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Your blog has positive impacts on your business because it drives web traffic, showcases leadership, generates engagement, and improves SEO. In case you’re not yet sold on the effort of blogging, in Nancy’s recent post about our blog, she shares some real-life stats on just how beneficial blogging was to our business over the past year. But we all know creating consistently high-quality blogs is admittedly hard; coming up with good ideas can be even harder.
What do you do when you’ve got a deadline approaching and no good ideas in sight? No matter how many blogs we’ve written – whether we’re ghostwriting blogs for our clients or blogging for ourselves – we still get stuck! Here are a few methods that we use that help us get those creative juices flowing. Get ready to break your blog jam!
1) Establishing a topic calendar
This method isn’t for everyone, because it requires foresight, organization, and buy-in from all of marketing (and likely others in the organization) around what your quarterly or annual marketing calendar will look like. However, it’s great if you can do this because the hard work of finding appropriate topics gets shared among a team. Meet with your marketing department and your most helpful SMEs once and brainstorm themes and ideas for the entire year – or quarter, or whatever you can manage. Use the strongest ideas to focus your monthly efforts, organizing them into a topic calendar that drives your blogging efforts.
- Gives your blog structure
- Reinforces key messages
- Creates the foundation for an integrated campaign
- Requires organization at a level many companies cannot manage
- Isn’t as easily reactive to changes in the marketplace
- Feels a bit repetitive when all outbound content is on the same topic
2) Extracting from industry news
If a topic calendar seems like a straitjacket for your creativity, you could draw on news articles or recent happenings. These should be industry-related topics that are relevant to your audience. The biggest shortcoming here is that the news isn’t always spitting out great topics when your blogging deadline approaches, so you’re at the mercy of the fates. However, if your timing is right, getting recent news topics and blogging about them – providing your personal or your company’s perspective and insights – can be a powerful way to add your voice to an active and widespread dialog.
- Generally, gets high audience engagement
- Doesn’t require any advance planning
- Follows topics of known interest
- Doesn’t happen on your schedule
- Requires quick reaction times – hot topics rapidly lose their relevancy
- Has short turn-around times, making it difficult to contract out
3) Mining social media
Social media is the more randomly excitable cousin of industry news. You’ll often find various threads on Twitter or LinkedIn that seem to be interesting topics to blog about, especially if you have a quality network. You’re not trying to mine other people’s blogs for content – don’t copy someone else’s topic that they’ve just blogged about and posted. Instead, look for interesting insights and conversations happening in social media that aren’t yet represented in the blogosphere and that you can contribute to the conversation.
- Generally, gets high audience engagement
- Doesn’t require any advance planning
- Creates broad topic pool from which to choose
- Requires a lot of mining to find good quality topics
- Doesn’t guarantee good timing and demands quick reaction times
- Adds some pretty niche topics to your to-do list
4) Pulling from SWOTs
If you’ve had the pleasure to experience one of our positioning/messaging exercises, you’ll know that one of the outcomes is an outline of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOTs) for your company as well as your competitors. Once these SWOTs are rolled up into your market positioning, we don’t need them anymore, right? Wrong. SWOTs can be a great place to mine for blog topics. Anything where you’re strong and your competition is weak can make a good topic if the underlying idea is meaningful to your audience. You don’t need to point directly to the competition, and you don’t even need to mention your product. It’s a way to be helpful while still focusing your limited marketing resources in areas that are fruitful for your company.
Let’s take an example – say you work for a company that sells an RTOS to automotive companies, and your product is really good at providing process isolation (your strength) while your competition is really bad at industry required certifications (their weakness). A great blog (or even whitepaper) would riff off these ideas in an audience-focused way. For example, if your audience is predominantly automotive engineers, you might discuss how to use process isolation to fix bugs quickly. If your audience is more at the management level, you could talk about how industry certifications help avoid recalls. Simple, no?
- Reinforces your market positioning
- Doesn’t risk inadvertently selecting topics that work against your messaging
- Draws upon work that is already done
- Requires that you’ve done a proper marketing SWOT
- Makes you walk a fine line between being helpful and too salesy
- Can be tricky to find interesting angles
5) Solving problems
Do you have a problem that you’ve recently solved? Is it a problem where others might benefit from hearing the solution? Blog about it. Whether it’s a tactical problem (like making Outlook properly find search results), a business problem (like how to reach customers that have budget), or a technical problem (like making an ADAS system find road lanes in drifting snow), there’s an excellent chance that many other people in your target audience have the same problem and would love to know how you solved it. You’ll want to be sure you’re not sharing your company’s secret sauce – nothing that’s in the patent pipeline – but helping others with solutions will get attention.
- Attracts a ready-made audience having the same problem
- Creates good SEO (when using the right keywords to frame the problem)
- Provides unquestionable value to your audience
- May come under internal scrutiny to prevent “oversharing”
- Draws from “fixes” that may not be plentiful
- Pulls from problems that may be too complicated to document or share
6) Sharing what you’re good at
What about problems you know how to solve? If you’re a marketer for example, you might have people asking (for example) about their marketing program’s content mix. Since you know how to go about addressing that problem, why not share it? Or if you’re a software engineer that works on OpenGL, why not explain to people exactly how to program fragment shaders?
