The one key to successful content

This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Twist Image and author of “Six Pixels of Separation.” His new book “CTRL ALT Delete” was released in May 2013. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

What do you think makes someone’s content relevant?

Back when I was spreading the word about my new book, CTRL ALT Delete, the kind people at Google hosted a book launch event. Instead of making it the standard fare, I opted to invite Seth Godin to join me on stage to discuss some of the core concepts of the book. My initial thought was to get Seth’s take on my theory of business purgatory and then dive a little deeper into the five movements that have changed business forever, along with the triggers that each one of us has to bring to the work that we do.

Seth would have none of that. Seth was more interested in inspiring people to do the hard work of buying the book and — more importantly — reading it and doing something about it. As usual, Seth was right and it speaks volumes to how he thinks and gets people to think along with him. During the Q&A session, someone asked:

“How do you come up with the content for your blogs?”

Seth answered the question, as only Seth can. I’m paraphrasing here, but it went something like, “when people ask me what I do, I tell them that I notice things and ask questions about it.”

My answer was much more verbose. I’m an infovore. I can’t read, watch, or listen to enough content. There are simply not enough hours in the day. All of that media consumption creates a cauldron of ideas, some boil over and some percolate, but by the end of the day there is usually some topic that rises to the top. It’s something that comes out like an exhaust valve. It’s a mental cleanse for the day.

Two different lessons with the same theme.

I was thinking about what Seth said and felt a pang of jealously. I wish I could “notice things” as creatively as he does. My process seems that much more complex. I’m weeding through a lot of content at the bottom of the digital sea to find some chum. Still, the answer that both Seth and I laid out to the audience last night is something that most content marketers don’t understand.

Most marketers who are creating content are worried about things like the type of content they’re writing (text, images, audio, or video). They’re concerned with where that content should reside (Facebook, Twitter, a blog, YouTube, or Pinterest)? How frequently to post (hourly, daily, weekly)? Who is going to create it (an intern, the communications team, a freelance journalist, the CEO)?

It turns out that Seth, myself, and many other people who create content that seems to garner some semblance of an audience and attention are inspired to create the content. Pushing beyond that, we are inspired consistently.

Oooff… that’s a tough one.

Seth doesn’t blog because it’s his job, he blogs because he has to. Same here (and the same thing for my podcast, business columns, and business books). Brands can nail every facet of what it takes to create content, but they’ll always miss the mark when there is no one behind the curtains who is creating content because they have to. Consistently and constantly. Because they are inspired.

It’s true, being inspired needs to intersect with skill (a unique voice, something that people want to connect with, etc.). But without the spark of being inspired consistently, it’s going to be extremely challenging to get that proverbial rubber to meet the road.

Finding your ability to be inspired consistently.

1. Surround yourself.

Surround yourself with elements of content that will inspire you. Try to avoid the American Pickers marathon on History Channel (I know it’s hard) and always have something to read around you. My personal trick? I make sure to buy every interesting business magazine. Paying for content makes me feel guilty when I don’t consume it. Letting magazines pile up is a much better reminder to do the work, than episodes of a TV show on your PVR (those you don’t see).

2. Step outside.

Walking around and adding in small trips along the way will inspire. It can be as innocuous as a trip to your local bookstore or a few hours at a museum.

3. Keep notes.

It doesn’t matter if it’s Evernote or a Moleskine or voice memos. Any time a question about something pops into your mind, take a note of it. While it doesn’t matter what you capture the ideas with, it does matter where you store them. My personal trick? I email everything to myself and have a specific folder for blog ideas, titles, and more.

4. Don’t stop.

Keep at it. Keep reading. Keep watching. Keep listening. But, more importantly: keep blogging. Keep creating and keep sharing your content.

You will have to force it.

There are days when the consistent inspiration seems to be waning. Keep at it. Toying with the keyboard will push through everything. Seth mentioned that he doesn’t believe in writer’s block. I don’t either. I do think that some days we’re better with our words than others, but it’s less about being blocked and much more about focus.

Keep at it. The habit of keeping at it will turn your inspiration into being inspired consistently.


About Mitch Joel

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum — an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. He is also a blogger, podcaster, journalist, speaker, and the author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and "CTRL ALT Delete." Mitch is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Profit, Strategy, Money, The Globe & Mail, and many other media outlets.

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  1. Jeremy

    Great post. Just starting our business blog and many of these factors are so true. Keep up the good work and keep pushing through.

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