Warren Buffett, Arianna Huffington, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson have built great companies. But the reason you know their names is because they also created great content, which developed their personal brands.
Does this make them attention-seeking CEOs courting personal celebrity?
You may think so if you've read the classic academic study turned bestselling book, Good To Great. Jim Collins and his research team uncovered a surprising feature of wildly successful CEOs: extreme humility. Almost all of the CEOs he found who built great companies are unknown to the public.
That being said, in today's age of social media, things are different. There's a case to be made that all great CEOs should start the habit of consistently creating content that shares their expertise and story.
But what exactly should we write about?
Our response to this will impact everything else.
I interviewed top content creators with millions of fans to help you find the solution that works best for you...
1. Turn Incoming Questions Into Content
Dorie Clark, CEO of Clark Strategic Communications, author of Stand Out.
As a result of contributing to publications like Entrepreneur, Forbes, and the Harvard Business Review, I frequently get emails from people asking questions. I used to just respond with an answer. Now I have a better system...
Step 1: Ask them to ask the question on Quora
I learned this strategy interviewing technology thought leader Robert Scoble for my book Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It. When someone emails him an inquiry, he promises to respond if they post their question on Quora. A response on Quora can help five people, whereas a response through email can help only one.
Step 2: Turn the question into an article
Another approach is to turn interesting questions into blog posts (like these posts on how to become a successful podcaster or how to start writing for high-profile blogs). Each has thousands of views, expanding the number of people my advice can help.
Step 3: Keep a questions master document
I jot down interesting questions on my smartphone when I'm on the go. I collect my notes on a master list that is now more than 50 pages and has plenty of material to keep me inspired for years.
2. Have A Solid Decision Making Process Because Quick Decisions Are Often Unsafe Decisions
Blake Goodwine, CEO of Lionize Media Group
The quality of our lives, businesses, and content is determined by the quality of our decisions. Have a better decision making process, and you'll be able to pick topics better.
We've built an audience of tens of millions of visitors monthly as a result of our unique process. We try many topics (going in with the belief that we know nothing) and then deconstruct what works and what doesn't.
For example, for an area of our site, we take the 20 best articles and the 20 worst ones and print off all the analytics. Then, our team sits in our conference room and goes through tons of pages of analytics until they find common factors among good and bad.
Often, the common factor in the good is the polar opposite of the common factor of the bad! That's the variable that we key off on and focus future articles around.
For analyzing what works and what doesn't on your site, I recommend Google Analytics. For analyzing content online, I recommend Buzzsumo. Buzzsumo helps you see the most shared content for any keyword and allows you to export it into an excel document. Once it's in Excel, you can import it into Silk and see a visualization that will give you even deeper insight.
3. Your Role As A Writer Is To Say What We Are Unable To Say
Ryan Holiday , Author of The Obstacle Is The Way, media columnist at New York Observer, former Director of Marketing at American Apparel
Over the years, I've helped authors like Tim Ferriss, Tony Robbins, and Robert Greene create and market their books. Whenever I'm working with a client (or on my own content or books), I ask one simple question, "What is the thing that only you can say?"
If something could be covered just as well by someone else, you should leave that to them. Your energy is best focused on the thing that only you can say and you feel needs to be talked about because it cannot be found anywhere else.
When you follow these steps, you basically invent a new category, which is one of the laws of a book I highly recommend, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. Inventing a new category is so important because it's how you differentiate yourself. It is inherently not as exciting if you're a slightly better version of an existing thing.
4. Innovate On What Has Already Been Popular
Emerson Spartz, founder and CEO of Spartz Inc.
We live in a world where the amount of content online is doubling every year while people's attention spans are remaining the same. As a result, a lot of great content isn't being read.
What I've learned by co-founding Spartz Media, a network of sites (like Dose.com and OMG Facts) that collectively reach 45 million visitors per month, is that you can create real value for your target audience simply by exposing them to an idea that is circulating elsewhere online, which they haven't seen yet.
You have a better chance of creating virality by taking an idea that is already spreading virally elsewhere and repurposing it for your niche audience, than trying to come up with an idea from scratch.
