If you had the choice, would you rather work with a company that delivers mediocre services or one that’s been labeled by reputable sources as an indisputable expert?
It’s no question, really.
Everyone wants to work with experts – the trick is getting yourself and your company recognized in such a fashion.
I’ve talked quite a bit on this blog about the importance of effective personal and professional brands. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Branding yourself as an authority in your field is difficult, which is why you’ve got to take some time to formulate a strategy.
Brand authority is arguably your single most important business asset. If you can get other people to recognize you as an expert, you’ll attract more customers and be able to charge more for your services.
Building online authority also involves a lot of time and a detailed long-term strategy. Far too many brands make the mistake of replicating their competitors’ online branding strategies. Instead, their focus should be on distinguishing themselves by building their own reputations as brand experts.
Importance of Online Authority
The Internet has become one of the most powerful mediums for brands to grow their customer bases of all time. Never before have we had such unparalleled opportunities to reach out, network with others around the world and get our work seen by relevant stakeholders.
According to research from the National Small Business Association, 73% of small businesses utilized social media in 2013 – up from 47% that leveraged it in 2010. But while this opportunity is great for startups, it’s tough for people who want to be recognized for their expertise. With a growing number of brands competing for attention on social media, it takes more effort than ever to get noticed as an authority source.
While most businesses recognize the importance of developing an online presence, they don’t invest in building authority – which is critically important if they hope to stand out amongst their competitors. There are two things that you need to keep in mind while building online authority:
- Understand what it takes to be a brand authority. Being an authority means that brand followers will view you as a more prominent source of information than your competitors. In order to earn this recognition, though, you must have more expertise than other brands and be willing to share it with your viewers.
- Formulate a strategy to share your expertise. There are plenty of experts that don’t get the visibility that they deserve, simply because they don’t have a strategy for sharing it with the world. Don’t be that guy!
You need to find a way to share your thoughts with people and provide value for them.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways that you can build authority online – if you’re willing to invest the time. Really, it will be one of the most important investments that you make.
Strategies for Earning Online Authority
Just as there hundreds – if not thousands – of different ways to market your business on the internet, there are tons of different strategies you can use to earn online authority. Here are some of the most popular strategies that brands leverage to foster reputations as industry experts:
Writing content proves that you understand the principles that other people can benefit from. However, many supposed experts’ knowledge is purely academic and doesn’t hold up very well in the real world. In fact, this is one of the biggest criticisms business school professors must contend with.
If you want people to view you a genuine expert, then you’ll need to demonstrate that your solutions can provide real value. And the best way to prove this is by helping your target audience solve the problems they’re facing.
One way to do this is to do some pro bono work for people that can’t afford your services (though you’ll want to be careful about offering so much free work that your time for paid work suffers).
Alternatively, you can also offer free consultations for people that want to try solving problems on their own. Or, if you can’t commit time to performing pro bono services, you can still help people by offering free advice on Quora or other Q&A sites. In either case, make sure your advice is presented objectively and that it actually helps people solve the problems they’re facing.
Participate in Industry Discussions
Sharing your insights on relevant communities is another great way to brand yourself as an industry expert. Twitter chats and industry forums are some of the best places to engage with people that are looking for expert insights.
As an example, I’m active in about a half dozen marketing and startup chats on Slack. Not only have I learned a lot through the connections I’ve made there, I’ve had the chance to share the things I’ve learned throughout my career as a marketer and entrepreneur.
Even subscribing to industry blogs and commenting on relevant posts is a great way to build authority. The trick is to make sure that you always add something valuable to the discussion. That way, people will see you as an influencer – not just somebody that’s vying for free exposure.
Guest Post on Authority Sites
Guest posting is undoubtedly one of the most powerful ways to build a reputation as an expert. Ekaterina Walter, the CMO and Co-Founder at Branderati, is one of the many experts out there that attributes much of her success and brand reputation to her guest blogging campaign.
That said, most people don’t use guest blogging to its fullest potential. Far too many brands focus exclusively on using guest blogging to build backlinks and improve their SEO, which is ultimately what prompted Google to crack down on the practice last year. But despite this, guest blogging is still an extremely powerful strategy for building authority online – if you go about it the right way.
