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The Reverse-Process Technique of Discovering Blog Topics

Often when I talk to companies about blogging they tell me while other companies might have a wealth of things to write about, their company would probably struggle to write more than a few posts before seizing up. It normally takes me coming up with ten or so topic ideas for me to convince them otherwise. How do I perform this seemingly magical feat?

The technique I use, amongst others, is one I call “Reverse Process Discovery”. That’s a fancy name for something that is actually quite simple and one that almost any company can do.

It’s an idea based on the fact that if you are in business there is stuff you do that you are good at. Other people might like to get good at that too, or know why you are good at a particular thing. Sometimes it is your quality procedures and high standards that set you apart and give you a premium placing, why not brag about how you do things?

What I do is take the processes and reverse them. For Amazon for example they are really good at getting a choice of thousands of products to your door. How does it get to your door? We work back from the end point or deliverable and work out what has to happen at each step. In the Amazon example it would work all the way back to warehousing, computer systems, etc.

Discovery comes into play when you think about the sorts of things you do and discover lots of things you can talk about along the way. Just listing your processes is not enough, you have to turn them into blog post topics. At each stage you have to be aware of what makes this particular point or task different/better/remarkable/newsworthy. In Amazons case it is the sheer scale, the quantity of data and product, their massive popularity. For you it could be the other end of the scale, your personal approach and individual service, etc.

I use this technique on this blog. For example I can think of a particular client project. How did we make their site popular? If we go back in time at each step we can see the progression from success through to the initial consulting. Stating facts generates questions if you put yourself into a curious state of mind. At each stage we can look at ideas for what to write about:

  • Thousands of happy subscribers – How did they get the subscribers? What makes them happy? How do we know they are happy? Is thousands important? Would it have been a success had this not happened? What does success mean in this case? How do you work out what success means for you?
  • Front page Digg stories – How did we get to the front page of Digg? How do we think of ideas that would work? Does Digg create success? What happens when you get to the front page of Digg?
  • Regular posting schedule – Is a regular posting schedule important? How do we maintain that schedule? Does the client post or outsource? What are the factors required to decide?
  • Spread of blog categories – How do we choose categories? How many categories is too many? What do you call your categories? Do categories help in SEO?
  • Concept for the blog – How do you decide a blog concept? Should you decide a concept or allow it to evolve? How do you communicate this concept? How do companies decide when they disagree internally?
  • Convincing client to blog – When I think a blog is a good idea, how do I convince a client to blog? When would I recommend not blogging?
  • Client approaches me – What makes a client approach me? How do I find clients? Do blogs help me in marketing?

As you can see, from a relatively short list of events in one project I can come up with enough topics to keep this blog going for quite a while!

Have a good think about the activities and events in your own routine, what can you find that gets results, sets you apart, or might be interesting then drill right down. Think from the point of view of a curious prospect and you might be surprised how many topic ideas you can think of!

Table of contents for Topic Generation

  1. How to Generate Post Ideas When You Are Stuck
  2. Chunking and Outlining Blog Topic Ideas
  3. The Reverse-Process Technique of Discovering Blog Topics
  4. Using Mind Maps in Blogging
  5. Planning Blog Post Topics
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Comments

  1. Blogging is participator, so beyond just breaking down the topics by competencies, you better make sure you can respond to the comments with equal savvy and authenticity.

    Some companies have a good writer who can blog all day, but have no idea how to handle a dissatisfied customer’s post – so most just ignore the comments by not approving them. Bad move. After a while, this PR massaging gets to be obvious. I’ve seen this first hand and it’s not pretty. Done a few times, the whole blog looks like a pitch.

    So also ask…can your post survive a ruthless drill-down in plain sight? If so, your authenticity will pay huge dividends.

  2. Blogging is participator, so beyond just breaking down the topics by competencies, you better make sure you can respond to the comments with equal savvy and authenticity.

    Some companies have a good writer who can blog all day, but have no idea how to handle a dissatisfied customer’s post – so most just ignore the comments by not approving them. Bad move. After a while, this PR massaging gets to be obvious. I’ve seen this first hand and it’s not pretty. Done a few times, the whole blog looks like a pitch.

    So also ask…can your post survive a ruthless drill-down in plain sight? If so, your authenticity will pay huge dividends.

