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Forget Inspiration: Try These 6 Strategies to Fill Your Editorial Calendar

You have a documented content marketing strategy. You’ve outlined your quarterly plan, aligning your messages and goals with demand gen, sales, and customer success, and other teams. But you still have slots to fill in your editorial calendar.

Most marketers have experienced this moment. You know broadly what you need to produce, but specific ideas seem just out of reach.

When this happens, you have two choices: Wait for inspiration to strike or develop a system to find stellar ideas to fill the calendar.

This post is not for those who choose to hold out for a flash of creative inspiration. It’s for anyone who’s ready to do the dirty work of finding hidden content opportunities to shape and polish into something brilliant.

1. Just frack it

I know one content team that plans a “big rock” content piece each quarter, then creates a “frack map” to document all the ways that big rock can be broken into pieces to extract more value. (Think of fracking in the oil-and-gas-industry sense, not the Battlestar Galactica expletive.)

Create a “frack map” from a “big rock” #content piece to extract more value, says @KMoutsos. Click To Tweet

Often, the big rock is an e-book. But a video offers fracking opportunities, too. Consider CMI’s documentary The Story of Content: Rise of the New Marketing. The nearly 45-minute version has attracted hundreds of thousands of views since 2015.

Our video team cut the documentary into a series of shorter videos highlighting brands with great content marketing stories. Each of these “fracked” videos has racked up thousands of views, and one of the most enduring content marketing examples – The Furrow from John Deere – has earned more than 90,000 views on its own.

If you haven’t fracked your big content rocks (e-books, white papers, research reports, documentaries, or other long-form content), break out the heavy equipment. You might be surprised how rewarding it can be to smash things up and put them together in new ways.

2. Expand your universe

At the ContentTECH Summit in April, Megan Golden explained how the content team at LinkedIn does almost the reverse of fracking. Instead of breaking a long piece into smaller ones, Megan and the team build worlds of interrelated initiatives organized around a familiar theme or brand.

Do like @LinkedIn: Build interrelated #content initiatives around a familiar theme, says @KMoutsos. Click To Tweet

You’ve probably seen an e-book or two from LinkedIn’s The Sophisticated Marketer series (started by 2018 Content Marketer of the Year finalist, Jason Miller). What you might not realize is the series expanded to include a print magazine, a podcast, master classes, and much more.

One reason this approach works, Megan says, is that the familiarity of the established piece boosts each related content effort. Think of how each of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies benefited from association with that very first Iron Man film in 2008 and the overarching Avengers storyline that tied the characters and themes together (with spectacular box-office success).

You don’t have to be a Thor-sized brand to try this approach. Get inspired by this story of a copywriting agency that produced 10 content spinoffs from a single successful article in its newsletter.

3. Create (or inspect) your pillars

Last year, HubSpot’s Justin Champion outlined a great method for creating “pillar” pages to help with SEO and to organize your content in a way that helps your audience find your best content on various facets of a topic.

His approach involves:

  • Identifying a head term – typically a two-word phrase your audience would use when searching for information (e.g., “gum disease”).
  • Identifying the core topics to provide additional context for the head term – related phrases with less search volume than your head topic (e.g., “gum disease prevention”).
  • Breaking the core topics into subtopics – making sure content assets support each one.

If you have a great, in-depth piece of content around a head term, you can frack it into multiple pieces to create your pillar page, supporting core topic, and subtopic pieces. If you don’t have a suitable in-depth guide, Justin recommends creating one as you create a pillar-based content cluster.

4. Peek over a competitor’s shoulder

Who doesn’t love a content audit? Well, most marketers probably don’t love the process, but they appreciate the insights they produce. But don’t think you’re done once you’ve inventoried and audited your own pieces. You should also analyze your competitor’s content.

Why spend time auditing what some other brand is doing? It lets you use your competitors’ work to your advantage, writes Ellie Mirman.

Digging into the topics your competitors cover, how the audience reacts to them, and which channels they’re using helps you identify opportunities to outdo them. You might find a topic you can explain more thoroughly, or a format, type, or channel they’re not optimizing.

Dig into your competitors’ content to uncover topics, audience reactions, and channels. Then outdo them. @KMoutsos Click To Tweet

Anything they can do, you can do differently and better, right?

5. Ask whether you need a new piece of content

Whenever possible, try to avoid creating something new. Don’t worry, I’m not advising you to shirk your duties or pawn off the task on someone else. I’m suggesting that sometimes you might get more bang for your editorial buck by updating and republishing something than by creating something from scratch.

You might get more bang for your buck by republishing something rather than creating #content from scratch. @KMoutsos Click To Tweet

I explain how to find worthy candidates for republishing in this recent post.

Meta alert: My post was an update of this post from 2017:

TIP: If you haven’t audited your content recently, but still need to find republishing candidates in a hurry, try the approach described in this article: How to Do a Content Audit in a Few Hours.

Need more?

If none of these strategies sounds good to you, here are a few others to explore:

  • Try the evil-twin method. Find a popular how-to, best practices, or recommendations piece (in your content audit) then write it from the opposite angle – what not to do, mistakes to avoid, and so on.
  • Brainstorm to find 10x opportunities. Push yourself and your team to think big – what kind of content would help you, for example, grow your email list by 10x?
  • Find audience questions. Check with your customer support teams, look at Google’s People Also Ask box, see what people are talking about on Quora and Reddit, check the comments section of your blog, find discussions on social media.

Just remember, when you’re staring at those empty slots in your content calendar, don’t just wait for an idea to fall into your lap. Get digging to find the content gems seeded throughout your (and maybe your neighbor’s) property.

I’d love to hear where you mine for ideas. Let me know in the comments.

Fill up Sept. 2-6 on your professional calendar with plans to attend Content Marketing World in Cleveland, Ohio. Register using code CMIBLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute