Last week, I was sitting in front of my computer, drinking a glass of rosé, and letting season one of "Arrested Development" play in the background for the hundredth time. That's the usual setup for my most inspired content creation sessions.
Only, this time, I had nothing to write. It wasn't my typical case of writer's block—when I have a bunch of ideas but can't seem to get them onto the page.
This was different.
It was a feeling that I was too close to the subject—that I had written and read so much on content marketing that everything I thought of sounded like an echo of something I'd already written or read.
What on earth could I contribute that would be new and valuable to others?
Then, I realized I don't have to have all the ideas. I could crowdsource content creation from those who are more qualified to determine what would be valuable to my audience.
Draw on your network's expertise
Crowdsourcing your content is not sending out a tweet asking the world what you should write about. And it's definitely not accepting all the spammy submissions for guest posts from SEO companies offering to pay you $50 to let them publish articles on your blog.
Crowdsourcing is the act of drawing inspiration, ideas, and assistance from those who know more than you about what would be most valuable to your readers.
Here are three parties you should be looking to crowdsource from:
1. Your team
It shouldn't surprise you that your organization collectively possesses an immense amount of knowledge. The hard part is harnessing it in an organized way that allows you to create quality content. For example, we've developed a knowledge bank that allows us to extract, store, and source content from our team of more than 70 people.
Once you have an easy way to store and access this shared knowledge, there are plenty of tools you can use to collect it from your team. Populate your knowledge bank by sending surveys to your team, creating specific channels in Slack (one of those tools) for content ideas, or asking a question in your weekly 15Five (another tool) that prompts your team to generate blog topic ideas.
2. Your clients
Many companies already survey their clients to better understand how they're doing or to find out what new services they might be interested in. But you can also use those surveys to brainstorm topics to write about. For example, we recently sent out a survey to more than 180 of our clients to assess what pain points our company is helping solve for their companies. We used their answers to determine what other issues we can address in our new content.
Avoid directly asking your customers what they'd like to read. Instead, ask what they're struggling with or what they feel like they don't know enough about, then let their comments inform your ideas.
3. Your partners
If your company partners with other companies or organizations, you have a great opportunity for content inspiration. We sent a survey to publications we work with, in an effort to learn what the common trends are in the content they love receiving from us. We used their responses as the basis of a whitepaper, giving insight to others in our industry into what editors are looking for in guest-contributed content.
When surveying clients and partners, make the survey as quick and easy for them to complete as possible. Then, provide something of value in return. When you survey people, they need to be confident that their responses will actually benefit them in some way. In our case, we followed up with action steps on what we were doing to improve in the areas they indicated they needed more support. For the editors we surveyed, we made changes to the content we sent them based on their responses.
Involve industry experts
Here are two specific ways you can harness the content you've collected from your network:
1. Quote industry experts in articles
Journalist Belle Beth Cooper reached out to me recently to ask whether I could provide some input for an article she was working on. She made it incredibly easy for me by sending a Typeform survey and explaining exactly what she needed from me.
She and I don't have a personal relationship—nor do our companies work together (yet)—but I was happy to help because she made it so easy. I'd also read her writing before (it's top-notch), so I knew that if she used my responses it'd be great exposure for our company.
A great way to try this approach with others in your industry is by tweeting people you think would make great sources in an article and asking whether you can send them a few questions via email. You'd be surprised at the response you receive when you take the time to make it easy for them and add value by citing them in an article.
2. Feature industry experts in interviews
We recently started doing audio and written interviews with some big players in content marketing for our blog, and we've absolutely loved the experience. We've spoken with Michael Brenner from NewsCred and Chad Pollitt from Relevance. Both took a decent amount of time for our team to pull off, but the end result is two great pieces of content we can use in our marketing material.
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The next time you're staring at your computer screen without an ounce of inspiration, look to those around you to crowdsource your content creation ideas so you can write something your readers will find truly valuable.