Keep a steady stream of ideas with a content idea map

Last week, I went step-by-step through one of many ways you can follow to build a blog post. But a blog should include many posts that are relevant to your business and its purpose. So this week, I’ll walk you through how to build a content map (or several) as one method to keep the ideas coming.

If you’re familiar with mind mapping, you may already have a good idea of where I’m going with this. Just to be clear, this isn’t about mapping content to personas or buyer stage. It’s about using a mind map to brainstorm and build a repository of connected content ideas you can pull from as you plan.

Here’s a conceptual image of what a content map can look like:

content-map.png

I find it can be challenging to generate enough ideas to build a content map on my own steam in a reasonable amount of time, so I like to bring friends (colleagues) into the brainstorm with me. Getting a group of people together in a room to bounce ideas around makes for a lively conversation since all the possibilities trigger creativity in different ways for different people. This is one of my favorite parts of planning - brainstorming all the things with smart, creative people!

Start with one major topic or key message as the central focus

When I build marketing strategies with my clients, one of the exercises I do with them is to take each key message and brainstorm all the different content ideas we can think of to help get that message across.

Everything is fair game. I don’t restrict the discussion to topics - we bring medium into the discussion as well since some content ideas are better suited to specific channels.

We also discuss different ways to position the content, such as covering a topic through a negative perspective. Or asserting a point of view about a topic.

It may seem a bit granular for a brainstorm session, but it’s all about keeping the conversation flowing naturally. Don’t get caught up in the details, but don’t restrict them from being part of the ideas that come forward unless the discussion starts to go off the rails.

Drop down a level and add topic branches to each major topic

This is where the content ideas can start to really flow. You’re taking that big topic and breaking it down into smaller topics based on a few essential factors:

  • Your message - keep it in mind so you stay focused and don’t veer off into irrelevant territory.

  • Your audience - keep them in mind to ensure the ideas are addressing their needs.

  • Your goals - keep them in mind to filter out content that may not help you achieve your goals.

These three factors are ideal to stay laser focused on content that will fit within your plan and provide valuable information to your audience.

Dig even deeper to break down your topic branches into subtopics

This is usually where you might start to see connections between different content ideas more clearly, along with more granular details like the channel or medium because the topics are small enough now that you might get a mix of content titles and more generalized ideas. This is fine.

Keep breaking down each topic and subtopic until you can’t break it down anymore or until it doesn’t make sense to. The end result should provide you with a pretty comprehensive repository of ideas. Like this (click to enlarge):

I spent about 20 minutes putting this mind map together and it’s nowhere near as comprehensive as I could have done. I added subtopics I’ve already written about or have drafted in my queue for upcoming content. And that’s okay. The value of having it in the map is also in seeing how everything is connected.

Go and map your way to regular content

One of the most challenging aspects to keeping a content program going is having a steady stream of ideas. The second problem is having enough time. I can’t give you more time, but I can give you a way to generate ideas.

How to successfully blog your expertise

successfully-blog-expertise.jpg

I’ve been blogging for over 10 years and I’ve written thousands of blog posts across multiple sites, not all of them under my byline. I’ve spoken with dozens of clients and even colleagues about blogging and I get the same questions and concerns over and over again, which means lots of people have similar things that hold them back.

Blogging about your expertise can be intimidating and it can also feel like you’re giving away what you do for free. Will you give away a lot of your expertise? Absolutely. Will it impact the business you get? Highly unlikely.

  1. The person who will only ever read your blog and book a free consult with you without signing a contract isn’t in your target market. There are ways to filter this person out.

  2. You can blog everything you know about what you do and it will never equate to you providing the experience that backs up your expertise for that person/business.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to share some of my blogging expertise with you that I’ve gained over the last 10 years in a couple of posts that I hope will help you gain more comfort and confidence in the process. Today, I want you to write down a single topic you can write about and I’ll break down a process you can use to craft a blog post on the topic you’ve chosen.

1) Write down 3-5 key points you want to make in your post

This doesn’t have to be a well-crafted outline. By writing out the points you want to make before you start filling in your post, you’ll stay focused on the most important things you want to say and you’ll be able to decide how you want to organize the content.

One option is to have a free-flowing narrative (I don’t recommend this for readability reasons). Or you might lay it out with headers breaking up the different points you’re making. Another option is to make an orderly numbered list (or “listicle” = list + article). This post is a step-by-step how-to, which is another option.

