One of the things I struggle most with when it comes to content ideas is actually getting started. When you have a blank page in front of you, how do you fill it with ideas and transform it into something that other people will actually want to read and share? Today, I’m going to share with you a few of the ways that I find inspiration for creative projects ranging from infographics to blog posts, and even topics for crowd source posts and stories to share on social media.
Look at What’s Been Done Before
The very first thing that I do when I’m set the task of coming up with content ideas is to look around the internet and see what’s been done before. Whilst that sounds easy enough, there’s no guarantee that by using the search engines, you’ll find the best of the web.
Wayne (@wayneb77) recently introduced me to a handy little web app called BuzzSumo. BuzzSumo is designed to help you find amazing content: content that’s been shared heavily, interesting content to curate, and guest post and interview opportunities – and you can even analyse your competitors’ top content by entering a domain! This app is usually my first port of call when trying to come up with ideas.
It’s still in beta, so isn’t completely comprehensive. More and more data is being added to it each day, though, so it’s definitely worth bookmarking and keeping your eye on. All you need to do is type in a topic, keyword, or domain, and filter by the type of content you want to find and how recent you want the content to be. For example, if I was trying to come up with ideas for a restaurant booking guide, I would begin by simply searching ‘restaurants’.
By searching for a really broad topic like that, I am leaving myself open to some articles that may not be completely relevant (McDonald’s closing all of its restaurants in Bolivia probably won’t be the kind of thing our readers would be interested in). Instead, I can see that ‘Ten Of London’s Oldest Restaurants That You Can Still Try’ has been shared nearly 3,000 times in the past week. The ‘Ten Most Expensive Restaurants in the World’ has nearly 2,000 shares, and even something focusing on a locality, such as ‘Best Restaurants in Wales,’ has just over 1,000 shares. Immediately that makes me think that a series of blog posts on the best restaurants in different cities, or even counties, could generate some social chatter.
It’s worth opening the links so you can get a feel for the quality of the content that’s generated these social shares. What makes them unique, and what makes them interesting? You want to build on their existing qualities and make it even better!
Keep going using other phrases related to the niche that you’re creating content for, and don’t stop until you have a good number of ideas. Then it’s on to the next step…
Talk to People
Once I’ve collected a couple of ideas from BuzzSumo, I like to open these ideas out to a few other people. This isn’t just for fun! If you keep all your ideas to yourself you run the risk of creating something that only you think is a good idea. By sharing your ideas and what you’ve found before with others, you could turn your ‘average’ idea into something incredible! Someone else in your team may have seen some data, a blog post, or some information that you haven’t, and it could make or break your idea.
The reason that I do this stage after having a look around for myself is this: you can’t turn up to a party empty-handed! You have to bring something with you, so make sure you have ideas. Plus, by sharing some of your ideas first, you make it more likely that the people you’ve invited will want to share theirs (no-one ever wants to be the first to speak up). Jon Bell calls this the ‘McDonalds Theory.’ The idea is that you suggest a bad idea, and other will chip in with good ideas to ward the bad ones off!
Save Your Ideas for Later
During your brainstorming session, make sure that you’re taking notes. I know this sounds like a pretty obvious thing to do, but keeping all of those ideas, no matter how bad you think they are initially, could lead to some content gold after you’ve let the idea evolve and gestate over time.
Keeping your ideas on post-it notes or in a notebook may be handy for you, but if your colleagues have any further thoughts on their ideas, or think of a cool way to update someone else’s idea, how are they going to do that?
For keeping your ideas safe and sound whilst allowing your colleagues to collaborate with you, I’d highly recommend using Trello. Within Trello you can set up individual projects for different clients and invite people to each project where they can add ideas, comment on existing thoughts, and generally work together! If Trello isn’t your thing, I’ve heard great things about Evernote too!
By saving your ideas for later, next time you need to find inspiration, you can drop into Trello or Evernote first, and use this as a starting point for looking at what’s been done before!
If you’re still struggling to find inspiration and get started, then I can’t recommend doing the following enough:
When You Hit a Wall, Stop!
Everyone has been there at some point. You need to come up with an idea RIGHT NOW. But sadly, your brain isn’t playing ball. It’s stuck on repeat or jammed on that one idea that no matter how you twist it just. doesn’t. fit. In these situations, the only thing that works for me is to just to press pause on the task. Maybe for an hour or so, sometimes for a day. Occasionally for a week. Stop thinking about it and look at something else before you become so wrapped up in your task that you can’t tell the good from the bad.
Look at Things Un-Related to Work
When I’m struggling to find inspiration, I like to take a 10-minute break to look at other sites that have nothing to do with the task at hand. My current go-to break site is The Fox is Black, but I also stop and have a look at i am a food blog (beautiful pictures of tasty food – what’s not to love?)
Think Outside The Box
Wayne recently wrote an article for Search Engine People on breaking down creative block. He suggested looking at Oblicard for prompts that will help your brain work more laterally. Whilst this might not be the most helpful tool ever (some suggestions are a little vague), it might just be exactly what you need to loosen up your mind and let creativity come to the forefront.
Have a Beer
No, seriously. A study by Dave Birss proved that a little alcohol can help the ideas process. In fact, the team who had alcohol were more productive during their three-hour brainstorming session than those who didn’t drink, and they actually came up with 4 out of 5 of the top ideas! After your ideas session, turn to coffee to help you execute your plan to perfection!