When creating a content calendar  as part of your marketing plan or content strategy, it can be easy to whip out the first ideas for topics you can think of and call it a day. While those first top-of-mind content ideas may be relevant and helpful to your customer or interesting to the reader, they may not be the types of content topics to really increase sales or drive engagement with your brand. The best content strategy plans mix it up, promoting posts meant to be shared, to help the reader see how a product solves their problem, or to explain why a company or brand is the one people should trust.
If you need to create a new content plan for the next several months, or freshen up an existing one, take a look at these 5 places you should be looking for content inspiration:
1. Competitors. Businesses have been eyeing their competitors for insight, strategy and ideas since the beginning of time. When executives create initiatives for their company, they always perform competitive analysis to be sure they aren’t missing out or getting left behind. Content strategists and copywriters should take the same approach when creating their content plans. It’s not always about the number of page views or how many times a piece of content gets shared on social media — sometimes the best content to emulate is inspiring on a more subjective basis. The best content informs the potential customer or client and leads to a sale or forms a new relationship. Take a look at your competitors and review how they speak to their potential customers. Are they answering questions that you aren’t? Are they promoting the benefits of their services in ways that you aren’t? What about your competitors’ content speaks to you, and how can you imitate this in your own unique voice?
2. Customers. Surveys and contact forms offer some of the best ways to find content ideas. Make sure your customer service department is looking at the feedback from customers and sharing it with the marketing team. When you see patterns occur, where people are asking the same question over and over, light bulbs in your brain should appear. These are the topics that should probably be on your FAQ page, and possibly expanded on in blogs or how-to videos. This can also create more engagement when customers leave the same feedback in the future. As part of following up with customer questions, customer service reps can simply send a link to the relevant content (article, video, etc.) in their reply, which can keep the potential customer engaged and hopefully place them back in the sales funnel.
3. Internal Team. One mistake many marketers make is always looking outward for content ideas. However reaching out to other teams in your company can help you form some of the best ideas for content. Talk with your people within your company — sales people, customer service reps and anyone who’s on the front line dealing with customers — and ask them to share what feedback they hear consistently, which trends they foresee, or what they believe to be the best features and benefits of your company from their perspective. For instance, by talking to the sales team, you may learn some completely new things about your company or customer needs that should be addressed in new content.
4. Industry Sources. This avenue for inspiration goes beyond competitive analysis and straight to the organizations and associations creating thought leadership that can sometimes determine the direction of your business. For instance, a school that offers truck driving courses should stay in-the-know about new regulations for drivers and how that impacts the test students must take to become certified. After all, this will impact what the school includes in their curriculum. And this can also result in content that informs prospective students of these changes and how they will impact their education. By showing that you are on top of the latest changes in your relevant industry, you also lend credibility to the quality of your service.
5. Social Media. With social media, it’s so easy to pound your chest about how great you are, that many companies forget social media offers great listening tools  used for research and content planning. Take a look at what people are saying about your products and your competitors on all the major social channels, comment boards on Amazon and anywhere else people talk about your types of products. Notice what kinds of posts are getting the most shares and which ones are getting the most comments. Sometimes, the reactions to social posts are as insightful as the posts themselves for competitive analysis. And make sure you know the best hashtags to use, and ways you can tag your content, and optimize it for SEO, so that it can be found. After all, what good is your content if it just sits alone, collecting dust?
Some additional tips for content planning …
Don’t forget that content can be digested in several ways. Sometimes it makes sense to break out of the traditional blog post format for content. Consider adding additional tools to your arsenal, such as infographics, or a YouTube channel with “how-to” or testimonial videos. These can be a great asset or supplement to add credibility for your brand. Taking a look at all the channels you can use for social media (there are so many now!) can help you determine which ones are most used by your audience, and which ones aren’t the best use of your time.
When creating your content calendar, don’t forget to make note of the ways you will promote each piece. Go ahead and think of example Facebook posts or Tweets that would link back to your site. This will also help you understand what the focus of your content should be, as well as the strongest ways to engage your audience.
We hope your content strategy helps your brand take off in 2018. No matter where you draw your inspiration, or what industry you represent, your two highest priorities with your content should be building new customer relationships and strengthening existing ones.
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