I have a HUGE list of interesting headlines/topics that are tied to our core content goals at Mention, but haven’t been able to bring myself to write a single one lately. All I could think about, rather, was how I didn’t want to write them, which ironically and fortunately, led to this post getting written. Sound familiar?
With this onset of writer’s block, I “hit the streets” so to say, first revisiting old posts on content discovery I had saved, then asking around for ideas. The result was this list of places to discover fresh and interesting content ideas.
1. Ask your friends & colleagues what they want to read about
Whenever you’re unsure what to write about next, try asking your friends. I personally hit gchat or Facebook messenger to ask friends who work within a similar field or industry what they’d like to see written about. The best results have been from those who work within a different role or industry, but understand the importance of content’s role within a growing business. One of my Product Manager friends, for example, always has great ideas for me because she has a unique perspective with a background in content and community.
Colleagues are a great resource to tap as well. At Mention, we are fortunate to share resources with other e-Founders companies. Us marketing folks even have our own room in Slack where we can bounce ideas off of each other and brainstorm different approaches for getting our content out there. That room actually played a big role in bringing this post to life.
Take note of which of your friends and colleagues ask you questions about your field, consume a lot of information, or generally think outside the box. Before you know it, you’ll have a go-to list of contacts to gather and bounce ideas from.
2. Crowdsource options or ask for examples
Crowdsourcing works especially well if you’re able to crowdsource from your personal social accounts (as people rather connect with humans than brands), and if you have a relevant network. There’s a few different approaches you can take to asking your network to weigh in on your content ideas.
One is to poll for opinions, providing different options to choose from. This can be in the form of an open-ended question, or survey. I recently did this on Facebook when brainstorming ideas for a music blog I occasionally contribute to and was very happy with the results.
Perhaps only a few people responded, but they’re high-quality people I know read my music-related content. Of course, this was just one place I polled for opinions — I also asked people in person and reached out directly via chat.
Another option is to ask your network for specific examples or case studies that fill out a piece, making it more well-rounded. I’m currently working on a piece for a high-traffic blog on a particular type of landing page and was running low on creative examples, so I asked the Twittersphere.
Garrett’s examples were exactly what I was looking for to bring the piece to the next level.
3. Leverage media monitoring and social listening
Media monitoring and social listening are an effective way to learn what topics your audience is currently interested in, as well as what questions and concerns they have around a specific topic or piece of content. By “listening” to community conversations, you’ll tap into the problems they’re looking to solve and needs their wanting to fill.
Something that Erin May of General Assembly once said has really resonated with me:
“Rather than a top-down approach to starting the conversation, media monitoring allows us to build more meaningful conversations, especially in terms of developing content that our audience wants and needs.”
At Mention, we monitor conversations around topics relevant to our audience, such as “social listening,” “Twitter strategy,” “content marketing,” “social media tools,” among many others. By doing this, we’re able to catch what articles are bubbling up among our audience, chime in on the conversations, and identify who is leading these conversations.
The people identified are our potential future brand advocates and influencers, and therefore very important. Start following these folks to see what topics they’re posting about the most and the questions they’re posing for inspiration.
You can create a similar opportunity specific to Twitter only by creating a saved list. Check out how Kevan Lee from Buffer has made this work for him.
LinkedIn and Facebook groups are also a great way to learn more about what your audience is interested in. Do a topic search for the group relevant to your focus, request to join, and check out the questions members are posting, as well as the comments. The more active communities are chock full of inspiration for topic ideas.
Becoming an active participant in these communities will also lead to valuable relationships built with individuals who could become brand advocates, case studies, guest contributors, or even press contacts.
If you’re a content marketer, I highly suggest joining Kapost’s Content Marketing Academy group. Or if you want to talk about anything growth, inbound, community, or content, join us over at the Growth Marketers group. I recently gathered invaluable insight and opinions into whether or not pop-ups are an effective tool for building a subscriber list.
Twitter chats are a more active form of social listening and a huge source of inspiration. They take some time (an hour per chat) and mental energy, but are well worth it. It’s interesting to see which questions are posed by the host, responses from the “guest of honor,” and most of all, the questions and comments that pop up from fellow participants. That’s where you really tap into what a community wants to hear. Participants join these chats looking to learn, and aren’t afraid to ask specific questions pertaining to their challenges. My favorite chats are the #cmgrchat, #bufferchat, #insiderchat, and of course our own #mentionchat.
