Content as a continuous professional development tool

Candice O'Sullivan
April 2, 2014

When we talk about content, we usually focus on the role it plays in marketing and lead generation. However, there is a whole other side to content that is frequently overlooked: the role it can play in professional development.

Blogging as professional development

One of the barriers to a successful content marketing strategy is the reluctance of firms to repeatedly invest non-billable hours into content development. Hence, content is typically viewed as an expense or cost of sale with vague and often poorly measured ROI. However, this perspective completely ignores what sits at the heart of all good content: your firm’s knowledge capital.

When you ask your talent to invest time developing content, you are not just supporting your firm’s marketing and BD activities. You are also investing in knowledge acquisition and retention at an individual and firm level – because the process of developing content is not unlike the process of learning itself.

While theories proliferate as to how people learn – and modes of learning will differ among individuals – there are a number of learning techniques we all commonly employ, particularly when we write. Reflection, for example, is an important part of the writing process, as is the organisation of information in a linear, logical way. Both require us to assess and firmly structure our thinking on a topic, which can lead us to identify gaps or weaknesses in our knowledge base. This, in turn, can prompt further research and exploration of the subject matter.

Similarly, the task of clearly articulating one’s point of view demands that we first form an opinion and that we then have enough confidence in the judgment we’ve made to air it publicly. The latter will provoke us to consider our ideas more carefully and, where necessary, to source additional evidence to support them. The search for ‘proof’ will typically introduce us to new information and ideas, which may alter or strengthen our thinking on the subject. This iterative process is not unlike a method of learning introduced by Socrates, now referred to as ‘piloting’, where one arrives at an answer through the power of reasoning. I would argue that all professionals ‘pilot’ their way to a conclusion and that this – in part – is what differentiates one professional’s thinking from that of another, and is why our talent will always play an important role in differentiating our firms.

The cumulative effect of all these writing techniques and cognitive processes is that an individual will know more when they finish writing a piece of content than when they began – or, at a minimum, be much clearer and confident in what they do know. This may be what inspired one author to describe blogging as ‘an intellectual version of going to the gym’.

So why does it matter whether blogging is perceived within your firm as a learning tool? For two reasons:

1. Commitment to the task

If you are struggling to get your firm to make a commitment to content development, reframing it in terms of the broader value it can create for the firm – and not just how it can support the sales funnel – will help you communicate its true worth to the firm.

2. Metrics of assessment

How your firm views content will determine how its impact is measured by the firm. If blogging is merely seen as a marketing and BD tool, then the metrics of assessment will mostly relate to revenue growth and brand building. But if blogging is seen as a performance management and learning tool, then these metrics will extend to talent parameters and individual KPIs.

Content development is often described as a beastly task. If you can get your firm to recognise that content can well serve two beasts – the growth of your talent and your business – you will fare much better in elevating its status within the firm. You will know you have succeeded when the terms ‘content’ and ‘asset management’ are not mutually exclusive.

This post was contributed by Candice O’Sullivan, Director and Head of Strategy at Wellmark. You can follow her insights into professional services and #NewLaw marketing @wellmark_psf. You can also find Candice on Google+ at +Candice O’Sullivan or follow her tweets on brand strategy, content marketing and related topics @candicepill.

If you need a trusted advisor as your organisation makes the transition to a social business, Wellmark can provide strategic advice and practical coaching at every step along the way. See here for more information.

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Image credit: ‘Miss A writes a song‘ by Denise Krebs courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons under a CC BY 2.0 attribution license.

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