5 maneuvers to turn yourself into a content-producing machine

With today’s content marketing, there are tons of ways to execute ideas—but how do you come up with them?

With today’s content marketing, there are tons of ways to execute ideas—but how do you come up with them?

I have a voracious appetite for content. I actively peruse 19 Flipboard magazines on my iPad; skim Huffington Post and The Onion daily; read three dead-tree magazines a month; subscribe to half a dozen e-newsletters; listen to nine podcasts every week (I have a long commute); enjoy Tweets here and there; watch my seven YouTube subscriptions; and I still down a bunch of random online articles and good old-fashioned analog books every year.

That sounds like a lot, but if you broke down all the content you consume in a given day/week/month, I’m sure you’d have a hefty list, too. We all do. It’s just life in the first decades of the 21st century.

And, like many of us, I live on the flipside of the content explosion, too—as a content producer. I write a weekly blog (I’m hovering around 160 posts at this point) and create content for clients ranging from websites to sales materials. So I’m always interested in how people hatch their ideas. It’s something I’m asked about a lot, too.

There are some content producers that just astound me. They consistently churn out fresh-baked stuff, with depth, and present it in a captivating way. I walk away a wiser person after consuming it. Now granted, most producers on this level have whole teams in place. With a seasoned tribe backing you up, it’s easier to take down the mastodon. But what if you have a small team, or you produce content solo?

Here are 5 approaches that may help.

1. Think like a journalist (or a nosy neighbor). A former boss of mine used to be a journalist. In that past life, he wrote a weekly column, and I asked him how he consistently came up with good ideas for it. His response: “There are stories everywhere. You just have to look.”

His advice, essentially, was just to be aware. We’re all awash in information all the time. Use it! I always have my antenna propped for ideas. And when you consume a lot of content, as I do, you start connecting dots in ways that can make for interesting reads. So keep your eyes peeled and your muse fed.

2. Create a headline inspiration file. Headline writing is an art. I’ve seen tests where a simple, one-word change makes all the difference in click-through rates. On your cyber travels, be conscious of the headlines that draw you in. Look at the number of views and comments certain posts get, and really study the headlines that attracted all those eyeballs.

Then, start keeping a Word or Excel file of the best headlines. In no time, you’ll easily accumulate 100 or more. Just scanning these can start firing the pistons in your head for your own content.

3. Have a list of trusted sources. This took a while for me to set up and compile, but it was worth it from a content ideation perspective. I keep highly organized bookmarks of about three-dozen blogs, sites, trusted news sources, references, industry-specific sites and more. A quick scan of even a few of these sources can give me multiple perspectives on a given topic—it broadens my own view and helps me craft content that’s more informed and engaging. I always credit and link sources, and you should, too.

4. Newsjack! When there’s a game-changing story, trend or development in an industry, that’s perfect fodder for creating magnetic content. Most people hear about these stories, but only in fragments. Often, they’ll appreciate an intelligent breakdown of what’s happening, along with an informed opinion on the matter.

There a few types of newsjacking content:

The basic story – When a story is brand spanking new, you’ll often see this bare-bones type of content. It tells only the basics—the journalistic foundation of who, what, where, why and when—and not much else. The goal is to be first with the information, not deep. Just make sure your facts are straight.

The recap – After a story breaks, and the dust settles a bit, the opinions start flying. People start gaining a little insight and begin to predict next steps in the story’s life. This can be a sweet spot for content creators, particularly bloggers. You briefly give all the basic ingredients of the story, but season it with your own spin and takeaways.

The deep dive – This type of content is all about angle and insight. You build, a lot, on the skeleton of the story by presenting your unique point of view here, and drawing interesting connections and conclusions. This is probably the toughest type of content to produce, but it often gets the most response.

5. Create automated inspiration. Again, with a little investment in set up time, this approach will pay off in content creation dividends forever. There are loads of simple, widely available and free tools to keep you abreast of any topic or trends on the planet. Here are my favorites.

For getting latest info on any topic:

You can subscribe to a blog or site’s RSS feed, or use Google Alerts.

For spotting and analyzing trends:

Twitter trends – It’s on the right side of any Twitter page. You can customize it to your own likes, too. Also try…

Google Trends. Everything on one page, very easy!

Buzzfeed trends. This feels less mechanical than Google.

Google Trends, visualized! Prepare your desktop for color razzle-dazzle.

Many of these tips are content consumption, just reversed engineered. It’s like what they teach in writing school: To be a good writer, you first have to be a good reader. Likewise, to be a good content creator, you need to be a content connoisseur.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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