How to Use an Online Community as a Content Marketing Pipeline
Harnessing the power of your online community as a consistent, trusted source of high-quality content for your organization
Great online communities can feel lively, spontaneous, and sometimes, a bit ephemeral. Every day is different, and online communities can sometimes move at such a fast pace that it can be hard to remember all the great things that happened last week when you’re trying to keep on top of this week. But, the living nature of a community doesn’t mean you have to lose the value of the most high-quality contributions made by members, or that those things have to stay siloed within your community. In this post, I’m going to talk about how you can harness the power of a brand community as your company’s most trusted content marketing pipeline. I believe that using communities in this way is one of the biggest missed opportunities in the field of community management, especially given that it is an incredibly powerful and accessible way to show the value of your community to your team. If you can start to use your community as a content pipeline, you’ll become a sought-after internal resource for coworkers who create content, elevate the quality of discussions in your community, and reward your best community members. (Psst—before we get started, if you'd like to get more free resources on community management, straight to your inbox, you can grab templates, cheat-sheets, and guides on community management by clicking the button below):
Encourage high-quality discussions in your online community.
Probably not surprisingly, the first step in making your community a great resource for high-quality content is making sure that the conversations happening there are actually high-quality. You can’t use your community as an effective content pipeline if all the discussions in your community are vague, repetitive, or irrelevant to other members (this alone is a great argument for not utilizing community solely for technical support—but that’s for another post). This requires a sometimes radical shift in thinking for community managers who are used to trying to generate as much conversation as possible, versus optimizing their strategies toward the best conversations possible. If you can start getting clear about the types of conversations that really benefit your community members and your team, you can cater your entire experience to encourage that type of content.
For example, in the community I run at Teachable (hosted on the community platform Circle), I find conversations that center around best practices, strategies, and feedback to be the most valuable for members. Not coincidentally, they also tend to present the best opportunities for more formalized content. Because of this, I turn every lever at my disposal to encourage this type of discussion. If you’re not sure where to start with upping the quality of engagement in your community, I have two posts on my blog that might help get you started:
Understand content opportunities for your brand.
In order to make the most of your community as a content pipeline, you need to first understand the opportunities for content creation within your organization. Because community management is not a well-understood field with agreed upon job responsibilities, outputs, or skillsets, community managers often sit in places within an organization that disadvantage us from fully understanding content and marketing ecosystems.
(Quick aside that In my role at Teachable, I’m lucky to sit on our Brand & Content team under our marketing organization. I think there are logical reasons for community managers to sit on a lot of different teams; however, if more companies understood the potential of community as a content pipeline, I think we’d see more community managers on marketing teams.)
No matter where you sit at your company, though, take it upon yourself to learn more about the content channels that your organization maintains regularly, and meet with those channel owners to understand the type of content they are looking to feature. For example, if your organization runs a blog, odds are the content in your community can help identify guest posters, source case studies or examples of a particular subject in action, or help your editorial strategist identify topics that are of interest to your audience.
Whatever content channels you do have at your disposal—be it workshops, online courses, a blog, social media, case studies, or anything else—your community can inform, inspire, or enrich the content your team produces. As someone who reads every post and comment in your community, it’s likely you already identify posts that are of interest in some way—using community as a content pipeline just means that you take that interest a step further and actively look for ways to formalize and showcase content created by members.
“Using community as a content pipeline means taking your interest in a topic a step further and actively looking for ways to showcase content created by members.”
Set cadences and success benchmarks for collaboration.
Once you’re aware of opportunities for content creation at your organization, it can be helpful to meet with channel owners (blog writers, social media, knowledge managers, curriculum developers, product marketers, etc) to set cadences for how you will work together. For example, if you’re working closely with a social media manager, it can help to understand the sheer volume of content they’re responsible for creating and sharing, and to understand the different content buckets or verticals they typically create content within. For example, maybe your social media manager often features member success stories. Or, perhaps they create lots of in-feed carousels for Instagram that feature tips and tricks related to your brand. Either of these content buckets are common for social media, and are the type of user-generated content that is typically in high supply in a healthy community. Your social media manager can begin to lean on your channel to source this content actively with your help.
Meeting with content creators at your organization has a threefold effect: firstly, you’ll start to build your instincts for what constitutes quality content for that channel, and become a second set of eyes to help the channel owner leverage the existing “low hanging fruit” in your community. Second, it will give you an opportunity to help channel owners understand community. This will take time, but once channel owners do understand the potential of community as a content source, they will rely on it heavily. Lastly, setting clear cadences and delivering on the needs of your content channel owners builds clear internal value for community, something many community managers struggle to communicate to their teams.
Bring it full circle.
Community managers are a shared resource both for the members of a community and for the organization that owns the community: they are there to provide a great community experience, but also to make sure that the organization is impacted positively by the community program. Many community managers recognize this shared responsibility, but there can be a tendency to silo these two services. I believe in creating synergy between these shared responsibilities.
What that means is that any time you spend providing community-sourced value to your team (for the purposes of this article, sourcing user-generated content for formalized content channels), you make a point of doing it in a way that’s also appealing to your community members. So, for example, because I source user interview subjects from my community for the product managers on my team, I also actively communicate to my community that having a line to our product team is a benefit of membership. In the case of utilizing community as a content pipeline, consider how you can “feed two birds with one scone” with your content-sourcing efforts so that they are framed as an appealing feature of your community program. Perhaps that means that you provide an opportunity for members to pitch blog posts to your editorial strategist. Or, perhaps it means that you recognize community members who were featured in your blog or social media in a weekly shoutout. Or, maybe it even means that you produce special bonus content just for your community whenever you publish content that originates there. Whatever it is, make it a clear win-win for both your community members and your organization.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I really believe there are still best practices to be carved out in the field of community management. This is especially true when it comes to using community synergistically with more traditional forms of content marketing.
There is no “traditional” way that community pairs with content packages, as there now is to a degree with social media, email marketing, and blog strategies. If you’re able to see the potential of community as a content pipeline, you’re already a step ahead—don’t be afraid to think outside the box and test out new ideas. It’s my hope that in the next few years, we’ll start to see clearer best practices emerge for utilizing community in this way, fueled by the creativity of community managers in our field testing and iterating on new ideas. If you work this into your strategy, I’d love to hear from you on Twitter or over email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Want to take all this a step further?
I work with clients 1:1 to help with big community projects (like launches or community strategies) or coaching over the phone. If you’re a founder launching a community project that you could use a hand on, or a first time community manager looking for an experienced coach, check out ways we can work together here. I’d love to hear from you.
Lastly, you can get free resources on community building straight to your inbox —like a templatized guide to a community launch, a cheat sheet for community management job postings, and more—by clicking the button below:
Thanks for reading :)