Every reputation management campaign includes a lot of brainstorming. We think about which websites to build, which web content to develop (text, video, social, graphics, images, etc.), which headlines to use for SEO and ORM purposes. This article will help you understand some of the best ways to brainstorm content for reputation management.
Brainstorming can be tough. James Franco did a pretty good documentary on the creative process the folks at Saturday Night Live use to come up with a great show each week. The bottom line is: brainstorming is a lot of work.
Brainstorming reputation management strategies forms a pattern much like a tree. They all follow the same basic parameters: trees have roots, branches and leaves; brainstorming strategies have questions and ideas. Many are quite similar: trees can be grouped by families and species; brainstorming strategies can be categorized as Socratic, free-form and more. But no two are exactly alike: every tree is the product of a unique environment, even when it belongs to a grove with thousands of individuals from the same.species; every brainstorming strategy is the product of a unique person.
If you could be a tree, any tree, what tree would you be?
If you are brainstorming online reputation ideas by yourself, how do you harness your unique strategy for maximum efficiency? And if you’re with a group or team, how do you combine the intellectual firepower of each person at the table for a stable, productive brainstorming session?
Make brainstorming a part of your culture
Though brainstorming sessions are “where the magic happens,” so to speak, inspiration can strike at any moment. We’ve all had that 2 a.m. moment: bolting awake with the best idea ever and flying out of bed, knocking over the nightstand on the way out, to write it down. But you don’t have to wait for that 2 a.m. wakeup. Nor do you have to wait for an organized brainstorming session, held daily or weekly.
Idea generation should be something that comes naturally, like small talk (for some people, at least) or your morning routine.
To facilitate your own idea-making, devise a system for recording ideas and areas for further inquiry as they come to you: for example, using your phone’s voice recorder or notepad, or carrying an old-fashioned pen and paper.
For an office team, create a systematized way for team members to share ideas, like a personalized Google doc for each member (editable only by the member and the team leader) or a regular email soliciting new ideas.
Don’t worry if you end up using—or even talking about at weekly brainstorming sessions—just a small fraction of the material produced by these strategies. The process of creating fosters cohesion, collaboration and creativity.
Set a session schedule
Though they should be more creative than the typical boardroom snooze-fest, brainstorming sessions are ultimately meetings. Like meetings, they should be orderly. And they should have some constraints. True, “creativity” and “constraint” aren’t typically mentioned in the same breath.
Strategic advisor John Poulson of Poulson Strategic in Mill Valley, California says "There is no reason for a meeting to last more than an hour. Focus tends to be lost in interminable meetings as attendees become distracted, discourse becomes unproductive, and facilitators lose control of the audience. Setting a 60-minute time limit will keep everyone on task."
But placing constraints on a brainstorming session, or on the scope of a session’s outcomes, doesn’t mean permanently shutting off your creativity tap. To prevent your next brainstorming session from getting out of hand and ensure that you accomplish the most pressing objectives without getting off into the weeds, set:
● A timed schedule, with blocks devoted to specific topics or items
● Session goals, possibly created with input from your team members
● Off-limits topics, i.e., those that don’t directly relate to the problem(s) the brainstorming session was called to address
Ask challenging questions
Every good idea must pass the “smell test.” It needs to make sense and not offend common sense. In the best brainstorming sessions no ideas are “shot down.” They can be sorted later into okay, good, and “great” ideas.
Great ideas have a higher bar to clear. Like high-performance machines, they need to survive a systematic probing of their strengths and weaknesses. They need to solve problems or at least contribute to solutions. And they need to create value for their creators—whether that’s giving your company a competitive edge or enhancing your online reputation.
To separate great ideas from merely good ones, you need to ask questions. Lots of them. Preferably in linear fashion. At Reputation X we talk about websites and web pages a lot, so we’ll use that as the basis of our questions below.
Q: Why is this website failing to convert at projected rates?
A: Because it has low traffic and a high bounce rate.
Q: Why is traffic so low?
A: Because it has too few inbound links from high-authority sites.
Q: Why is no one linking to or lingering on it?
A: Because the onsite content isn’t relevant and compelling for the audience we’re trying to attract.
Q: How can we fix that?
A: By creating relevant, compelling content for our target audience.
A: Let’s solicit topic ideas from our social media fans.
Q: How do we know they’ll help?
A: We’ll award a prize for the best idea.
And off we go.
Remember that great idea you had at 2 a.m. a few nights ago? No? That’s because you didn’t write it down.
Great ideas often fade away because they’re often the result of incomplete documentation. Someone throws out a casual comment that contains the nugget of a groundbreaking idea, no one writes it down or even acknowledges it, and it dips back into the collective subconscious until—bam!—you’re waking up in a cold sweat with visions of a Nobel Prize dancing before your eyes.
At scheduled brainstorming sessions, set up a recording (audio, video or both) device or tap a dedicated scribe to record everything that’s said. Distribute these recordings and transcriptions, in edited form, to team members, or use them to create slideshows or PowerPoints. As long as the editing process doesn’t change any important meanings, this strategy puts the full range of your team’s creativity at your disposal.
Quit while you’re ahead
Even the most productive brainstorming sessions have an expiration date. We all know the signs of meeting fatigue: slumped postures, bored glances, awkward silences, curt answers, gaping yawns. The goal is to get through an entire brainstorming session with minimum exposure to meeting fatigue. Brainstorming sessions that feel more like jungle slogs can sap morale and build resentment: “The boss kept us in another long one today...what else is new?”
As noted above, a meeting schedule is great for keeping things to the point (and on point). But so is a hard cap on session length. Depending on your objectives, 20 or 30 minutes is probably enough time to generate some great ideas and lay the foundation for the next project or session. And to drive home the point that ideas don’t only have to come from formal brainstorming sessions, and to foster that all-important culture of creativity, end each session with an open-door directive: “If you think of anything else, just shoot me an email and copy the team.”
Get started with brainstorming now
With these tips for better brainstorming, you’ve got everything in place for a more efficient idea-generation operation. But brainstorming sessions don’t make themselves. So here’s one last piece of advice for the idea man or woman in you: If you’re serious about finding and cultivating the next crop of great ideas, get your collaborators together for regular, short, brainstorming meetings. You might just be taken aback by the power of your own ideas.