By Kevin Anselmo
When I first started working with experts to create content, I was impressed by how they seemed to have so many answers. I was working at a business school in Switzerland back in 2007 and part of my job was to collaborate with faculty in writing articles. These professors seemed to so easily and naturally impart their knowledge on readers about different management and leadership topics.
The more I explore the idea of content learning (in summary, creating content with the goal to learn) the more I realize that the best content creators aren’t necessarily adept at just providing answers based on random knowledge in their heads. Rather, the insights come from pursuing questions. This was further underscored when I caught up with Chip Griffin, founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance.
Answering questions from others
Chip’s organization helps PR, public affairs and marketing agency owners create better businesses. As part of Chip’s coaching services, clients will frequently ask him questions. Responses are provided in the course of a conversation, but often Chip will look to flesh out the idea to the question by creating related content.
An example of this is when Chip was asked on a coaching call what agencies should do when their primary contact leaves the organization. He shared his reaction spur of the moment during the conversation. But he wanted to explore the topic further and so he decided to write a short article about the topic.
“Writing the article enabled me to gain clarity on the strategies and tactics to address the question,” he said. “It helped me coalesce my thinking and I was then able to provide the article to the client as a follow-up. I could also distribute it in other ways to individuals facing the same question. When you write out a response in the form of an article, you can really build on your initial ideas that you might not have shared in a conversation.”
Create opportunities for quality questions
To increase the number and quality of questions from your audience, you need to enhance your network. Content creation can play a role in this. Chip hosts several podcasts and uses the medium to connect with others.
“If I want to build a relationship, I can invite someone on to my show,” he said. “It is beneficial for them because they know they will get some exposure. I am far more likely to receive a positive response to this opportunity, as opposed to the ‘can I pick your brain’ approach. As you gain traction, people reach out to you to be on your show and you are increasing your networking beyond the people you were even aware of.”
Asking smart questions and interjecting one’s opinion in the process of creating the content can lead to all sorts of opportunities, including new business. Chip shared the example of how a PR person reached out to him to pitch an agency owner as a guest for his show. This person ultimately became a client.
“My interviews are quite conversational; it is like having a coffee,” explained Chip. “At the end of the recording, the guest said ‘it seems like we should have a conversation about whether you would be able to help us because of our challenge.’ We then set up a follow-up conversation and this agency is now one of my clients.”
So much of content creation centers around metrics for success like views, likes and shares. This example underscores the importance of creating content with the goal to generate overall value, including the learning that can be gleaned and the network that can be built.
Explore your questions
Creating content based on questions from others is one part of the equation. Also to be considered is producing content based on questions in your mind. It can lead to opportunities in various ways.
Case in point: back in the mid 2000s, Chip was exploring the new media landscape. At the time, podcasts, blogs and social media were relatively new. He was keen to understand how such mediums interacted with each other. His ideas crystallized as he wrote The New Media Cocktail ebook. This publication not only became a piece of content that Chip could use to share his ideas; it also became the basis for a company he launched called Eaglon. It essentially served as a content marketing agency and eventually was merged into one of Chip’s other businesses after a period of generating nice short-term profits.
“You need to be curious,” Chip said. “The best content is searching for an answer to a question. If you follow that thread and do your research, it will crystallize your thinking and you will naturally learn in the process. It also plays a role in bringing serendipitous insights that you might not have explored otherwise.”
An opportunity for students and young professionals
Chip provides application as a well-established and seasoned entrepreneur. Certainly consultants, professors, thought leaders and individual contributors working for an organization can apply many of the insights that Chip shared.
I think his message is also particularly important for students and young professionals to consider. The rationale that Chip shared actually aligns with part of the reasoning I started Global Innovators Academy. Students taking part in the program interview entrepreneurs and innovators based on their interests. After the interview, the student writes an article that is published online. I want students to create these opportunities for quality conversations and for the interaction to be based on particular questions that they want to explore.
Some 20 students have gone through the experience. Haley, a student at Rollins College, wondered what it would take to work in the fashion industry. She connected with the founder of a clothing retail chain and highlighted his journey in an article. Yejin, a high school student in Arizona, had questions around how to combine academic and business pursuits, so she interviewed and wrote a story about someone who has practical experience in doing both. Fatima, a student refugee based in Lebanon, was keen to know what it takes to work in a leadership role for a non-profit. She hence reached out, interviewed and wrote an article about someone with that profile.
These individuals have commented to me in various ways on how these interactions have further sparked their own curiosity and provided inspiration in different ways. I think it is incumbent upon stakeholders within education to create such opportunities for students to network with professionals and explore questions that are of interest to them. Organizations looking to nurture young talent can do the same through different L&D initiatives.
Questions for you
As you think about this topic, here are three questions for you to consider:
1. What are questions that you have in your mind about a topic?
2. Who should you be interviewing that can help provide answers to such questions?
3. What are questions that you are frequently asked by your different audiences?
I encourage you to answer these questions. Based on the answers, take action and create content. A new world of learning awaits.
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Kevin Anselmo is the founder of Experiential Communications and host of the Learning and Development Stories Podcast. He is the creator of the Global Innovators Academy and course instructor for Interview an Innovator, an experience in which students and young professionals, based on their own interests, interview innovators. He helps organizations instill a continuous learning approach through content learning. Contact Kevin to have him support your organization.