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Published May 12th 2014

How To Generate Content Ideas: 6 Tips From Experts

Ever been stuck trying to come up with a really good concept for a piece of content? If you haven’t then I think you’re lying. Content ideation can be incredibly challenging and we’ve all struggled.

I’m not talking about churning out yet-another-rehashed-blog-post, but generating blog post ideas for valuable, unique and highly shareable content that your readers will love. It’s not that easy.

To help with the challenge, I’ve rounded up a mixture of six experts who do this daily and asked them to share their best tips. Whether you’ve just started your blog, or you’ve been doing this for years, there’s bound to be some useful advice below.

In a rush? I’ve summarised each expert’s techniques in a ‘Key takeaways’ section below.

For me, I need my team around me to function at 100%. Trying to create a great content idea all by yourself is difficult and rare. Being able to bounce off of other content ideas and step up on top of lesser ideas makes team creation work.

For the team at we usually think best when we are walking outside in the fresh air. Walking in a group of 3 or 4 isn’t always easy, but it’s always productive. In fact, just walking to lunch sometimes brings great ideas.

For us, the unspoken rule is to just keep moving. There’s never a need to say “that’s a crappy idea”, you just try to improve it with your idea, which in turn gets improved by someone else. A 15 minute walk-around can result in a weeks worth of good ideas.

Key takeaways for teams

  1. Use your team, bounce ideas off each other.
  2. Take a walk to get those creative juices flowing! Movement and fresh air work wonders.
  3. Don’t be overly critical of “bad” ideas. It discourages people from sharing in the future.

The concept of content marketing can vary from company to company that’s why when we need to come up with brilliant content ideas at Brands On Digital, we always bear in mind that when it comes to content, clients don’t normally know what they want. You need to define what the client actually means by content and understand or redefine the content objectives. Being clear on if it is Performance Content or Branded Content is critical to measure success.

Once the objective is clear, we start thinking about the content idea. Something important but that many companies seem to forget is that content is not an ad! To decide what is the most appropriate idea, you always need to think audience first, not brand first. Content should be useful for a specific customer profile, that’s why understanding customers’ needs and wants is so important.

The format of the content (if it will be a video, a widget, an editorial piece…) should be agreed after the content idea has been decided. You shouldn’t let the format limit your content idea. Production and distribution go hand in hand. Your content, even if it’s amazing, won’t travel on its own so plan a solid distribution strategy. Working on a distribution strategy involves thinking not only about the platform(s) where the piece of content will be shared but also about how will it be shared, by who, when… Whenever possible, producing and distributing ‘evergreen content’ instead of seasonal content is recommended as this type of content can be shared over time.

Test and learn is also applicable to content marketing so remember to leave time for this: trying different formats, content ideas, outreaching to different niches… always using your learning from previous campaigns and reference ways to improve on them for the next campaign. Don’t just write down your learning but also share them with all the people involved and go through your learning again when working on the next piece of content.

Key takeaways for strategy

  1. Clients don’t always know what they want! Be clear and ensure you’re agreed on a definition.
  2. Don’t create an advert. Content marketing is a long game and needs to provide value to the audience.
  3. Have a solid distribution strategy in place, even great content needs help getting off the ground.

For new content, I always start with the audience, which for me is marketers. As lot of the topics I write about are marketing focused, I try to generate new ideas or news ways of thinking about the status quo as it relates to marketing and technology. This is easier said than done in an industry saturated with fellows marketers aiming to gain visibility through similar tactics. For success, there has to be a strategy of differentiation to be heard in the same channels as the Hubspot’s and Marketo’s of the world.

Recently, a well-respected marketer Mark Schaefer coined the term “content shock,” or the idea that “exponentially increasing volumes of content intersect our limited human capacity to consume it.” We’re seeing the effects already as Twitter streams and news feeds are constantly churning out new content, with the cream rising to the top. Consequently, the days of easily gaining organic traffic and impressions through mediocrity and repetition are over as there’s only so much space in the search engine results, and only so much time for consumers to choose what to engage with. The bar for success in content marketing has been raised to a new level and will only go up.

To combat this reality, I try to write differently, which often involves answers to questions like,

  • What current and new technologies and strategies can be used in different ways?
  • Has someone already shared this idea, and if so, can I explain it better?
  • Would I as a marketer find value in what I’ve written?

The answers to these questions help me to frame the value of the work being created. The goal is to educate, inform and even entertain the readers, which often takes more investment that just creating another blog post. Aiming to be exceptional helps to me focus on those goals, and incorporate all of the tactics I know to amplify the end results from optimizing the content for shareability, targeting feasible keywords, and pushing the content into channels such as LinkedIn Groups where new readers can be attracted and spark conversations. More often than not, meaningful conversations around content can help to spur the next idea and keep the wheel churning.

