Let's use Mind Mapping to Brainstorm and Organize Ideas for Content Creation
Business owners frequently create content to bring visibility to products, courses, or services. We can have a lot of great ideas rattling around in our heads. How do we organize those thoughts? How can we have more strategic – i.e. connected – marketing by tying our blog posts, Tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram stories, and videos together more powerfully? And how can we more clearly see ways to reuse, and repurpose our content? One suggestion – use the tools and techniques of mind mapping for your content creation and organization.
If you haven’t tried mind mapping, here’s a short introduction to get you started plus some basic tools to help you unleash your creative brainpower in a method that fits you. Also check out an earlier post I wrote on brainstorming content and using your mind maps.
Why Mind Map For Content Creation?
Mind maps can be used for organizing information, creating plans, goal setting, or certainly for idea generation for writing and research. A survey from the Mind Map Software blog (there’s a blog for everything!) found that mapping software can increase pace of work, boost creativity, and free up more time. Sounds like reasons to give it a try!
Mind maps have distinctive characteristics that them better and more useful than traditional organizational tools. They are great for visual thinkers and learners (and we all tend to pick up info quicker visually vs. all text), for creative thinking and getting out of your ‘normal’ routines. Lots of people don’t think in a linear way, so the graphic, relational method of a mind map works better for them.
Brainstorming via a mind map encourages free association and a judgment-free zone. All ideas are valid, put them on the map and decide later if they fit or are good for your project. If you come up with a lot of ideas unrelated to your original creative session or theme, start a new, separate mind map and work on it later. Or if your map starts getting complicated and unruly, cut one or more sections of the map out and save them as new maps.
How to Mind Map – the basics
Start from the Center – Start with one specific topic
Mind maps explore a central theme, idea, topic or question – something that’s fodder to build off of – and branch or build out from the center.
Put the central idea in the literal center of your map (on paper, whiteboard, an app, XMind, PowerPoint, etc). Put other ideas and thoughts as spokes or sub-circles off the main, and each of those can spring new links, spokes, circles – whatever is related to the idea you’re noodling on.
Emphasis on Relationships or Connections –
A mind map helps you see at a glance how elements of the map (or central theme) are related. The links or relationships don’t have to be exact or strong, just what comes to you.
Start with writing down at least 5 subtopics related to your center/core topic or question.
- Define your topic
- Benefits of your topic
- Best practices of your topic
- Top tools for your topic
- How can you make your topic easier/better/faster
Keep It Simple
Single words or concepts are better than complex or bundled items. As you keep branching out and creating more connected bubbles and lines, use as little text as possible
Feel free to use colors, symbols, pictures, doodles (most of the software tools will let you add images, graphs, other files, color coding). Just don’t go overboard with your color-coding. It still needs to make sense at a glance.
If you don’t know where to put an idea, let it ‘float’ until you see its connections. That’s an advantage to mapping with Post-Its or mind mapping software – ideas can hang out until you see the connections.
Ask Questions to Guide Your Mapping
Use the classic 5-W’s (who, what, where, when, why + how) to stimulate your brainstorming.
Or you could map out Pros vs Cons, of a tool, app, product or service.
Or think of the different perspectives on your topic, a different angle you could take to approach it, even the different content formats that could explain your topic. There’s always more than one way to look at something.
The Question approach is especially good for mapping articles, blog posts, how-to instructions, or research-driven content pieces. You could mind map your next webinar or video as well!
- WHO is the video for
- WHERE you will film it
- WHAT are you teaching/explaining or promoting
- WHAT are the benefits of the concept you're teaching/explaining
- WHY is this video or webinar important for your audience.
Mind Maps Are Fluid
They can easily be changed, edited, added to. Don’t stop, don’t think, just do. Just keep adding, spiking out.
If you do get hung up on 1 word or idea, leave it and move to something else. If one branch starts to get a little long or veers off target from the central theme – no problem, snip it and turn it into a new map.
Mind maps can be generated as part of a team or group exercise (physically or virtually, in real time or with members contributing as they can). It’s easy for every member to add an idea or relationship and contribute to the whole. Most of the mind mapping software allows for sharing, shared editing, and collaboration.
Using Mind Maps in Content Creation – Especially Blog Posts
From Darren Rowse of ProBlogger is this good, though older, post on using mind mapping for writing and blogging. His main points –
- Don’t get hung up on technology or technique – just write or draw and let ideas circulate and flow. You can use paper, a whiteboard, or a cool app, but use what’s easiest to get ideas going and keep them going.
- Use it to extend your existing ideas and writing – take your most recent posts (or videos, articles, podcasts – whatever your content format fave is) and spend just a few minutes (seriously, set a timer for 5 min) on each one, thinking of ways to take that idea further. Questions you didn’t answer, questions that came later, the opposing view, a commentary on the topic, more details on ‘how-to’, a case study or example, a link round-up, a visual way to describe X, etc.
- Expand again – Take one of the good ideas you came up, circle it, set the timer for 5 more minutes and think about how to expand all over again! Start creating more little ‘child’ circles, bubbles, boxes or whatever. You’ve got the creative juices flowing, so use them!
More tips on using mind maps for content marketing comes from the mapping software iMindQ – I particularly appreciate their recommendations to include the content formats and types in your maps. For example, looking at how a specific topic or question could be a video, an infographic, an ebook, a paid webinar, an email series, etc.
Tools For Mind Mapping
- Whiteboard and dry erase markers
- Go even more ‘old-school’ with blank paper and colored pens or pencils. Elements can be added and erased easily.
- Post-Its and a large table or blank wall – because they can easily be moved or rearranged as new ideas and relationships form. Get several colors of Post-Its.
- PowerPoint – use the SmartDraw feature, or add the flowchart or shape elements plus lines and arrows.
- XMind – Free to download (I use this one – and it opens nearly all other mind maps from other software)
- Mind Meister – completely cloud-based tool with easy-to-use interface where you can easily add videos, images, files, links or more. You can share a map privately, publicly with all other Meister users, or grab the embed code to put on your own website [free plan has 3 maps, then $5/mo] I created a new free account and got started creating the sample map below in less than 5 minutes.
- Milanote – like a cross between Pinterest, Trello, and mind-mapping software [Free for 100 notes, images or links; pro plan w/ unlimited storage $10/mo]
- Lucid Chart – project management, data visualization, flowcharts, process maps – another one that looks like a cross between Trello and some other software
- Mind Maple
There are many other free and paid mind mapping apps or software offerings to check out. The ones above are just some of the most popular. Search also for “concept mapping” software or apps, and you may even test out the infographic design tools like Venngage or Easel.ly. Some of the options that come up in searches for ‘mind mapping’ do a lot more and seem like hybrid tools and not as much like the older bubble trees.
Do some searching, check out the interfaces, look at other options and try a few to see which ones are intuitive for you to use. If you can't or won't use it, it's not a very useful tool!
More Resources and Examples on Using Mind Maps for Idea Generation
Venngage (an infographic, visual ideas design tool but not mind mapping software per se) has a set of templates on basic mind maps that could inspire you. You need to create a free Venngage account to use templates (some are free, some require a paid account)
9 Wildly Useful Blog Mind Maps (from MindMeister)
Test out some mind mapping tools, starting with pen and paper, and see if it helps you the next time you're feeling a bit stuck. Use one to map out your whole blog, or your posts for the next quarter. Create a mind map for your next course, program, seminar or webinar. Try mapping out your marketing and promotion strategy for the next quarter too.
See where this creative, visual technique takes you and your content creation this year!
[Post updated September 2020]