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Five rules for building trust with your audience so you can build a following

If you want to build a following through your thought leadership and not just an audience, your followers will need to trust you. Here are five rules for building that trust.

If you regularly publish thought leadership content, you shouldn’t just want to build an audience. 

You should want to build a following.

Audiences are normally passive, neutral consumers of content. 

Followers, on the other hand, are active consumers who are fans of the creators of the content they’re consuming and more likely to engage with those creators and purchase their products or services.

It’s tempting to think that the only people who can build a following are celebrities, athletes, or social media influencers. But if you’re an attorney, you can build a following with your target audience.

All you need is a relatively small number of people who subscribe to your content and consistently consume it. If they do, over time, they’ll become bigger fans of yours as they see you are knowledgeable and wise about the areas of law you practice and/or the industries you serve.

As they get to know you, like you, and trust you over time by consuming your content, they’ll be more likely to bring their business to you or refer business to you.

Intuitively, you (or your colleagues) probably know how to create thought leadership content to get people to know you and like you. 

(Hint: Provide accurate educational material presented in a compelling manner without opining on divisive topics like politics and religion.)

But building trust with people through thought leadership content? Seems like a tall order, or at least an unusual one, right?

The good news is, like with most areas of life, there are rules you can follow to build trust with your audience so that over time, your audience becomes a following.

Here are five of them.

Your content is relevant, valuable, and compelling

To build a following through thought leadership content, your content must give your audience bang for their buck. 

When they invest time in consuming your content, they need to know that it will educate them and provide them information they need or could use that will help them do their jobs better and thus make their lives better.

It also must be of the type that they’ll enjoy consuming, or at least won’t dislike consuming. If it isn’t, they’ll never consume it and will never take the lessons they should take out of it.

If your content is inconsistently, or rarely, relevant, valuable, and compelling, your audience won’t come to trust you, and won’t develop into a following because they won’t consume your content regularly.

Your content is overwhelmingly educational instead of promotional

From time to time, people don’t mind being sold to. But they’ll be willing to afford you that privilege if your content overwhelmingly educates them and provides them value.

If your thought leadership content is promotional, such as by frequently mentioning your accolades or by serving as a thinly veiled press release or case study, your audience won’t come to trust you.

To be clear, there will be times when it might make sense to promote yourself, such as when you’re going to present a webinar or speak at a conference, especially when the topic would apply to your audience and/or the webinar or event is one that you think your target audience might want to attend or is already planning on attending.

But you rarely want to shove promotional sales messages down your audience’s throat. Create educational content the vast majority (85%+) of the time.

You show up when you say you’re going to show up

If you have a podcast that’s published on the first and third Monday of every month, you publish a weekly Wednesday video interview, or you publish a Friday newsletter, keep to the schedule you established.

People grow to trust people who do what they say they’re going to do, such as showing up when they say they’re going to.

That being said, sometimes life happens and you have to tinker with your content creation/distribution schedule.

(Of course, some sticklers might argue that you should have contingencies in place in case life happens because your content schedule is an important part of how you will build a following.)

But more often than not, publish your content when you say you will. As your audience comes to expect that you will do so, and you do, you will build their trust in you.

You are consistent

If you say you’re going to be publishing podcasts on the first and third Monday of every month, a weekly Wednesday video interview, or a Friday newsletter, do it consistently.

Don’t do six podcasts on schedule, stop, and then pick up three months later.

Don’t do a weekly video or email for all of March and April, and then disappear until September.

Consistency breeds trust. Just like how you can build trust by showing up when you say you will, you can build trust by building a history of showing up day after day, week after week, month after month.

When you bring on a collaborator, they too provide relevant, valuable, and compelling information

Finally, when you bring on a third party as a guest on a podcast or video, or as a co-author for an article, you have to make sure they are providing relevant, valuable, and compelling information to your audience, and that what the guest has to say aligns with the subject matter that you speak about normally and that your audience comes to you to hear and learn about. 

If you have a podcast about FinTech or the insurance industry, and you bring on someone who talks about mental health but it’s not related to what you talk about normally, that’s a problem. It will almost certainly drive away members of your audience.

If you normally talk about a substantive of the area of law and you bring someone in who’s going to talk about some trendy, tangential topic, such as artificial intelligence or company culture, with no connection to the substantive area of law you typically cover, your audience will probably not care, which is a strike against you.

(Of course, if they’ve told you they’re interested in those or other topics, that’s a different story.)

Just because your content is always relevant, valuable, and compelling doesn’t mean that you can take a day off and bring on a third party whose content doesn’t fit that bill in the eyes of your audience.

Your audience comes to you because they expect—they TRUST—that you’re going to produce content that’s relevant, valuable, and compelling to them.

If you bring on a third party as part of your content efforts, you could drive your audience away and discourage them from subscribing to your content or consistently engaging with it if the third party doesn’t cover topics of interest to your audience.

Build trust, build a following

You rarely hear people in the legal marketing world talk about building a following with thought leadership, but that’s what you want to do. You don’t want an audience that randomly or inconsistently consumes your content.

You want them to regularly and consistently consume your content in whatever form it is in. 

You want them to build a relationship with you, to see you as someone they know, they like, and they TRUST. When they do, they’ll be more likely to bring their business to you or refer business to you.

Follow these five rules to build trust with your audience to get them on the path from audience members to followers and from followers to clients or referral sources.

Thinking about bringing on an outside writer to help your law firm strategize and create compelling thought-leadership marketing and business development content? Click here to schedule a 30-minute Content Strategy Audit to learn if collaborating with an outside writer is the right move for you and your firm.

Wayne Pollock, a former Am Law 50 senior litigation associate, is the founder of Copo Strategies, a legal services and communications firm, and the Law Firm Editorial Service, a content strategy and ghostwriting service for lawyers and their law firms. The Law Firm Editorial Service helps Big Law and boutique law firm partners, and their firms, grow their practices and prominence by collaborating with them to strategize and ethically ghostwrite book-of-business-building marketing and business development content.

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