Content does three things for a community.
1) It creates a social order for the community. Content highlights who or what is popular in the community. It highlights the key people within the community.
2) It creates a narrative for the community. It tells members what's happening in the community. This narrative is important.
3) It gives members a reason to return and visit the community every day. You switch the motivations of members from visiting for a specific reason/to see the responses to their own contributions, to visiting to see what's new in the community. If there is fresh content every day, members have a reason to visit every day.
By content we're not talking about expert articles, product-related advice, or sector news. This is useful, sparingly, we're talking about content about the community. The best content for a community is content about the community.
Principles of great content
There are important principles about great content. You can look at a local newspaper to see what works. The general principles are:
1) Mention names of members frequently. People will read the content to see if they or others they know have been mentioned. This is their way of comparing themselves to their peer groups. Content about people is the most interesting type of content.
2) Post content on a fixed frequency. Don't post 4 times in 1 week and once in the next. Train the audience want to expect, we like consistency in our content.
3) Use a consistent tone of voice that reflect the personality of your members. If members are funny and sarcastic, use the same. If they're serious, be serious.
4) Don't compete with news sites. You want the news sites in your sector to mention and support the community. If you're competing with them by publishing the same content, that won't happen.
Types of community content
You can break content into several categories. You can have regular news about the community. These are simple posts saying what's new in the community. Who is new? What are the most popular discussions? What are the upcoming/current issues? What are the upcoming events?
You can have feature articles like interviews, analyses, surveys, predictions, previews/reviews.
You can have opinion from guest columns from top members/VIPs in your sector. These cover what they think about major issues or recent experiences.
You can also have classifieds (jobs or products), major announcements, statements on behalf of the community, and a variety of miscellaneous content like photos, videos, challenges/competitions etc...
There shouldn't be a shortage of content and it shouldn't take a long time to create terrific content so long as it's content about the community.
Communify your content
The challenge here for many organizations is to community your content. This means to take something you might traditionally publish and make it a community-based activity. Instead of publishing an announcement you might let 5 top members know about it, get their thoughts on the issue and publish that as an article instead.
Or you might host a live chat with the Managing Director/CEO where members can ask questions and get information on the issue, or run a poll related to the announcement and see what members think about it.
You can also take a topical issue and make it relevant to the community. As in the case of Element14 (right), they ask the community who is better for engineering between Obama and Romney?
Let's take a look at some excellent examples of community content.
In Mumsnet, it's mostly about member activities. They have a live web-chat, a christmas competition, a campaign of the week, a book club, a recipe of the week, the top discussion sof the week. Mumsnet excels at making the content things that bring their audience together.
Mashable features the top comments of the week from the community. They also feature jobs, events, and reviews of the week so members can catch up on things they have missed. All of this is useful for building community.
3) The Economist
The Economist runs regular debates in addition to events, live discussions, and other activities. They also do a preview of the week ahead (what can members expect?) and review the week just gone.
4) Member Interviews/profiles
Many communities have interviews and profiles of their members. Luxology do this regularly as does Mixergy.
Part of what you need to do with content is to build stars and experts within your own community. This mean identifying the people that have the most expertise or can be very popular within the community and building their reputation within the community. Interviews play a large role in helping achieve that.
Element14 does this extremely well. They use member of the month to give recognition and use expert status upon key individuals.
The purpose of this entire process is to change how we think about and use content. Not every community has a content area. Some communities are just forums. Those that do use content often position their content as competition to existing content channels - that's a loser's game, pull in the RSS feed instead.
Instead make your content unique. Think of it as a the local newspaper for the community. Use it to shine the spotlight upon community members. Use it to establish a social order and a narrative for your community.
If you do this you will find it becomes an incredibly engaging element of the community. It will increase the sense of community felt among members. More so, it will keep members coming back, every day, to see what's new in their community.
You can now buy my first book, Buzzing Communities: How To Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities from the links below: