Content marketing relies on one thing: a steady stream of relevant, engaging, and shareable content. Producing that stream, however, brings with it two problems. On one hand, you need to find people (or find time yourself) to produce this content. On the other hand, you need to figure out what to say, week in and week out, in your blog posts, e-books, white papers, podcasts, and videos.
In what follows, I will help you address that second problem (though I'm also happy to talk to people about solving the first one!). I will assume that you already have clear goals for your content marketing efforts, that you have created your personas, and that you have sketched out the topics you want to cover at a high level.
For example, I work for a staffing agency focused on digital, creative, and marketing roles. We have two core audiences: hiring managers in marketing and creative services, and talent looking for work in these areas. We are primarily concerned with covering three topics: current trends and emerging best practices in marketing and digital design, best practices for evaluating and hiring creative, and best practices for successfully marketing yourself and managing a job search.
As you can see, there is more than enough to write about. But after you've written your fifteenth piece on designing for mobile, or evaluating soft skills, or organizing your portfolio, how do you come up with fresh material? Well, here are several tools that can help.
As obvious as it might sound, your customers can and should be a steady source of ideas and topics for your content. What types of questions are they asking on your website? What kinds of questions are they asking your sales team? What kind of questions are they asking customer support? You can use this material in several ways. First, if there are common questions about getting the most out of your particular products and services, it's best to address them head-on with content on your site. Second, you can generalize from these specific issues to address questions that apply to your entire category. In our case, for instance, a question about getting the maximum value out of our service can be turned into a broader one: What's the best way to add skills or expertise to your existing team? Finally, don't forget that your customers can themselves serve as content, so to speak, if they are willing to be interviewed or profiled.
Good content answers questions. For this reason, any resource that can quickly provide you with a ton of questions, while simultaneously showing you which questions actually attract a lot of activity, is going to be incredibly valuable. Enter Quora. Quora is useful for several reasons. First of all, it can tell you whether topics that are of interest to you are of interest to anyone else. If a topic such as "design trends" only has a few questions posted, most of them several years old, and very little engagement on said questions, then you know it's not a hot topic. On the other hand, if there are tons of questions on the topic of good interview questions (something all hiring managers struggle with) and some have thousands of votes, then you know you're onto something. Once you've identified the burning questions, you can either go ahead and create content addressing these questions yourself, or you can use the answers provided as rich fodder for posts on this or related topics (giving credit to the original authors, of course).
Google is good for more than search. Tools like Google Databoard, Google Finance, and Google Trends can be used to help companies produce timely content. Google Trends can be used to look at the growth or decline of popularity of virtually any topic, helping you gauge your audience's interest in certain areas. Google Databoard not only allows you to see the results of Google research studies, but also allows users to create their own custom infographics to share. Google Finance allows users to gauge the economic impact of trends on their industries. And, don't forget to use Google Analytics to identify content opportunities based on actual traffic to your site. For example, one of our most popular blog posts addresses co-employment risk. We're using that data point to create a series of posts educating people about co-employment issues involved in regularly hiring contractors and the various methods companies can use to mitigate that risk.
Launched by one of Twitter's founders, Medium has proven itself useful to our content efforts in several ways. Because of its relative newness, we were able to create a collection, Digital Design, that has consistently attracted a number of interesting submissions. The beauty of this is that we get to discover and interact with people who are passionate about the design space and who could, down the line, become content contributors or collaborators in some of our other channels. Since people are so actively contributing to Medium, it also becomes a happy hunting for content ideas, especially those that have been vetted and recommended by others. Finally, Medium can also provide you with an alternate distribution channel for your content, and one that is almost guaranteed to have more traffic than properties you own directly.
I've primarily written about content so far. But, it's important to remember that the ideas you surface using Quora, Google, Medium, or your own customer base can be brought to life in a number of ways, and visual representations tend to perform better when distributed across social channels. Of course, for many writers, myself included, thinking visually can be a challenge (and forget about creating primarily visual content). If you need visual inspiration (and even some handy tools for creating visual content), you should give Visual.ly a shot. Even a simple search for something like "web design" or "career tips" will serve up hundreds of infographics that you can either add to your stream of curated content or use as the jumping off point for your own information-rich masterpiece.
These are just a few of the tools that you can use to feed your ravenous content beast. If you are ever out of ideas or having trouble filling in that content calendar, resources such as these can be real lifesavers. At the same time, it's worth recalling that although it can often seem like content is a game of quantity, creating high quality, valuable content is the real key to content marketing success.
Matthew Grant is the director of content strategy at Aquent.
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