Creative Block is Inevitable—Here’s How Our Social Team Beats It
You got a good night’s sleep, an extra hot venti latte within reach, your favorite get-sh*t-done playlist going, a beautiful blank page staring at you, and you’re ready for your creative mind to spew brilliant ideas all over it.
But, alas, nothing.
It’s the worst feeling—especially when you’re under pressure to deliver a full month of social content yesterday.
It’s a lot. As a social media manager, you’re expected to be creative every single day—heck every single hour. And that’s hard AF.
But writer’s block is still not normalized in the social media profession. And Hootsuite’s own social team wants to change that—because they, too, have many moments where ideas just aren’t flowing.
So here, our in-house aces reveal what they do when they can’t come up with anything, and share their best tips on how to beat—and maybe even avoid—creative block. Because even the most experienced creative professionals aren’t immune to it.
We know, we know. This is a given. (If it’s not, we have more work to do than we thought.) But it still deserves a mention because it’s probably the most important way for social marketers to draw inspiration.
Brayden Cohen, Manager of Social Marketing at Hootsuite, says scrolling through your social feeds is really just the baseline of what you should be doing. You should have a never-ending fascination—even, dare we say it, an obsession—with social media, and the ‘Save’ button should be your best friend.
Spending a good chunk of time on social also helps you identify trends you may want to leverage on your own channels. Trish Riswick, Hootsuite’s Social Engagement Specialist, says trends inspire about 80% of Hootsuite’s new ideas, which almost always end up performing well.
Take this Instagram post, for example:
When Kim Kardashian visited Harvard in January, the internet was all over it. So there was a high chance that jumping on the trend would generate some strong results—and it did. The post got 69% more likes and 64% more comments than Hootsuite’s average on that platform.
A LinkedIn post that referenced the hit Netflix series Emily in Paris did even better, with 78% more likes and 93% more comments than average.
These posts were successful because the team modified the trend to fit the brand and found a way to ensure it resonated with Hootsuite’s audience of social media managers. That’s the key. If you can’t make it make sense for your brand, explains Brayden, don’t do it.
Piggybacking on trends is almost a guaranteed conversation-starter, and it ensures your brand stays relevant, making it Hootsuite’s No. 1 go-to for social content inspiration.
Who doesn’t love a good brainstorming sesh? This is where the magic happens—as long as everyone feels like they can bring all their ideas to the table without being judged.
The Hootsuite social team meets on a monthly basis to think up their content for the following month. They keep it super casual so there’s no pressure (which usually means ideas are poppin’), but goal-oriented at the same time. And although each team member is designated to specific accounts, when they’re in brainstorm mode, they don’t have to stay in their own lane—in fact, they’re encouraged not to.
“We all come up with ideas that could work on all of our channels,” says Brayden. “Everyone contributes to figure out what the idea is and how it can look on each of our networks, whether that be visually or copy-wise.”
But the brainstorming doesn’t end there.
Eileen Kwok, Hootsuite’s Social Marketing Coordinator, told us about a document she shares with Trish called “Creative Inspo.” It’s basically a brain dump of all their original content ideas—things like skits, video styles, and catchy headlines or copy. Each week, they work together to sift through their thoughts and bring their favorites to life.
Eileen’s also a big believer in getting inspired by people outside of work. She says some of her best ideas have come from simply chatting with her partner about her day.
We’re sure you can relate. Considering how often your colleagues probably talk your ear off with their “great ideas for social,” throwing around thoughts with family and friends can be a nice change of pace—and you can take all the credit.
It’s not a cop-out—a National Day calendar can do wonders for inspiration.
“National awareness, appreciation, and celebration days are great to latch onto because you know there’ll be at least some conversation about them,” says Trish. “And it’s a fun challenge to take World Pizza Day, for example, and make it about your company or industry.”
Pro tip: Hootsuite now has plenty of theme days in our new catalog of ready-to-use content ideas that you can customize and publish with just a few clicks. Give it a try.
It doesn’t mean you should feature theme days every day. Choose the ones that are most relevant for your brand, and strategically space them out in your calendar so your audience doesn’t get bored. And if you’re able to spur engagement without using them at all, that’s cool too—but they’re a great fallback if and when you need them.
For Hootsuite, 2022 was a year of experimentation—testing and adapting social posts—to learn about our audience’s interests. With those juicy insights, the social team can focus on other priorities in 2023, and put national days on the backburner for now.
You never know where inspiration will strike.
Trish laughs about the fact that she always leaves the hairdresser with thousands of post ideas.
“I get inspired when I’m in a place that’s unfamiliar and I’m not doing my usual things,” she says. “I’m somewhere new and there’s a reason why I can’t leave.”
When it comes to finding your own inspiration sanctuary, you can’t force it. But you can actively venture out to new places or try new things and see where you’re compelled to bust out the Notes app on your phone.
