You’re ready to write an email, social update or blog post and the blank screen taunts you. Where to get started? Ideas are often best started at the source – your audience.

It can be tricky coming up with content ideas. Plus, if you write about something that isn’t of interest to your audience, your content will likely fall flat. So, why not go to the source and ask your audience to provide content ideas?

“If you engage your audience and write about the content they want to see, they are more likely to share it and give you content ideas in the future,” says Shawn Hogendorf, founder of the online publication “Don’t be afraid to ask.”

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. Send an email survey to your contacts

Wondering what motivates your audience? Sending an email survey is a quick way to gauge what is important to your audience.

“Engaging your audience is like keeping an ear to the street at all times, and this allows you to take advantage of what people are already talking about,” says Hogendorf.

There are several survey resources available online. Try SurveyMonkey or SurveyPlanet. Depending on your preference, you can use a preexisting survey template or create your own. Keep the survey short, eight to ten questions at most. Your customers won’t finish it if it’s too long. Since you’re only asking a few questions, put some thought into each question. Make sure it provides the answers you need and send it out via email.

Use the responses to generate content ideas and use statistics from your survey in your blog post. Multiple survey results throughout the year can be compiled into a new blog post.

2. Ask fans to share pictures on social media

“Photos are a huge hit. Everyone takes photos, and images are easily shared across any digital medium,” Hogendorf says.

Consider asking your audience to contribute pictures like the Animal Humane Society does. To build on its successful adoption stories, the nonprofit encourages people to share their adoption stories and photos on its Facebook page and Tumblr.

Once several submissions are shared, you can combine them all into a picture-friendly blog post, email, collage or photo album on Facebook, or share them one by one on Instagram. The possibilities are endless.

3. Leverage your online reviews

Does your business get stellar online reviews? Use existing online reviews to create blog posts and spark ideas.

For example, take a look at this testimonial post that customer-service app, Desk, put together. You can do something similar. Take a longer review that a fan left on your Yelp page and turn it into a post. You can always reach out to that fan and ask for more information about his/her experience to build a longer article.

In addition to using reviews directly in a post, you can also use reviews to generate topics. For example, if a customer raves about a new product, a remodeling project or an employee that went the extra mile, write a blog post about that topic and include some of the comments from the customer in the article.

4. Ask questions

Before you publish, send, or post content on social, your blog or in an email, finish it up with a question or call to action for your readers. After all, questions in Facebook posts get 100% more comments than standard text-bases posts. Be sure to use open-ended questions to garner more commentary.

As readers get used to commenting on your stories, you can ask readers to share content ideas. Add this simple line to the end of your blog, “Have a story idea that you would like to see on our blog? Email us at”

Rachel Brathen aka Yoga Girl has a following of 1 million on Instagram. Brathen often asks questions in her posts, like this example in which she reaches out to her fans and asks them to share their favorite cold remedies. She also promises to re-post the best remedies. The post received more than 100 comments on Facebook, and 400+ comments on Instagram.

How do you get your audience to provide content ideas? Share your responses in the box below.

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Wendy Erlien is a entrepreneur, writer, and communications consultant with a passion for helping small businesses and nonprofit organizations maximize their marketing reach.

© 2015 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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