Other people’s incredible work constantly inspires us, and we owe a great deal to the industry’s deep thinking and excellent resources.
How can we consistently generate more ideas? Inspiration can be found in unexpected places. All we have to do now is keep our eyes open.
We got the idea for this post from Copyblogger. One of their recent headlines mentioned “idea curation,” an unfamiliar term to us but resonated strongly. We talk a lot about how we curate content. What about the way we gather information? This seems like a good starting point for a story.
So there you have it. I’m excited to shed some light on this process and demonstrate how we curate ideas and turn them into blog posts. How do you come up with new ideas? Read on to see if any of the steps are similar.
Buffer’s idea curation process
This quote about writing and inspiration could be applied to idea curation and inspiration just as easily. We’ve discovered that inspiration strikes when our methods for finding it are consistent. The lightning rod has been erected. We’re now waiting for lightning to strike.
A few key points determine our infrastructure for ideas. Maybe you’ve heard of these before?
- We aren’t afraid to borrow ideas from others.
- We devote a significant amount of time to reading, thinking about, and sharing the stories and ideas we enjoy.
- We keep track of all of our ideas, no matter how insignificant.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
Getting ideas from other people
When it comes to content creation, our cofounder Leo has a favorite phrase: “Copy the hell out of others.” A large number of content creators agree with this sentiment. Take, for example, author Austin Kleon. Steal Like an Artist, his best-selling book, takes on this topic head-on, emphasizing that every creator draws inspiration from somewhere. And the better you are at finding inspiration, the better your work will be.
In practice, this idea of inspiration takes on a variety of forms. Inspiration can contribute to our list of ideas in a variety of ways.
We come across articles that we enjoy and want to learn more about.
We Crafters have the luxury of time to do extensive research and cover all aspects of a topic to create a comprehensive and actionable post. So when we come across articles that have an interesting angle or topic that we’re interested in but don’t go as deep as we’d like, we often see an opportunity to dig deeper.
We find headlines that catch our attention and repurpose them for different topics. Have you ever come across a headline that was just perfect? One that drew you in even if the subject wasn’t your cup of tea? When this happens, we try to remember the headline and develop new ways to use it elsewhere.
For example, the seed of an idea for our post, Everything I Wish I Knew About Twitter When I Started, came from a Quora post titled 26 Things Every 20-Something Should Know. The following are the notes from the original concept:
We collect catchphrases and soundbites that we find interesting. Sometimes all it takes is a single phrase to get us thinking about a subject. One of our favorite examples is Belle, our first content creator, who wrote an entire post based solely on a phrase and an image. “People Don’t Buy Products, They Buy Better Versions of Themselves,” Leo scribbled, and he inserted an image:
We build, modify, and iterate on the theme based on what has worked in the past.
Our archives are a fantastic source of ideas for future articles. We can look back at previous posts to see what worked well and use those themes in future posts.
Our most recent post about social media stats was a follow-up to a hugely popular stats post from last summer. The goal is to capitalize on a formula that has previously proven successful.
We pay attention. You, the reader, are an incredible source of inspiration. We read blog comments and Twitter conversations to see what you’d like to know more about, what you’re interested in, and where your pain points are. Then we’ll try to tailor content to your specific needs.
A comment inspired our most recent Instagram post. We added the idea to our list and came up with something new after a reader pointed out that a previous Instagram stats post could use a refresh.
We keep track of our experiences. What we’re learning also serves as a source of inspiration. We recognize that the types of topics we’re learning about as we grow Buffer—like A/B testing, SlideShare, and email list building—might be similar to some of the things you’re working on for your growth and marketing, so we use them as inspiration.
Where do we get our ideas?
We’d quickly run out of ideas if writing and publishing were our only activities. The idea generation process necessitates us thinking outside the content creation box and dipping our toes into other areas.
We get a lot of our ideas from content curation, which is the process of reading, discovering, and sharing the best stories online regularly.
What’s the best way to find the “best of” content? It necessitates a substantial amount of reading. We spend time in various locations, soaking up as much information as possible (building the lightning rod, so to speak). Both in terms of where we read our content and the tools we use to surface it, we strive for variety. So we might read KISSmetrics, Crazy Egg, and Seth Godin, and we might get there via RSS, Twitter, and email newsletters.