The biggest mistake that people make with guest posting is choosing low quality sites, simply because they’re the easiest to get accepted on. Many sites that accept “guest posts” are built solely for the purpose of selling links to boost Pagerank. They may not even have any loyal readers, so you’re basically wasting your time trying to build a presence on these sites.
Sure, you’ll probably need to start guest posting on smaller sites before gradually working up to more prominent publishers. But no matter where you’re starting, you’ll still want to target publishers that have a real social media presence, regular followers and their own voice. After your posts have gained traction with these publishers, you’ll have a much easier time landing guest post spots on more authoritative sites.
Once you’ve landed some guest post gigs, don’t just blow off these opportunities. Put some time and energy into your guest posts. Writing detailed, well-researched posts demonstrates that you’re qualified expert and that you take pride in your work. That way, you’ll have a much easier time branding yourself as an industry leader than the countless other companies out there using thin content to earn a few backlinks.
Write for Prominent Publishers
So you’ve got a few guest posts published… Now it’s time to leverage your growing credentials and start writing for more prominent publishers.
Guest blogging is a great way to generate brand exposure and build your reputation as an expert, but you’re much more likely to be perceived as an expert if you work with large publishers. I can say without a doubt that writing for sites like Forbes, Search Engine Journal, Entrepreneur and other major publications has made a huge difference in the way me and my businesses are perceived.
Getting published on these sites is no small feat. You need to have already earned a reputation as an industry leader before they’ll consider taking you on as a columnist. You also need to take the initiative to pitch them, because major publishers rarely seek out experts that haven’t already built a reputation as thought leaders.
That said, if you have something truly unique to say, it’s still possible to earn a contributor spot. I had to cold pitch Forbes and Entrepreneur before writing for them – and I had to work hard to get to “yes” when all I was hearing was “no.”
Persistence is key when it comes to getting published on these sites. Every brand wants to get their name on a major site like Forbes or the Wall Street Journal, which is why the editors of these publications receive numerous requests every day. You may not get an immediate response, and if your experiences are anything like mine, you may have to continue following up until they agree to accept your piece.
Writing for the most prominent publishers is much more involved than writing guest posts for smaller, niche sites. Keep in mind that leading publications only accept extremely high quality articles. The work you submit to these sites needs to be completely original, detailed and offer real value to their readers.
But if you’re willing to put in the effort, you’ll find that readers are much more likely to view you as an authority in your industry when your name is featured on the by-line of a top-tier site.
Create a Blog With Amazing Content
A recent survey from the LinkedIn Technology Marketing Community found that 72% of marketers leverage blogging and other forms of content marketing. These brands recognize one of the ultimate truths online – that writing exceptional content is a great way to distinguish yourself from your competitors.
Unfortunately, many brands don’t invest the resources necessary to create engaging, informative content that portrays them as true thought leaders. Many blogs recycle generic content – ultimately diluting any authority that they may have built.
You want both potential customers and other industry professionals to view your blog as a valuable resource. You’ll earn a reputation as an industry authority if your posts are cited and commented on by other experts, so make sure your content is as strong as possible.
Rather than writing generic articles, focus on creating unique content that addresses real problems that aren’t discussed elsewhere. Here are a few ideas for creating a compelling blog post:
- Show your readers that your solutions are effective by emphasizing prior successes. Describe your accomplishments modestly, and let your results speak for themselves. Doing so will inevitably lead your readers to see you as the authority that you are.
- Conduct interviews with other experts. This will show that you’re connected with other leaders in the industry, indirectly boosting your own credibility.
- Share video content with your viewers. Written content can leave people feeling disconnected from the voice behind it. Videos allow you to engage with your audience in a more personal way, making it easier for them to view you as an expert.
Blogging has always been one of the most effective ways to connect with your audience and establish yourself as a leader in your profession. If you aren’t gaining any traction from your blog, it may be time to audit your content marketing strategy and add more depth to your posts.
Earn Media References
Writing for large publications is a great way to generate exposure and branded yourself as an industry expert. However, getting mentioned by leading journalists in their own articles can be even more beneficial than publishing content on these sites under your own name.
While you may see a temporary bump in traffic if it seems like you’re “everywhere” online, people will start to tune you out if it seems like all you’re doing is trying to plug yourself at every corner. These same readers, on the other hand, will always pay attention if another industry leader cites you as an expert.
