This guest post is by James Chartrand of Men with Pens.
For a long while (and on the Internet, a “long while” means about six months), there were dozens of posts telling you how to reuse content.
Your content, other bloggers’ content, magazine content, brochures-from-that-stack-in-the-attic content. It didn’t matter. The point was that you didn’t need to come up with all the ideas on your own. You could jump-start your brain with interesting content from other sources than the bottomless depths of your own genius.
It was good advice. Reusing content was (and remains) a smart, valid strategy.
The problem is that no one does it right.
How they got reusing content wrong
The basics are simple: find someone else’s content (or your own content from long enough ago) and spot something interesting you can relate to your own work. Then all you need to do is write a good post.
It was a hard strategy to mess up, and no one really did. For the most part, reusing content netted interesting posts that featured interesting content from sources that wouldn’t otherwise have shown up in that industry.
And content reuse is a perfectly valid strategy for when you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel creativity-wise and you just need a jolt to get going again. It’s great, in fact. Go forth and use it with my blessing.
But that’s where everyone stops.
Sure, it was great that you applied that nuclear physics conclusion to brilliant copywriting, and it made for one hell of a post. By the next day, though, readers are looking for the next hot thing.
They’ve forgotten your brilliant post. They’ve forgotten how interesting they found it.
And because someone else has a new, interesting post, they’re all about that post now.
So that strategy won’t further your business. It’s just going to keep your blog alive for one more day. That’s not enough, is it?
Of course it’s not. You need to grow your business and your readership. You need to bring in clients, create products, or become an insightful and focused teacher.
Just recycling the same old content and the same old approach as everyone else in your niche means you’re going to fade into the background.
How to do it right
You’ve heard of Malcolm Gladwell, haven’t you? How about Seth Godin? How about the Heath brothers, Dan and Chip, authors of Made to Stick?
These authors reuse content from the word go. All their books (and in Seth’s case, pretty much his entire blog) rehash anecdotes and stories they’ve heard elsewhere. They’re simply applying those stories to the subjects that interest them most.
By sorting out all of the relevant stories to one particular aspect of their field and bringing it all together in a book, they did something revolutionary: they created a philosophy.
Seth Godin’s purple cow? That’s content reuse. Seth didn’t originate the story of the purple cow, nor any of the other twenty anecdotes that make up the content in his book. He simply saw what all that content had in common and brought it together cohesively.
Few people who read Seth Godin’s book are utterly amazed at what they find there. Really? To have people notice me I have to be remarkable?
The book isn’t fascinating because of its insight. The basic philosophy is what you’re pretty sure you knew all along.
But by stringing together a thousand examples, Seth managed to make a simple concept seem important enough to keep at the front of your mind all the time in your business.
Not just in branding, but when you email a client. Not just the product but the packaging. Not just the upper management but the mail room.
Bring the purple cow into every room of the business, Seth said, because it belongs everywhere.
He didn’t come up with that concept out of thin air. He came up with it by looking at twenty stories from twenty different sources that all put a purple cow in a different room of the business.
You got it: content reuse, done right.
What you can do with reused content
It’s clearly been established that reusing content just to fill your blog doesn’t work. Well, it does, if all you want is to keep your blog alive.
But it doesn’t work for your business, which means you need to find a way to reuse content when you’re ready to put some thought and energy into the next phase.
Start making a list of the stories you enjoy telling over and over again. The advice you keep repeating. Most of the time, you’ll enjoy reusing these stories and advice because they seem to exemplify what’s important.
That tells you something. You have useful knowledge you’re continually sharing because you know readers need it. So what can you do with it?
Mind map it. Connect the dots. Brainstorm. Let the content take you where it will.
Because one day you’re going to wake up and see the connection. You’re going to have a Big Idea. And it’s going to change your entire world.
It doesn’t have to be the formula that cures cancer. It just has to be valuable and true—and it’ll have a whole lot of content from your archives to back it up.
How reused content begins a revolution
When I started to look at my own content for the stories I liked to tell over and over and the advice I kept sharing with writers, I realized I didn’t need to write yet another post on how to not screw up writing.
If people could teach themselves, surely one of those posts would have hit home by now.
My sudden realization was that readers needed help—more than yet another blog post.
And every single one of the anecdotes in my reused content told me this. All my stories about successful writers involved someone getting a teacher, sitting down, and putting in the work.
It seemed like anyone could do this on their own, but the more I looked at all the content, the more I realized that readers could… but they don’t.
So I set out to give them a place where they didn’t have to work alone. I used my content and built an online writing course for business owners where there were teachers willing to help, lessons that were easy to understand, homework to make students accountable, and peers to empathize with and learn from.
I called it Damn Fine Words.
It was a simple idea, born of content I’d told and retold until it had worn thin at the seams. But it changed the lives of my students.
How can your repackaged ideas change the lives of your readers?
James Chartrand of Men with Pens teaches students at Damn Fine Words, the only online writing course that helps business owners succeed so they can stop keeping their blog alive for just one more day and start pulling in results with their content.