To pick a viral topic first understand what's spreading. Look at the 'most popular', 'most shared', and 'most read' lists on other sites that have content relevant to your target audience. This is a gold mine of data informing about what your audience is most interested in.
From there, you can add value with your unique spin, taking the content up a level using your interests and insights on it.
As Isaac Newton wrote, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
5. Have A 24/7 Research Mindset
Neil Patel, founder of Quick Sprout
It may sound counterintuitive, but the most time intensive part of my article creation process is the research, not the writing. I'm constantly researching, so I always have ideas in my head that are incubating subconsciously and staying top of mind. As a result, the actual topics of my articles often arrive through creative insight. I call this my 24/7 research mindset, and it has helped me to write eight blog posts a week while running my two software companies.
Here is my process:
Write down a content idea and all of my initial thoughts on it. I don't worry if the ideas aren't fully developed. The key is to write them down.
Research. When I consume content, in the back of my head, I'm always evaluating it as a potential source for an article.
Put the research in a database. When I find something interesting and relevant, I paste the URL into an Evernote database that includes:
6. Skate To Where The Puck Is Going
Derek Flanzraich, founder and CEO of Greatist
Many people try to game platforms like Google to get search traffic. The problem with this approach is that just as it starts working, Google changes its algorithm in order to feature the best content. If gaming is your strategy, you'll always be playing catch-up.
At Greatist, we skate to where the puck is going. And that is always towards quality. Instead of us trying to keep up, these platforms have actually caught up to us. As a result, we get millions of visitors from search traffic every month.
Here's how we stay ahead:
Live and breathe our market. I believe you should only write about topics that you're actually following personally. There's just no replacement for knowing a space really well.
Notice patterns and trends. We go to where our narrowly-defined target market is and listen by observing what gets shared and reading comments.
Curate the best content. We link to the other content, add new perspectives, add more research, make it more usable, and fill in holes.
A great example is our spaghetti squash recipes article, which has been shared 120,000 times and is #2 on Google's search results for 'spaghetti squash recipes.' We follow Pinterest closely because that's where our target market is.
We noticed a pattern: spaghetti squash recipes were getting attention. So, we pulled together the nine best, healthiest spaghetti squash recipes and created a valuable article!
7. Don't Ask Yourself What The World Needs; Ask Yourself What Makes You Come Alive
Jordan Harbinger, cofounder of The Art of Charm, iTunes top 50 podcast
Over the last eight years, The Art of Charm podcast has grown to be a regular top 50 podcast that attracts 1.4 million listeners per month.
I originally created the podcast for guys that were like me and interested in the same things (i.e., how to gain the confidence to approach women). However, as I got older, this personally became less interesting to me as I had beaten the topic to death and entered a different stage of life. So, I had a difficult choice to make:
1. Do I create content in new areas that reflect my evolving interests?
2. Do I do stay focused on what will most directly grow our business?
Here's how I solved this challenge:
8. Get Your Inspiration From Unrelated Fields
Nadine Hanafi, Founder and CEO of We Are Visual
While most content creators innovate based on what they see working in their industry, I personally try to avoid looking at what other designers are publishing so I don't "contaminate" my ideas and end up unconsciously creating similar work.
Instead, I get my inspiration from other fields. For example, even though I'm a designer, I am subscribed to newsletters pertaining to legal advice, self-improvement, and even articles to CFOs. No one else in my field is reading them, so I get ideas that are more creative and unique as a result.
When I explore other industries unrelated to mine, I keep an eye out for things that are unique and original and take mental notes. For example, If I get an email with an intriguing headline and open it, I know something about it caught my attention and I try to analyze what. I recently opened a Groupon email with the headline "Best of Groupon Deals... The Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike our nephew, Steve)". So I examined exactly what I liked about it. Was it something that they said?
Once I figure it out what is attracting me, I'm able to use the same approach to keep other people's attention. In this case, I could modify the headline and use it in the subject of a newsletter or marketing email on my work: "Best of We Are Visual... The Slides That Make Us Proud".
Special thanks to Ian Chew, Gleb Ditrikh, and Sheena Lindahl who volunteered their time to edit this article and do research.