Once you can pinpoint the tactics that show success in the engagement metrics, the process becomes repeatable and gains momentum, leading to success.

Key takeaways for uniqueness

  1. Amazon’s motto “Start with the customer and work backwards” comes to mind! Focus on what people want.
  2. Differentiate so don’t get lost in the noise or drowned out by the dominant voices.
  3. Ensure you’re providing value. Would you read it? Educate, inform and entertain.

When generating content ideas, my go to sources are influencers, fans, and a calendar.

It’s important to talk about things other than yourself on social media, so looking at what your influencers are talking about is a good way to gauge what you should be talking about. Influencers are the people who are experts in your field and vocal on social, so who better than to look to as a content compass. I like create Twitter lists and Google+ circles that consist solely of influencers, so I can easily see what they’re talking about.

When creating content that you want your audience to engage with, it’s important to look at what your audience finds important. And better yet, to get them talking about it with you. Asking your audience to answer questions, share photos, give testimonials, etc. is a great source for content. You can use their input for future status updates, visual posts, etc. Not only does that give you fresh content, but it’s also an opportunity to engage with your audience.

Checking out a calendar for special days and awareness months is also a good way to generate content. For example, if you’re an interior designer and you see that it is National Gardening Month, you could tweet a blog about in-home garden ideas. There are many off-the-grid holidays that are content worthy.

And when all else fails, a team brainstorm is the way to go. Bouncing ideas off of teammates with fresh eyes is always helpful.

Key takeaways for audiences

  1. Learn from what the influencers in your industry are saying, and build Twitter lists to stay on top.
  2. Ask the audience! See what they respond to and use the ideas for future posts.
  3. Make content timely. Check a calendar and tie content in with events, however off-the-grid they may seem.

Creating viral content—something that proliferates on the Web via social media shares—has become, for some content marketers and creators, the elusive white whale. But marketing researchers have spent countless hours trying to figure out just what makes some content go viral, allowing those marketers to finally snag their prize.

Jonah Berger, professor at the Wharton School at UPenn and co-author of “What Makes Online Content Viral?,” a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research, says there is a science to viral content. In the study, Berger says that positive content is more likely to go viral than negative content—but it’s more complex than that. Content should not just be positive; it should evoke very strong emotions, whether positive or negative (like anger, anxiety), but stay away from “deactivating” emotions like sadness.

BuzzFeed, the social content behemoth, has even contributed to the research (and they should know, as they have been at the center of viral content for the past few years). Timely, relevant content has a better chance of being shared. Take a look at what is in the news that relates to your brand, and think of an emotionally appealing, current spin. Don’t just repeat what is in the news, however; your content should address an original idea related to it. Building on the concept of powerful emotions, taking the news and involving strong emotions—think the articles that follow the good Samaritans after a natural disaster—can boost the virality of content.

But the most important concept of viral content, according to Berger, is something called social currency. When people share content, the content speaks for them. They want the content to show that they are clever, knowledgeable, or have a good sense of humor. Many people say, “Create content that people want to share,” but there is more to it than that. Create content that people will want to share because it makes them feel better about themselves—whether it’s cooler, smarter, or funnier—for having done so. Quizzes, for instance, have been popping up on Facebook, showing that people really do want their content to reflect who they are.

Key takeaways for timing

  1. There is a science to viral content, but it’s not that simple.
  2. Narcissism drives shares. Understand that people share to reinforce who they are and appear cooler, smarter, or funnier.
  3. Timely and relevant content has a greater chance of being shared.

I use a variety of content creation tools and content curation tools, but the one that I rely on religiously igHome. I started using it after Google shut down iGoogle, which I had used for years as my personalized homepage for all of my RSS feeds. The user interface of igHome closely emulates iGoogle’s interface that I can customize with a variety of feeds and gadgets. It’s currently filled with more than 70 blog feeds that focus on topics relevant to my field and the industries I promote including search marketing, PPC, UX and Conversion Optimization, analytics, web design and development, tech news, destination marketing, WordPress, and so on. You can create tabs to organize your content into categories.

I also use Pocket to save individual blog posts that I may come across but don’t have time to thoroughly read at the time of discovery. And, I set Google Alerts for relevant keywords so that I’m notified of new posts and/or news.

If I’m feeling really stumped for ideas, I’ll turn to Portent’s Content Idea Generator  tool or Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator tool. I also refer to my Google+ and Twitter feeds to see what topics are trending.

Those are my go-to tools and I’ll occasionally find ideas using buffer, klout and and Quora.

Last but not least, is my old school tactic: I keep a notebook by my bed and on my desk for jotting down blog post ideas when they occur to me, so, I won’t forget them!

Key takeaways for tools

  1. Create a personalised homepage with relevant RSS feeds
  2. If you’re really stuck start with the idea generator tools.
  3. You can’t beat a notebook though for quickly jotting down ideas!


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