2) Draft your first paragraph to hook the reader in

This paragraph is critical. It needs to have enough information help the reader determine whether to keep reading. Not everyone will and that’s okay. But you don’t want people to stop because the first paragraph is rambly or vague.

Give them a clue about what value you’re going to provide in the rest of the post that makes it worth their time. There are too many things competing for our attention in the world right now to waste time on a blog (or any other content) you don’t need to read.

3) Fill out the rest of your post with more detail

Take those 3-5 points you wrote down and expand on them:

  • Why are they important?

  • How will they help your reader?

  • What practical action can they take with them?

When you’re fleshing out your content, the 5 Ws+H (who, what, when, where, why, and how) can be a useful way for you to get into the mind of your reader to help them.

4) Make your post easy to scan

I mentioned readability up above because it’s one more way you can help your readers digest your content quickly in today’s fast-paced world. And it’s easy to do:

  • Add headings to break up longer blocks of text.

  • Use bullets or numbered lists to further break up your copy.

  • Keep paragraphs short - 2-3 sentences max.

  • Avoid using all caps. (IT’S TOO SCREAMY!)

The headings and bullet lists are also good for search engine bots that scan your website. They’ll index your post to include in search results and good headings that include the right keywords and rich media (see #5) give you a boost and put your post in the right context for search engines.

5) Add pictures, videos, and links that support your content

Pictures add visual interest and illustrations can can help you explain more complex concepts. They also help make the post more scannable for the reader. (You should also learn how to add images and videos using accessible methods, but that’s a post for another day.)

Videos and links to content that support your points are valuable validation, even if it comes from another source. I just wouldn’t advise using your competitors as a source. External sources do add credibility to your thoughts and ideas by showing you stay up-to-date with what’s going on and you know what you’re talking about.

6) Reiterate the most important points in your conclusion

I avoid using “conclusion” as a heading and I don’t open the concluding paragraph with “in conclusion.” These are both fairly formal practices that don’t fit as well in the blogging world. However, you don’t have to reiterate all of your points. You can stick to a key takeaway based on applying the whole of your post.

7) Indicate the next step for your audience

Figure out what you want your reader to do next and ask them to do it. Every post should have a call to action (CTA), whether it’s directing them to a resource, offering up your time for a call, or asking a question for them to respond to in the comments.

Just avoid salesy CTAs and your audience will be more likely to take action.

8) Finalize your headline

You can write your headline anytime in this process. If you know what you want it to be before you start writing your post, that’s fine.

No matter when you decide the headline, always revisit it after reading through the entire post again. That gives you the chance to ensure it’s still relevant and fitting to the content of your post.

9) Read it one more time

I’m writing this post roughly three weeks before it’s going to be published. I’ll mark it “needs review” and come back to it for another read-through in a day or two. This gives me some time and space between writing and reading so I’m able to catch errors and refine anything I think is unclear.

No one expects absolute perfection in grammar, sentence structure, and spelling. But the more errors you can eliminate (if you don’t have an editor at your disposal), the better for your readers.

Your blogging challenge for this week

I challenge you to try it out. You don’t have to publish it. Just go through the nine steps in a document. You can even send it to me; I’d love to read it!

And next week, I’ll show you how to use a content map to keep a steady stream of content. That way, you can do this over and over as you grow your blog!

Repurposing content starts with rethinking how you view content

repurposing-content-rethinking-content.jpg

Don’t you love all those Pinterest pictures of people turning trash into treasure? I remember the first time I saw a coffee table made from a pallet. I was convinced I’d never want one. But they really can be made to be lovely and functional without giving you splinters. And repurposing means less trash!

For anyone trying to market their company through evergreen content that demonstrates expertise in their field, the same idea of giving new, and sometimes unexpected, life to older content can make it easier to maintain a flow of content for your business. Because no one likes to throw away hard work - even if it happened years ago.

Building a comprehensive web presence today means being able to answer questions that come up with your clients or customers before they ever talk to you. That’s one of the many ways a good content program for your business can help gain attention and attract the right people to check you out - by showing them you know what you’re talking about.

But the idea of writing regularly is often a barrier for businesses that lack confidence in their writing skills or the funds for staff or outsourcing content creation. And that can make you feel overwhelmed before you ever get started.

There’s good news, though. It doesn’t have to be that complicated and I bet you can start with content you’ve already created and repurpose it to suit your needs. And if you think you have no content, I’d say you probably do. You just might not think of it as content … yet. That’s a good place for us to start.

