The Lure of Thoughtertainment
Thoughtertainment is my word for content that looks like thought leadership on the surface but, in fact, serves other ends. As the word suggests, some of it may even be entertaining to read and think about. But the deeper you dig, the more you realize that it just doesn’t have a lot of substance. It’s not ultimately about anything. Instead, it’s designed to get its reader to keep consuming it—more likes, more followers, more book purchases. It continues to market itself in an abyss whose bottom you can never get to.
For what it is, it’s fine. I don’t want to point fingers. Some of it I even enjoy reading. There are worse things I could do with my free time. I’m calling it out here because it can be a distraction for a thought leader whose goal is to advance thinking and promote change within a highly specific area.
Specificity is key to what I consider to be authentic thought leadership. Broad-brush pop psychology or pop philosophy doesn’t have much place in the work of a thought leader who is working on a daily basis to improve the way things are done within a clear area of expertise.
The work that lies behind the thought leadership is critical. Behind thought leadership lies a product or service, not a vague notion of a personal or corporate brand. As a result, much thought leadership may not have a general audience. It presumes a certain level of subject matter knowledge on behalf of the audience and actually needs to do so in order to go beyond the superficial.
Because of its expertise dimension, thought leadership may also not be able to keep up with the rhythm of thoughtertainment, which in many cases manifests in multiple posts a day of content across many channels and in many forms. The more that a thoughtertainer becomes a cottage industry in their own right, the more likely they are to have a team of marketers and content creators maintaining that steady cadence of material. The implied expectation is simply not realistic for thought leaders who make thought leadership a part of their work rather than making their personal brand the focus.
However, thought leaders certainly can learn from some of the things that thoughtertainment does well. It’s a great example of finding innovative ways to get ideas across in ways that engage audiences. Thoughtertainers and the teams behind them are usually masters of the nuances of many channels and platforms.
It can even be helpful to find a few thoughtertainers you like and figure out ways you could emulate the best of what they do. After all, thought leaders definitely do want to engage people and keep them coming back for more. It just can’t become the purpose of your underlying thought leadership.
The lure of thoughtertainment can make you lose focus on the core of meaningful value that only you can deliver within your industry. Instead, keeping that core at the center of what you do will allow you to build thought leadership that sparks change. Fewer readers, perhaps, but more impact in precisely the areas that you care most about.