Coming up with new ideas for content isn’t something that has to be painful or lonely or frustrating. (Surprise—I know.) If you organize your resources around the efforts you care about most, your team will recognize their importance and respond appropriately.
Actions as Forms of Communication
Communications professionals funnel colossal amounts of awareness and consideration into the words we choose and the stories we weave because we know the way our messages are perceived can make or break an experience. We know the impact of a strong narrative and the lasting power of a few choice words. Words are powerful, and we give them their due.
But we need to remember that our behaviors are forms of communication, too.
Our actions convey our thoughts and values. And, perhaps most importantly, our words and our actions need to align to ensure consistency, credibility, and trust.
As a communications leader, when you give attention to one program over others, you convey a hierarchy of importance. Your team recognizes that you give more attention to the programs that matter more to your business. By providing more resources on one topic or organizing a formal process around another, you are expressing that you expect your employees to put similar time and effort into their work in that area.
That’s why if you care about your team ideating and submitting new content proposals, you need to organize your resources around this effort, support your intentions with actions, and convey your expectations through structured programs.
Let’s evaluate a two-part framework to set up a formal brainstorm program for your team that will generate a natural flow of article topics and content ideas.
Part One: Ramp Up Content with Ease
Here are three steps to establish a culture of content ideation:
1. Clearly express your expectations
Start by communicating your needs verbally. Want new content ideas? Tell your team. Be clear and explicit. What are your expectations? Provide any details about the strategy that will help them see a clear path toward execution—topics you’d like to see covered, cadence of proposals, formats, process, etc. Give them enough guidelines so they feel ready to act, but not so many that they feel stifled.
2. Set up quantifiable measurements
If you want your team to come up with new content ideas, create metrics that matter. To get started, devise OKRs that quantify the number of proposals team members submit in a given timeframe. Later, once momentum builds and your team members are more comfortable with proposing ideas, shift the OKR to measure the number of proposals that are greenlit, changing the metric from submissions to successes.
Don’t forget to celebrate successes as a team. Reinforce the behaviors you want to encourage and review the metrics together. The more your team sees success—and watches you celebrate certain behaviors over others—the more they will shift their approach toward more favorable actions.
3. Remove obstacles
Remove any obstacles on the path toward the goal to give your team a better chance at success.
Get the logistics out of the way—set up a folder on your internal drive for new content proposals, provide the location to your team, and add lines to your content calendar for a new proposal to be submitted weekly (or whatever frequency you choose).
Consider any other roadblocks your team members might run into as they embark on their journey toward increased content ideation—knowledge, collaboration, processes, tools, etc. Empathize with their position. Figure out how you can mitigate risk and remove bottlenecks to ensure a smooth process, especially in the beginning as employees figure out their personal styles.
Next comes the main phase: creating a brainstorm program that lasts.
Part Two: Fuel Content Strategy with Structure
Here is how to create the structure around the process:
1. Supply idea sources
Your team members might not know how to ideate. Give them examples of where to look for topics.
I recently created a 30-slide deck that provided myriad websites, frameworks, resources, questions, and tools that would allow my team members to find ideas and inspiration for content assets. My investment of time and energy into creating this deck paid dividends in the long run, as my team referred to it repeatedly to produce a higher quantity of strategically aligned content.
To emulate this approach for your team, make a list of places you look for inspiration. Start by jotting down ideas that come to you over the next week. Where do you go to look for ideas? Where do you find inspiration for strategically aligned content?
Next, formalize your list into an internal resource for your team, and train your team to be resourceful and access the same wells of knowledge you would.
- Market resources – Compile a list of industry publications your team can access to understand what your customers are reading about, what advancements are being made in the industry, and what topics are hot right now.
- Audience empathy – Create a list of questions about your audience, such as their pain points, obstacles, issues with vendors or partners, shifting needs, macro trends, industry threats, market opportunities, perceptions, internal processes, paths to success, and more.
- Buyer personas – Provide buyer personas for your key customer groups.
- Product knowledge – Make a list of your product offerings along with the benefits they offer your customers.
- Corporate mission and vision – Remind your team why your company exists and what its goals and hopes are for the future.
- Successes – Are there any new case studies or testimonials you can highlight?
- Content repurposing – Provide a framework for content repurposing. How can you get the most mileage out of each asset in your existing content hub? Can you piggyback off a resource to produce a new angle?