What is content?

Content can be just about anything spoken, written or drawn that pertains to your business. A lot of your content may not be polished, pretty and ready for the world to see, but a little tender loving care goes a long way. Here are just a few things you probably have in the way of content:

Emails - you communicate about your business to associates, prospects and customers all the time. There’s valuable information and expertise being shared in these pieces of communication.

Conversations - you talk about your business with everyone (I hope). There can be a gold mine of content in the words you use to talk with others about what you do.

Documentation - training manuals for employees, certain aspects of your business and/or product plan, and other internal documentation can be great fodder for external content.

Obviously, in all three of these, it’s important to filter out anything you need to keep confidential. That should never be part of your content program. But thinking about all types of content as possible fodder for marketing is a good way to make sure you aren’t reinventing the wheel. After all, repurposing is all about finding new and sometimes unexpected uses for things that aren’t working for you anymore.

What are the building blocks you need to develop great content?

If you already have regular content you’ve been creating, that means you can use that existing content to build ideas for new content. The trick to saving yourself time is to think about content like building blocks. A single block could be a tweet or other micro content. Multiple tweets that relate to each other can be stitched together to make a blog post. Multiple blog posts that relate to each other can be stitched together to make an ebook.

And the reverse is true as well. If you have an ebook that’s a little older, you can break it up to freshen it up. Piece by piece, refine and update the content and republish as videos or blog posts.

repurposing-content.jpg

This is repurposing at its finest here are the advantages for you and your content:

  • Spend less time thinking about and building content by repurposing.

  • Make old things new again with updates to relevant (but out-of-date) content.

  • Present new angles to past ideas and reiterate your message.

There are endless possibilities for content that’s valuable to your audience. It takes some planning and creative thinking to get there. Just don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There’s no reason you have to start every new piece with a blank page.

Now that we’ve build a good foundation for developing content, next week we can talk about the importance of planning and how spending more time planning will save time and reduce the stress of execution.

How to build content that helps your buyers

build-content-helps-buyers.png

The value of content is in its capacity to answer questions and objections before a potential buyer (even existing customers) ever have a conversation with your business about a sale. It gives your point of view and context around what makes you different from other companies that have similar offerings.

The best content is useful and helpful to the person reading or viewing it without giving a hard sell. And it’s not hard to do. You’re already doing it every single day, but you aren’t calling it content creation. It’s just part of your everyday routine.

Here’s how you can turn day-to-day interactions into a source of content:

1) Answer questions.

Customers, prospects and even your staff ask questions all the time. But does your website answer your most frequently asked questions? If not, this is a great starting place. Don’t build a FAQ page either. Take a deeper dive and write a blog post, record a video or collaborate on a podcast. Answering questions can be done in a variety of ways, from instructional content to best practice guidance to informed opinions. And it’s okay to answer the same or similar questions more than once. After all, you learn more over time and there’s always a different perspective to consider.

2) Answer objections.

If you’ve been involved in the process of making a sale, you’ve had to answer objections. The objections people make to your offerings can be a goldmine of useful tidbits for content. The more you can address objections through content, the easier it is to have conversations when a customer transitions from their research to having conversations. Sometimes objections are sensitive so you need to delicately weave answers to those concerns into your content. Other times you can address it head on. And just like the questions you answer, give fresh answers to objections to reflect changes in your offerings and the market.

3) Tell your point of view.

You can’t be everything to everyone. But a lot of companies really try. One way you can stand out from similar companies is to take a stand. The best approach is to share your point of view on your industry. Maybe you have a somewhat controversial view: write it down and share why you feel that way. It might help you eliminate calls from outside your target market that won’t be worth your time.

4) Share relevant information.

What’s going on in your industry? News? Trends? Upcoming developments? Share it with your audience, even if it’s coming from another source (credible news sources are okay, competitors aren’t). Maybe you’ve been quoted in content or had your content published on another site, it’s great to promote this kind of content when it complements your messages and helps support your goals.

5) Promote community. 

It’s much harder for brands to grow communities now than it was even 5 years ago. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t try. The biggest promotor of community is being present and engaging on social. Reply to comments and messages on social sites. Share content with sources tagged and include relevant hashtags. Give time and attention to social content so it doesn’t sound rushed or too promotional. Social media is where your organization’s personality can shine.

What are some of your favourite examples of useful content?

