What do you blog about when you don’t know what to blog about?
If you’ve asked that question, you’re not alone. Running out of ideas for blog topics is one of the primary reasons business blogs die. In fact, one study found that 19 percent of blogs fail for lack of fresh content ideas.
Yet you still see prolific business blogs churning out regular posts, seemingly with little effort. How do they do it?
In this episode we’re going to let you in on their secrets for finding blog topic ideas and creating a variety of blog posts that your customers and prospects want to read.
- The key to developing a “content creation” mindset in your business
- 13 pieces of existing content you can repurpose into blog posts
- Leveraging SWOT analysis to identify customer pain points to blog about
- Where to find customer FAQs for blog fodder
- 11 types of blog posts you can add to your content mix
011: What to Blog About When You Don’t Know What to Blog About
Show notes and resources
Writing with Verve on the Blogging Journey by Jayme Soulati
Get rid of ‘dead blog syndrome’ once and for all John: Hello, and thanks for joining us today for another episode of the Heart of Marketing podcast. I'm John Gregory Olson, with my always sassy cohost, Jayme Soulati. Jayme: Yeah. He's a Greek-Canadian. So imagine the combo. Greek-Canadian, happy Greek-Canadian, and he started a company called Ace Funeral Products, because he wanted to import caskets from China and make sure that people had an option for cheap. John: I guess you could say that he's burying the competition.
Jayme: Today I just feel like laughing because I don't know why. It's freezing here. I would laugh.
John: Jayme, laugh and the whole world laughs with you.
Jayme: At least they don't laugh at me, but they may, because everybody knows I'm crazy. So John, I'm so excited. I'm laughing in advance of what I got to share today. So I can't wait to jump in. How's everyone?
John: Well, why don't you just do that?
Jayme: I can't wait. John, as you know, we've been trying to open up the show with something humorous lately. It doesn't take much for me to laugh, but I got to find something that makes everybody else laugh. But we're not going to know it because we can't see it or hear it. So they can just hear me giggle. We've been talking about Facebook legacy. It was kind of a funny topic because it was about when you die, what do you do with your Facebook posts? We did that in episode 9?
John: Yes, I think it was episode 9.
Jayme: Episode 9 is a mini cast on Facebook legacy contacts. It's all about when you pass into another world and you go to realm up high, ecetera, who handles your social media assets and your content and blah, blah, blah. Well, guess what? Today, I was reading Business Week, and a story showed up. Guess what it is? "Rest in Peace for Less: An Entrepreneur Takes on Big Casket." You know what this guy's doing in Las Vegas?
John: Is it like [inaudible 00:02:04]?
Because apparently, if you dive into the funeral home business, it is big dang business. It's like a monopoly by three big, huge companies. So these guys were not too happy when this little up-start came in and started importing Chinese caskets. I think I have to look through this article really quick, but you know, caskets are a $1.6 billion business in the U.S., John? I know, why would you? The average funeral costs people $6,400.
John: Yeah, I did know that. It's not a joke.
Jayme: Now you know what the biggest competition is for caskets? Guess.
John: I would guess it's cremation.
Jayme: It is cremation. In fact, cremation has been going up 43% in 2012, and it's expected to rise. I'm not kidding. I'm sure that people just don't want to deal with this whole [inaudible 00:03:15]. But back to this Chinese casket, here's the funniest thing ever. He said, "Well, let's say your next door neighbor dies and the family buys a casket online, and they put mom in a casket and take four steps up the stairs for the ceremony and mom falls out the bottom."
John: Oh! What? That happened?
Jayme: [inaudible 00:03:35].
John: Is that part of their advertising?
Jayme: They're "what if-ing."
John: Oh, that's what you call appealing to people's fear, right? That's an old copyrighting trick.
Jayme: At the end of the day, it's just a box with a quilt, is what they're all talking about here. This poor guy, I guess he went into a big lawsuit. He was trying to get his sales boosted again. He was importing these caskets on container ships from China, and just really trying to make big bucks. I don't know, John. But that's a great segue to today's topic, right?
[sound effect, rim shot]
Jayme: Way to go, John. John, isn't this a great segue to start our topic today?