Many people think there’s a possible risk of giving away too much knowledge, and customers won’t be willing to come to you for it. No blog, no matter how good and comprehensive, is going to be a replacement for your knowledge. If one of your readers reads your blog, solves their problem, and doesn’t need your services in that area, you’ve done two great things. Firstly, you have avoided talking to a client that probably wouldn’t use you for anything substantial, saving you both some time. Secondly, you’ve positioned yourself as an expert so when that customer has problems come up that they can’t solve, they’ll know exactly who to go to.
- Creates great SEO with keywords in your area of expertise
- Helps underscore your credibility
- Works well for attracting customers with the right problem set
- Requires a bit more effort since it’s a deeper blog
- Demands “bitesized” solutions to what may be difficult problems
- Creates potential for pushback by others concerned about oversharing
7) Splitting the big rock
Every content marketing program creates substantial assets such as white papers or ebooks that can drive marketing efforts for a period of time – most likely a quarter. One of those assets is your big rock. When blogging time comes around, take that big rock and chisel it into a few different pieces for more content. Pebbles, if you will. This works well when your big rock has sections or chapters, since you can re-spin most of them into new blogs.
The content marketers who talk about how great big rocks are usually omit one key drawback. It’s often difficult for one author to cover the same subject material twice without both pieces sounding the same. That’s why we recommend having someone different write the big rock and the blogs. We do a lot of big rocks and supporting blogs, and this is how we handle them: if I’ve been the primary writer on a big rock, then Nancy will do the blogs and vice versa when she’s the big rock author. We find it keeps the material fresh and introduces a slightly different perspective, while it keeps the author from spinning their wheels staring at a blank page thinking, “Didn’t I just write this?”
- Keeps topics focused on a central theme
- Repurposes existing content
- Works great for lead-gen with a definitive a call-to-action (to download the big rock)
- Needs two writers to be effective
- Requires creating a big rock in the first place
- Limits topics to those already addressed within the rock
8) Product previews
If your company is focused on creating products, then there are some additional blogging opportunities you can dig into. Why not share details about the upcoming releases like new features or supported use cases? If your release is some time away, maybe you can tease new customers with the top of the backlog or your current burndown list. Or perhaps an FAQ or Q&A for a recent release that you’ve gotten questions on.
This strategy can also work for big industry events, which will be coming back someday (hopefully soon). A great example of this is doing a bit of build-up for your CES booth, as well as any other event where your customers might want to know about your demos to plan their visits.
- Ties marketing efforts directly to product awareness
- Helps create buzz at the times when you need it most
- Creates lead-gen oriented calls-to-action
- Requires a bit of caution to prevent blogs from sounding too salesy
- Needs to have upcoming or recent releases or events as source material
- Focuses primarily on existing customers, not on reaching new audiences
9) Inviting guests
It’s not always you that has to do all the blogging. There are partner companies, trusted suppliers, and industry experts that might want access to your network. Not all blogs are structured or styled in a way that makes guest authors natural. However, many can easily accommodate guest authors that help showcase your company’s openness and connections, as well as introduce new and interesting opinions and topics.
Before your guest starts writing, give them some context and guidelines. For example: what topics would you like them to discuss, what topics are off-limits, what length is expected, when are you planning to post, etc. They should expect that their work will be edited on your side, so add a few days into your schedule for editing and approvals. This isn’t ghostwriting either – the point is that they get the credit – so be sure to get a professional headshot and bio from them for the post.
- Shows off other talent and your broad network
- Lessens your workload down to editing and posting
- Gives your guest a plug since they’re getting new exposure
- Cannot easily be accommodated by all blog styles
- Takes longer given additional edit/approval cycles
- Provides less control over topics, content, and/or timelines
If you don’t have a topic database, there’s no better time to start.
10) Topic database
Your topic database can save you if all other ideas fail. This doesn’t have to be anything sophisticated: a spreadsheet on a shared drive, or a task list in your collaboration tool will be plenty. Any time someone on the team thinks of an interesting insight, reads a cool article, or has a brainstorm meeting that generates ideas, get into the habit of putting those ideas into the database. That way, even when you’re not able to write up a blog right away, you’ll have them saved for later when you’re dry of ideas.
If you don’t have one of these, then there’s no better time to start. Create a spreadsheet with columns for idea (topic or subject area), links (articles or inspiration), originator (person who had the idea), and any notes for ideas/images/sources while the idea is fresh. Like brainstorming, don’t censor yourself beforehand since not everything you add will turn into a blog. But sometimes you or someone else on the team will be able to take those half-baked ideas and tweak or combine them into a good blog topic.
Ready to go
Hopefully you’ve now got some ideas on how to find good blog topics. Of course, none of these are mutually exclusive; you will likely need to pursue several avenues to keep your blog pipeline filled.
Now go get blogging!