The importance of content curation for your audience

"Content curation" is one of those phrases that gets tossed around the marketing and content creation world practically every second if you're following enough of us. (I might be exaggerating. Maybe.) It's not a buzzword, but it could be construed as jargon because the act and its benefits aren't immediately clear to those who most need it. So, before I launch into why you want to include content curation in your digital marketing activities, I'll explain what it is.

curate-content.png

Content

Dictionary.com defines "content" (the noun, not the adjective) in a few different ways I like for the context of this post:

  • "the subjects or topics covered in a book or document"

  • "something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts"

  • "substantive information or creative material viewed in contrast to its actual or potential manner of presentation"

Content is information that expresses ideas, opinions, facts, etc. Before we had "social media" (and really, social media has existed far longer than the term we use to describe these digital tools), content was books, TV shows, home videos, photographs, journal entries, magazine articles and stories, newspaper columns and reports. The digital age has expanded the mediums we can use to create and the channels we use to distribute or promote.

Curate

The definition of curate is perfect:

"to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content"

The act of curation is essentially digging for those gold nuggets that are going to be interesting for others. Museum curators do this all the time, only they have to work much harder than I do when I'm sitting in front of my computer or other device reading through dozens of blog posts.

How do you curate content?

Good question. I'm glad you asked!

First you need to find people who create the kind of content you want to share

I go about this in several ways, and I've been following, unfollowing, re-following and so on for years now. I need variety and sometimes I need a break from the influx of information or the style in which it's presented. The information you need and want to see will evolve.

I find good content through Twitter chats, list posts that recommend "must-follow" experts/blogs on various topics, Twitter lists, etc. It will probably only take you about 30 minutes to find enough blogs that write in your area of expertise to create a repository of thought leaders to curate content from. 

That said, I try to follow in the way it makes most sense to share. 90% of the time, that's through Feedly, my RSS reader. Which brings me to tools...

Second, you will want to incorporate the right tools to keep content curation a manageable process.

My process starts with Feedly. As I flip through the unread articles in my account, I do one or more of several things:

  • Use a tool to schedule content to one of my accounts.

  • Save a post within Feedly, which automatically bumps it over to Pocket (via IFTTT). I do this with articles that I need time to read and consider what they say and how I want to act on the information. From Pocket, I may delete them, or (more often), they get saved to Evernote where I can reference the information later.

  • When I run across articles that I can read quickly and the value is clear, I may share using Buffer AND save in an appropriate notebook in Evernote. (I reference the same valuable blog posts over and over again when it makes sense. Putting them in Evernote means I waste less time looking for them.)

Within my Feedly account, I've connected Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Buffer, Pocket, Pinterest, Evernote and any other tools that I have accounts for and use in my content curation process. From Feedly, I can share content from the feeds I subscribe to with all the major networks I use without worrying that I'm being too repetitive. I mix it up!

Third, establish a consistent process that you run through regularly.

It doesn't have to be daily, but keep in mind that if you're scheduling content as part of this process, you want to be engaged with comments, replies, and other engagement that happens as a result.

I tend to curate a little bit almost every day. I used to try to get every post in my reader marked as read each week - by actually reading all of them. Now I'm content to mark them all as read when I want to focus on newer content coming out.

You don't have to read everything. You can't. Don't even try.

Why is content curation important to add to your social marketing mix?

  1. Sharing content from trusted industry leaders shows your followers that you are actively engaged in staying up-to-date with what's going on.

  2. Idea generation. This is my favourite reason for curating content. All those notes that I save in Evernote? Those are almost always blog ideas or supporting information for blog posts.

  3. When I read through the posts in my reader, I spend some time commenting on other blogs. Blog comments have decreased significantly over the years, but their value hasn't declined. The blogger that gets a thoughtful comment these days is more grateful than ever. Each comment you leave on that blog is one small step to building a relationship.

  4. It forces you to get away from thinking about creating content and learn from others. (Well, until you get an idea inspired from something you read.)

A caution about content curation

Read what you share.

Don't fall in the trap of scheduling content you haven't properly vetted just because you don't have time to read. There is no quicker way to lose credibility than to schedule something that doesn't fit your brand and principles. 

One final bonus tip

Subscribe to your own content.

Whether it’s by email or through a feed reader, you'll always know that your feed is working and you can mix your own content in with other content you're scheduling to share.

My process is not the only way to do it and you should definitely figure out what works best for you, but I hope this gives you a framework to getting started sharing excellent expert advice that supports the work you're doing!