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Sandie YoungAugust 7, 20144 min read

Make the Most of Your Content Brainstorm (Beyond the Basics)

Behind any great piece of content is a strategic content team. Whether you regroup monthly, quarterly or weekly to crowdsource ideas, a solid content brainstorming session can fuel big blogging wins.   Content team brainstorm

All content marketers write in the hopes of going viral, or at least hitting a new record for pageviews and shares. But, before calling a meeting, the first step is understanding commonalities among viral content pieces.

Understand The Basics: Why Does Content Go Viral?

Aristotle theorized that there were three ingredients to a solid, sharable content piece, including “ethos, pathos and logos,” or in simpler terms, “an ethical appeal, an emotional appeal, or a logical appeal.”

He was very right about one thing: emotion. 

People share stories, videos and images that tug at their heartstrings, ignite anger or evoke any strong emotion. In the words of The New York Times, “Online, as in real life, feelings can be caught like the flu.”

Another commonality among viral pieces: Studies show that longer-form content is shared more. QuickSprout pointed out that longer content usually gets ranked higher, plus more words means more opportunity to use strategic keywords or phrases. Hence, a natural advantage in search results.

Aristotle’s aged theory still hits the mark for “logical appeal” and “ethical appeal” too. People enjoy reading content that educates, informs and enriches. Create content that teaches, and provides readers with next steps or action items.  

A basic question to ask yourself when you’re brainstorming or writing: Would I share this with my network?

Next Step: Prep for the Big Day 

My biggest pet peeve is pointless meetings. And, unfortunately, we all experience them in the business world. 

A content brainstorming session should be approached like you would any meeting, but with even more preparation. Below are five steps for you, as meeting host, to make the most of your content brainstorm. 

1. Determine meeting structure. Aside from the traditional meeting agenda and invitation, take a page from Apple’s book when it comes to planning. An article from Entrepreneur discussed what one former employee learned from working with Steve Jobs. He emphasized to only invite those who will contribute innovative, useful ideas, and to convene with smaller sized groups when possible.

A few more tips from Google

  • Appoint a decision-maker beforehand.
  • Keep meeting attendance under ten people.
  • “Kill” useless meetings. 

2. Measure. Take analytical inventory of posts already live on your blog. The best way to come up with new, widely shared topics is to first recognize audience preference. Start by taking a look at the top ten most-viewed posts during the last quarter. Look for commonalties among your most popular posts (i.e. keywords, content type or format, etc.). Consider the following when looking for trends:

  • Word count
  • Visits vs. unique visitors
  • Engagement (i.e. comments, shares)
  • Most popular author
  • Top themes 

Are certain posts drawing more engagement, but less visits? These posts present the opportunity for spin-off pieces with better optimization.  Or, look for opportunities to repurpose evergreen content that continues to perform well. 

3. Identify target themes or messaging. Data does tell a story. Based on top performing pieces, as well as company messaging and purpose, identify overarching themes or topic categories for your brainstorm.

Themes might also be based on upcoming events, product launches or holidays. But, by pinpointing overarching topics, your team can brainstorm an umbrella of topics that fit together nicely on one platform, in the same timeframe. This tactic keeps company messaging consistent and meaningful. 

4. Brainstorm alone. Like any good guest, don’t arrive empty handed. Before your team brainstorm, block out 30 minutes to come up with sample headlines that align with target themes, and historically popular posts. Differentiate topics from previously published materials, and look to cover topics that aren’t yet overdone in other trade publications.

If you’re looking for inspiration, check out a few related PR 20/20 posts:

Or, check out HubSpot’s topic generator to jumpstart your thinking.

Tip from Buffer: We are at our most creative when we are “in a relaxed state of mind.” Keep a notepad with you, or download a notebook app, to document brilliant ideas that strike at odd times. 

5. Set clear goals for your brainstorming session. Ensure clarity with meeting objectives. How many months worth of content are you hoping to come away with? How many posts will your team produce and publish monthly? And, prep a few sample KPIs for your new blog content (i.e. target visits, visitors, time on page, etc.).

Ready, Set … Brainstorm!

Armed with data, themes and pre-meditated topics, you’ve set the stage for a highly productive content brainstorming session. (You’ve also ensured that your presence will be valued at your team’s next session.)

A few things to keep in mind during your brainstorm:

  • Don’t multitask! Turn off your phone and email messages, and be present.
  • Budget your time. Be respectful of time, and skip a theme or topic if you get stuck.
  • Take detailed notes, and update your content calendar in follow up.

Good luck! And, in the wise words of Robert Rose (@Robert_Rose): “Marketing is telling the world you're a rock star. Content Marketing is showing the world you are one.” 

Do you have any tips to add? How does your team prepare for a content brainstorm? I’d love to hear what you have to add!


Sandie Young

Sandie Young started at the agency during the summer of 2012, with experience in magazine journalism and a passion for content marketing. Sandie is a graduate of Ohio University, with a Bachelor of Science from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Full bio.