If professional services firms really care about their content readers and their long-term value proposition to them, I urge them to consider this concept: Slow News. This is content that has taken time to develop, that has depth and is written in a precise and forward-looking manner. After its creation, it is disseminated in a broad, but strategic, manner. Necessarily, this means the professional services firm might not be first-out-of-the-gate when a development occurs. But, if done correctly, this approach yields an article, blog post or newsletter column that is sought out versus being the first to landing in the in-box.
A long-term content backlash is brewing, similar to the trajectory of processed food manufacturers’ fortunes and reputations in the face of the “Slow Food” movement. What made their products so tantalizing – salt, sugar, fat and preservatives making for long shelf-lives – are also their undoing. Consumers are increasingly shunning these “middle of the grocery store” options in favor of fresh fruits, vegetables and other products that are better for them. The analogy is clear: nutritionally minimal/devoid processed food is like the vacuous content dominating social media. It may offer quick, immediate satisfaction, but you will be hungry soon after.
Part of my impetus for this post was an interesting piece in the New York Times by tech scribe Farhad Manjoo titled, “For Two Months, I Got My News From Print Newspapers. Here’s What I Learned.” Manjoo had three takeaways for readers interested in a better, less distracting news experience: 1) Get news; 2) Not too quickly; and 3) Avoid social. Adapted for professional services providers, here are my mantras: 1) Create content; 2) Take your time; 3) Use, but don’t worship, social.
This seems somewhat self-evident; but, the number of missed opportunities to promote event participation, update biographies and LinkedIn accounts, author byline articles and comment as an expert are myriad. As professional services firms rise and fall on the knowledge and thought leadership evidenced around the service they provide, content creation needs to be consistent, timely and organization-wide, with a focus on producing multiple touch points from a single activity. Communications professionals are often called in after an event of significance has happened, sometimes months later, and asked what can be done. The simple answer: not much. Similarly, when a major piece of legislation passes or a case decision is announced, the window for comment opens and closes in a matter of hours. Days, weeks and months later, the news has moved on and the bar to pique a journalist’s (or potential client’s) interest is much, much higher – and as such, the content output must be that much more thoughtful.
Take Your Time
Groupthink is dangerous and its infected much of the marketing gospel preached to pro-serve companies. One cherished tenant is that you have to be the first to issue a client alert on a topic, if not, your piece will be buried in an avalanche of emails and, ultimately, ignored. Allow me to borrow one of Manjoo’s comments, “Real life is slow; it takes professionals time to figure out what happened, and how it fits into context.” The first-out alerts tend to be shallow recitations of the information, often offering little more than the news flash that pops up on a smartphone. By choosing this route, you do convince your clients that you follow the news, but not that you actually understand its broader implications – or its impact on them. By consistently crafting quality client alerts that provide useful analysis, a firm will develop a real audience and have a greater chance of generating real client engagement and valuable shares. (And this probably should happen within days – not months.)
Use, But Don’t Worship, Social
I’m a big proponent of social media. Channels such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram are target-rich environments built to deliver content. Where I start to deviate from some advocates is on valuing retweets, likes and comments over the quality of the content in evaluating “success.” It has become a cottage industry to market social media and consulting services that boost raw numbers. For professional services firms, devoting substantial marketing dollars and attention to these metrics is chasing the wrong kind of “engagement.” Blogs and social media channels should look to incrementally build audiences, acknowledging that the audience growth slope will go up and down – and may even plateau. Most importantly, overall value needs to be considered in two ways: 1) contribution to holistic marketing and communications efforts, especially with respect to leveraging content; and 2) contribution to business development. These two points are core contributions of pro-serve marketers. Feedback from clients on the value of updates and understanding, via client intake processes, the motivating factors for inquiry provide important insight. Questions can be as direct as, “Do you follow us on Twitter?” and “Do you receive our legal updates?”
It’s an interesting time for social media as its ubiquity makes one wonder if a generational backlash is looming. Just as we saw with successive generations of eaters abandoning processed foods, trends tend to go heavy in one direction and then swing to a middle-ground. Long-form, subscription news sites, like the sports-focused The Athletic, and growing newsrooms at venerable publications, like The Atlantic, would seem to defy the suggested trend toward less text and more video. For professional services, if content isn’t a) high-quality, and b) a true value add, then don’t make it and don’t promote it. It really is that simple. Ultimately, when a fiscal belt tightening occurs, the spend on chasing clicks without an underlying and clearly defined revenue-driving purpose will not survive.