When creatives get the chance to exercise their creativity, they sometimes lose sight of why they’re doing it in the first place: to reach business goals.
That’s why you need some boundaries.
But boundaries don’t have to be barriers. We’re talking about the kind of boundaries that help you stay focused so your ideas can flourish in all the right ways.
A strong social marketing strategy outlines what you’re trying to achieve and includes clear plans for how to achieve it. So your ideas should be in line with that.
Through research and analytics, Hootsuite found that social media managers, particularly from small businesses, engaged with the brand on social far more than any other audience segment. Trish reveals this is the data that made them realize their strategy needed to evolve. Now, every post aims to speak directly to that audience. And this single-minded insight helps them come up with bigger, better ideas—ones that actually convert.
Your strategy should also incorporate content pillars (a.k.a. buckets) and themes.
Eileen, who manages Hootsuite’s TikTok account, says the team has identified four pillars for that platform: educational, relatable, aspirational, and category knowledge. These buckets provide good direction for content ideas, while ensuring the team isn’t boxed in creatively.
Raise your hand if colleagues from other areas of your organization constantly ask you to post things on your social channels that just don’t fit.
Not you? Well, congrats! We hope there’s a beautifully framed award hanging above your desk commemorating this rare achievement.
The rest of us just have to make the best of it.
So when you don’t have a choice but to fake a smile and say, “Sure! I’ll get it up,” try to look at it as a creative opportunity. You may not be able to tie it neatly into your strategy (forcing it too much could make it feel contrived or confusing), but you can improve the content by simplifying the message, giving it your brand look and feel, and adapting it to mimic the content formats on each platform.
“We don’t have all the time in the world,” says Brayden. “But for most content, we at least try to identify how things can look that make it feel native to each platform.”
It’s also important to know when enhancing the content isn’t worth the effort at all. And it may take everything in your being to accept it, but once in a while, it’s okay to post less-than-stellar content as-is.
As a social marketer, what motivates you? What excites you?
Is it the rush of thinking up something that has the potential to go viral? Is it the possibility of coming up with an idea so good that you win a marketing award or get featured in a highly respected marketing publication?
Unfortunately, not every idea can achieve that. And that’s perfectly normal. So do what you gotta do to be okay with it, because it’s totally fine. Honestly.
Most social marketers have been surprised by the results of a post.
“Sometimes, what we think will do well just does mediocre, because we set such high expectations,” Trish says. “Or it checks every box of your strategy, but you overthink it.”
Other times, you do something you’re unsure about and it dominates—maybe, she says, because it feels more organic and authentic. She finds that simple posts (like the one below) and those that are open to interpretation do better with Hootsuite’s audience than more specific statements.
So even for ideas you’re not particularly passionate about—ones that seemingly only have the purpose of filling up the empty squares of your content calendar—take a leap and post them anyway. No matter how much you think you can predict the outcome of your content, on social media, you just never know. (Thanks, algorithms!)
You know the saying, “rules are made to be broken”? Same goes for those boundaries we talked about earlier.
“In order to stay relevant and cutting-edge, you need to do things that are a little bit outside of your typical brand norms,” Brayden explains. “And by doing so, it’ll catch the attention of others and potentially open doors to new audiences.
Hootsuite’s adaptation of Spotify’s Wrapped campaign is a perfect example.
It was such a phenomenon in the social world, so hopping on the trend felt necessary even though it wasn’t a natural fit, especially visually. But it would be less recognizable if altered. Plus, timeliness was critical for the post to have any meaningful impact.
“The fact that it wasn’t ‘us’ enough didn’t matter for once,” Brayden says.
So the team made it work—and it ended up being one of Hootsuite’s top three performing posts across all channels in 2022.
If it hadn’t been such a success though, they would have learned from it—like they have on many other occasions. That’s why taking a chance on new or unique content is always worthwhile—and it stretches the possibilities for ideation.
Think back to that blank page we mentioned in the intro. What if it stayed blank one day? Maybe… you just don’t post. And you know what else you don’t do? Worry about it.
“In the end, if you’re not doing something that adds value to a follower’s social experience with your brand, it won’t convert and you may end up doing more harm than good,” says Trish.
She urges social marketers to ask themselves this question before they press the publish button: If someone is seeing my brand for the first time, is this the post I want them to see?
No? Well, there’s your answer.
Brayden also makes a good point: “Remember, no one is watching just you. No one follows just one brand on social.”
In other words, if you don’t post for a day or two, no one will notice—just don’t disappear for too long.
Still need fresh ideas? With Hootsuite’s new, built-in content tools, you can get inspired, design, write, and publish stunning posts in a snap. Just pick a template from our extensive catalog of ideas, customize it with your own words and images (or use as is), enhance your content with gorgeous Canva designs, and ensure you skip embarrassing typos with Grammarly edits. Then schedule or publish—all from the same place. Try it out with a free trial today.