John: it is, because we are going to continue talking about beating dead blog syndrome. Today, we're going to look at the area of developing content for your blog. It's called the care and feeding of your business blog. How’s that for a segue?
Jayme: I like it.
John: What we're going to talk about is what to blog about, where to find ideas, what types of posts you can create to keep your blog fresh. That should fill out our whole 30 minutes right there.
Jayme: Why are we qualified to talk about this topic?
John: I read a book about it once.
Jayme: Was it the book I wrote?
John: No, I didn't know you wrote a book on blogging.
Jayme: I wrote a book on blogging. As a matter of fact, I titled it so wrong, it was ridiculous. It was one of my lessons from the trenches. I called it "Writing with verve on the blogging journey." It's probably still on Amazon somewhere. I literally self-published the book. And actually, you know what? Aha! I have an idea. On the fly, I've got an idea. If anybody listens to this podcast and you want a copy of Writing with Verve on the Blogging Journey, by Jayme Soulati, just put a comment in any blog post you see about this episode, and I will send you a book. Here's what the book is. It's three years of compiled blog topics on the topic of blogging.
John: But you gotta add that it's blogging.
Jayme: I had to use that word in a title, and nobody wants to buy the book because it's writing with verve. Who wants to write with verve?
John: Well, I do.
Jayme: I know. I thought that was a cool word. I wrote the book on how to blog. This was back in the early days. So that's why I'm qualified to talk about blogging. And by the way, John's an award winning blogger. I'm an award winning blogger, and I've been blogging for five years. So I think we're qualified.
John: We've been doing this for a while, and I just love to learn and I continue to learn as I blog. Actually, for me, blogging is like a free education for me. Because anything I write about, I have to learn more deeply. That's one of the hidden benefits of blogging.
Jayme: I want to say something about John's style versus my style. They're very .., quite different writing styles. For me, you've probably gathered in this podcast if you've been listening at all. Our styles are definitely different. John is the most amazing long form bloggers I have ever read. When he gets into a topic, he'll dive in to 1,000 to 1,200 words in a heartbeat.
John: I just can't help myself. I can't shut up. I just keep going and going.
Jayme: It's such a wonderful... I mean, I love how you write. You're so brilliant at it. And me, on the other hand, I'll take a headline out of the Wall Street Journal or something I've read, and I'll just whip up a blog post and get it done as fast as I can. A stream of conscience, and I won't do a ton of research, but I'll have tips at the end or I'll act poetic about my opinion inside, about whether I agree or disagree. And then throw a few links in it and then I'm done. I can do that in 20 minutes. I don't want to spend a lot of time in a blog post, because I don't have that time. John's way of versus my way, I guess you have to find your comfort level, right?
John: Yeah, and there's definitely more than one way to approach creating your content. We are a perfect example of that. Folks, if you can just try to imagine what's it's like when Jayme and I brainstorm about topics. Wow.
Jayme: Tell me about that experience, John. You're ready to go, "Bam! I gotta shoot myself now."
John: No, it's good. We've got a perfect balance.
Jayme: I have to agree. Take us away, John. Get us into the topic.
John: All right. We're going to get right into it here. As I mentioned in our last podcast episode, we introduced the idea of dead blog syndrome. I shared a few stats with you about why blogs die. One of the stats, I'm going to revisit, because it has a direct impact on what we're going to talk about today. That is one of the reasons that business blogs just kind of fade after they launch, is that 19% of business bloggers said that they just run out of ideas. This is according to a study by pesol.net, which we will have a link to in the show notes. But that's one of the biggest challenges, is running out of ideas. What do I write about? We thought that would be a good topic to touch on today. The first part of that is we want to give you some ideas on where to find topics to blog about, what should you write about.
Jayme: It sounds great. I think before we jump into that, we have in the past covered blogging as a topic on a few other podcasts prior to this one, and a lot of what we will say repetitively is strategic planning. That's one of John's favorite things to say. So I stole your thunder, buddy.
John: That's okay. You didn't steal anything. That's public domain.
Jayme: That's awesome. So it's really, really quick. [inaudible 00:09:26] those issues. But plan your blog with objectives, business schools, your audience, who you're writing for, why you're writing for them, and what you want to accomplish, essentially. That's why you're blogging.
