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Developing Topics for Practitioner Marketing: It’s Tough, But Someone Has to Do It

March 1, 2018 - Practitioner Marketing, Share of voice - , , ,
By: Chris Tozzi

Writing meaningful content is hard. Choosing what to write about is even harder—especially in the practitioner marketing business.

How do you pick topics that your expert writers can discuss compellingly, and that readers will find engaging? How do you strike the right balance between timely topics and ones that will remain relevant for an extended period of time? How do you make sure the topics you write about are delivering maximum value to your customers?

These are all questions we’ve faced at Fixate as we have built our practitioner content marketing business. As specialists in producing practitioner content generated by experts in technical fields, we’ve learned a lot about the art and science of developing topics.

Keep reading for our take on how best to develop topic ideas for blogs, technical articles, white papers and more in the practitioner marketing business. 

Topics are Hard

Before explaining how we develop topics, let’s get one thing straight. Topics are hard work. In fact, they’re possibly the most difficult part of our workflow.

The problem is not a lack of expertise. That’s something that can be addressed. If you are having trouble identifying relevant topics for blog posts or articles in a certain field, it often means you don’t know the field well enough. In that case, you go out and educate yourself.

But even if you’re an expert in a given field, thinking up topics is a huge challenge for several reasons. Here’s a list of the biggest ones:

  • Good topic ideas tend to come to you out of the blue. More likely than not, the topic ideas pop up when you’re reading the news, or you’re in the middle of editing, or when you’re out for a run—not when you’re in front of your computer and can write them down.
  • It’s easy to lose track of topic ideas. If you don’t have a centralized place to store them, or if you try to send them around via email, or write them down on paper, you’ll probably lose the good ones, or duplicate them.
  • The person who develops the topic is often not the person who will write about it. This can lead to problems in the event that you promise to deliver a blog or article but can’t find anyone to write it.
  • A topic that works one day may be a bad fit the next. Technologies change. Companies go out of business. The news cycle shifts. For these reasons and more, a topic that seems brilliant to you and your clients one day may become irrelevant the next day.

Those are just some of the problems you face when you’re responsible for developing blog or article topics. The list could go on.

Tips for Developing Topics

Now that we’ve covered the difficulty of topic development, let’s talk solutions.

Unfortunately, there’s no secret trick to developing topics. It’s a process that invariably requires hard work, no matter how you approach it or which tools you use to optimize it.

There are, however, some things you can do to make topic selection and development easier. The following has helped us at Fixate to streamline our topic-development process:

  • Crowd-source ideas. Fixate’s large network of tech practitioners not only write content, but also help us generate topic ideas. Slacking our network, or reaching out to individual writers, is one of our first steps when creating topic lists. It’s also the best way to make sure that the topics we commit to writing are ones our writers can indeed cover.
  • Store topic ideas centrally. In the heady days of Fixate’s youth, we tried to keep track of topic ideas via email that editors exchanged with one another. That kind of worked, but it got messy. No one wants to dig through long email threads trying to unearth a topic list. Now, we do topic development in Google Sheets. This approach is much more convenient for Fixate’s editors. It’s also easy for us to share the docs with clients whenever needed.
  • Think about titles, not just topics. In the world of online content marketing, catchy titles that are also SEO-friendly are the key to success. When developing a topic, it’s important to think about good titles. Don’t just think about the topic itself.
  • Choose topics with long-lasting relevance. Unless you’re writing content for a news site, your content’s relevance should not be dependent on the news. But that doesn’t mean you can’t write about things that are timely. You just have to approach it in the right way. For example, if you know that a new version of Kubernetes is about to be released, don’t write an article about the new version of Kubernetes. A thousand other sites will have articles on the same topic, and they’ll all cease to be relevant once the release is no longer new. Instead, develop a topic like “Best Practices for Kubernetes Monitoring.” That way, you can ride the wave of enthusiasm that accompanies the news about Kubernetes while also generating content of enduring relevance.
  • Talk topics over with clients. If you supply content to clients, a large part of your value is in telling them what content will help them most. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include clients in the conversation. At Fixate, we get on the phone with clients on a regular, ongoing basis to discuss topic ideas. Constant communication with clients about topic development may seem obvious, but it can be easy to overlook if you focus too heavily on supplying a large quantity of topics, rather than focusing on maximizing topic quality and relevance.

The takeaway

Unlike paying off your mortgage or losing five inches of belly fat, there’s no one weird trick that will allow you to choose great topics with zero effort. Alas.

But with hard work, the right tools and the right commitment to engaging your networks and your clients, you can develop excellent topics.

After all, if developing topics were easy, we wouldn’t have jobs. But thinking up and tweaking topics is a large part of the value that a company like Fixate delivers to customers in the practitioner marketing business. It’s why we’re in business, and it’s part of what we love doing— even if it’s hard work.


Chris Tozzi has worked as a journalist and Linux systems administrator. He has particular interests in open source, agile infrastructure and networking. He is Senior Editor of content and a DevOps Analyst at Fixate IO.