I find keeping an extensive list of RSS feeds in Feedly, checking in with several Twitter lists, and visiting content sites like Inbound.org and BuzzSumo to be highly beneficial. Here’s how my Feedly looks right now:
Our content team also benefits from diversity. When it comes to curation, Courtney and Leo have different sources than I do. I’m still unsure where they get all of their brilliant ideas (and I’m sure they wonder where mine come from, too).
Of course, after coming up with all of these ideas, the next step is to figure out what to do with them. This is how we keep track of our thoughts.
Inside our Trello board, you can see how we came up with our ideas.
Trello is how we organize our thoughts and assign content for the coming weeks. It’s an open-ended approach to idea curation: pretty much anything goes. Some concepts are as simple as a phrase or a headline. Others have a half-dozen comments or links.
The current state of the idealist is as follows:
We have 47 ideas for our social media blog (the one you’re reading right now) and 36 ideas for Open, our sibling blog. Do any of the suggestions sound like something you’d be interested in reading?
Our Trello board is essentially a digital swipe file, a collection of ideas that we can quickly refer to.
Swipe files started as a way for copywriters to save tried-and-true advertising letters, but the practice has since spread to many industries. Newspaper reporters refer to theirs as a “morgue” file because it contains the dead things that will be reanimated later. Dribbble and Ffffound both have swipe files for designers and artists.
As Copyblogger’s Jerod Morris so eloquently puts it, the value is that swipe files keep your ideas close at hand, so you’re never without inspiration.
Successful writers have a system in place for keeping track of and recalling ideas. Because knowing that you always have a bank of great ideas to fall back on for those days when you wake up with nothing fresh on your mind eliminates the fear of the blank page.
If you want to make a swipe file for your ideas, you can do what we do and track them on boards like Trello. I’ve also included a few more of my favorite alternatives.
Evernote: Probably the most popular bookmarking tool, Evernote offers a vast array of clipping and saving options. You can save ideas from both the internet and the real world. Evernote even has image recognition capabilities, which allows it to extract text from photos.
Icebergs: Icebergs’ visual bookmarking service collects screen captures, uploaded files, text, video, and notes on a beautiful board that you can share and collaborate with team members.
Here’s a link to a shared board where I keep some of my favorite GIFs from Buffer’s GIF parties.
Gimmebar: Like Icebergs, Gimmebar allows you to save any online inspiration you come across, including text that stands out in the body of your posts. It also makes it simple to link to tweets and videos.
The lifecycle of a blog post, from conception to completion
Now that you know where our ideas come from let me quickly walk you through how an idea gets from a Trello board to a Buffer blog post. It’s a never-ending process; here’s how it currently looks.
We brainstorm the best posts for the following week on Fridays.
Every week, we try to devote at least one post to statistics or tools. We’ve also been emphasizing more thoughtful content so that post fills another void. Aside from that, we pick the most relevant, timely, and “blockbuster” idea we come across—the more actionable the information, the better.
Recommended: The New Rules Of Brainstorming
Each story is organized into a three-day schedule. Each day would consist of one stage from three different blog posts—research, writing, and editing in an ideal world.
Day one is dedicated to research.
A blog post idea’s worth is best demonstrated through research. Occasionally, we’ll start with the idea that turns out to be completely different after we’ve done our research. We can be flexible and evolve the idea in a new direction if the sources do not support the premise.
When the research is finished, I put it all into an outline in the post editor to start writing on day two.
Day two: Composing
My first drafts of posts are occasionally quite bad, which I don’t mind. One of the advantages of having the writing process spread out over three days is this. On Day Two, I can write terrible drafts and still have time to improve them on Day Three.
This writing step serves as an excuse for me to jot down as many ideas as possible. Today I write for a long time, knowing that I will edit tomorrow. At this point, I’ll also include as many visuals and graphics as possible.
(I only write in WordPress’s distraction-free editor.) For me, it’s been a huge time saver. If you want to try it out for yourself, go to the post editor’s toolbar and click the “distraction-free” icon.)
Read Also: Four (4) Places To Find Your Next Big Idea
The third day is spent editing.
I can approach a blog post with a fresh perspective by taking a break between writing and editing. I tend to get quite involved in the stories I write, so I need some time to reflect and breathe before returning to edit. The 24-hour gap between writing and editing has been beneficial in allowing me to publish content that I am confident in.
More ideas on publishing, learning, and more
We celebrate and share the post once it’s live. And then we curate some more. Comments and responses to the post can be a great source of new ideas—elements we could expand on, parts we overlooked, and areas that readers found particularly compelling. We’re always on the lookout for new ideas as soon as an old one is exhausted.