John: Exactly. Those are your building blocks right there. You know, Jayme, on that subject, I think it was on the last episode I mentioned the SWOT analysis that you do for your marketing planning. That stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. And one of the benefits of that, having gone through that exercise, is that you can refer back to it when you're trying to find topics to blog about. In particular, you've done the brain work of looking at your situations in your market, in your business, in your competition and everything. And you can leverage that by looking at the challenges that affect your target audience, and what are the solutions that you have to offer and turn those into topics.
A lot of these things that you want to be focused on, start with your audience. What do they need, what do they want, what are their concerns, what are their fears, and those kinds of things. And then extending out from that, would be a good starting point for coming up with topics. Related to that, is your most frequently asked questions that you get. You might have an FAQ location on your website. If you don't, you probably want to get one. But you can also gather up what your most frequently asked questions are by talking to your employees who have the most interaction with customers, and find out what are they saying, what are they asking about, what are the most common questions that you're hearing from them. And then, start blogging about them and answer those questions.
Jayme: So John, here's something that we should throw out. You have a relationship with the chiropractor where you live. And for example, if I were a professional services provider, as a lawyer, chiropractor, a doctor, whomever, an accountant, a financial planner, all of the people in those industries are service oriented. And so much of what can be blogged about, are educational topics. For example, chiropractor is pretty much... In my view, one who has never been to a chiropractor, I don't really quite get or understand the skill or the professionalism or what actually happens in chiropractic. For me, as a prospect, because when you look at a blog's audience, consider them as your customers or your prospects. So you might have existing customers reading your blog, or you might have those who might be interested in your services reading your blog, or your peers, as well, in your market. You want to be authoritative. And developing authoritative content is really describing what it is you do very well.
John: Yes, it is. And it's also really simple things, like a customer who's never used your service before, might want to know, "What happens the first time I talk to you? What can I expect? How much does this cost?" Those really simple questions that a lot of businesses try to shy away from, you can't really do that anymore. It used to be that you could mask that price discussion and hopefully get somebody in your office, and then you start talking about price. The rules have changed so much. With digital, now people want to go find answers before they talk to somebody. And so you've got to think about all of those types of things that they're going to ask about doing business with you before they even want to talk to you.
Jayme: You know, that's true. And here's something that I wish someone would hire me for. I wish that I would get hired to write a blog about colonoscopy. Not that I want to write about that, but here's why. Because everybody reaches a point in life where they are supposed to.
John: You're just bringing up all kinds of comfortable topics today.
Jayme: Let me finish. Because everybody's freaking out on me right now.
John: I'm sorry.
Jayme: Gosh! Really, dude? Come on. Because look it. There's such confusion. Everyone is supposed to have this baseline procedure done. If your parents had colon cancer, then you need it sooner, blah, blah, blah. Well, not about the procedure itself, it's about the price. Because right now, there are so many people not getting a colonoscopy when they should - I won't say who in this room - because of the price. If you're self employed as a small business owner like I am, the insurance is exorbitant. The scary price that I've seen put as a price tag, the sticker price on these procedures freaks me out. So I am not going to go. So is that bad or is that good? I don't know. I'm protecting my pocket book for my health.
I'm not sure. Do you see what I'm saying, John? The blog topic would be... If I could find, did my research, and there's somebody local talking about this topic and, "Hey, we work with people who have high deductibles." I don't know. Why can't somebody do that? What's wrong with doing that and bringing in a customer or two? At least, I would take a call to action now and make a phone call. I would say, "I saw your blog post. Tell me more about this because I'm very intrigued." I think people need to be a little bit more aggressive with their content, and like you said, John, sticking your neck out a little bit more about these topics that people have normally been gun shy about.
John: That's very true. You know who is a proponent of that, Jayme, is Marcus Sheridan. Because his story is really built on that. He's a marketing consultant now, but he started out in the pool sales business. Pool guy, yeah. And his story is really great. It's about how he really built up his business in a down economy, through content marketing. He is an advocate of answering every single question that a customer may have. You're talking ultimate transparency here. It means price. And he even advocates writing on your website who your ideal customers are, so that you can just weed them out. This is who I do business with, this is who I can help. And if it's not you, then maybe you need to find someone else. That's kind of a radical approach.
