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How to Write a White Paper Like a Journalist 
by Mary Ellen Slayter, Reputation Capital Media Services

What’s the biggest mistake that marketers make when they write white papers?

The biggest mistake is using marketing-speak in their writing. This includes jargon and buzzwords as well as style and punctuation -- all caps, italics and exclamations -- that scream “this is an advertisement.”

A successful white paper is one that clients and prospects want to read -- and no one wants to read an advertisement or sales pitch trying to pass itself off as a white paper. Instead, marketers should aim to use more natural language and imitate the style of a newspaper or magazine article.

As a journalist, what’s your #1 tip for writing a white paper like a journalist?

Incorporate quotes and information from multiple experts on the topic at hand. This adds credibility and demonstrates that the company putting out the white paper is connected to the heart of the industry.

Add additional credibility to your white paper by incorporating facts and figures from credible sources and verifying all of the information you include.

What are some easy ways to add more credibility to a white paper?

Be sure to thoroughly edit and proofread before you release the white paper for public consumption. If you publish with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors readers will see them and wonder what else you’ve overlooked and gotten wrong.

Point us to a few organizations who are doing a great job with white papers or other content marketing.

Boutique employee benefits communications firm Benz Communications is a prime example, which I highlighted on the Reputation Capital blog last year. They use a smart mix of white papers, blog posts and strategic press releases to get their message out to the public. It works so well that prospective clients have most of the information they need before they even make contact with a Benz employee. Founder and CEO Jennifer Benz also maintains a Twitter account where she regularly shares content and expertise related to the business.

Marketing software firm HubSpot’s content marketing efforts demonstrate that it not only makes the programs that help businesses do their marketing, but it is also clued in to the latest marketing trends and tactics. Its blog always has fresh content and posts are labeled “introductory,” “intermediate” and “advanced” to help readers find information that will challenge, but not overwhelm them. HubSpot also has a library of whitepapers and ebooks and is active on several social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.

What content marketing trends and changes do you expect to see in 2013?

Google changed its search algorithm in 2012 in an attempt to punish websites that feature poor-quality content and reward those with content worth reading. It also added SEO points to content creators that post on Google+ and provides better search-result positioning to content shared through Google+.

These changes mean more businesses will be putting a focus on creating quality content in the form of blog posts, white papers and videos designed to capture and maintain customers’ attention. It also means they will be getting active on Google+ and discovering more ways to take advantage of the channel.

The focus on quality content along with the need to provide that content to customers on their preferred device -- not just on a traditional desktop computer -- will lead companies to simplify their websites in 2013. More businesses will do away with Flash and cut out clutter in favor of sleek, easy-to-navigate sites that quickly draw visitors’ eyes to content and other key information.

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Mary Ellen Slayter is managing director at Reputation Capital Media Services. Before creating her own content marketing firm, she served as director of content development and a senior general business and finance editor at SmartBrief, a leading publisher of e-mail newsletters. She also spent 8 years at The Washington Post, where she authored the Career Track column and worked as an editor in the business news department. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a B.S. in agronomy from Louisiana State University. Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter.

Reputation Capital recently published a white paper designed to help companies improve their own content marketing. You can download the full white paper: How to Write a White Paper Like a Journalist

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