Whisper-300x162“The best way to be heard is to whisper.” I’m not sure who said that, but I’ve always liked that thought. Today, I’m going to whisper a golden secret into your ear. I want to make sure you hear me, because it’s a good one! Today’s secret is about how to get great blogging ideas when your personal well has run dry…

Remember when you were new to blogging? You thought you’d never run out of ideas, didn’t you? If you’re like me, having written over 500 + blog posts (not to mention articles, landing pages and sales sheets), you know dry spells happen. One day you reach into your idea box and realize you’re at rock bottom; there’s not even the hint of an idea in there. Oh, what to do, what to do?

Get Social

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen; I hope you’re listening very hard now. Some of my best topic ideas – and I mean some of my very best topic ideas – come from social media.

That’s right. When my thoughts turn sluggish and the words… just… won’t… come… I dive into social and listen. I do some of my best thinking while watching the various feeds I have set up. This is one of the reasons I always set time aside for listening – especially when doing research for our blog or creating a content strategy project for a client.

But social media is a time waster…

Sure, it can be, if you let it get out of hand. –But consider this. Social media is a window into your target audience; it’s a constant flow of their thoughts, ideas, concerns, needs, wants, and so on. You may not follow them, but you can click on them to see their feed; see what they’re talking about. What they have to say, and what they wonder about, could very well be your next blog post.

If you’re playing games on Facebook and Google Plus or posting, “I just made an awesome peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” on Twitter and high fives to a co-worker on LinkedIn, yes – social media is a time waster. However, if you’re using that time to scout for future blog post ideas, watching the buzz, opening conversations and paying attention to what your followers (and those you follow) are talking about, it’s a gold mine!

Idea

Here’s an Idea or Two…

Follow the right people

Of course, if you’re going to pay attention to those you follow, it behooves you to make sure you’re following the right people, doesn’t it? When you start taking full advantage of social media as an idea generation tool, you’ll notice some shining stars. These stars may not shine for millions of people, but they’re someone you can respect and engage.

These people may be in your own niche. They may be from a variety of backgrounds. For instance, I follow several international people. I like the extreme points of view and adore watching a variety of languages go through my time line. Last by not least, follow people who are thought-leaders in their particular niche and pay attention to what they’re talking about.

You’ll learn what’s trending and you’ll have the opportunity to strike up conversations. As you get to “know” some of those thought-leaders, you may even negotiate an interview for a blog post. Your readers will appreciate getting the perspective of experts in different disciplines and areas of interest.

Listen and observe

Okay, now that you’re following some hot people on social media, what’s next? Listen and observe. Active listening is as important as paying attention to the conversations. If you listen carefully, you’ll notice many questions and varying points of view. Agree or disagree, but be open and listen. Don’t argue it out in social; turn it into a post.

  • One way to take advantage of this is by writing your own point of view, maybe even giving the pros and cons of an argument. Describe and define your story, put a spin on it if you have one.
  • Tech writers, do you see a lot of, “how do I use this new app?” from friends and followers? If you know the secret, share your knowledge with your readers.
  • Watch for “how do I,” or “does anyone know if,” questions in your niche.
  • Read posted links. If you feel like the author missed some points, fill them in… with a post of your own!

Whatever comes to mind, write it down. You can always build your story line from these ideas. Find your comfort zone – what works for you to refill your idea box – and write for your target.

Always be honest

Always be honest

Discipline yourself

You have to treat social media listening as a business process. Set up a routine. Discipline yourself to committing one-to-two hours per day on your research and development. This will not only help you focus, but you’ll also be pleasantly surprised when it becomes a welcoming routine.

Have pen and paper by your side (or whatever you use to take notes). Whether it’s a picture, video, or conversation, make sure you listen long enough to understand your findings in order to create a story. A story your readers want to read. Whether it’s within Google+ Facebook, Twitter, Quora or anywhere else. Do this for about a week; get a routine going. It’s fun, entertaining, and it’s the best way to build your library of ideas one link at a time.

The Big Four: Taking the Time Suck Out of Social Media

I almost stopped the article there, but I started thinking. What if you decided back in 2000 that social media wasn’t for you? What if you’re one of those die-hard anti-social professionals? What if you’ve read this blog post and gone, “Well, that’s great, but I need more reason to use social than just ‘digging into my audiences’ brain’.”?

I know a lot of professionals that visited a social site once and never went back. They didn’t think the platform would work for them; it wasn’t worth the time suck. –And maybe it wasn’t… then. Now is a different story. Those of you who have continually used social media will have to agree, the top platforms have changed a lot since they first started. They offer a lot more than just chatter.

Here are some ideas for the top four social networks you may want to consider before writing it off completely:

Facebook – Gone are the days when Facebook was just for sharing photos and status updates – people now share a lot more. What could you do with the old “FB”?

  • Share the latest top ten videos
  • Dare your fan base to post their worst pictures – and start with one of your own
  • Ask short, Quora style questions to get people talking
  • Use Tuesdays to feature your most active fan
  • Turn it into a mini-blog, with goodies especially for your FB fans

Get personal with your community as it builds. Listen to their stories, add comments, be fair, honest and transparent. Your fan base will appreciate it and an active fan base translates into active brand cheerleaders.

Building Trust

Twitter - Twitter isn’t just about sharing links and getting traffic. It really is a live stream of inspiration.

  • Read through the streams you follow and watch for trending topics
  • Write down questions people are asking
  • Share posts you especially enjoy with others

I can’t tell y0u how many times I’ve read someone’s feed and written a post within an hour. You just need to learn how to listen and sort through information. Some people set up lists with hashtags, while others (including myself) randomly click on a story because of a great title. Just remember, while you may be on Twitter to promote your business, it’s the biggest soft sale ever.

Google Plus – People like to compare G+ and Facebook, but really, being on Facebook isn’t a substitute for Google Plus or vice versa. For example, you don’t go to Facebook for a Hang Out. So, how can you use G+ without making it a huge, worthless time suck?

  • Offer Hang Outs as a 1-hour Q&A session for people interested in your niche
  • Ask industry associates to come together for a Hang Out panel to create a G+ style “podcast”
  • Thoroughly review G+ with your readers in mind and – since it’s still the “new” platform – give them ideas of how to get the most out of their experience.

The key is that you have to thoroughly review G+ with all its twists and turns. As you learn how to use it, you’ll find that the possibilities really are endless.

YouTube -  On YouTube you can find out what people are talking about that relates to your niche. Oddly enough, this seems to be where you’ll get real (and often raw) feedback.

  • Read the comment sections to find inspiration for blog articles
  • Find videos to embed in blog posts that help you get a particular point across
  • Create short “how to” videos in response to questions you may have found on other social sites

Two Connections Are Better Than… None

Connections are everything

Connections are everything

Now, if you’re not on any of these social platforms, and you’re saying, “I understand, Gabriella, but I’m still not going to use them,” online forums can also be a great place to get inspiration. Join in discussions or just read the boards to find talked about topics. It’s a great opportunity to see what hot topics are being debated. If you have the insight, it can be your opening to add your perspective.

With any social media platform, the most effective way to get benefit from it is to do exactly what it’s intended for – socialize. Listen, learn, share and get to know people. If you’re active and pleasant, sharing valuable information and making intelligent comments, you’ll soon find your connections increasing. And more connections means more ideas, right?

Do you blog and use social media as a tool for your writing inspiration? If you’d like to share your experience, we’d love to hear about it.