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20 Ideas for Your Next Piece of Great Content

on September 19, 2016


I have two great frustrations:

First is the content marketing non-advice of “create great content.” It’s the equivalent of a financial analyst telling you to “buy low, sell high.”

Second is the struggle to create great content that gets noticed. While I’m thankful that content farms pushing out crap content are having a rougher time gaming Google’s algorithm, there’s a new problem that’s quite the opposite. The quality of content has risen dramatically forcing everyone to work harder and be more creative in order to be seen.

Below is some advice on different successful styles of content you can produce. If you are looking specifically for ideas around corporate videos, please read my other article, “20 Great Ideas for Your Next Corporate Video.”

1: What do you keep repeating?

What do you keep repeating?When talking to a new client, this is usually one of the first questions I ask. What is the story about your business you find yourself telling over and over again? How often are you asked, “Why should we consider your business vs. competitor X?” Use those answers to build content pieces.

If you publish a video or article explaining those things you keep repeating, it will save you time repeating it again in the future. More importantly, more people will discover this content before they even meet you.

2: Challenge a common assumption

Challenge a common assumptionOne of my most popular newsletters was entitled “Great News! Nobody Wants to Hear Your Story.” In the article I challenged the assumption that all brands need to tell their story. I argued that for many, story is not important. There are plenty of products I use and love yet don’t know their story. It was contradictory to what everyone in the industry had assumed.

What industry assumption have you always questioned?

Here’s another example: How to Be Really Successful Producing a Crappy Video

3: No one can copy your experiences

No one can copy your experiencesAdvice articles like this one are common and can be copied very easily. What can’t be copied are your experiences. Some of my most popular posts are first-hand accounts of personal experiences. The reason we don’t often write these articles is we don’t think people will be interested and would rather read advice. What you may not realize is your story of how you handled, or didn’t handle a situation, is advice. It’s far more compelling when you craft it as a story first. For example, I told a story of how I was invited and then uninvited to a press event. It was a story first, and then it turned into  advice on how the company who invited me should have handled the situation.

4: Jump on a trend

Jump on a trendTo increase your discoverability, write quick opinion pieces or add some insight to something that’s trending right now. You’ll be able to find those trends over at Google Trends.

Ultimately, what you’re trying to pull off is what David Meerman Scott has coined as “newsjacking.” It’s the practice of finding some type of hook (often an analogy or a metaphor) to connect your business and industry to the current trends people are already paying attention to, talking about, and searching for. To be successful using this technique you must move quickly. If you’re too slow to produce the content, you will have missed your window. People’s interest will have moved onto something else.

If you truly can’t operate that quickly, try using current celebrity names or comic book superheroes in your blog title and content. That can often provide a similar lift.

5: Teach others something you want to learn

Teach others something you want to learnMy friend Peter Kellner wanted to learn AngularJS. Instead of just taking a training course and hoping he’d retain a good percentage of the material, he created a training course. Now that he had to explain AngularJS to others, it forced him to really understand the material. This is similar to an experience I had in college. I took a course in statistics. While I did fine, it wasn’t until I was working as a statistics tutor and teaching assistant that I really began to understand the material.

6: If you can’t teach it, detail your journey of learning

If you can’t teach it, detail your journey of learningIf teaching the material isn’t a realistic option, you could simply journal the experience of learning the new skill. Why did you want to learn? Where did you start? What was critical to retaining the information? How did you apply what you learned? The act of writing down the experience and having to explain to others will help you retain the information.

7: Ask industry colleagues for advice

Ask industry colleagues for adviceOne of my favorite techniques for creating a great article is to put a question out to friends and industry colleagues asking for their advice on a certain issue. To do this effectively, compile and maintain lists of industry professionals in different categories. When I’m working on an article I reach out to those on the list. I usually title the email something like “I’d like to quote you,” or “I’m looking for your expertise/story on…”

These articles end up boiling down to a listicle with quick readable advice. The trick to getting a response is asking a compelling fun question that either is asking for advice, or to recount a story. For an example, check out “20 Great Sales Follow Up Techniques.”

8: Provide LOTS of advice

Provide LOTS of adviceIf this article were entitled “Five ideas for your next piece of great content” would you have clicked on it? What if it were ten ideas? In my experience writing listicle articles, more is always better. People don’t get turned off by a huge number. Quite the opposite happens. They like to be overwhelmed. Sure, they may skim your article, and that’s fine. What’s important is your article made an impact. I’ve found that 20 is a good number, but I’ve also created pieces with 30 and 50 pieces of advice or stories. The larger numbers always do better.

9: Glean advice from popular topics on Quora

Glean advice from popular topics on QuoraWhen I’m really stuck on coming up with an idea I’ll turn to Quora to see what questions are trending specifically in my industry. This will give me an idea as to what’s of interest to my audience, plus give me an idea what direction to take the article. I’ll often pull a few quotes from the article to launch my piece and then research even more.

For example, from the Quora question, Email: How can I write an email to top executives that will most likely get a response, I ended up writing a post entitled, “The Best Email Ever Written Will Never Be Read,” because the question asked on Quora couldn’t actually be answered directly. It isn’t about writing some magical great email, it’s about figuring out how to create a relationship with the person you’re trying to reach.

