How to get ideas for articles
June 12, 2018 11:14 AM   Subscribe

I would like to become more involved in producing content for my company, specifically articles for our customer newsletter. I have the needed writing skills, but I am not very good at coming up with ideas.

Here is some relevant information about the situation:

We are a B2B company (our customers are other businesses)

I am not allowed to directly plug my company’s services or offerings. I can write an educational article about a thing we happen to do, but I can’t say “MyCompany’s new Widget Management system addresses all these problems at a competitive price!” I could, however, write an article about why Widget Management is important, and the various types of solutions on offer in the general marketplace, and describe the pros and cons of each.

I can write about a variety of topics, from industry-specific to more general topics of interest to companies (for example, I could write about safety, labor management, Lean/Six Sigma, customer service best practices, employee satisfaction, etc. or even a trendy topic such as blockchain as long as I can plausibly relate it to our industry.)

My position in the company is such that I don’t come into contact with our customers, nor am I involved in the technical work my company does. So I am not in a position where something I see or hear naturally on the job is likely to spark a great idea for an article.

I do have access to industry experts in my company who I can interview for technical information, if I come to them with a topic. However, past efforts to encourage these experts to help us out with topic ideas have been largely fruitless. (It has been tried a number of times by different methods, I assure you.)

I subscribe to industry publications but the article ideas therein are… already written into articles therein.

So, any suggestions as to how I can come up with a steady stream of relatively novel ideas for articles of interest to business customers?
posted by Serene Empress Dork to Work & Money (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
One thing to do would be to look at industry publications for NOT your industry and see what they're covering and what some of the angles are. What would it look like if you did something like article X except on topic Y for your industry?

Another thought is just to come up with a single idea that you can run in series. Like, "Widget Making A to Z" and step through all the production processes for widgets in a series of detailed articles. Or do key staff member profiles, one for each issue, etc.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:43 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


My position in the company is such that I don’t come into contact with our customers, nor am I involved in the technical work my company does.

Can you talk to your front line customer service and sales reps? They're likely to have lots of information about novel ways or interesting contexts in which your products are being used, broader trends in the industry, areas where improvement or innovation is needed, etc.

Based on past experience, all the real informational meat and narrative interest pools up at the bottom of any organization. Talk to the grunts.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:13 PM on June 12 [11 favorites]


My position in the company is such that I don’t come into contact with our customers, nor am I involved in the technical work my company does. So I am not in a position where something I see or hear naturally on the job is likely to spark a great idea for an article.

I do have access to industry experts in my company who I can interview for technical information, if I come to them with a topic. However, past efforts to encourage these experts to help us out with topic ideas have been largely fruitless.


I think you may be going about this backwards. You're thinking of it like "choose very specific topic -> collect information from people about that very specific topic -> write article." What you should do instead is "choose very general topic (or general job title) -> collect information from people -> pick out the most interesting bits from those conversations -> collect more information relevant to those interesting bits ->write article."

As a grant writer, I interview my coworkers a lot, and this technique works really well. But my best example of this approach is from journalism school. We were tasked with interviewing someone we knew, I chose the head of the college gardening club thinking I was going to get a pretty dull article about carrots out of her... and at the very beginning of the interview I discovered that she had traveled to India to train as a doula and had helped deliver dozens of babies. So I immediately switched course, asked her all about that, did some follow-up research, and turned in an awesome article about international doula-ing instead of gardening.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:35 PM on June 12 [10 favorites]


Employee profiles: Bob Smith completes 35 years with the company, Meet our great interns, Greta in Records knows where everything is.

Company history:Caleb Bradhan formulated Pepsi Cola in 1893.

Industry history: Thomas Edison invented the first widget in 1905.

Safety innovations in widget manufacture and use. Emergency shipments of widgets to disaster areas.

Tour of the National Wiget Museum.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:49 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


Some of your customers probably have a _ton_ of ideas, and questions. Please ask them. Don't promise anything, just run the ideas by your in-house experts and see if any of them fall in love.
posted by amtho at 12:50 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


Can you ask your marketing or website team what types of Google searches lead customers to your site, and generate topics around those search terms? (For example “best watercooler cabinet metal wide” could generate the ideas “how to choose watercooler cabinet dimensions” or “the pros and cons of narrow watercoolers” or “watercooler cabinet materials history”).

Conversely, ask what search terms they WANT to have your website return as to the result, and use those as idea generators?
posted by samthemander at 6:16 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


How about...
  • Profiles of people in your company, either in Q & A format or as an article with quotes
  • Profiles of people in your industry (if talking about employees is too self-promoting
  • A summation of a talk you heard at a conference, or use the talk as a launching point for your own
  • A profile of the speaker or expert
  • Take an article you've read and write about the same topic from your own perspective. Start writing it, and it should start becoming your own. Bring in research and ideas from other articles.

posted by Leontine at 7:48 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


I currently have 29,560 article ideas hanging out in Google, just waiting for me to go open them up and look at them. I've subscribed to Google Alerts on around 10 subjects related to my niche. You could sign up for alerts on Widgets, Widget Management, Widget -organization, making widgets, Six Sigma, blockchain, etc. You'll get an email with a list of ten articles on each topic every day. (I've got all those emails saved because I haven't needed to tap into other article topic ideas yet. But I wanted to be ready for anything.)

I'm also a Pinterest addict, and I've found all kinds of "how to find more blog post ideas," and "100 blog article titles for you," and "questions to ask to come up with ideas for your blog" types of pins.

Sometimes when I get stuck, I'll try random affiliations. What can a flamingo teach you about widgets? How is a widget like a writing desk? How would widgets work in space? If you gave a widget to a group of kindergarteners, what would they do with it? Widgets and doodads, compare and contrast.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 1:25 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


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