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April 1, 2013 (Updated: February 2, 2023)
As a writer there are times when title assignments can seem daunting or even worse—boring. When a writer is bored by the title and description, the end result will be boring (or in the case of fantastic and assiduous writers it will be less amazing than it could have been).
Don’t be one of those content managers who doles out the dreadful assignments like a ruthless leader: create (or demand) titles that are thrilling. If the titles are so good that you want to write the articles yourself, then your writers will be ecstatic and inspired. When you assign these awesome titles you’ll be rewarded with fantastic articles.
That all sounds great; doesn’t it? Here’s how you get those amazing titles (the ones your writers will fight over and turn around in half the time because they’re so inspiring to write).
It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut and just accept whichever 20 titles are quickly written by your creative team. The titles are okay, they make sense for the sites where they’ll be seeded, and the resource links are sufficient. Why not click ‘accept’ and hurriedly assign the titles to a team so that they’re ready on schedule?
Here’s why: titles that are ‘just okay’ don’t inspire your writers, won’t impress your clients, and are harder to seed. Not only that, but these ‘okay’ pieces aren’t social. Come on. You know they aren’t going to get spread around like a common cold, hitting everyone on Facebook by lunch. Some of these titles you are approving aren’t worth reading when you’re on the clock, so why would random readers click them (much less share them)?
Decide whether you’d rather be on schedule with boring junk or if you’d rather challenge the creative team and stop accepting crap. It might jumble the production calendar for a month or so, but in the end your clients will thank you with larger contracts. As a former content production manager I can attest to the importance of signing-off on only the best titles. When the title makes sense everything else just falls into place.
Accepting awful titles is a lot like choosing a gross-sounding recipe and thinking your dish will be delightful. Why would you do that?
Would you read that? Even if the title you’re contemplating would be fun to write and meets the other criteria, the real question is whether or not you’d read it. When you’re in the habit of accepting crap it’s easy to forget your own intuition. Imagine yourself reading your way through the fifth page of Reddit and browsing this title: would you honestly click it (and then actually read or share it)?
Furthermore, are you still reading social sites like Reddit? A social content manager forgets what the public is clicking, what’s trending in general, and what’s happening in the world at large as soon as he or she is “too busy” to enjoy social networks.
My brilliant former manager Jordan Kasteler used to demand that we spend 30 minutes a morning catching up on what was in that day. Of course, he knew we spent all of our free time the night before enjoying social sites, but he also knew staying in-this-minute fresh was vital to the creative process, so he paid us to do it each morning. That’s how critical it is to know your audience: you should be eating it for breakfast.
Creatives are like unicorns in that they’re rare (or imaginary, depending upon your perception) and they require a lot of care and grooming. You must provide them with adequate breaks, good lighting, lots of toys and entertainment (that are inspirational), and snacks. Unicorns tend to love Starbucks and smoothies, if you’re taking notes.
When you treat your creative team like the delicate flowers they are, they’ll bloom. They will shower you with glorious spreadsheets filled to the last row with unique thoughts and workable titles, and their own inspiration will inspire them the next day.
However, once your creative team is in a downward spiral or just flat uninspired, it takes a lot of work to get them going, again. I suggest sending them to Starbucks to work in the café for a few hours (background noise and eavesdropping might inspire them). Or, have the entire company get together for a fun brainstorming session to reinvigorate your orchid-like creatives. Due diligence will work in the end, and they’ll get back on top.
So you don’t have a creative team, and you’re responsible for breaking your own back to produce ingenious ideas? No problem! Get a white board and start doodling. Your gripes and anxiety will drift away as you eventually start doodling work-related ideas. Use some of the past brainstorming ideas discussed, and try to tap your friends for help.
Some people might spy on a client’s competitors in order to cherry-pick and use their best ideas, but the better option is to spy on them in order to outperform them. If they did an excellent piece about the top ten doodads in 2012, then your client should publish the 37 most exciting doodads of 2013. If the client writes How to Become a Millionaire Overnight then your client should write 17 People Who Became Millionaires Overnight & Then Lost It All.
Figure out which generic titles your client’s competitors are using and avoid them. Then, try to write spins of their best ideas.
Even if your team is amazing (whether or not it’s just you), it can would benefit from fresh insights. Try to hire a new ideation team member, or an intern who is youthful and funky. Fresh blood encourages us to think from a new perspective and to face the changes that the new generation has invited into the social game.
Everyone involved in brainstorming for the clients benefits from learning more about the client. When you learn one tiny detail that excites you it can turn into fifteen ideas. Ask the clients for as much information as they can provide, and then gather even more (whether you use questionnaires, request pamphlets, read their sites, or buy their books).
Each time the ideation team seems stumped, send them back to the client. In the case of brainstorming, the client is the very basic foundation for every single idea the team creates. When the creative team spends a day in the client’s shoes they learn details that become ideas, and facts that inspire more research.
Furthermore, you as the content manager can spend time thinking about what the client wants. If a client that is a shoe brand wants ideas that are racy and adult-geared, then try to prompt the brainstorming team in ways that generate those kinds of ideas. For example:
If you run dry on prompts, ask the client for his or her input. In fact, invite the client into the brainstorm as much as he or she would like to be involved. Sometimes the client’s ideas are the basis for hundreds of spin-off ideas from the team.
Choose two or three people who are very current and savvy with social sites, and hire them to review all of the titles you approve. Allow them to be completely honest (perhaps even tell them they are reviewing ideas before you so that they aren’t nice about rejections). Direct them with the client’s basic needs and wants, as well as the target audience.
This team shouldn’t require much time (thus money) to review all of your ideas, but their input will be invaluable. Truly listen to their suggestions, and send their rejections back to the creative team to be re-worked. Also, keep track of your success percentage with the review team. If more than 10% of your approved ideas are rejected by unbiased reviewers, then perhaps you need to spend more time playing on social sites to get back in-touch with the audience.
After a month or two thank you review team and hire new reviewers. Never keep anyone around long enough to go blind to the process: after a month or two, most people read titles and hear white noise.
While a few questionable characters manage to buy their way in to Harvard (or sneak, or wear pink fabulously, or skulk in), not a single questionable idea should be forwarded to clients. It’s painful (I know!) to kill those ideas that could work, that might (maybe) be alright when they’re written, but it’s necessary. In the end you’ll find your team running more smoothly, accepting this much higher bar that’s been set, and impressing the clients consistently.
Reward your crack team by forwarding the numbers to them. If they wrote an article that was shared 83,000 times last month, then they should know (and get to brag to their families). Building their pride will feed into the positive momentum of ideation.
If you become more critical of the titles you accept and start weed-eating out the generic bologna, eventually your writers will be surrounded by thrilling, fresh new titles that they can’t wait to produce for you. You can gauge your accuracy at approving awesome titles by how quickly they are turned in.
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