We’ve all been there—sitting around a table with coworkers, staring at next month’s content calendar. Somehow, shockingly, the calendar is blank. “How did I let this happen again?” you may be thinking, or “Will the internet never cease?”
Finally, after minutes of awkward silence, someone croaks, “So…anyone have any ideas?”
This is a nightmare scenario for me—an INFJ personality type who feels obligated to fill all silences with my own mindless chatter. I’m sure it’s a nightmare scenario for you, too. Besides highlighting the wildly swift pace of time, a blank content calendar can inspire panic at the thought of next month’s workload.
But that’s only if you’re doing it wrong. With the right strategies at hand, team (or even solo) brainstorms can be fun and productive events. In fact, looking at a blank content calendar can inspire creativity and excitement.
Don’t believe me? Try one or more of these strategies in your next brainstorm and see what happens.
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1. Review top performing posts or content
The best place to look for inspiration when you’re feeling uninspired is the content you already have. What performed well? Ask your team if they have any ideas for how to replicate that success in the coming months.
Reviewing top performing content also enables you to cut out inefficiencies. Besides getting to see which posts worked, you get to see which posts didn’t work and can avoid similar posts in the future.
2. Investigate your competitors
The second best place to look for inspiration is the feeds of your enemies. What are they doing that you’re not? What sorts of posts are successful for them? My personal favourite is: What are they doing that you could do better?
You could go so far as to perform a comprehensive gap analysis. But even a quick scroll through the feeds of one or two of your major competitors is often enough to start the brain rolling.
3. Go seasonal
In the world of social media, there is a “holiday” with a hashtag for every single day of the year. Find out which holidays are coming up in your content calendar and decide which ones make sense for your brand to “celebrate” online. Then discuss the interesting or unique ways in which to celebrate. Hint: there may be some existing content that can be repurposed (see point number one).
For example, in March 2018, Hootsuite decided to celebrate #nationalpuppyday by updating and sharing an older blog post called 8 Dogs That Are Better at Instagram Than You. It took relatively little time and effort to publish, but continues to be a big hit on our social feeds (even though it is no longer #nationalpuppyday). In a perfect world, every day would be #nationalpuppyday.
4. Review your goals
Does your team have a mission and/or a vision statement? Now would be a good time to pull that out. Sometimes all it takes is a reminder of why you’re here to get the ball rolling.
Another great thing to look at is the official goals you set when you created your social media strategy. Ask the team to think about what kind of content they think will help to achieve those goals. Even just having them top of mind when you’re throwing ideas around is useful. That way you can also reject ideas that don’t help you achieve those goals.
5. Keep an inspiration folder
See something you like on the web? Bookmark it or save it in a folder on your desktop so you can return to it when inspiration is running low.
The items you save don’t have to be related to your brand or audience at all. Maybe you like the framing of a certain headline, or the vibe of a certain photograph, or the tone of the writing in a certain article. Keep it all. Inspiration can come from anywhere. And if you liked it, there’s probably a good reason for it.
6. Ask your audience
As an editor of the Hootsuite blog, I’m super lucky that the audience I am trying to reach sits right beside me. Since we publish content for social media professionals, we make it a point to invite our own social team to our brainstorming sessions. And then we grill them relentlessly about what kind of content they want to read next month.
Even if you don’t sit next to your audience, you still have access to them—on social. Ask them what they’re interested in seeing on your channel in the coming months. Or, simply review the comments on your posts for clues.
7. Read the news
So maybe we’re not all the best at keeping up with industry news. There are a million and one things to do in a day, after all. But, if there’s ever a time to get caught up, it’s right before a brainstorming session.
Take this time to note down any news that affects your brand or your audience. Is there something you can publish to address this news? For instance, when Facebook announced major changes to its algorithm in 2018, we published a list of actions brands could take to mitigate the effects of the change.
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8. Review trending hashtags
This goes hand in hand with reading the news, but it’s also its own thing. Review trending hashtags to see if there’s any that make sense for your brand to engage with. Ask for input from your team about how to get creative with the details. Just be sure you really understand what the hashtag is about and if it’s brand-appropriate before jumping in.
9. Play music
Some people get their best work done in silence, but silence can be extremely uncomfortable for others. My fellow introverts in the room may find it impossible to break the silence at the beginning of a brainstorm sessions with an idea of their own. So, why not avoid silence all together by putting on some tunes?
Keep the volume low—just high enough to banish all intimidation from the room.
10. Do “sprints”
“Sprinting” is not only for runners and software developers. We do it in creative writing class too! It’s a fun exercise that carries over well to brainstorms as the objective is the same: getting your brain warmed up.
Try writing a theme on a board in your meeting room. Set a timer (between three and five minutes, or longer if you think it will be useful) and ask everyone to start writing whatever comes to mind. Last month, for the Hootsuite Blog brainstorm, we used the theme “spring” and came up with a ton of great ideas for blog posts related to the season, including this one.
11. Accept all ideas—at first
One of the most important elements of a productive brainstorm is to make it a safe space for everyone to speak up and contribute. Depending on your team, that may mean leaving the critiquing of ideas until later.
There’s nothing more intimidating in a group brainstorm than having your idea immediately rejected. And for what? Some of the best ideas arrive after a bunch of unrealistic, terrible ideas are thrown out there.
My suggestion? Take down every single idea submitted in the brainstorm—even the wild ones—and then book a separate session with yourself or a couple of core team members to “refine” your list.
I’m not saying that you’ll never have to worry about an awkward silence ever again. But, now that you’re equipped with 11 tried-and-true strategies for tackling social media brainstorm sessions, you should find it much easier to come up with new, high-quality ideas for your content calendar on a regular basis. In my books, that’s a win.
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