Marketers today face a dilemma. On the one hand, there is the intense pressure to ramp up content creation. On the other is the certain knowledge that readers’ inboxes and social feeds are already overflowing, which means the bar for quality is higher than ever before. How do you come up with great content ideas over and over again?
Contrary to what you may think, content creation is rarely the product of a burst of sudden inspiration. Instead, even the top storytellers rely on specific steps designed to generate great ideas on a regular basis. Here are three steps to consistent content inspiration.
Mine your inbox
Ever heard the quote “Good artists copy, great artists steal”? (It’s by Pablo Picasso.) When you are charged with developing lots of great content ideas, start by looking in your own inbox. If you’re like most people, you probably have 7 (or 11, or 14) tabs open in your browser right now. Why? Because you clicked on something that interested you and you’re hoping to come back and read it later. (Or maybe if you’re really organized you saved it in Pocket.) No matter.
The point is that if a headline worked on you, it can probably work for you. So look at the headlines you clicked on and see if you can use them to inspire your own content planning.
Here’s an example of one that grabbed my attention today, because I have a race coming up:
Now let’s repurpose this excellent headline structure to work a variety of target audiences and topics:
The Beginners Guide to Fueling for a Half-Marathon
The Alumnae’s Guide to Navigating the Post-Graduation Job Hunt
The Diabetics Guide to Nutrition After Diagnosis
The Dentists Guide to Marketing Techniques
The trick is to follow the pattern in the headline:
Your target customer + Guide to + Item the target customer wants know
But isn’t that cheating? No, it isn’t, and here’s why: Whenever you are teaching your customers something they actually want to know, you are delivering real value. And that is the whole point, right?
Strategically surf social media
Social media is where your audience bares their soul. So, you can read your target’s mind with startling clarity just by having a deliberate game plan to listen in there. The operative phrase here is, ”deliberate game plan”.
Of course the first place to listen is on your own social channels. But for the purpose of this exercise, let’s assume your own channels aren’t very active yet, which is why you are looking for more content inspiration on the first place.
Ok, we can still look elsewhere. Let’s say you make a product that targets people with peanut allergies. Maybe you make sunflower butter (my favorite nut-free alternative to peanut butter), or allergy-alert bracelets, or even Benadryl. The audience for each of these products is definitely going to be talking about what they want, fear and need to know in places like Facebook, Twitter and beyond.
It took me two minutes to find this page (on the right) on Facebook. It’s called Allergy Moms, and after a quick check of the About page I can see that it’s run by a real mom, and it has over 25,000 “likes”. Perfect.
As soon as you click on the page feed you find questions like:
– How can I help my peanut-allergic son get ready for dating?
– What do I do if my kid’s new school doesn’t offer a 504 plan?
In short, it’s a gold mine of real-world inspiration – and that’s just one Facebook page. Once you have used this trick to identify some key social streams where your audience is already talking, you are well on your way. All you have to do next to create high-value content is two things:
- Track the questions that occur most frequently and/or get the most comments and interest.
- Create content and tell stories that answer those questions.
If you happen to make a product that targets businesses and not consumers, this listening-in technique still works. You simply need to tune in to more business-friendly channels like Linked In and Twitter, rather than consumer-oriented ones like Facebook or Instagram. The same “listening for questions and concerns” principles still apply.
In short, there is no better place to uncover your prospects’ literal and figurative “likes” than social channels.
Sit with the sales team. Literally.
This one is especially good when your job is content creation for a B2B product or service. The sales teams talk to prospects all day long. And those conversations are a perfect window into what your customers want to know. So if you can, move your desk or chair right next to the area of the office where the sales folks sit. You will be positively astonished at all the great material you overhear for content purposes.
If you can’t physically sit with the sales team all the time, at the very least sit with them at lunch. Not a big lunch-eating crowd? Keep a bowl of candy on your desk so they’ll stop by regularly at 3pm for a pick-me-up. The key is to deliberately plan regular opportunities to talk with the sales folks about what is going on in their world. It’s a very short walk indeed from customer questions to content inspiration.
I know what you’re thinking: What about search engine optimization (SEO)? She didn’t talk about Google!
First, the good news is that Google is getting better and better at uncovering content that is genuinely relevant to what people are searching for. So merely by creating useful content on topics your audience actually cares about, you have a big head start on SEO.
Second, once you have your content ideas worked out, you can always tweak the titles and the focus to specific phrases or keywords that you are hoping to capture. (I’ll cover this in detail in another post.)
So there you have it: three sure-fire ways to get the content creation juices flowing. And none of them requires making anything up from scratch. Instead, they come from having a regular action plan designed to cultivate inspiration. By following this tried-and-true game plan you and your team will soon be coming up with winning content ideas over and over again.