Specializing in social marketing and business communications training

The Golden Rule for Creating Tons of Great Content

Social media is putting pressure on all of us to develop solid content for our websites, e-zine articles, and blog posts.

The feelings of writer’s block and a lack of creativity are frustrating. I’d like to offer you a solution. 

It’s the golden rule I learned 25 years ago when I started my radio news career as a street reporter in New Jersey. It’s at the core of our world today in social media. 

The Golden Rule  

In addition to anchoring on-air newscasts, my job was to cover community events, press conferences, and government meetings. The first day in the newsroom, my boss growled at me, “Don’t come back without a story.”  This my friends, is the golden rule. 

Every reporter, whether it’s print, radio or TV, has heard the same mantra. It’s the marching orders for all news pros. I suppose we have to earn our keep. So do you. 

How It Works

I would go to these meetings and events and often didn’t know what issues or things would pop up. Sure there were agendas, but there public portions and no one knew who would stand up to speak, or what they would talk about. That was part of the thrill. For the most part, things were interesting.  There were controversial issues with huge impacts on people, businesses, and quality of life. Trash incinerators, massive construction projects, corruption, murders, taxes, and more.  These were all good opportunities for interviews and snappy sound bites.

But there were also times when it wasn’t easy. I knew the rule:  “Don’t come back without a story.”  I’d look at the meeting agenda and it seemed mundane. 

This forced me to listen in a new way. All I heard in my head was the gruff bark of my boss, “Don’t come back without a story.”  I’d have to keep my radar up and really pay attention. I had to always “be on.” I had to be more creative and listen for tidbits and nuggets to uncover.  They were there; and it was my job to find them.     

What This Means To You: Your 5-Point Action Plan  

Even though you’re probably not a news reporter, we’re in a fiercely competitive world desperately searching for content. To meet this challenge, you always have to “be on.” It’s about keeping your radar in life fully activated. 

I challenge you to live each day with the mantra: “Don’t come back without a story.”

Here’s your 5-point assignment:

1. Awaken and fall asleep each day with a journal or small notebook in arm’s reach. Carry it with you all the time.   

2. Start to listen in different ways to your breakfast conversation, a dialogue in an elevator, or a talk you have with your mechanic.  Watch people.  What are they saying or doing that can tie back into your world? Be curious. Jot things down. Don’t leave anything to memory. 

3. Understand all the content you need is in front of your face. Connect what you’ve seen and heard back to your expertise, business, products, customer service, vacation, and computer crash. Think about how it fits in with trends in your industry.

4. Remind yourself that you are ‘always on.’ Pay attention!

5. Remember your goal: “Don’t come back without a story.” 

At the end of each day, review your notes, phrases, and nuggets. Select at least one topic that you can use for your blog, newsletter, bylined article, or video. 

You’ll soon notice an improvement in your creativity. 

Now that you know the rule, I’m sure you’ll come up with some great ideas.  I hope you’ll share them. 

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Comments

  1. That’s a wonderful approach Susan. I too realized a long time ago that the best content can come out from the most unexpected situation. I have a tendency to forget things kinda easy, and when I get an awesome idea for new content, I use my iPhone to keep track of it, be it through Evernote or recording an audio memo.
    Having a wealthy list of written ideas is the key element never to run out of content. From initial idea to mind map, to first extended draft, then re-read, edit, publish, it’s a method that worked for me so far.

    • Hi Gabriele,

      You mention two wonderful points that I did not! Mind mapping, and taking “notes” with technology like an Ipad, blackberry, recorder, etc. In my radio days, it was a spiral reporter’s notebook!
      Thanks for your insights.

      Best regards,
      Susan

  2. Susan, you bring up some great points, and at the core – at least from my perspective – is developing the art of listening to what is really being said. The end result IS the story in many cases.

    The art of effective listening is a challenge for those who love to hear themselves talk – and yes we can all be guilty of this from time to time. My own experiences have taught me to figure out an effective way of questioning without sounding argumentative. In the technology industry this can be tough, but if I think it fits in both industries – media and technology. We want the root answers not just the political ones.

    While I may not always carry a notebook with me everywhere I go, I do tend to take a lot of notes both before and after a meeting or event. I take the notes I need to take beforehand to be better prepared and take even more notes afterward as a sort of brainstorming exercise to find related options or answers. I find that those who bury their head in a notebook during an event are not always listening to what is really being said.

    Thanks for Sharing

    • Hi Marty,

      You raise some great points too! I completely agree with the ability to ask questions (curious vs. argumentive) and then really listening to the responses. To me, the exercise in “Don’t come back without a story” is not to write down volumes of everything someone says but just some key phrases or a quick line that may resonate with you. Often when you go back and look at your notes, you don’t use what you have scribbled down, and that’s ok. Not everything will bring a post or article. These nuggets get the creative brain moving—which is a good thing! All you need is one or two gems to provide the impetus for your writing.

      Thank you for your insights.
      Susan

  3. Thanks, Susan. This is great advice, and it takes me back to my days (over 30 years ago) carrying my spiral reporter’s notebook to cover town-board meetings in central N.J. for the Asbury Park Press. As you said, sometimes the story wasn’t easy to find. But it was there. I’d remind myself that no matter how dry and pro forma the meetings, they were important to the people who lived in the town — and those people were counting on me to tell them the story.

    Good times…..

    • A kindred spirit Larry! I didn’t realize you were from NJ, and a former reporter. You’re right, people counted on us to tell their story, and often they didn’t realize they even HAD a story until we “showed” it to them.
      Cheers,
      Susanl

  4. That’s a wonderful approach Susan. I too realized a long time ago that the best content can come out from the most unexpected situation. I have a tendency to forget things kinda easy, and when I get an awesome idea for new content, I use my iPhone to keep track of it, be it through Evernote or recording an audio memo. Having a wealthy list of written ideas is the key element never to run out of content. From initial idea to mind map, to first extended draft, then re-read, edit, publish, it’s a method that worked for me so far.

    • Jean,

      Love your reference to mind-mapping, and the process of discovering and creating posts and ideas. Using some basic technology like a recorded memo is a fabulous way to keep track of ideas as they pop up. No excuses!
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      Susan

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