To earn these media references, you’ll need to start by establishing strong relationships with prominent journalists. You can connect with them in a professional setting, comment on their sites or share advice that may be invaluable to their readers.
Help a Reporter Out (HARO), ProfNet and MediaSpot.Me are all excellent platforms for connecting with journalists and building exposure. Lisa De Fazio is one example of an expert who built a successful reputation as a dietitian by using these services. She currently offers a helpful guide on HARO marketing if you need guidance on using these platforms to build authority by gaining media exposure.
If you’re seeking exposure from leading journalists, make sure that it highlights your knowledge and expertise. Provide insightful quotes that will prompt the journalist’s readers to seek you out for more information down the road.
Create an Ebook
Writing blog posts is a great way to demonstrate your expertise. That said, you’re limited in the amount of content you can share in a single post, which makes it difficult to fully convey your thoughts on a subject and earn the appreciation that you deserve. For this reason, writing an ebook can be a very effective way to gain recognition as an expert.
Recently, I experienced this effect in action when I coauthored the ebook 100 Days of Growth with my associate Rob Wormley. Yes, it took a lot of time together, but ultimately, the ebook helped me grow my brand significantly and create a reputation as a leader in growth hacking.
Many brands give their ebooks away for free to build their email lists – and you may want to consider doing the same. This allows them to share valuable information with their followers indefinitely, further helping them to demonstrate their industry expertise.
Tracking Your Authority
Taking the actions above is important. But what if you’ve already started an authority-building campaign, and you haven’t seen the results you expected?
What do you do if you’ve published tons of high-value blog posts, contributed guest posts to major publishers and even earned a few media mentions, but you still aren’t getting the traction you want as a brand?
Don’t worry – there are corrective actions you can take to make your campaigns more profitable and more successful. But first, you’ve got to start tracking the performance of your authority-building activities.
There are a few different ways to measure campaign performance, depending on what your goals are:
- Monitor social mentions. If your efforts to build influence have been successful, you should see a corresponding increase in social mentions. Articles should be referencing your name and people should be sharing your content socially – both of which you can measure. Tools like Google Alerts and Social Mention will tell you whether your brand is trending up.
- Track backlinks. Similarly, if your social mentions are up, your inbound links should be as well. Tools like Ahrefs and Majestic SEO will tell you whether or not your brand-building campaigns are having their desired impact.
- Watch your Klout score. Klout scores aren’t a perfect measurement of authority, but watching the way they’re trending can be a good proxy for the overall impact of your brand.
If your metrics don’t show the progress you’d hoped for, it’s time for some troubleshooting. Ask yourself the following questions to determine what might be holding back your influence-generating efforts:
- Am I reaching the right audience? Suppose you’re excited to have landed a columnist spot on Entrepreneur.com. That’s great – but what if your target audience doesn’t read the site? If you aren’t getting the collateral you’re building in front of the right people, it doesn’t matter how compelling your materials are.
- Is my content impressive enough? Maybe a 1,000 word blog post is good for you, but if that’s the bare minimum standard in your industry, it just isn’t going to cut it in terms of making a name for you. Carefully survey what others are doing in your industry (tools like BuzzSumo can be helpful for this purpose) and make sure everything you put out under your name is at least one step better.
- Is my message not resonating with my target audience? If everything about your branding campaigns looks right, but you still aren’t seeing an increase in leads generated or conversions closed, it could be that something in your messaging is off. Use on-site split testing to try out different headlines, offers and calls-to-actions to make sure you’ve got the right fit between audience and message.
Brand building campaigns can go wrong for any number of different reasons, but that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. By tracking your performance according to the metrics that are most important to you and analyzing your results in the context of this data should give you plenty of ideas for improving the success of your efforts in the future.
Building Authority Must Be a Priority
In today’s hyper-competitive online environment, building online authority should be one of your top priorities. It is going to take time, for sure, but your efforts will pay off significantly after you’ve earned the trust of your followers.
In your quest to build online authority, think about every action you take from your followers’ point of view. Remember, they’re seeking valuable solutions that are presented articulately and authoritatively. Brands that can engage with customers in this capacity will stand head and shoulders above their competitors.
What strategies have you used to build your online authority? Share a note with your experiences in the comment section below!