Pro tip: Use a tool like TweetChat.com or Mention to follow along with these chats. It will be much easier to keep up!
4. See what’s trending on forums & social
Buzzsumo is an incredible tool for spotting trending content. Type in any area of interest to discover the most popular content around that topic. With this information, you can determine which topics will potentially “go viral,” as well as which influencers are leading these conversations.
Swayy.co will show you what’s trending among your Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter networks, either on a specific topic or just in general. I personally find the daily Swayy email digests super helpful for keeping up with what my network is talking about, especially on days I don’t have time to stalk the interwebz to see what’s new and noteworthy for the day.
Check out forums related to your focus topics too. Growthhackers.com, Inbound.org, and Hacker News are among our favorites at Mention. Look at which stories are trending with the most upvotes and comments. Make sure to read the comments to learn where readers would like to see more detail, or what they disagree with. Even a debate can make for a great piece of content; perhaps one comparing the effectiveness of social networks for content distribution, for example.
Pro tip: Rather than taking the rinse and repeat approach, copying pieces that have already been written, put your unique spin on them, using your own or crowdsourced examples.
5. Write about your struggles, challenges & lessons
This is one of our favorite sources of inspiration at Mention and e-Founders, and this post is the perfect example of this. I was struggling to get inspired to write about topics related to our blog’s core focus, I recognized that I am most certainly not the only one with this struggle, so I wrote about my findings. We see this all the time. Check out these examples:
- [Slideshare] Where to find your first 2,000 beta signups (Front)
- How We Got 2,000+ Customers by Doing Things That Didn’t Scale (Groove)
- [Slideshare] 9 Lessons Learned Building SaaS (eFounders)
- 8 Tips for Overcoming Imposture Syndrome I Wish I Had Known Sooner (Buffer Open)
- How to Overcome the Content Distribution Hurdle: Lessons from Someone Who Had No Idea What They Were Doing (by me on KISSmetrics)
No matter what your challenge is, it’s likely that someone else is in or is going to be in your shoes at some point. Take notes on how you find solutions, lessons learned, and tools you used, then turn these into an actionable article, guide, Slideshare presentation, or white paper that others can turn to when faced with your challenge.
6. Comment stalk
When reading industry articles, check out the comments to see what the readers have to say on the subject. Don’t hesitate to engage will them as a fellow commenter, asking them to elaborate on what they’re looking for, or what it is that interested them about that particular article. Just keep in mind that the author of the article is likely (hopefully) doing the same.
Newsletters are among the most surprising places for content inspiration, because who wants more email, really? But they can be very helpful for spurring new ideas when stuck.
I receive newsletters relating to my industry, such as SaaS Club, Startup Digest, Loyal’s Community.is, and SaaS Weekly, which are all great for discovering valuable, curated content. But the ones that I find most inspirational for topic ideation and discovery are those that are outside of my industry, such as the Brainpickings Digest, 5 Intriguing Things by Alex Madrigal, Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter, and SwissMiss’s daily recap.
Try choosing one newsletter for three-four different interests of yours outside of your professional role and check out what type of content they’re sharing. You may be inspired by the topics, formatting, or even the way they present the information that perhaps isn’t your industry’s standard.
You can also use your own newsletter to prompt content ideas and feedback. Try adding a question on what topics your community would like to hear more about and ask them to simply hit reply with their feedback. Your response rate might not be high, but anyone who responds is clearly interested in what you have to say, and therefore is your target audience.
Wrapping it up
Sometimes becoming inspired is just a matter of doing what you need to do to clear your head, then push yourself (in a healthy way, of course). We all hit roadblocks. Try going for a walk or run, get some fresh air, then create an environment that allows you to focus on what you need to get done, whether that’s solidarity, around people, in an office, coffee shop, etc.
Depending on your work style, it might also help to make yourself accountable. I’ve started sharing with my team when I’ve hit a roadblock, who then encourage in a supportive manner me by sharing topic ideas or offering to take something else off my plate so that I can focus. It’s all about doing what’s right for you.
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