We spoke to online community expert Venessa Paech, Senior Manager for Content and Community Strategy at REA Group and founder of Swarm Conference, about how to create a community content strategy when community building – not just virality and reach – is your objective.
How does content marketing relate to online communities?
Communities are content incubators and content plays an important role in growing and maintaining a healthy online community.
Like any good content marketing, community content is drawn directly from the needs, wants and pain points of the community. It’s not about you, and it’s led by its value to users of that community.
An owned or branded online community, complemented by push and pull across relevant social media channels, remains one of the richest assets a business can invest in; in addition to the relationships and trust it can deliver, it’s a content, search and discovery powerhouse!
What’s the best strategy for developing content for an online community?
The starting lens is simple. Content for the online community should be about the community and its members.
You’re effectively a local newspaper or club newsletter; think about the type of content they cover and how they’re pitched distinctly against a national or generalist publication. That’s not to suggest a particular form factor for your content – only the perspective you need to adopt.
Even in its early stages of development, an online community is an organic machine for content. If it’s nurtured, members will naturally create ample storytelling opportunities via their discussions, exchanges and personalities.
Growing, sustaining and leveraging a robust online community requires that you support the development of trust, sense of belonging and social equity. You need peers to connect with each other more than you. Your content should enable these community objectives.
Determine which content will strengthen relationships, align with the shared goals of members and signal to an outsider what the community is all about.
A good test is to ask what a newcomer can learn about the community by consuming its content. Does it tell them who’s there? What do members value or champion? What happens day to day in the community?
What are the most common mistakes businesses make when it comes to creating content for an online community?
Understanding what those terms mean and how they relate to their objectives.
Often they’ll actually want to create content that is likely to gain traction and reach across social media. Or content that can support the mobilisation of a community around their brand.
Content can be a potent solution to both of these goals, but content created to power an online community – or help one develop in its early stages of inception – is quite different.
Content as a component of community strategy should always reflect community priorities, and may seem ‘frivolous’ to those outside those bounds. Its form is dictated by the language, tone and social norms of the community. How does the community prefer to engage and exchange?
I’m still amazed by how many people set out to build or grow an online community using content, and don’t involve the community in that process. Do your homework. Ask members directly. Test and learn; never assume.
What are some quick tips for creating great community content?
Tap into community discussions and debates and highlight naturally popular or engaged topics. Build content around that topic, and involve members in its creation wherever possible.
Ask your influential members what they’re working on or thinking about. You can draw ideas for content programming that you know they’re likely to be invested in.
Interview community members and tell their stories. This isn’t just a great way to engage them, it’s a great way to expose and encourage connections between members. Showcase less visible members, and hero proactive ones.
As your community matures, use content to mark milestones and events – the first anniversary of the community (what has everyone learned that year?), birthdays, promotions, meet ups – whatever is most meaningful to members.
Content strategy can be a uniquely powerful binding element in an online community. Just don’t forget who it’s there to serve!
Follow Venessa on Twitter @venessapaech