To keep your world view up to date and your brand relevant, one of the most important things you can do is to find, share, and create thought-provoking content. And, in the social media age, you need to make sure that content you’re sending out invites response and dialog too. In order to generate a steady flow of high-quality content you’ll need a plan to keep it both manageable and compelling.
Most people cannot be expected to produce great new content in a vacuum with any regularity, so it’s to be expected that much of what you write and talk about will be inspired by things you’ve read, seen, heard or watched recently. So, let’s think about the content you’re taking in as it directly relates to what you’ll be creating: content in = content out. Just as decisions about food impact your body’s health, decisions about information and content consumption impact your brand—all the things you’re taking in come together to form an “information diet”. For more on this topic, you may want to check out a smart little book titled (you guessed it) The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption by Clay Johnson.
Start planning your information diet by listing topics you would like to follow regularly. Next, you’ll need to choose which topics are most likely to inspire valuable conversations in your online and offline networks.
Your Turn: What should you be reading and watching?
For each topic that interests you, find at least one target audience who shares that interest. That will help you make sure that your time is spent on content which is relevant to your network.Potential Sources for Information
You are probably already reading and watching a lot of content every day, and it probably comes from a variety of sources. It’s important to note that, like your food diet, your information diet may not always be in balance or made of high-quality ingredients. For example, when you’re in a rush, you might read abstracts instead of whole articles. After a long day of reading emails and reports, you may prefer to watch a video that shows the highlights of a news story without explaining it in depth. Overwhelmed by the volume of information available online, we might let our friends suggest what we read through Facebook or LinkedIn. While none of these habits are bad, they work best in moderation and when combined with a diversity of sources, types of thought and topics.
Your Turn: Where should you go for your information?
An ideal information diet is comprised of a variety of key content sources and mediums, and connects with a web of others’ information diets and sharing habits through tools that allow your colleagues (or industry thought leaders) to curate content they find helpful. For each topic that you’ve chosen to follow in earnest, note one or two reputable sources for content on that subject. Thought leaders you respect and people in your own network who have overlapping interests are also important sources for content.
Example: How I Choose What to Read
First, I look for content from mainstream news sources (Bloomberg, the New York Times and NPR) on topics of interest to me, my partners, and my clients. I also follow a few reputable specialized sources for industry-specific content or reporting on a particular type of technology or a social cause that lines up with my values. Once or twice each week, I try to listen to a general news program (BBC or CNN, for example) to make sure confirmation bias doesn’t steer me away from stories which I might be unconsciously avoiding—or just might not be seeing because algorithms in search engines and social networks are filtering them out for me.
You may also want to seek out content from individual thought leaders you respect. I follow content created or shared by Peter Van Der Auwera, Mark Bonchek, John Hagel and Maria Popova, for example. Peter writes with a broad, global perspective on the financial sector and is not afraid of criticizing major institutions with clear reasoning. Mark and John are great at developing mental models for understanding the many challenges of our future. And Maria Popova has a keen eye for books that I, frankly, may not have time to read in full; her reviews in Brain Pickings are so cogent and powerful that I feel I still learn a lot even if I can’t fit in thirty books this month.
For fun, I read car magazines, lots of them, and I have since I was a teenager. This is really a personal hobby, but my ongoing interest in the auto industry meant that when the opportunity came up to brief the top technology executives from a global automaker, I was able to be highly conversant with them. Thanks, hobby reading!
Additionally, like I do with Peter, Mark, John and Maria, I follow many smart and interesting people whose filtration and curation skills I trust. My colleague Jessica Long is a shrewd critic of both anti-technology and pro-technology rhetoric, and has a keen eye for major social and legal issues playing out in everyday life, and she curates her news feeds on various social media sites incredibly well.
Digital Tools for Reading and Saving Content
My information diet draws from many sources and channels, but they often end up filtered through to just two or three key tools that operate as dashboards for daily reading and watching. I primarily use a tool called Flipboard to browse news. Through it, I am able to follow any of my connections on Twitter and Facebook through a ‘magazine’ interface. I can also follow specific topics, as well as browse an aggregation of all the shared articles in my LinkedIn and Twitter feeds.
When I find an article I want to read in depth, I add it to a tool called Pocket. Like Flipboard, Pocket simplifies my view of content to a consistent font and size, but its primary value to me is as a chronological record of interesting content I wanted to read later. It’s doubly useful because it is able to create offline versions of most content, so I can use time without good connectivity to catch up on the backlog of content automatically saved to my phone and iPad. Apple’s Reading List feature does a good job of this, too, but I have found Pocket’s ability to help me organize content to ‘read later’ more useful in the long term.
Perhaps the most important thing about using an online content-curation tool is that it saves time and hassle by giving you access to content from many sources at once. Keeping up with a diverse information diet can feel daunting if you have to go to each website directly and scan for articles that are relevant to you. A good content curation platform will maximize the time you spend actually engaging with content, instead of looking for it.
Whatever platform or tool works for you, be sure that it’s able to do these key functions:
Gather recent content from a variety of online sources
Save content to read later
Share directly to social media [LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter]
Easily access content via mobile devices
What’s Next? Influence Through What You Share!
Sharing habits are simply the output element which goes along with your information diet—when you read or watch something that’s striking and relevant you’ll want to share it with your network and add some amount of commentary from your own perspective. A personal content strategy helps you decide where to do the sharing for each topic or audience, so your ideas reach the people in your network who will be most interested to discuss them with you. Read more about sharing habits as part of thought leadership strategy here.