicy that appeals to this new audience segment.
While this idea may not be rocket science, it’s something I hadn’t considered before. In fact, it goes against what I’ve preached and practiced for years about email marketing.
And I love it.
The takeaway: Keep your eyes wide open for opportunities to read between the lines of established practices in your field, and then flip them upside down with gusto. Really dissect these new, foreign ideas. Open wide your thought leadership eyes and see if they can pass muster. Put them through the paces and see how they stack up against your deep-seated (perhaps stale?) beliefs.
Newsflash>> In some circles this is called critical thinking. A-ha!
To encourage you to flip your best ideas upside down, let’s move on to the reasons you should do it more often.
The most obvious reason is that you will keep your content fresh as a daisy for both old and new followers, but there are seven “sub-reasons” to venture into this uncharted territory:
- You might find that advocating for the other side is fun. It breaks boredom, helps you overcome discomfort, and makes you feel lighthearted and brave. Breaking away from the rut you’re in is just plain refreshing.
- You broaden your audience. Maybe you’ve been so used to saying the same old thing that you’ve neglected a group of people who can’t find you. Finding and exploring a different angle of an established practice, idea or policy is a great way to speak to a new audience and widen your appeal. Exploring doesn’t mean you have to marry your oddball idea. You’re just turning stones over. But you might be amazed by the people and ideas you bump into in the process.
- The results of thinking deeply from an alternative viewpoint may surprise and delight you. Creativity sometimes falls flat, but it’s always an education.
- The new results may surprise you. You may find that they have validity you had not considered before. You might find that you extend the foundations of your platform, or that you discover and share nuances no one else is talking about. Or…
- The opposite could occur. You may decide that the flip side is hogwash. This is actually good news, because it means that you’re able to reinforce the solid ground upon which you’ve built your long standing belief. (And now you’ll have proof to back it up.)
- It’s always a good idea to challenge yourself. When things get too easy, you should be very afraid. If there’s anyone more obnoxious than “the smartest person in the room,” I can’t think of whom. Don’t be that guy. If you think you’re that guy, you should probably take a long vacation or switch careers altogether. Never get comfortable.
- I’m going to say it. It’s also good to challenge others sometimes, too. Without being offensive, start a discussion. Get your reader or listener to start connecting points of light within her own mind, based on her experiences. Then ask her to share them with you and your community. IMO, discussion is a blessing. And as a thought leader, it’s your job to start interesting discussions.
Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.
Of course, there are times when it’s not in anyone’s best interest to go against the grain, just for the sake of mixing things up. I’m thinking of physical laws like gravity, biological reality, etc. Laws in certain established fields should be respected, as should others’ values. Use your best judgment when people’s livelihoods, their human dignity, and good health are concerned. Why should I even have to mention thoughtfulness? To cover my bases.
And you should cover yours, too. Just because you have a platform to stir the pot to freshen up stale content, doesn’t always mean you should.
A final note: a good debater or trial lawyer can argue the case against her own. You don’t have to necessarily go all in, heart and soul, when you flip your ideas. Fresh content naturally flourishes when you explore a topic thoroughly, like a pig digging for truffles in the woods. When the time’s right, you can always come back home.
Can you think of ways to overturn long standing beliefs in your field to broaden your audience or keep your content fresh? Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.