  3. Good point. I think that is another good reason for basing your posts around what you do, as any employee of the company (in theory) ought to be able to answer questions about the work, but might be more in difficulty if the topic wanders to far outside the reality of their actual business.

  4. Good point. I think that is another good reason for basing your posts around what you do, as any employee of the company (in theory) ought to be able to answer questions about the work, but might be more in difficulty if the topic wanders to far outside the reality of their actual business.

  5. Not to get too far off topic, but in many cases a company blog is not the place to deal with customer service issues. Those inquiries should be referred to the company’s normal customer service channels (and hopefully they don’t suck).

    Now back to the topic: Chris, this is so simple and effective. What a great technique. We have blind spots that, of course, we can’t see, until someone else points them out to us. That’s really one of the main benefits of hiring professional bloggers or blog consultants: we are going to bring a practiced eye to the situation and see what others don’t. With practice, all of this becomes easier. Especially if you have something of a formula to work from.

    This reverse-process discovery method provides blog content that does exactly what it’s supposed to: differentiate and educate. A company’s process is something that differentiates it from other companies, and educating readers/customers pays big dividends down the road. In this day and age, people don’t fully trust you unless you feel comfortable revealing your process or, better yet, use it as a bragging point.

    Hmmm… that gives me an idea for a post…

  6. Not to get too far off topic, but in many cases a company blog is not the place to deal with customer service issues. Those inquiries should be referred to the company’s normal customer service channels (and hopefully they don’t suck).

    Now back to the topic: Chris, this is so simple and effective. What a great technique. We have blind spots that, of course, we can’t see, until someone else points them out to us. That’s really one of the main benefits of hiring professional bloggers or blog consultants: we are going to bring a practiced eye to the situation and see what others don’t. With practice, all of this becomes easier. Especially if you have something of a formula to work from.

    This reverse-process discovery method provides blog content that does exactly what it’s supposed to: differentiate and educate. A company’s process is something that differentiates it from other companies, and educating readers/customers pays big dividends down the road. In this day and age, people don’t fully trust you unless you feel comfortable revealing your process or, better yet, use it as a bragging point.

    Hmmm… that gives me an idea for a post…

  7. Why do so many companies feel overwhelmed when you bring up the idea of starting a blog? A friend of a friend asked for advice on how to increase traffic to their software company’s website and I mentioned starting a weekly blog with simple tutorials about some of their more popular products. The answer from the boss was a quick and definitive NO, and he said it would be too much work. Surely there must be someone at the company who knows how to use the product???

    @Michael
    As you mentioned, company blogs are not the place to handle customer complaints, except possibly in a few specific cases. A company’s blog is for everyone to see, and most complaints/customer issues are something that must be dealt with on an individual basis. Two customers that have similar complaints may require very different solutions, and regular customers may not understand why their problem was handled one way and someone with a similar problem was dealt with in another.

  8. Why do so many companies feel overwhelmed when you bring up the idea of starting a blog? A friend of a friend asked for advice on how to increase traffic to their software company’s website and I mentioned starting a weekly blog with simple tutorials about some of their more popular products. The answer from the boss was a quick and definitive NO, and he said it would be too much work. Surely there must be someone at the company who knows how to use the product???

    @Michael
    As you mentioned, company blogs are not the place to handle customer complaints, except possibly in a few specific cases. A company’s blog is for everyone to see, and most complaints/customer issues are something that must be dealt with on an individual basis. Two customers that have similar complaints may require very different solutions, and regular customers may not understand why their problem was handled one way and someone with a similar problem was dealt with in another.

  9. @Michael – Always glad to inspire 😉

    @Gabriella – There is a real fear of blogging. Some people get it right away, others come round to the idea cautiously, while others fear it or don’t understand. Companies tend to grow to a size where they would rather be safe, do what they have always done, than be innovative, without realizing it is only those companies that take chances and evolve that tend to survive.

  10. @Michael – Always glad to inspire 😉

    @Gabriella – There is a real fear of blogging. Some people get it right away, others come round to the idea cautiously, while others fear it or don’t understand. Companies tend to grow to a size where they would rather be safe, do what they have always done, than be innovative, without realizing it is only those companies that take chances and evolve that tend to survive.