9 Ways to Generate Content Ideas

One of the most common questions I’m asked by someone new to blogging is:

But what will I write about?

The short answer is that you should write about the things you know about and have experience with. Yet, even that answer can leave you scratching your head trying to come up with content ideas.

So, here are just 9 of the ways that I jump-start my writing process. There are plenty more where these came from…

1. Responses to Daily Reading

I don’t know about you, but it seems that my inbox is full every morning with the thoughts, opinions and ideas of people I know, like and trust. Taking a few minutes to read through the best of that content often sparks my own thoughts.

So, why not write about them?

It doesn’t matter what your area of expertise is. If your content is well thought out and contains valuable information, people will read it! (For an example of how I do it, check out last week’s post in response to content from Kurt Shaver.) My inbox isn’t my only source of inspiration though. If I have a topic I want to write about, but no specific source to play off of, I visit my favorite reader (currently, Zite, but I’ve also used Feedly in the past) and start reading related articles until it sparks something unique that I want to share.

2. Create a Regular Feature

My friend, Dale Irvin, The Professional Summarizer, has a Friday Funnies feature that his readers love. The fact is, his followers would notice if he didn’t post a Friday Funnies clip one Friday. They’ve come to expect it of him and look forward to checking it out each week.

The benefit of any regular feature is that, if you’re consistent with it, it creates anticipation in your followers. Once a month, I have a Featured Author Interview that I publish. I only started it in December, so it’s too soon to say that people have come to rely upon it, but as the word gets out, more people will be looking for it, and coming back to my site each month to see the latest installment.

My Featured Author series was inspired by something that Jim Stovall wrote in The Millionaire Map, where he stated that you should never accept a map from someone who hasn’t been where you want to go. Although I’ve written 2 books and contributed to 3 others, I am not as successful and author as I hope to be one day. My readers look to me to guide and direct them along their own publishing, marketing and promoting journeys. However, I know that I’m only in the midway point of my journey. So in reaching out to more successful people than I am, and sharing what I learn with my readers, we all have the opportunity to learn and grow.

So, how can you do something similar for your following? What regular feature can you share that gives them with what they’re looking for from you? It doesn’t matter if it’s a regular interview, podcast, video or webinar. Consistency and quality matter most.

3. LinkedIn Discussion

Sometimes, I know I want to write about a topic, but I don’t just want it to be my opinion. So I’ll plant what I call a “seed discussion” in a relevant LinkedIn group, and use the responses to create some of my content.

This is a technique I used when I wrote “7 Tips for Successfully Finding Volunteer Book Reviewers.”

I asked a question in a LinkedIn group, encouraged and engaged in the conversation until it was complete, and then wrote a summarized post of the best content from the discussion. The resulting post was better than I could have come up with alone, because I was exposed to some new ideas I’d never seen before, and that I’ve found to be very helpful in my own book marketing activities.

4. Quora and Other Forums

Quora is a site that allows users to ask and answer questions (much like LinkedIn Answers used to do, R.I.P.). You don’t have to be connected to each other, but you do have the option of following people whom you know and like to keep up on the questions they are asking and answering.

There are plenty of other forums you can find as well that will allow you to look through and find commonly asked questions that you might want to answer on your blog. To find relevant forums to participate in, I use a search engine that’s designs specifically for them called BoardReader.

Whatever resource you use, forums are a great way to find questions that are being asked that affect your readers. Use them to stir up your own ideas of answers you might want to give, and write about it!

5. Hubspot Idea Tool

If you’re really at a loss, you can use Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator tool. Give the tool 3 nouns related to what you’re interested in (ideally your keywords), and click the Give Me Blog Topics button. When you do, the tool suggests 5 blog post topics (titles) that may or may not generate some ideas for you. If none of them do it for you, go back and try again. It rarely takes more than a try to two for me to find something that gets the creative juices flowing!

6. Using Lists

Many social networks allow you to generate and subscribe to lists, that group a set of accounts together by a topic you define.

For instance, my Literary list on Twitter is a collection of publishers, writers, agents and other people in the know that I like to interact with. People can subscribe to my list to get their content as well. The only downside to Twitter lists is, you can’t add your own account to the list. So, the list that I have that represents all of my co-authors for The Character-Based Leader has all of us, except me. That’s fine for when I’m looking at the list. (I don’t need to see my own tweets.) But for anyone who subscribes to the list, they’re getting most, but not all, of our content.

Facebook also allows you to create two different kinds of lists. The first is where you can add friends to lists, and then view your newsfeed filtered upon just their content (or post your status updates so that it’s visible to just those people).

The second is an interest list, and works much like Twitter lists. You can create one yourself or follow one that someone else has created. Either way, it allows you to filter content based on topics or accounts you’re interested in, to find ideas that spark new content for you. For instances, I follow the Social Media News list to keep up on changes in the industry.

7. Reposting and Discussing Infographics and Presentations

Visual content is always great. It’s quick and easy for visitors to understand, and is highly shareable.