Jayme: I know Marcus very well. I've seen him speak, and I know that he's said in his webinars. I've met him at Social Slam, and he's a good guy. The thing is, he was a very early proponent of Hubspot. He was almost a Hubspot poster child. And he used that digital inbound marketing approach and strategy for his single owner company to really create a multi-gazillion dollar company. I don't know the number, and I just threw out gazillion because that sounded really good. He became extremely successful, and he's been very transparent about sharing that success. Then, his blogs became one of the most well read around this sphere. So yeah, absolutely. Great example, John.
John: There is one other thing that I wanted to talk to people about in terms of where you can find things to write about for your blog, and that is the content that you already have. A lot of people don't even think about what they have existing, but you can repurpose a lot of the marketing and communication material you have floating around the office into blog posts. What I'm talking about is if you have done any research, you've done any reports, or white paper type of things, look at that, look at your sales collateral and your brochures. And if you've done presentations, either at industry trade shows or if you do them for customer presentations, look at what you have captured there from doing all of that work. And once you capture all of that - and there's many other things: in your advertising, your direct mail, your press releases - do a thorough exam of what you've done, both internal communications and external communication. Pull it all together and have a look at what you've already created. That'll really help you get a jump start on turning that into fodder for your blog.
Jayme: On that note, too, if you're suffering from dead blog syndrome or somebody left your company, who used to manage the blog, for example, assign a fresh committee, I think everybody's interested in being a contributor to a blog, and essentially, you just have to find the nuggets. If you get a descent writer on your staff who can cultivate the connections within the departments throughout a company, or be on top of what news is being generated, that's all fodder for blog posts.
John: That's so huge, Jayme. That's a really great point. That comes back to what I think we talked about in the last show, about having an editorial board. Because there's strength in numbers, two heads are better than one, and five heads are better than two. You get more ideas and you've got more people looking around ...
Jayme: Less of a cultural thing. I actually read something today. I don't know remember where it was. Gosh, so much clutter on my desk. It's more of a train your people to be oriented to content, to think differently about what may or not be news. They won't know out of the gate what's news and what's not, but if you train your department leaders to be oriented to, "Oh, my gosh, we just bought this massive piece of equipment that's going to improve work flow 50%," well, that is news and that's worthy of a blog post, believe it or not. And it also makes your competitors freak out a little bit because you're taking a lead in the market.
John: That's right. Did you have any other recommendations, Jayme, on that piece of what to write about and where to find ideas?
Jayme: Yes, I do. If you are at all connected to SlideShare. I absolutely love SlideShare. I'm a member and I've put up a bunch of presentations. It's where you put up your PowerPoints. And back in the day, people used to be extremely afraid of putting up their PowerPoint presentations because they were afraid somebody would steal the content. And then Slidex evolved to be just one word on a slide, and nobody know what slide really said. And it even evolved further to be very visual and crazy. I love surfing SlideShare with topics to see what people are writing about or presenting about. More often than not, I'll get 10 blog post ideas off SlideShare, from my peers or from industries that I'm interested in. So that is a brilliant place to go surfing as well. And of course, industry newsletters, while you might get a ton of them in your box, for sure if you are in a vertical market where you're specializing and you get to specialize, sign up for your industry newsletters and see what they are blogging about and you can do a different take.
Nobody says you have to conform to what's being stated in your industry or by what our competitors are saying. You can take a different opinion or perspective, and write about it. So there are many different styles of presenting topics. One final thing, John, I would like to add, is Triberr. John and I are members of Triberr. I was involved with Triberr from the get-go when it was an infant back in the very long time ago. I've seen it grow, and very proud of Dino Dogan and Dan for what they've done to Triberr. I think they just acquired a company, actually, too, which is huge news. Triberr is a blog community for bloggers. If you have a blog, go to Triberr, become a member - it's free - and put your rss feed into Triberr, and your blog post will automatically feed into the Triberr stream. But you have to join a community, a tribe. If you want to join a tribe, I'll invite you to mine. Let me know.
John: I didn't know you had a tribe.
Jayme: I have about five of them. I think I'm a member of 35 tribes, which is crazy over-tribed. I'm over-tribed. Like I said, I've been around for a long time.
