Doing thought leadership “backwards”

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Last Thursday, about the time my previous post went live online, Jeremy Littau sat down to post some tweets.

He’s a journalism professor at Lehigh who had about 3,000 followers, and he had some thoughts about the demise of local newspapers that he thought people have been overlooking. I don’t know this for sure because I haven’t contacted him, but I doubt he anticipated that his tweets would be retweeted 18,000 times and liked 39,000 times.

Now the thoughts he shared are important and valuable for us as PR pros. But that’s just a bonus to the lesson I learned from this case study.

Our PR takeaway grows out of what came next: Jeremy placed an op-ed in Slate, and a separate one in Wired, that each said much the same thing as his Twitter thread.

That flow might seem obvious to you – the popularity of his tweets proved interest in his ideas, so editors naturally wanted to publish his writing.

But that logic flies in the face of what has been PR conventional wisdom forever, that “the media demand to be first,” that if you share your ideas on your “owned” channels first, they’ll consider it old news.

In fact, that’s a point of tension between many PR teams and their content marketing counterparts. Both want to go first, but the PR teams often win the battle because of the contention that media won’t take seconds.

Not so, as this case proves. In fact, publishing your own ideas first often buttresses your subsequent media pitches. “People really want to talk about this idea,” you can insist.

The part that makes this extra fascinating to me is that Jeremy didn’t write a blog post or an article in a trade pub. He wrote a tweet and replied to it literally 39 times.

I’ve seen this approach with increasing frequency from people with interesting things to say that won’t fit in one tweet. I guess Twitter users who can’t be bothered to click a link to an article are more likely to get sucked in by an initial tweet and then keep scrolling down.

Here’s how you apply this as a PR pro: As you’re developing your thought leaders and trying to place op-eds or contributed content, think about ways you can get quantitative proof that their ideas are provocative. Build up metrics on other platforms – your own web site, Reddit, social feeds – that show their thoughts are resonating.

And then use those numbers to land your thought leaders third-party publishing venues (like Slate or Wired for a digital journalism professor) to boost their credibility and reach new audiences.

Congratulations to Jeremy and Lehigh – thanks for the lesson, and for the advocacy for local journalism.

Here’s the original Twitter thread, and the Slate and Wired pieces.

UPDATE: Jeremy reacted to this post via Twitter.

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This article was originally published on Jan 31, 2019.