12 Ways To Mine Your Own Mind For Content Ideas
Got writer's block? Not sure what to do for your next blog post? Columnist Stoney deGeyter discusses his simple yet effective tactics for repurposing content.
Ever feel like you’ve said everything there is to say about your area of expertise? I’ve been in the web marketing industry since 1998 and have written thousands of blog posts, countless tweets, multiple ebooks and even published a full length book on web marketing.
After all that, I am often amazed that I have anything left to say on the topic! And, quite frankly, sometimes I don’t. I reach a point where writer’s block has set in and I just can’t think of anything new to say.
You can find any number of blog posts that will tell you how to break writer’s block. Usually, you’ll get a number of good ideas, such as keeping notes and writing down thoughts so you always have a treasure trove of ideas to refer back to. But guess what? Sometimes, the idea itself isn’t enough to get you writing — you still have to flesh that idea out. And that’s often a bigger problem than not having the idea itself.
So if coming up with something new — even from an existing idea — seems like an insurmountable chore, perhaps it’s time to go back to something old. In fact, I have found that the single best source of new content is what I’ve already written in the past.
Hang with me here. I’m not talking about regurgitating old posts, but rather mining your mind (content you’ve already spent a good deal of time investing in) to produce a variety of new content for your audience. There’s no sense in wasting the ideas, thoughts and content that your mind has already produced.
But instead of doing content reruns (i.e., publishing the same content again and again), the goal is to generate a complete and total content reboot. This is your chance to make old content you’ve already produced newer, more exciting and better than the first time around.
Following are 12 ideas for how to reboot your old content into something new:
1. 2008 Called And Wants To Donate Its Blog Posts
Okay, so maybe I am talking about regurgitating old blog posts a little. When my thought generation is low, I’ll often go back to old blog posts that I wrote years ago and look for something worthy of an update. But instead of reading the post and tweaking, changing or adding a few things, I do a full-on re-write of the entire post.
Basically, I’m using my original writing as the jump-off point. I take the overall concept and rework it start to finish. Sometimes, I’ll try to stay on the same path as the original article; other times, I’ll just let the writing go wherever it takes me.
By the time I’m done, there are very few similarities between what I started with and what I ended up with. In fact, quite often, I get so far away from my original content idea that I can mine the same blog post again (without straying so far off the path the second time). Now that’s a real goldmine!
Quite frequently, I’ll look for a blog post series that can be combined into a single mega post today. Or even the opposite, I’ll find a mega blog post from way back and perhaps break that up into a series of shorter posts.
Either way, I’m doing something significantly different from what I’ve done previously, and the new content is completely fresh and updated.
2. Cool Comment, Tell It In A Blog
A good portion of a solid social media strategy should include commenting on other blog posts. You should always be looking for opportunities to add your feedback and insight to other people’s articles.
Not all your comments are worthy of turning into full-length blog posts, but sometimes you just get so invested in providing a thorough answer that you realize, “Hey, I should blog this.”
Again, you don’t want to take your comment verbatim and republish it on your own blog. What you do instead is use that comment as a base for fleshing out a complete blog post on the topic. If you want, you can mention the original post that sparked the idea, but that’s not entirely necessary. In fact, just let the blog post stand on its own, and most people will be none the wiser.
3. It’s Just A 600-Word Tweet
Have you ever found that 140 characters just isn’t enough to get your point across? Happens to me all the time. And while Twitter isn’t designed to be a blog post, that tweet can often produce a flurry of thoughts and ideas that can easily be fleshed out into different types of content.
Remember, every blog post doesn’t have to be 600-900 words. There are a lot of other ways to present content. Even a short, 300-word blog post can be valuable to your audience.
Go back and mine your old tweets to see if there is anything there that sparks an idea or passion about which you know you have more to add.
4. Reduce & Simplify
On the flip side of that, you can take something you’ve written and transform it into a series of educational tweets. Go back and review your old blog posts and see if you can take out some key thoughts and concepts. Reduce those down to 140 characters or less, and you have yourself some great tweets.
While you won’t want to link each tweet back to the originating posts, it’s okay to do that on occasion. But for the most part, each tweet can and should stand on its own. Use a tool such as Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule these tweets so your Twitter stream is lined up with useful and helpful tweets that your audience loves.
Not only can you do this from blog posts, but you can do the same from presentations that you’ve given that perhaps nobody else was around to tweet about. Ebooks that you’ve written make some good fodder for this as well. It’s all about pulling out good nuggets of information and using them (again) for a hungry audience.
5. Say It Again, Just With Fewer Words This Time
One of my favorite things to do is to find blog posts that were recently published and break them down into several mini-posts of 200-400 words. This is similar to taking old posts and turning them into a series; however, the point here isn’t to have a series of posts but rather a handful of standalone posts focused on a much narrower point.
This post is a perfect example. Each of the 12 points here can each be turned into a blog post of a few hundred words. While this version outlines 12 ways to reuse existing content, I can make 12 mini posts, each one rewritten, but focused on only one of the points noted here.
Since each post will have a different title, I’m sure to get different readers for each one, and many (if not most) of those will not have seen this post first. Even if they have, the content will be rewritten enough that they’ll see the similarities (read: reinforcement) but it won’t be a regurgitation of the same content.
6. Say It, Don’t Just Write It
I spend a lot of time putting together presentations and speaking. I really like taking presentations that I’ve given and turning them into blog posts. My presentations are very visual, so this gives me a lot of great, ready-made visuals for my blog post.
