The Slush-pile Approach to Content Marketing

Content marketing took the Internet by storm in 2013, and now that it’s 2014 everyone is aware of this near-compulsory activity, both for sustaining an adequate rank in search results as well as for generating a devoted fan base.

But most of the articles I read are focused more on sound methods of content distribution via social media networks, websites, e-blasts and so on. With so much emphasis on the sharing, we neglect to tackle the content itself.

You can have all the necessary distribution channels in place and automated, but if your content is no more than a weather update alongside images of passing scenery, then you’re fighting a losing battle.

It’s a war between quality and quantity; too much of the latter without a sizeable dose of the former is a recipe for crickets, wasted resources and, ultimately, massive audience desertion. Hence, the most important aspect of content marketing is not the sharing but the raw content itself—every idea, concept, sticky fun fact or unusual (and valuable) nugget of value that you give your fans in return for their continued appreciation.

It comes down to the value you give, and providing this every week is a daunting task. You have to have something worthy of discussion before you put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard. So, the question is: How does one think up enough valuable-to-consumer ideas to fill a year-round slate? That is the million-dollar query after all. If you can come up with a steady stream of opinions and insights that people will actually want to read, then your job is already more than half done.

Introducing the slush-pile approach
Every person is different and so every approach to this problem will likewise be different. The best I can do is share with you the method I use. I call it the slush-pile approach, named for the many years I lived in Montreal, Quebec, walking through snow-slushy streets.

Based on years of experience writing, I can say with pretty solid certainty that less than 5% of my “big ideas” hit when I’m staring at the computer monitor about to hammer out the next article. The concepts that eventually form the base of whatever topic I comment on come from discussions with clients, arguments with friends, skimming the trades, reading books and general observations on the complexities of the world around us.

Wherever the origin, it is then my job to somehow remember, or jot down the idea in my iPhone, or rip a page out of a magazine, until I have a chance to transcribe it all into a dedicated brainstorming spreadsheet—my proverbial personal slush pile. Every potential topic for an article gets its own row, with one column dedicated to the eye-catching title that percolates in addition to a slew of columns for any thought, outlook or further comment that is appropriate.

While I realize that the term “slush pile” is traditionally used in editorial circles to denote unsolicited work from external sources, I nonetheless use this reference because typically my final drafts start off as, well, slush. But if I am able to mine a mere morsel of goodness from this pile of slush, then it makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

The next objective for this slush pile is the accumulation of topics and ideas for each topic until I deem that I have enough to pull the trigger on one or more articles. For instance, suppose you stumble upon a feasible and original concept for a summer package, as well as a great way to promote it by adjoining it to some other catchy material, but the eureka moment happens in early November. What are you supposed to do? Memorize the thought and hold it on the back of your mind for five months before the time is right to express it in full?

Just create a new line in your brainstorming spreadsheet and scribble it down in a cell. Aside from freeing your brain to formulate new observations and insights, one of the beauties of this approach is that, by not committing to writing an article right away, it affords to you the necessary time to let the topic ferment. This ensures the best writing possible while also delivering the most “value-dense” article for your audience. As you amass ever more topics and thoughts, you become less dependent on any single concept, giving you a tad more flexibility in terms of what material you pick to advance to the next step.

5 steps to content development success
To put the slush-pile approach into the overall context of a hotel’s blog and social media content strategy, here is a five-step action plan to follow:

  1. Create your content release schedule. Highlight any holiday periods or organizational milestones. Determine the frequency with which you will post to each outlet. Organize your team and delegate tasks to ensure that all due dates are met.
  2. Create your slush-pile database. Keep the spreadsheet flexible with room for memorable titles, ways to divide the article into multiple parts, ruminations, asides, references to other articles, contributors worth contacting for an outside opinion and so on. Use a color-coded system as well as pictures to help make the database as easy on the eyes as possible so that no row or ideas gets lost in the void.
  3. Fill your slush pile. Brainstorm ideas with your team, discuss topics over lunch with your other managers, research, prepare an outline and gather as much information as you can. This is a never-ending process. Some of the ideas you put into this database will remain there dormant for more than a year, while others will blossom into written articles within a month’s time.
  4. Write, write and rewrite. Once your slush pile has enough meat in it, it’s up to your own discretion to judge which clusters of ideas will make for the best articles—that is, which topics will give your fans the most value and generate the best possible response from them. Next comes the most difficult part: the physical writing. This is as much an art as it is a skill, and what I emphasize is that you use a structure that first gets your audience hooked with the most titillating nuggets of value at the top followed by any calls to action (for example, promotional links) at the bottom.
  5. Rinse and repeat. Once you’ve drafted a piece and given it a proofread, remove it from your slush pile and shift it over to the release schedule. Another concurrent step, if time permits, is to put your work forward to a peer review board to see if it can punch it up to heighten how an audience will perceive it once published. And while it’s waiting in the queue to be released, get started on writing more posts so you can stay ahead of the game.

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky on Hotel News Now on June 27, 2014)