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From Thought Leadership to Knowledge Marketing

Having spent over 10 years in the professional services industry, both client facing and in-house, I’ve seen my fair share of ‘thought leadership’ initiatives. “Our aim is to be seen as the thought leader in the atrial fibrillation sphere” goes the brief – but it’s not just limited to internal documents. Some companies quite openly use the term ‘thought leader’ in their marketing and positioning (see this examples from Xerox – I dare you not to cringe whilst watching the cheesy videos!).

But in the new collaborative, digital economy I wonder if the traditional approach to thought leadership – which seems to consist of constantly telling customers and consumers that your company is expert a certain field – holds water.

It’s something I wrestled with in my last permanent role at Hill & Knowlton (now H+K Strategies). Like any professional services and many other businesses, we had spent years trying to find new ways of telling prospective clients that our consultants were some of the leading thinkers in their fields, with the best knowledge, insight and experience. Most of the time they believed us. We were story tellers and we told our story convincingly – but we didn’t have much to demonstrate it beyond sanitised biographies and case studies.

Blogs as thought leadership

Then social media came along in the form of blogs (remember those – a bit like Twitter but for people who could string more than one sentence together 😉 ). What better way to bring this knowledge, insight and experience to life. And so, in August 2005, Collective Conversation was born (it’s still live – as is my original blog – if a little unkempt) .

Between then and my departure in 2011, it was attracting over five times the traffic of our corporate website (having spent a lot less than a fifth of that budget on it), was leading the search engine rankings for the topics we wanted to be thought leaders about, brought about speaking gigs, media opportunities and book deals, and even got us on pitch shortlists and won (and lost, I might add – there is no policy that can stop someone doing something stupid) us business.

It was this experience that brought about the concept of knowledge marketing – the idea that knowledge wasn’t just something to be managed internally, but to be marketed externally, not only to provide ‘no strings attached’ insight that might just be of value to someone and that someone might just find it valuable enough to remember us and come back for more one day, hopefully on a more commercial basis.

Content marketing vs knowledge marketing

Fast forward eight years and there are more opportunities than just blogs to bring your employees’ knowledge to life. From professional social networks like LinkedIn to social knowledge networks like Quora, there are a multitude of channels available to the knowledge marketer.

Some might say this is just content marketing, but I respectfully disagree. The Content Marketing Institute describes content marketing as “the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling”. So basically, use content as a way to market your messages. I think knowledge marketing is different – for me, it’s about using knowledge as a way to market your expertise. So, whilst it may often look the same (eBooks, white papers, etc.) the principles – and more importantly the people who originate it – are fundamentally different.

It’s something I’m keen to look at afresh, so please get in touch if you have come across any good examples of knowledge marketing.


Announcing Hill & Knowlton’s New Social Media Principles

Almost a month ago, I asked for help to update Hill & Knowlton’s social media principles.

This afternoon, our CEO sent out the final version to all staff worldwide. We’ve already updated our public principles on our website, but I also wanted to share the full document here and explain a little about the process we’ve been through, what we’ve changed and why.


Our principles are split into three sections: personal use of social media; professional use of social media on behalf of our company and clients; and use of our official social media platforms. You might say this separation isn’t necessary, but we have found that not all of our staff operate in all these spaces so we want to make sure they can quickly identify the bits that are relevant to them.

You might also say that this makes them too long, and the only guideline should actually be “use your common sense”. That is undoubtedly a valid approach but if we are talking about being accountable to ourselves, our clients and the social media community, that simply doesn’t wash.

Our principles are centered around encouraging staff to participate appropriately not restricting their ability to do so. As communications professionals, it is essential that we are able to explore, understand and participate in social media in order to credibly advise our clients how to do the same.

A few other things worthy of note:

  • We have a 24/7 email hotline – as well as our extensive digital practice – where staff can ask questions about what is/isn’t appropriate. Again this is designed to help, not hinder.
  • We have defined a complaints procedure designed to be fair to everyone. Too often, we see knee-jerk reactions that don’t look at the issue objectively.
  • Unlike version one, this time we have asked all staff to click a link in order to confirm that they have read and understand the principles.

The Process

For those of you trying to conduct a similar exercise in your own organization (or with clients), you might be interested in how we did it. If not, skip to the next section. Bear in mind that this was an update to existing guidelines not creation from scratch.

  1. We put the existing guidelines on our internal wiki platform and invited everyone to edit or comment on the different sections.
  2. Someone took all the feedback and created an updated version of the guidelines
  3. This was circulated as a draft to that community, socialized with senior management for comment and shared externally on this blog
  4. Final feedback was incorporated (mainly clarifications) before being signed off by the CEO, COO, CMO and digital practice head.

The Principles

Links to the text of each section of the principles can be found below.

Please feel free to use, copy or adapt these principles as part of your own social media policies. It would be nice if you could let us know if they’ve been helpful too.