Creating Great Content for Your Online Community

Bibliophile: A lover and collector of books.In order for online communities to thrive, there has to be good content in order to drive participation and discussion. Consider this quote from the, where Susan Cato, Senior Director of Web and New Media Strategies at CompTIA, puts it plainly:

You can’t have a social media strategy without a content strategy.  

A pretty audacious thing to say. But think about it. For any online community, what are the dots that connect its  members? Without content to kick-start the sharing of our ideas, thoughts, visions, arguments, or laughs, any online community will become a virtual ghost town. So let’s take a look at what to consider when developing great content for your online community.

UGC vs. Packaged Goods

There are two types of content: user-generated content (UGC), or what I refer to as packaged-goods. In a user-generated world (think your Facebook profile page), members of the community post discussions, photos, videos, or others to share and collaborate with fellow members. In a packaged-goods world (think Adida’s Facebook page), content is produced and packaged by a single publisher and posted on the community site for comments and feedback.  Packaged goods communities are very reliant on a long term content strategy. The community won’t thrive unless the publisher is publishing new content on a regular basis.

UGC has the potential to foster a way more active and engaged community. But here you have a chicken and egg dilemma, because often times in new communities, where members are still learning the social mores particular to that community or the phase of its development, content can be pretty light, uninteresting, and intermittent. You need members to be generating content that compels others to engage in conversation. For many UGC communities, a content strategy is still critical to driving long term engagement.

So regardless of your content profile, you’ll want a content strategy. Here are my 5 tips to develop and implement an effective one.

1) Know what your community wants.

This tip seems obvious, but I think many managers set forth on a community project with absolutely no idea what types of content their community members want to consume. Here you want to be clear on 1) The substance of the content and 2) what form that content takes. On substance, be sure to consider not only the general topics of interest that will excite your community, but also where your community is on the developmental ladder. Are we still in an early polite stage? Then don’t be too provocative.  Are they in a constructive stage? Then give them some challenging problems.

Consider how you mediate your content as well. Do you have a community of bookworms or gamers? Depending on the demography and psychography of your group, you’ll need to put out content in the form they prefer (short text vs. long text posts, images vs. video, etc). However, you still want to maintain some variety. More on that later.

2) Develop a rock solid content calendar. 

I can’t stress this one enough. As a practicing community manager, this is the one single thing that has kept me on track to meeting my engagement goals. Once you are clear on the content for your community, lay out a schedule for how this content plays out and when. You want to give your self clear direction so that each week you know exactly what content is slated, and you also have a well-articulated prioritization system so you know what can go, and what absolutely has to stay. In your schedule you will want to track:

  • Date for publication – when will it land on the home page?
  • Author – who’s responsible for writing/editing/publishing the piece?
  • Media type – blog, image, video, webinar, slideshare, poll, etc.
  • Media distribution – home page, newsletter, Twitter, Facebook.
  • Keywords or categories – what are the topics related to your community?
  • Tone – humor, educational, opinion.
  • Priority level – What content must be published now? What can wait?

3) Mix it up.

Your members are not all the same. They each have their own set of motivations and interests. If you haven’t graphed out the personas within your audience, consider doing so. Armed with the knowledge of your personas and their interests and motivations, you can ensure that each week and month you’re bringing relevant content to each segment of your audience. This also means that you should add a bit of pizzazz to the variety of media being presented. For example, if you lean towards text-heavy posts, every now and then throw in some video blogs. Even bookworms watch movies!

4) Promote Autonomy.

I just read D. Pink’s Drive, so I’m on a bit of a rant with this one. Pink talks about our 3 intrinsic motivations: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I’ll write more about these in a later post, but what I think is important with content in any community is promoting a sense of autonomy among your members. This means that you should never pre-moderate your UGC. Let members self-moderate through a distributed-moderation paradigm, where moderation of content is a crowd-sourced endeavor. In order for this to work, your members have to be well-educated about the community’s goal and purpose, and they must be comfortable with the technology that supports it. If this totally freaks you out, you might consider conferring moderation rights to an initial group of super-users you trust. Either way, getting your users involved in the content curation and moderation process will be a huge win in generating great content and ultimately driving engagement.

5) Be Authentic.

For the packaged-goods content that you create, be honest and be authentic. Don’t lie. Even if something goes horribly wrong, be genuine about the whole ordeal. You will find that when you fail, and are honest about it, your members will connect with you on a deeper level. And if you wildly succeed, don’t be self-effacing! Share your successes with the community. Toot your horn. Just don’t be an ass about it.

*6) Offer the value-add.

(*FYI – this one doesn’t apply to every community). In some cases, driving engagement through content can be had by offering something exclusive to a select group of members, or to members who do something in exchange for it. For example, if your community is driven by commerce (whether b2c or b2b), you might create content that people will be willing to do something for (i.e. provide their contact info) in order to generate leads. These types of content are usually more highly produced, such as case-studies, white papers, or webinars.

For more, visit my Delicious stack on Content strategy, a collection of blogs and articles from other content strategy experts.


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