If you're like me (and many others building a business), you may have created a Web log to communicate more intimately and more frequently with your audience. It's supposed to be easy. After all, the technology is simple, the style casual and the content brief.
But after the initial wave of enthusiasm, you may find it increasingly difficult to generate ideas for the blog that began with so many thoughts—and so many posts—just a few months ago. Worse, you might be guiding a boss or colleague who may not be a fluent writer, but is the appropriate representative whose voice must be present in the blogosphere.
How do you help that person refresh her well of inspiration when she's run out of ideas to draw upon? Tape the following list of ideas, prompts and suggestions over her monitor. Chances are, one of the following blog formats will give her just enough push to get through the next post.
1. Announce something
The most obvious choice: Announce something new and noteworthy, like a product release or an upcoming seminar. Keep in mind that the best content is both germane to your organization and relevant to your audience. If your blog is aimed at investors, don't hammer them with technical data; likewise, if you are indeed speaking to techies, don't waste their time with personnel notifications.
Blog bonus point: Humility rules. Traditionally, announcements have been made via press releases to the media, where some hyperbole ("the cutting-edge in process management solutions") has been tolerable. But blogs are like cocktail hour conversations and any affectation of superiority comes across as rude.
In your blog, instead of trumpeting the importance of your announcement, ask for feedback. Suggest that readers take a look at your product, article or whatever, and request their input. Rather than playing the role of Prometheus carrying fire from the gods, be one of the gang—and write as if your subject were something that would be improved by their contributions.
2. Respond to an article or news item
Stuck? Pick up the paper. Or visit a Web site that offers news relevant to your industry. Then follow your gut: The more visceral your response, whether it's in ardent support of the author's message or in hostile reaction to it, the more likely it will inspire a passionate and interesting blog post.
Blog bonus point: Consider directing your readers to an unexpected source of insight. Much of the time, it's entirely appropriate to discuss the stories that appear in the sources most relevant to your industry; they form, after all, a common ground you're all likely to share. But, once in awhile, it's a great idea to dig up a nugget of insight from an unlikely source.
In my copywriting blog, for example, I once directed my readers to a Wall Street Journal movie review that discussed the career of the late director Alexander Mackendrick. What did it have to do with copywriting? Deep within the article was Mackendrick's keen observation about storytelling: "A story in which someone wants or yearns for something becomes dramatic only when obstacles to the wanting are established."
By discussing a source outside of the norms for copywriters, I guided my readers to something they wouldn't have discovered in the usual copywriting references. And I reinforced my blog's value as a resource for ideas not found everywhere else.
3. Reflect on an event
Meetings, seminars, speaking events, conferences and more—your industry probably offers dozens, if not hundreds, each year. Why not post about the ones you attend? And offer your perspective on the ideas discussed?
Blog bonus point: Bring in your observations about the attendees, as well as the speakers. Chances are, there's a Web page somewhere that offers summaries of the presentation content. But as an actual attendee, you can offer insight into something the summaries will not provide: the reactions of the audience. How did they respond—with enthusiasm, boredom, hostility? Were there a lot of questions? Any good ones worth repeating? By reporting audience reactions, you offer important insight to non-attendees that probably will not be available anywhere else.
4. Respond to a reader's concerns
Blogs are supposed to encourage "dialog," yet too many posts sound like voices in the wilderness. Or like that tipsy uncle at a holiday gathering who just doesn't know when to shut up. Look at the best "guru" blogs and you'll see that the bloggers take pains to build posts around comments and emails they receive. You build confidence and credibility when you explicitly address issues raised by your readers.
Blog bonus point: Prime the pump by inviting reader questions and comments. And be explicit: It's perfectly acceptable (and even wise) to end your posts with, "What do you think?" or "Has anyone else experienced this?" With a few simple questions, you can gather material for future posts while encouraging greater reader involvement in your blog.
5. Share a personal anecdote
Good blogs make personal connections and one of the most effective ways to strengthen these bonds is buy sharing your own personal stories: your first sales call, an unusual contract negotiation, an unexpected windfall to harvest or a disaster to recover from.
Your real-life memories, warts and all, may offer subtle shades of insight that are often obscured by larger theories or "best practices." They provide crucial details that textbooks cannot, and they add that extra seasoning of empathy—allowing readers to walk in your shoes—that can give your message added urgency.
Blog bonus point: Don't be afraid to reveal a mistake or weakness. You don't have to be a superhero to your readers; in fact, they'd prefer to see you as one of them. So don't neglect those stories of failure, lost opportunity or disappointment—your hard-won wisdom may be your blogs most precious gift to readers.
And an extra tip
Leave comments on other blogs you read and admire. The ensuing conversation may inspire your next post. At the very least, it's likely to draw interested readers back to your own blog.