10: More people actually want bad advice over good advice

More people actually want bad advice over good adviceWhen I had my Spark Minute radio segment on Clear Channel, I produced a wrap up of the “best” and “worst” tech gifts to buy for the holidays. My “worst” gifts list always did double the traffic of the “best” gifts list. Like rubbernecking at a wreck on the highway, it’s not surprising that we prefer looking at the worst. I sometimes get criticized for writing a lot of these types of articles, but it’s kind of become part of my brand. Check out “The Worst Advice about Content Creation.”

11: Explain how you do what you do

Explain how you do what you doThere is a chronic fear that if you show your company secrets people will steal your idea. To quote my friend Bill Biggar: “The only way someone will steal your idea is if you jam it down their throat.” People don’t steal your idea mostly because they’re too overwhelmed. Our fear of ideas being stolen far exceeds ideas actually being stolen.

By showing (ideally with a YouTube video) how you actually do what you do, you build trust with your audience (ideally your current and potential customers) that you actually know what you’re doing. When they ask, “Have you done this before,” just send them the YouTube video(s). Here’s an example of an article we wrote where we explained our process for producing content: “Our 19 Secrets to Producing Content as Fast as Possible.”

12: Recycle a popular piece in a new format

Recycle a popular piece in a new formatI’m in the process of launching a new video series. In doing so, I’ve taken a look back at my most successful articles to repurpose. . If you wrote a great article, how would it appear if you made a video about it?

Repurposing doesn’t have to be your own content. What has someone else done that you could do even better, have a different angle, or produce in a different format (e.g., video or infographic)?

13: Summarize an event

Summarize an eventThis is a successful tactic that surprisingly not enough people take advantage of. Sure, people write blog posts and create videos from events, but very few actually write a post where they title the blog post or video a summary of the whole event. Immediately after an event, demand for these types of posts is extremely high. People don’t want to consume the hours of presentation videos. They want someone to summarize it for them.

The advantage of this technique is that you will obviously skew the summary to issues that are important to you and your business. For a huge event, it’s not physically possible for you to see everything so your summary of the event will be everything that you saw.

For an example, check out “The Cool and ‘Not So Cool’ of LeWeb” and “RSA Conference 2015: End of Show Report.”

14: Start with the headline

Start with the headlineYou could write the world’s best article with a very tepid headline and no one will read it. Conversely, you could write the best headline and a tepid article and tons of people will read it. With that understanding, start brainstorming headlines and for your best ones, write articles around that.

15: Summarize a thread on Reddit

Summarize a thread on RedditWhile Reddit is a treasure trove of valuable information, not every discussion is summarized and readable like say a wiki article is presented. If you’ve found a valuable thread, take the time to summarize what you feel are the best responses. Here are some examples:

16: Publish your collections

Publish your collectionsDo you have collections on Pinterest? Do you have playlists on YouTube? Do you have lists on Twitter? You’ve already curated those lists. Why not publish them and add a little editorial context as to why you included them on that list.

17: Warn others of your mistakes

Warn others of your mistakesWe all make mistakes that we’ll never repeat again. Why not tell others of your missteps so they don’t make the same mistakes. For an example, check out “How I Recovered from Choosing a Bad Technology and How to Protect Yourself.”

18: What are your favorite products/productivity tips?

What are your favorite products/productivity tips?We all have products that we use and we love. Why not write about them? Explain why you use them versus some other tool and how you use them. If they’re good enough for you to use on a daily basis, then it’s good enough for your readers as well. I’ve written reviews of RoboForm and Microsoft’s OneNote, because I use those programs every single day. Here are a couple of other examples: “Personal Productivity Tips I Actually Use Every Day,” and “My 16 Favorite ‘Free to Cheap’ Cloud Services I Use to Run My Business.”

19: Reflection post – I wish I knew this when I started

Reflection post – I wish I knew this when I startedThis is an easy post that everyone should do. In a previous tip, I suggested outlining a mistake and warning others. This is similar, but it’s far more involved and may not be specific to any one mistake. Look back at your years in the industry and offer up insights as to what you did right and wrong. It’s the classic “If you could tell your younger self what you know today, what would you tell him/her?” Many of your readers are in the position you were when you first started.

After the first six years of running Spark Media Solutions, I did something similar and wrote, “27 of the Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned Since Starting My Own Business.”

20: Summarize a conversation

Summarize a conversationA good journalist is always alert for potential stories. The conversations and insights you have every day are often great stories that we don’t record because it’s not actually on our radar to actually do that. Conversations that are long email threads, a phone conversation, or a chat you had during a networking event could all be valuable blog posts. Rarely do people think to take a private conversation and make it public. Unless it would upset the person or you were discussing private matters, most private conversations don’t need to be private. Share the insights. If you’re really on the ball, pull out your mobile phone and record a video of the conversation. Heck, that’s why you’ve got Facebook’s Live Video.

Conclusion – Get yourself on a schedule

We’re all guilty, including me, of not doing what we should be doing when it comes to building our media brand. Remember, the old advice of “just write” doesn’t cut it anymore. There are plenty of words, videos, and images on websites. Before you create your content, ask yourself, why should anyone be looking at your content?


Creative Commons photo credit to Thomas Hawk, cyanocorax, brankocovic, Ilmicrofono Oggiono, Kevin T Houle, Thomas Szynkiewicz, jurek d, csrpazzi, stefan klocek, Mike Carney, Kevin Dooley, OwenXu, Michael Coghlan, Amélien Bayle, Phineas Jones, ayalan, janmennens, and Ribbit.

Typewriter image from Bigstock Photo.

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