Ideation is not a science; ideation is an art. Sometimes good ideas come to you in a moment of inspiration in the shower or while you are driving, but other times it takes a little more effort to cultivate an idea that you can turn into worthy editorial content. At Column Five, we test each idea by asking ourselves these five questions, which we feel establish the parameters within which good ideas can grow.
1. How is it relevant to your audience?
If your audience doesn’t find what you’re saying to be relevant or interesting, you probably don’t have something worth saying. Therefore, to properly gauge your idea’s relevance, you must identify your audience. Is it broad or niche? Are you targeting all Internet users, or only those users you believe are interested in your brand?
Another way to help determine your idea’s relevance is to reverse-engineer the question: would your audience be interested in what you’re saying? Are they going to care about what you have to tell them? Some clues that you’re on the right track: they’re invested in the subject matter, it challenges one of their accepted truths, or it provides insight into how to make their lives easier.
The more specific the audience, the more targeted your message can be. If you want to reach males between the ages of 13 and 17 who spend more than 15 hours a week online, a generic graphic on how electricity usage affects the environment will probably not pique their interest. But honing in on a more audience-specific angle, such as how the electrical consumption of the world’s Diablo 3 servers affects the environment, will get their attention. True, not everyone will find that type of content relevant, but your target audience will—and that’s what matters.
If you are trying to reach a broader audience, it’s recommended to communicate at a higher level (or “surface level”) and offer something that can inform or entertain people, but still provide them with a significant takeaway. The teenagers interested in Diablo 3 probably won’t be as engaged with this type of “introductory” content, but your broader audience will. The goal is always to tailor your content to suit your audience, whether large or small.
2. How does it help achieve your communication objectives?
Essentially, what would you want to happen if you were to turn this idea into a piece of content? Do you want readers to sign up for your mailing list, buy your product, or just share your content on social media? First, you must establish your goals. Then, ask yourself which type of content will be effective in helping you achieve those goals. If you have a clear understanding of the content that is more likely to work for you, based on this objectives-based perspective, you’ll reduce the risk of coming up with arbitrarily interesting—or even useless—ideas.
3. Would it enlighten or entertain?
This is perhaps the simplest of all questions: is your idea enlightening or entertaining? When it comes to editorial content, the answer should be “yes” to at least one. People can tell when you are trying to sell something. But people will also become fans (and oftentimes, customers) of brands that provide them with something of value. In many cases, it can be simply content. This is where content marketing comes in.
As a general rule, I believe the most interesting and most well-received graphics are those that aim to simply enlighten or entertain people. These are the graphics that tend to provide people with some little nugget of value—a definitive takeaway. So the next time you think about creating a “15 Household Remedies for Bunions” infographic for your online shoe store, you should probably think again.
4. Is the subject matter interesting?
Everyone has hobbies and interests. But people often make the mistake of not separating themselves from the content they want to produce. Sure, you’ve spent years becoming an expert in economics, French literature, informatics, or whatever your preferred field is. But just because you are interested in the effect of post-Misesian behavioral economics on the Austrian School, French authors’ use of the surreal, or the differences between Chinese and American World of Warcraft players doesn’t mean that other people are, too. Imagine yourself as a member of your audience. Would they want to read your content? Your readers may not have the same level of expertise, much less the same interest in the subject that you do. The only exception is if you’re only interested in trying to reach a handful of people (read: very targeted audience).
It’s important to walk the line between informational and interesting, and overly dense and technical. Where the line lies depends on your audience. The more background they have, the more you can focus on more specific concepts. Keep in mind what they want to click on. A subject being topical helps, and so does its ubiquity. A focused look at something everyone deals with but no one understands? Perfect.
5. How is your approach original?
If it’s been done already, you’re going to have to take a different angle than people who’ve been there before you. What about your subject matter hasn’t been examined yet? What surprising things does your data show? Finding new and unexpected ways to look at your subject is a surefire way to interest your audience.
If you want to be successful, your premise needs to be fresh. The basics of Twitter, Facebook, and BitTorrent have been done to death. But how big pop culture events affect them, or how quickly these communication platforms react to different disasters? What about a graphic on the differences between the types of messages a politician in the upcoming election tweets vs the types of content they are willing to share on Facebook? Now that’s a bit more interesting.
Let me know your thoughts on the matter @joshritchie, @columnfive