John: Well, we should talk after the show, because I don't think I'm a member of any of your tribes.
Jayme: No kidding? I don't think we are. Goodness sakes.
John: We should be.
Jayme: See what we learn out of this podcast? The point is when you're surfing for something to write about, look at what others are writing about on Triberr, and don't write about what they're writing on Triberr.
John: That's a different topic entirely.
Jayme: Let's just explain that. It's called the echo chamber. Do not write into the echo chamber. Do not write what everybody else is writing because you think you should, but look and see what they're writing about and do a different take on it, perhaps if it's very interesting to you.
John: Yeah. Especially if you can orient it towards your target audience. Most of the time you can get little nuggets from what somebody else is writing, and then think about it in terms of how my audience will be interested in this.
Jayme: Absolutely. Yeah. I just read. For me, getting ideas about what to write about is just about reading and scanning. My years in PR and agencies, I've been trained that way. So I won't read anything word for word, but I'm scanning at least 10 to 12 different things a day fodder for my clients, or something that sticks me for the podcast, or a blog post. I'm old fashioned; I tear out things and mark them up as I read. I like to read hard print.
John: I do, too. I love that. It's great.
Jayme: I think we're getting ahead of ourselves, John. We should just stop while we're ahead.
John: Okay. We're back for the last segment of the program today. And we're going to talk about some ideas for different types of blog posts, just to kind of help you get your juices flowing for how you can write different kinds of posts that will bring your blog to life. I know Jayme's got a lot of ideas; I do, too. We can probably do one whole show just on this, but we'll pair it back for just one segment, just to get you started.
Jayme: John, I wonder if we should just do a quick, what do you think of a spew? If we each just take an idea and throw it out, and we go back and forth and see if we can name as many as we possible can.
Jayme: Okay. How about a list post?
John: A list post? Yeah, they're great. They're easy to consume people like lists because they're linear and there is the sense of completion at the end of reading one. They're very powerful. Another one is the "how to post" that are a tutorial. We touched on that a little bit, but the purpose is just to give useful and helpful information.
Jayme: I love the interview, the interview where you can feature a person from your space, or a competitor, or a leader in your space, and do an interview with that person. That is very powerful.
John: It's a great way of showing off your thought leadership. Another one that comes to mind for me would be checklists. It's kind of an off shoot of "how to," but it's more specific and tactical if they're a cheat sheet, or a checklist, anything that's designed to help make the audience's life easier.
Jayme: I want to throw out this series. I did, for one year, a whole year, the "Happy Friday Series." And I invited people to write posts and I got, probably... How many did I get? Forty? I might have gotten 40 people to guest posts every Friday without me having to write anything. It was very rewarding and very successful. What it did, was it brought people to my blog. And everybody shared it, too. Everybody was very interested to see who was being featured that day. I didn't tell anybody until that morning. Once I ran out of guest posts, guest authors to invite - I got really tired of tracking people down - I decided to flip it around and thank everybody for writing for the whole year. I featured them again, and thanked them, and featured their links into social channels and their websites. It did run for a year and it was a lot of work, but highly rewarding.
John: A lot of possibilities with doing series. You can break it down by a topic, for example, blogging. We're doing a series on blogging for our podcast. You could easily do something like that on your blog as well.
Jayme: I think, too, John, a counterpoint, it's really neat to see debate style on the blog. If you're in a company, there's got to be somebody who holds a different opinion than what you do, or what your CEO does, or something to that effect. Or maybe you take an article written by a media, a trade journal, and do a debate based on what was stated in the paper.
John: Another type of post that is similar to that but not exactly controversial, but it's doing a roundup, an expert roundup. Pick a topic that is of interest to your audience and gather together little blurbs from a number of industry experts, just complile it and turn it into a post.
Jayme: Perfect. That works very well. And I think obviously the most popular one ever is the tips sheet. You can do seven tips, seven ways, ten ways. It's always three quick tips on blah. And any time you see a headline with 10 ways, three ways, 12 ways, those are highly popular. Because it's a quick read. People want a bulleted list. It's like list post but it's a little bit different. But yeah, tips are always phenomenal. And very easy to write, actually.
John: As you hear us listing these out, you can see the potential for combining some of these ideas as well. Like that list-post, combining tips with a list. You've got a variation.
