How to be everywhere, all the time (and still retain your sanity)

[Image courtesy of Sally Wilson at Flickr Creative Commons]

I read this week of an interesting experiment that’s happening at a school in Cheshire, in the north of England.

BBC School News Report challenged Year 10 students (that’s 14-year-olds to you and me) to do without social media for a week. The digital detox includes Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, as well as YouTube and any of the other tools that have teenagers – and many adults too – glued to their screens to the exclusion of all else.

The results are as you might expect: these digital natives have had a difficult time weaning themselves off social media, but have actually discovered that life doesn’t stop.

In fact one of the encouraging things for me was that they rediscovered the power of the written word, when it’s not limited to 140 characters and abbreviations. The Tarporley High School librarian says that she has never seen as many books borrowed as during the week the experiment lasted.

Digital detoxes aside, social media is a force to be reckoned with, and it’s not going away anytime soon. If you run a business, you need to be on it. But what exactly is ‘it’? Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? What about forums and blogs?

The answer is everywhere, and all the time. Which leads to the inevitable question – how on earth are you going to to find the content (quite apart from the stamina) to keep such a communication drive up and running? 

The content challenge

The answer is: much more easily than you might imagine. All it takes is a bit of lateral thinking, and a dash of creativity. 

Let me give you en example.

Recently, an agency contacted me on behalf of a client of theirs who wanted to start a blog. They’re in the high-tech sector, and know that content is king in a market that’s constantly moving. They wanted to position themselves as a thought-leader, and the go-to company for the niche they operate in. 

They also thought an e-book might be a good idea. And that they should probably do something on Twitter, and maybe LinkedIn – though not Facebook. But even without Facebook, they were facing an uphill struggle finding readable, valuable and shareable content.

The challenge was big, resources were limited, and the sheer number of elements seemed daunting. But I never say never, so I jumped in feet first.

I started small, researching half-a-dozen possible blog posts. One of the subjects gave me a great idea for the e-book, and when I started digging deeper, I discovered a goldmine of material that could later be turned into a whitepaper. 

Research, rework, repurpose. Rinse & repeat.

When I’m in ‘sponge mode’, I’m just looking for lots and lots of inputs. Sometimes, I have no idea where they’ll take me, but for the moment, that doesn’t really matter. Here, we’re looking for volume, not details. 

And if you’re thinking that all of this takes lots of time, it doesn’t. Skim-read headings and the first line of each paragraph (that’s a hugely valuable tactic) and you’ll very quickly get an overview.

Based on my digital digging, here are my top tips: 

  • Note down everything, even what doesn’t seem important.
  • Refer to your list often, and let it be the springboard for new ideas. 
  • Use MindMaps to cross-reference ideas and approaches.
  • Stop trying to be original (and I’m a serial offender, so take it from one who knows). If everything has already been said, then accept that you’ll just have to find a new spin on an old story.
  • Always think ‘How can I reuse this content?’ Can the same material be an e-book, a blog post, a whole series of tweets, a short, punchy Did you know? item?

Also, remember the saying ‘good artists copy – great artists steal’.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that you filch somebody else’s copy, but there’s no reason why you can’t use it as model for yours. After all, chances are that they used somebody else’s as a model for theirs.

You may remember I recently read a biography of David Cameron. It was hugely entertaining and had me hooked from the very first page. And yet it relied very heavily on other books, newspaper articles and written sources.

Yes, there was original research, but much was simply repackaging facts, quotes and opinions from elsewhere in an engaging manner. Drawing conclusions that nobody else had, and adding value by analysing afresh. 

You know how, when you learn a new word, it suddenly starts popping up everywhere? Content is exactly the same.

As soon as you searching, it emerges from everywhere. And you can scale it up so it’s a whitepaper, scale it down so it’s a tweet, make it serious and share it on LinkedIn, make it light-hearted and share it on Facebook.

Combine it in different ways, and put a different spin on the same story, and you’ll never run out of things to say. Or places to say it in.

And remember, that goes beyond the always-on, bite-sized world of social media. If you’re a teenager in Cumbria, it might be something you easily forget. But all it takes is a few days of digital detox, and you discover there’s a whole wide world out there. 

And now, you’ll have content to fill it.