Terror In the Blogosphere: I Haz No Blog Topic!

January 5, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Content Strategy

While we all promise that we’re going to adopt editorial calendars to keep us on a healthy schedule of blogging, sometimes we fail. I mean, if coming up with blog topics to schedule were so easy, we wouldn’t really need the editorial calendar in the first place, right? We’d always just naturally have THE perfect blog post. But that doesn’t happen. What does happen is that we often start resenting our blog. And then we stop blogging.

Over at SmallBizTrends today I offered up 100+ SMB Blogging Ideas to Kick Start 2010. Something to get the juices flowing and to help SMB owners get into the daily habit of blogging. Coming up with the list made me think about all the sources I go to when I’m desperate for a blog topic. I thought I’d share those here.

Below are some of my personal favorite sources for thinking up good blog content.

The Not-So-Exciting Ways

Question/Answer Sites: Question/Answer sites are goldmines for content because they show you a need that already exists. Someone has come to the site because they had a question about your industry that you can help answer. They’re low-hanging fruit that you can pick up whenever you find yourself in a hard spot. Sites like OnStartups, Business Answers and even Yahoo Answers (though to a lesser degree these days) are all among sites that I hit when I’m trying to find out what people are curious about.

Keyword Research Tools: Blah, blah, blah you know this. Wordtracker’s Keyword Question tool has been known to save lives. And blogs. Enough said.

Your Site Logs/Analytics: People are naturally typing questions into search bars (yours and the ones owned by the search engines) looking for answers. Don’t wait for the formal invite to give them what they’re looking for. Just tackle ’em. [The questions, not your users.]

Getting More Creative

Stalk Session Titles: This is what I don’t do: I do not go to the SMX or SES Web site, see what they have planned for their next conference and then write about it. That would be a bit douchey. However, I do like to look at agenda’s for health care conferences, public speaking seminars and other off-beat topics to get an idea of what they’re talking about and ways that I can incorporate that into our blog. I know that probably sounds ridiculous, but there are often fun plays or puns to be made. For example, check out the Gadgets to Multitasking: 150 Products in 45 Minutes session listed on the American Dental Association’s Events page (towards the bottom). Tell me that’s not a social media tools post just waiting to happen? Or that the Applying Improvement Collaborative to Disseminate Best Practices session on the Global Health Council site couldn’t inspire a post about how to work with a remote team or something about internal crisis management tips? It sounds crazy, but it works.

This may be douchey, but I also like to stalk the SXSW panel titles. I’d never write about something they’ve planned to hit on, but the titles they use are so awesomely ridiculous that they’re good inspiration for more out of the box thinking. Hopefully, I didn’t just ban myself from ever attending SXSW. Or scare people away.

ReWrite Something Old: If you’ve been blogging for awhile, take a dip through your archives and find a post that could use a revisit or maybe even one where your entire perspective has changed. This is something I’ve been able to do a lot over the past couple of years as I’ve gained more hands on experience. You update your wardrobe every few years, your archives deserve the same attention.

Traditional Media: I know traditional media is dying and on its way out with the dinosaurs, but why not help euthanize the industry by first scouring it for content? I subscribe to a bunch of different IRL magazines on a variety of different topics – everything from technology news to running and fitness to information about different nonprofits that I support. Magazines and “real journalists” often take very different takes on issues that us bloggers do which can often pique an interesting conversation. Plus, reading up on things that DON’T talk about the industry you spend your entire life dealing with can help you to see things you would have glossed over. With all the writing about search I do, sometimes it’s nice to learn about other people’s crazy acronyms and interests.  Reading magazines and (gasp) newspapers also makes feel less badly for selling out on my Journalism degree.

StumbleUpon: When you’re really stuck on a topic, you can read all the related industry blogs you want – you’re still not going to find anything that inspires you. You need something to break your brain from the path of boring that you’re stuck on. I’ve found that browsing the wild and wacky world of StumbleUpon is a good way to do that. StumbleUpon does a couple of neat things for me – It introduces me to sources I wouldn’t have seen on my own, it takes away stress by making me laugh at silly pictures and videos, and it helps me get caught up with whatever Matt Inman is up to these days. ;) The important thing here is to once again just get out of your own little bubble and to find things that will inspire you in new ways. You never know where your next idea is going to come from. Sometimes seeing a picture of a giggling child will bring back a memory or an idea you’ve suppressed. I can’t tell you how many light bulb moments I’ve gotten from StumbleUpon. The site helps me put things into perspective. I should pay them a finder’s fee.

Start With a Quote: Use your favorite movie quote. A quote from one of those wonky traditional media sources. Something you overheard yourself or saw OH’d on Twitter. Something your father told you that was accidentally hilarious and relevant. A phrase your 8th grade Math teacher used a lot. Part of the fight you witnessed at the grocery story. A quote from the car wreck that is Jersey Shore. The line your boyfriend used to break up with you. Anything that stopped you and made you think, made you giggle or that you think would present an interesting opportunity for conversation. I was once dared to use an Elvis Presley to base a blog post on. The quote: Talent is bein’ about to sell what you’re feeling. It worked.

Talk About Why You’re Stuck: Sometimes there’s a reason you’re void of blog inspiration and couldn’t put two sentences together to save your life. And sometimes that reason would make for an interesting behind-the-scenes blog entry. One that expresses a frustration you’re feeling. One that talks about how your inability to delegate has fried your brain. One that talks about your part in the industry and how you feel about it. The days where you’re just not “feeling it” present a great opportunity to get a little personal and talk about the industry or your business on a different level. They humanize you to your audience, add a bit of flavor to your blog and help you break through whatever barrier you’re facing by allowing you to get it out. Even if you don’t publish the post and just throw a photo of a puppy on your blog for the day, you’ll still feel better after you’re done. I may or may not have some emo posts in WordPress saved as drafts. Not that that should surprise you.

Hit The Streets: On the days where I feel like I’ve already written every blog post that could possibly be written, I hit the streets and go talk to people. I head to Flavour Café in Troy and talk to Charlie, the owner, and hear him talk about his premature hair loss (that’s our secret, okay?) and how hard it is run a café solo sometimes. I walk to CVS for snacks and chat with the cashier about his side jobs. I talk to the woman on the train that runs a nonprofit for battered women but has no Web site. Taking time out to go and talk to the people that you’re writing for or who are going through similar struggles helps underline needs you may have forgotten were there.

Take A Shower: Or go run. Or go shopping. Or see a movie. Or read a book. Something that gets you away from what you’re doing and frees up your mind. I’ll tell you a secret – my best blog ideas come from when I’m in bed or when I’m in the shower. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve tried to work the problem out on my own…its when I stop trying and let my mind go to whether it goes when I’m not actively engaged in something that the answer or the perfect angle reveals itself. I fought with my post on Is Google Moving In The Wrong Direction for three days before I finally went to go play in the snow and it wrote itself. The mind is a silly, silly thing.

So much of blogging is about ‘developing the habit’ that its important that bloggers surround themselves with lots of sources of new material. The above represent some of my favorites. Got something better? Share it in the comments.

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