Jayme: Do you have another one, John?
John: I do. Reviews are very popular. Either product reviews, or book reviews, or anything that is related to your industry that your audience might be interested in, just doing a review of a product.
Jayme: That's neat. And that kind of segues into mine nicely. I am a big proponent of using a news release that you publish online to an online news distribution center but also to media. You can use the news release and refashion it into a blog post. And you should. You should archive your news releases in your news center, but you should also make a blog post out of that news release as well.
John: One more that I have on my list. This one, you gotta be careful with, but it can be very powerful for engaging your audience. And that is to do a commentary. Take a controversial position on something. And you want to do it in a way that it won't blow up in your face and turn into a PR nightmare. But it's a great way of getting people engaged in the topic, getting comments, getting interest, building interest in your blog.
Jayme: I love that. I wonder if this one I'm going to share is my last one. It's crowd-sourcing. If you are at all doing a new product development campaign and you don't have a name, or a color, or a label, or a logo, or some tagline, you can crowd source on your blog. And you can get people to do to it on Facebook, but you can do it on your blog post for sure. Actually, you can go to Facebook, put up the questions, see who writes in with comments, and then go back to your blog and write about the comments you got and then give it more legs. Crowd sourcing is a wonderful free way to get input about something you're launching, or an interest your company may have and you're not sure about. That's actually an advanced blogging technique once you have a bunch of folks as your audience and you know people are going to be reading. I would use that technique with more readership.
John: I just thought of one more, Jaymie. This one, I think, is a good one for small and mid-sized companies, but any size organization can do. That is curating. Curating is taking a piece of work that somebody else has produced and then adding your commentary to it. So you're adding value. You might find something that was written. Jaymie referenced earlier a piece that somebody has written on that you want to respond to. It may not be a counterpoint, it just may be that you have something more to add to the subject. And it's perfectly acceptable to do that. It's a great way to help fortify your overall content strategy.
Jayme: You made me think of one more. I think the rant. There are often times you'll see a rant on a blog. And it has to be very well done. If you're going to do it, you can't come off so negative that people get turned off by everything. But if you rant, make sure that you have key points that are researched and you feel strongly about. But you come off kind of emotionally neutral, if you can, instead of just always angry and volatile. Because people love a great rant, but it's also an advanced blogging technique. The rant can be targeted at an industry decision that you disagree with. Obviously, if you're a small company and you have your own total control over your blog and your content, that is something you can probably manage very well. If you are in another company that has a legal department, I would caution against any rants on your blogs as styles of writing.
John: It will end there in legal. I think we are ready to get to the heart of the matter, Jaymie.
Jayme: Really? I thought we just did all that.
John: No, just to wrap things up.
Jayme: Give us the wrap.
John: We'll do the wrap. I just would boil it down to three things to remember about the subject of what to write about and how to generate content for your blog. The first thing I would say is, try to answer every question that your target audience might have. And the second is, Jaymie pointed this out, develop a content creation mind set all across your company, get everybody involved in thinking about how things can be turned into a blog post as they go about their day. And then the last one, we spent quite a bit of time talking about, repurposing the existing content that you have inside your organization. Those are the three things, Jaymie.
Jayme: I love it. And we're always here. John and I are always available for questions about strategy, or content, or proofing a piece. Whatever you guys need, we're here for you. Let us know.
John: That's right. Well, that's our show for today. Jaymie, do you want to take this home?
Jayme: Go be rock hot, guys. See you soon.
John: Until next time, remember, go for the heart. You won't go wrong.
Presenter: Thanks for listening to the Heart of Marketing podcast, with Jaymie Soulati and John Gregory Olson. Don't miss our next program. Subscribe to the Heart of Marketing podcast today.
John: Hello, and thanks for joining us today for another episode of the Heart of Marketing podcast. I'm John Gregory Olson, with my always sassy cohost, Jayme Soulati.
Jayme: Yeah. He's a Greek-Canadian. So imagine the combo. Greek-Canadian, happy Greek-Canadian, and he started a company called Ace Funeral Products, because he wanted to import caskets from China and make sure that people had an option for cheap.
John: I guess you could say that he's burying the competition.