According to a survey from the Mantis Research Group and Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media, 66% of respondents identified thought leadership content as a marketing priority, and for those who have an established thought leadership program, 91% said they consider it to be very successful, citing benefits such as website traffic leads, media mentions, email subscribers, and improved customer retention.
Just as there are a variety of benefits from producing B2B thought leadership content, there is a spectrum of approaches when it comes to ghostwriting that content. In some instances, the B2B writer develops the concept and creates the entire piece based on very little guidance or input from one thought leader.
Another type of ghostwriting is the “secret pen.” In this situation, the thought leader is interviewed by the B2B writer, who then develops the content based on those original thoughts. The ideas have come from the thought leader, but the writer is responsible for producing the content.
There is also an approach known as the collaborator. Here, the thought leader and the B2B writer work in collaboration, frequently meeting, talking through ideas, and developing content that’s an equal contribution of both parties.
And finally, there’s a ghostwriting arrangement where the writer is acting more like a coach. The thought leader provides almost a fully baked article, and the B2B writer provides developmental editing to shape that idea into a more readable format.
In this B2B Craftworks podcast episode, “How to Ghostwrite Thought Leadership,” Lee Price shares her process for ghostwriting thought leadership content.
To listen to the complete episode, use the audio player below, or subscribe to B2B Craftworks.
Can you give us a quick summary of your experience with ghostwriting thought leadership?
I accidentally became a marketer. When I graduated from college, I couldn’t find a job at a publishing company or get work doing the kind of writing that I thought I wanted to do. So I became a marketer at a hybrid tech business publishing company.
That was 12 years ago, and I’ve been a marketer ever since. I’ve focused on using my writing and communication skills to help companies tell their stories, whether that was in a role as an in-house marketer at a consumer products company, or in a position at a B2B content marketing agency. I’ve learned how to work with really smart people who have great ideas but aren’t so great at turning them into digestible, easy-to-understand content.
What do you find to be the best thing and the worst thing about writing thought leadership?
If you are ghostwriting thought leadership, you’re working with a thought leader to bring their good ideas into the world in a way that they haven’t been able to, or haven’t had time to do on their own.
You’re helping good ideas shine, which is what writers tend to want to spend their time doing. While that’s what I find to be the best thing about it, it’s also the hardest thing. There’s a fairly steep learning curve, but it’s a fun challenge.
The term “Thought Leadership” has reached buzzword status. Can you give us your definition?
My view is that thought leadership is someone sharing their ideas, vision, perspective, and expertise. I define thought leadership as coming from a person, not a company or a brand, who is driving a conversation in a particular industry. A founder of a company can be a thought leader, but not the company itself.
Perspective is a big part of this definition. It’s not just about having a lot of experience and expertise. Rather, it is having a unique point of view – what is it about that person’s experience, the way they think about things, or the way they process failure? – that is going to have an impact on someone else. Even at that smallest scale, any one piece of thought leadership could have a positive impact on someone or change how they think about something.
Another important aspect of thought leadership is authenticity. This also means vulnerability. Being willing to put themselves out there, share, be honest, and be reflective. There are leaders who are very smart and have a good deal of expertise, but who are not willing to do that. Stepping into the role of a thought leader means putting in the work to develop a perspective and then sharing it freely.
What is the general process for ghostwriting a piece of thought leadership?
Identifying a topic.
If there isn’t a specific topic assigned in advance, it’s the ghostwriter’s job to figure out how to get the best ideas from them. I will advise companies looking to create thought leadership content to figure out what the overlap is: what does their customer need right now, and what can they provide? And even if they don’t have the answer to that need, a thought leader can go out and find that information. A thought leader doesn’t have to be an expert, they can be a curator.
Interviewing the thought leader.
Whether over the phone, Zoom or in person, time spent interviewing a subject matter expert is often limited to 30 minutes, so it is important to work to get the best from this brief time. Focusing on putting them at ease, building rapport quickly, and making them feel comfortable in order to get to the most important part of their message.
Establishing a more conversational style of questioning can be helpful, especially with higher-level executives, to move past the corporate script and get them to share more of their thoughts and opinions.
A useful framework for developing questions and structuring the interview is following the acronym COCOA (Context, Offering, Customer, Opposite, Anything else):
- Context – this means starting off the conversation with something fairly big picture: what’s happening in the industry or what’s changing about their customer demographic? Why is it happening now, and why hasn’t this happened before? Why is it urgent? What’s influencing it? This type of question tends to get people fired up and opinionated.
- Offering – follow up by asking how the topic relates to their company and their offering. Where does the product or service fit into this larger discussion?
- Customer – next, ask how customers are reacting to this offering. What are their customers most concerned with or stressed out about?
- Ask the Opposite – get them to discuss what potential repercussions if their insights or advice are ignored. What are
- Anything Else – Finish up the interview by asking if there is anything else they want to make sure is included. When someone reads this, what do you want the readers to take away from this content?
Capturing the thought leader’s voice.
It’s helpful to start from the overarching brand voice, but keeping in mind that thought leadership comes from individuals, not companies, writers must strive to glean as much as possible from their conversation with the thought leader.
One of the things I try to do during the conversation is work on coming up with adjectives that describe the person (e.g., is this person open? cautious? formal? friendly?). Often, these adjectives might be very different from my typical writing style, so it’s helpful to identify that voice before beginning the writing process.
Creating the draft.
Once you’ve conducted the interview and gotten the information needed, it’s time to create the first draft.
When putting this together, there are two goals: (1) putting forth the best ideas and the best content in the most interesting way, and (2) communicating it in the thought leader’s voice, so that it’s clear the content couldn’t have been written by anyone else. You want the thought leader to feel like they wrote this content themselves, and they can really see themselves in the piece.
Don’t be afraid to flag certain points to ask them for input and confirmation. Especially when working with a new client, or when writing about a more concentrated topic, the first draft will include more notes. This shows that what you’re doing is strategic and intentional by calling out places for the thought leader to provide additional context or clarification.
Client Feedback and Editing Process.
Before you share the first draft, it’s important to set expectations about the review process and receiving feedback, including specifying the number of rounds for review, etc. Often, subject matter experts are not familiar with the editorial process, so it’s important to lead that conversation.
Ghostwriting for thought leadership is that it really is a position that brings a lot of power. You are helping people get clarity around their ideas and then share them publicly.
B2B thought leadership ghostwriters really are in a position where they can help people, where they can deliver better ideas to the world, and where they can simplify really tough technical ideas and push people towards thinking and content that is generous, helpful, and kind.
The B2B thought leadership ghostwriter role is one that pushes people towards their best ideas, the ones that bring out the best in themselves and their companies. I think it’s important to take this position very seriously because it’s one where you can really make some big changes.
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