- Metrics – Pull reports that show which topics, formats, or channels perform best and create content with that in mind.
- SEO – Give your team a list of keywords and keyphrases you want to rank for, explore which types of content are getting the most exposure on search engines, and feel inspired by the perspectives that garner the best results.
- Competitive analysis – Read competitors’ reviews and turn problems from unsatisfied customers into selling points for your own copy; review competitors’ marketing and websites, identify gaps, and fill those gaps with your content; or understand what is working well for your competitors and explore your own application of a similar strategy.
- Industry events – Identify industry conferences, scour agendas, and come up with related content ideas.
- Statistics – Find a recent market report and incorporate a relevant statistic into your content.
- Funnel – Challenge your team members to pick a tier in the funnel then create content geared toward the associated goal.
- Formats – Usually starting with a topic is easiest, but try flipping this approach on its head and exploring a list of format types to see if anything sparks ideas you can use to vary your content formats, such as creating an interactive eBook or in-frame survey instead of only writing blog posts (if resources allow).
(Bonus tip: If the resources mentioned above don’t already exist, a precursor to this step could be to have your team work together to create them. They will feel more invested in using resources they have worked hard to build, and their process will start several steps ahead.)
2. Explore discernment
Your team members might not know how to decide whether an idea they come up with is viable or not. Teach them how to decide.
Through an internal lens, make sure your team members know your mission and vision, product offerings, capabilities, and strategy.
To increase market understanding, provide them with a picture of your ideal customer profile (ICP), customer journey map (CJM), buyer personas, or any frameworks you use to empathize with your target prospects.
Then, help them meet in the middle: Teach your team how to match your business strategy to an external need, using content as the glue. If a content idea doesn’t align with your corporate strategy, it might not work. If a content idea doesn’t provide value to customers, it might not work. Provide frameworks for strategic decision-making to increase your team’s chances of success.
3. Schedule meetings
Tell your team to schedule a recurring monthly meeting without you where they can discuss the ideation resource you created for them (in part two step one), brainstorm new ideas, workshop proposals, and collaborate on new resources.
At your next team meeting, make room on the agenda for your team to share takeaways from their collaboration. Let them present the outcomes of their brainstorm and devise a plan for next steps.
Again, celebrate the behaviors you want to see repeated. Give context into why certain ideas might get greenlit over others and how the best ideas align with strategy and add value for customers. Ask your team members to reflect on how they felt about the brainstorm and make sure to reinforce any positive experiences.
(Bonus tip: If there are issues among the team, you might want to take those offline and deal with them in one-on-one or smaller group settings, depending on the nature of the problem. Praise in public, but discipline in private.)
4. Formalize the proposal process
How should proposals be submitted to you? Do you want a separate document per proposal, do you want a new email thread started for each idea, or do you like talking ideas through on a phone call? Make sure you are clear in your communication to your team regarding how you want the outcomes of the brainstorm program to be executed (and later measured). For example, if you created a folder on Google Drive (part one step three), make sure your team knows to add a document there and email you when it is ready for your review. Whatever process you choose, communicate your expectations clearly to your team, then deliver praise when they follow suit.
Tailor Content to Your Needs
Employ this framework, then monitor how your team responds. Is content ideation increasing? By how much? Are metrics being hit? Is collaboration happening more smoothly? Celebrate small wins. Encourage participation. Ask for feedback. After the program is implemented for a quarter, hold a debrief session and ask what’s working, what could be better, and what support they need from you. Keep making tweaks until you find the right setup for your team.
Creative ideation can feel personal, but make sure your team knows you employ a strategic decision-making process for greenlighting or cutting ideas or proposals. Explain to them that the more ideas they propose, the higher the likelihood that some might get cut, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing anything wrong—quite the contrary. Of course, you want both quality and quantity, but perfection won’t happen every time. By providing resources as well as a forum for conversation, you can ensure your team members both feel heard and have a strategic understanding that will give their ideas the best chance of survival.
Encourage your team to feel empowered in their ideation. Give them a chance to show you how motivated they are to take initiative and elevate your team’s strategy. Be upfront—tell them that you love when they come up with ideas [rather than you assigning every deliverable], that ideation is a core part of their jobs [and is expected of them], and that you’re there to help them excel [and learn and grow].
You want your team to be successful. Make sure that is clear in both your words and your actions.