What I have also noticed is that even if I give the same presentation multiple times, it’s different each time. I come up with different illustrations and examples. My slides are just my highlights and I speak off the cuff from there.
So, when I go to write my blog post, I’m writing something similar to but also very different from what I tend to say during my presentation. Sure, I’ll use a lot of the same examples — but by the end, the presentation is very different from the post itself.
I’ve found that one presentation can often turn into not just one, but multiple blog posts. I’ve gone as far as creating a blog post from each slide, but that can be overkill. Usually, I’ll use 4-6 slides for each post. That’s great content with built-in visuals to boot.
7. Is There An Audio Version Of That?
Similarly, I’ll also look for opportunities to turn my blog posts into presentations. When I’m asked to speak at any event, one of the first things I do is to troll through my old blog posts to see what I have already written that is relevant for the audience. I can almost always find something that I can use, at least for an idea starting point, if not for the bulk of the entire presentation.
What gets really crazy is when you have a blog post that you turn into a presentation, and then it gets translated back into a blog post. Yes, I’ve done it before, and you’d be surprised at how different each one turns out to be. It’s all great content, just written differently for different people.
(Side note: This blog post is likely to be coming to a workshop, seminar or conference near you!)
8. Can You Put That Into Pictures?
If you have a great, fact-filled blog post, or one with a lot of small tidbits of information, that information can often be easily translated into an infographic. An infographic is really nothing more than a visual way to convey your information.
If you were to take a blog post, boil each point down to its bare essentials and then find a visual way to illustrate those points, you’d have yourself an infographic. Of course, you need a good designer that can put the information together in a visually pleasing format, but all the same, you are presenting your information in a totally unique way.
The downside of infographics is that the time from concept to publishing is often long, and they do get a bit expensive (assuming you outsource the design). But people love these visual formats, so it’s a great way to present information to an audience that might not have read your post.
9. What’s Good For Them Is Good For Others, Too
Have you ever written an email answering a question that turned out to be a pretty strong tutorial or how-to? I have. And I hate when I take so much time writing something like that and feel like it’s only going to be seen by one person.
If you can take that email and strip any personal or identifying information, you’ve got yourself the makings of a great blog post. Sure, you might have to add an introduction or conclusion to it, and maybe even flesh things out a bit more, but the meat of the idea has already been written.
10. That’s Too Good Not To Share
As a web marketer, I get paid to develop strategies for my clients — but I also “give away” a fair share of my thoughts and ideas in blog posts such as this one. It’s not too much of a stretch to take strategies developed for clients and tweak them so they are good for the masses.
Most strategies are born out of our knowledge and experience, but sometimes there are things that can only be specifically applied to one client. Don’t let that keep you from using it as an example of sorts. That may be just the spark someone needs to create an adapted version of the strategy for themselves.
For those of you who might object to having something you paid for published for free to everyone else, just remember that everything we write stems from our existing knowledge and experience. That experience comes, in large part, from doing the very work we get paid to do. It’s not too much different than a doctor publishing the solution to a problem they had with a particular patient or a builder publishing a picture of something they did after faced with a unique challenge.
11. Not Just Another Greatest Hit Collection
If you’ve ever thought about writing a book, a good place to start is with old blog posts. Those posts can make great fodder for putting together a full-length book for publishing.
Let me throw this out there, though: Don’t just regurgitate your blog posts into a book and try to publish that. A common theme of this blog post is to use old content as a jumping off point, not to simply throw the same content out there over and over again. This is even more important with a book. If you do nothing but rehash old blog posts, you’re not providing any new value to your readers.
Instead, use blog posts to develop ideas for chapters and content. There is nothing wrong with using a lot of the same content, but new content will need to be written as introductions, conclusions, and filling in the gaps between posts that have had chunks of information edited and rearranged.
Books are very hard to write, but starting with what you’ve already written gets you almost 50% completed or more. That’s not a bad place to start.
12. It’s Okay To Talk About Yourself, Too
The readers you get on your blog are largely not the same people who will be visiting your website. The hope is that your blog posts turn into website traffic, but the vast majority won’t.
Your website itself contains a wealth of information that you can use to help your readers get to know you a little better. Whether it’s information from your “About Us” pages or content that talks about what sets you apart, creating blog posts from that information allows people to get to know you in ways they otherwise wouldn’t.
Remember, it’s okay to talk about yourself every now and then on your blog. Feel free to profile products, services or team members — it’s all fair game. Just don’t make that content the bulk of your blog. Most of your blog posts should be about giving your visitors valuable information they can use, and you can’t do that if you only talk about yourself.
Final Thoughts: It’s A Different Audience Every Time
One of the biggest bonuses of mining your existing content and repurposing it is that each time you publish content in a different format or medium, you’re speaking to a largely different audience. The same people that read your blog won’t always get a chance to hear you speak.
Similarly, those that read your full-length blog posts won’t see (or realize) that the shorter versions of each point are from the same source. To them, it just reinforces something they’ve already read. Consider it a bonus that your name is associated with the original idea and the reinforcement.
Every piece of content has an opportunity to attract different people. The title and medium of each will pull from different pools of people, which means that when you mine your own content, you’re reaching a much larger audience with a minimal amount of additional work. That’s working smarter, not harder.
They say a mind is a terrible thing to waste, and I agree. If you already spent a great deal of time thinking through an idea or concept, share the wealth a little. Don’t waste an opportunity to let someone else have a piece of your mind as well.