For that reason, many infographic developers actually encourage their readers to share the infographics on their blogs by giving you the code that you need to copy and paste to your own site. Add your own commentary or introduction, and voila la! You have a new blog post!

You can also check out the top presentations on Slideshare for the week to see if any of them spark an idea for you or are relevant to your readers. You can use the embed code that Slideshare provides to embed a copy of the presentation on your site, while you add commentary to it.

8. Blog Carnivals

Some bloggers will do a regular feature called a “blog carnival.” This is when you summarize the top x posts on a given topic for the past week/month/year. Essentially, the post is a set of links and short descriptions that summarize all the great content you’ve read from others recently.

9. Reviews

You can also provide reviews of products or services that you know, like and trust.

If you’ve read a great book that will resonate with your audience, write a review! Tell them what you liked and didn’t like about it, and then link to where they can get their hands on it themselves or learn more about it.

If you’re interested in monetizing your blog, consider using affiliate links for the reviews you post. It doesn’t cost the reader anything, yet will generate some income should they buy that product or service because of your review efforts

Hopefully, these tips for generating content ideas will give you a good starting point to get going with your own blogging. Since you’ll be coming up with more ideas than you know what to do with now, I’ll write later this week on how to put together an editorial calendar, so you don’t miss out on any of the great ideas that are coming to you.

Written by Tara R. Alemany. Tara is the owner and founder of Aleweb Social Marketing, a consulting company that helps creative types (authors, speakers, performers, musicians and entrepreneurs) build a comprehensive online platform. Visit Business2Community for the first version of this excerpt.


How Do You Tie Your Content Back to Your Vision?

I’ve just sat through two-days of speakers at Content Marketing World in Sydney. On the whole, it was a good conference – interesting. I love listening to smart people. Almost as interesting as the content the speakers delivered however, was the attendees’ reaction to them as individuals. People like Joe PulizziRobert Rose, and Mark Schaefer have celeb status when it comes to the world of Marketing. And not without reason. They have personal brands as big as some companies. Why? Their content ties back to their visions. You’ll know from my two previous Linkedin Influencer Posts, here and here, I believe this is a critical part of getting content right.

Deloitte CMO David Redhill illustrated this perfectly when he talked about ‘content’ as ‘courtship.’ It’s such a powerful concept because it highlights the significance of ‘relationship.’ This understanding is critical for three main reasons:

1. Vision has to be based on values.

Values are a way to show how much you care. They have to align with your vision, or else it means nothing. Redhill said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Values, as communicated through content, make the difference between it being a memory quickly forgotten, and it changing an understanding or behaviour. Consequently, all content should have a simple values test before you publish it.

2. Content must stand for something.

It’s not the number of words on a screen, the time a video will play for, or even how many people looked at it. If that’s true and content has greater meaning than these measures, does it make sense to own or lease the platform for its housing and dissemination? I don’t buy into the hype around ‘brand journalism’, but brand publishing is here, and it’s only going to get bigger. As such, social platforms should support your content, but its spine needs to be on a platform you own. You need to invest in the tools and people to get this right. After all, it’s your vision – not someone else’s. Don’t leave yourself in a position where someone else could pull the rug out from underneath you at a moment’s notice.

3. Like a courtship, you have to be passionate about your content!

This can seem like a challenge. After all, not all businesses create inspiring or exciting products or services. The gurus at the conference are in an enviable situation (at least from where I sit as someone who shares their passion for good content). But… that’s why vision is so important in your content and storytelling. It’s not about your products and services as such, it’s about where you are going and why. It’s about your people and the way you are positively impacting your environment. And that’s a vision worthy of good content!

Written by Aaron Crowther. Aaron is the founder of ASCommunications and Group Business Director for MaxAustralia. You can follow Aaron on Twitter  @ASCommsTweeter or via his blog Commspro.me. Visit businessesgrow where this excerpt is originally appeared.

How to Tell an Epic Story in Five Everyday Steps

We already know the power of telling a great story for our clients. We want to sell that punch-in-the-gut moment, the horse and the puppy Super Bowl tear-jerker, time and time again.

I was reading an article recently, however, about what comprises an epic relationship. The author surmised, nicely, that at a distance sweeping romances and lifelong relationships are, indeed, epic, but upon closer look, are made up of 20,000 everyday Wednesdays.

It made me think that in marketing and PR, we are always looking for the next big story, or the next great angle on our product, service or business.

Awesome. That’s our job, and it’s why the people who are making sure their products or services actually work are paying us to take care of this part of the business.

But a truly sweeping story–the ones that snare us from the first gripping sentence to a neatly resolved “the end”–can’t always be full of narrative climax.

Every story has an arc or dramatic structure, and each piece must fit together with the whole (what good old Walter Fisher would call narrative probability). Gustav Freytag, a German novelist and playwright, identified five parts of the dramatic arc after studying Greek and Shakespearean dramas.

Each part serves to push the audience through the story, and each part–though some parts less narratively sexy than others–plays an important role in how effectively the climax or main idea of the story is conveyed to the audience.

1. Exposition

In this part, important background information is laid out for the audience. You could also call this “context.” Either way, it’s an essential part for building a story that makes sense.

