Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Finding Ideas for Your Business Blogs

I write a daily blog on integration for IT Business Edge, a blog site aimed at business and technology leaders. As part of my job, I interview an expert or leader from the technology integration space; usually, it's someone who works with a vendor or an analyst.

Recently, I interviewed a VP who also occasionally wrote a blog. "How do you come up with so many topics on integration," he asked.

It's actually a funny question coming from this guy, whose company offers solutions in almost all the areas I cover. Here he is, literally making a living doing integration every day, and he's questioning how I manage to come up with so many blog posts? I should be asking him for ideas!

When you're a professional writer, you've got only two choices: Learn to generate writing ideas very quickly or find another line of work. Looking for new angles on old ideas quickly becomes part of how you view the world.

I think that's one reason non-writers struggle with blogs and social media. It's easy enough to start a blog or Twitter feed, whether for personal expression or business. But if you want to keep people interested, you have to keep posting fresh content, and that's the real challenge online.

How can you find new fodder for your feeds? Here are a few tricks that help keep me blogging when I can't think of anything to say:

Use customer questions. When a customer or client asks you a question - even a weird one - you can bet someone else somewhere is wondering the same thing. Turn your response into content. The best candidates for posts will be the questions you answer most frequently, but the oddball questions and comments will give you fodder for those slow days.

Topics Delivered to Your Inbox. One of Google's most useful, but least used, functions is Google Alerts, which is a customized search Google delivers to your inbox as it happens, once a day or once a week. It's listed as a beta tool, but it's actually been around for years. You can set up as many as you like. I have Google Alerts set up for things like "data integration," "cloud integration," and even my name. Google Alerts can be set up based on news, blogs, video or everything. It's also a great way to find out if other blogs are mentioning your content. The only thing about Google Alerts is they can overwhelm your inbox, so if you set up a lot of them, set up your your inbox to automatically divert Alerts to a separate folder.

Scan Social Networks. Social networking sites aren't just a place for you to push your opinion - they're also a great resource for learning about new topics, issues and gaining new insights - which, in turn, can be fodder for your own posts. Facebook is an excellent place to find something to respond to, particularly if you're running a political or family blog, but it can also be useful for businesses. People are always posting links, videos or problems that may spark an idea - and the more you vary who's in your friend group, the better your chance of finding a muse or two. Try searching Twitter or following hashtags to see what others are saying in real time about hot topics of the day. Just reading tweets by people who share your interests - whether personal or professional - can be a great way to jump start your brain for writing. You can also find business-related content topics by joining relevant groups on LinkedIn.

A Picture is Worth a 1000 Posts. One way to keep content fresh without writing every single day is to use one day to post a picture or a favorite quote or a quick tip. Many bloggers have "Wordless Wednesdays" where they simply post a picture. Of course, it should be a photo you take - perhaps of a really cool new product or an employee doing something fun. If all else fails, post a picture of a cat. People online love cats.

Show Some Link Love. Even if you don't have anything to say, someone else usually does. Now, it is NOT okay to copy that post as your own. But you can turn it into a post by paraphrasing a key point - or two, if it's a long piece -- add your own comments and then send readers to the original piece. You can also use this as an opportunity to reference your older posts. Just say something along the lines of, "Back in April, I talked about ..." and insert a link to your past post. Linking to outside sites provides you with fresh content, boosts your blog's search engine results and can help build your audience, particularly if the other blog returns the favor.

Introduce The Members of the Band. My dad has always played in a band, and at some point during every show, the lead singer or guitarist introduces all the members of the band. Why not do the same on your blog? It's always nice to put a face with the stories, and online this can be a great way to personalize your business for potential customers. Don't just stop with introductions, though. Remember to share encounters where employees provided excellent customer service or handle challenges in creative ways.