2. Rising Action

This part of the arc is the series of events that build immediately upon the background information and begins to lead the audience toward the point of greatest interest. Interestingly, this part of the arc is arguably more important than the climax, because without these events, the climax will not make sense, will feel jarring…or, frankly, the audience won’t care about the climax in the first place.

3. Climax

This part of the arc is the big moment people talk about after the movie is over, or that “turning point” where things go from bad to good…or sometimes bad to worse (in the case of a tragedy like Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare was dark, ya’ll.)

4. Falling Action

This part of the arc is “what’s next,” where we see if there is a win or lose situation based on the climax, and how characters respond to the “big thing” or turning point in the story.

5. Resolution

In this part of the arc, all conflicts are resolved, characters return to normal life, and there is a pervading sense that the big events that got us here might still shape the future, but they are firmly in the past.

Critics of Freytag’s model are quick to point that this arc only applies to tragedies or dramas, but personally, I’m a big fan of allowing any storytelling theory to be a guide for the way we do PR and marketing.

I’m also a big fan of any model that very closely resembles a sales or buying cycle, and how those models might give us deeper insight on how we might anticipate where customers are in the cycle, and deliver the information they need before they know they need it.

For example, a customer at the very beginning of the sales cycle who is unfamiliar with a brand or product is going to be in dire need of exposition (“Who are you and why should I care?”) whereas a customer who is familiar with a brand or product’s key selling points might need that extra “what’s next” information or story (“Your product sounds great…how does it positively or negatively affect my life?”).

When we can think of the stories we tell as larger parts of the whole, we can more ably tell the smaller stories that pack a little less punch, because we know how they play into the narrative arc.

So tell that epic story. Just remember epic stories are composed of just a few heroic moments…and 20,000 everyday anecdotes.

Written by Sarah J. Storer. Sarah has been a fan of stories ever since she memorized ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ at the ripe old age of three. Today she channels that passion to help individuals and businesses tell their stories with heart. Learn more at about.me/sarahjstorer or follow her on Twitter @sarahjstorer. Visit PRTini.com where this excerpt is originally appeared.

Tips for pitching yourself your own story ideas

Each week, Evan Peterson rounds up stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out. 

Sell yourself on your own ideas, learn from Michael Lewis’ writing habits, think before you type, and embrace “clickbait.”

Pitching yourself: If Internet articles about writing are any indicator, the hardest parts about being a scribe is actually finding the time and motivation to write. The next hardest part, then, has to be the most important: having something to write about.

In a given week, there are probably 15–20 topics that I consider writing about but dismiss because I’m not convinced they’ll be good posts (or because there’s not time). Sifting through these ideas to find the best can be paralyzing. (“If I begin writing that, then I won’t have time to write this.”)

Blogs without Blah, a consultancy in the U.K., offers tips on pitching yourself each of your stories to determine the pieces worth publishing. If you’re already indecisive, being the writer and the editor may not be the right solution, but it might at least help you figure out some headlines.

Michael Lewis on writing: Michael Lewis released his latest book, “Flash Boys,” this week about high-frequency trading to some debate. Whatever you think of the issue, you can bet it’s a good read because above all, Lewis is a writer and storyteller. He talked with Bloomberg this week about his approach:

You’re just trying to get your particular vision down on the paper. You learn something in the world, you try to explain it to a reader and do it in your voice.

Writing is thinking: This piece from The Huffington Post is about how writers are the heroes of our time because, unlike science and technology, writing provides lasting stories with recognizable character traits. There are a lot of things writers feel at the keyboard. It’s unlikely that heroism is one of them. What struck me about this piece was something Richard Vetere mentioned on the way to making his point:

And writing never ends, meaning writers are always writing even when they are not doing it physically. Their entire being is directed toward working out in their minds and in their hearts the story they want to tell.

So much of writing happens when you’re walking around, eating lunch, reading. By the time you’re ready to type, you know how your piece is going to look, or at least how it’s going to start.

“Clickbait” is not new: This piece falls outside the seven-day window I try to stick to, but because it addresses something I highlighted last week, writers’ getting paid for clicks, it’s worth including here.

It’s not all that surprising to hear that editors have sought to entice eyeballs through headlines for a lot longer than the Internet has been around. This piece from Deadspin focuses on the negative connotation placed on “clickbait” headlines, explaining why they’re not only not bad, sometimes they’re completely necessary. Old-school journalism—say, before 1960—was very much the same as what we’re seeing now.

It’s any way of presenting a story that doesn’t follow the dreary precepts that prevailed in high-end U.S. newsrooms over the last half-century—a period, incidentally, of widespread newspaper consolidation that allowed those newsrooms to be just as self-serious as they liked in the absence of any real competition. It’s anything anyone might actually want to read.

In other words, competition breeds the necessity for strong language and imagery, and in the end, people need to read what you wrote.

Writing headlines is an art form. Measuring clicks is just technology.

Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He’s on Twitter at @evanmpeterson

(Image via)

The first version of this story appeared on http://bit.ly/1kl68Qq via @PRDaily