There are lots of problems with content marketing, like any new (but not that new) discipline that shows results but gains popularity ahead of expertise and wisdom. One of the biggest problems is answering – what. What do I produce? How? What should it be about, how should we package it? What should it look like?
There is a wonderfully simple path to content bliss, but it involves regular, deep interaction with a group that traditionally marketers have been terrified to talk to …
We’ve covered the value and utility in orienting content planning in part around customer feedback (in addition to metrics and behaviour data) but today we’re going to dive deep into why and how it can generate action as well.
The key is community, one of the most misunderstood terms in business. I’ve written at length here and elsewhere about the value of community, its future significance, and how it manifests, and it’s becoming so mainstream that at a recent event I moderated on digital transformation, Joseph George, a Vice President at open source software company SUSE, talked about the critical role that their community of customers and employees plays in everything from product development to customer service.
So what is community? How do you know when it’s working? When interactions between otherwise unconnected customers, prospects, employees or partners connect organically and regularly outside of a sales transaction. But in the early stages, it can be hard to see if community is forming. Here are some questions we get regularly about community dynamics:
1. Is Facebook or WhatsApp a community?
No. Community is a result of an intentional decision to congregate with others out of a mutual interest, sometimes to perform a specific goal. Community forms on platforms but platforms in and of themselves are not communities.
2. Is a business a community?
By definition yes, but the community aspects of a business, the aspects where care and looking out for each other are a critical part of your fabric, can get lost in some environments. Take Uber for example. Uber is a thriving business, but is it a thriving community? Are drivers connected and supporting each other? Does the company foster dialogue and feedback to address issues and set goals beyond just growth? Based on a cursory look at Uber today, I’d say the company is suffering because of a lack of community, versus a company like GE (while huge and sprawling by going through its own evolutionary pains), where employees understand they are working toward a common purpose together.
3. What’s the best operating model for a commercial community?
A neighbourhood, where contribution is not mandatory but required if the neighbourhood is to thrive. Common commitment. Purpose. Mutual interest. Stepping outside of your house and engaging with the broader world. Leadership.
4. Why focus on community?
It’s like eating your vegetables as a business. The most effective commercial communities insulate against everything from disruption to employee malaise, and are asynchronous to the normal operating priorities and cycles of the business. Community is not about sales, although it will lead to sales. It is not about employee retention, although it can be a powerful force in keeping your top employees. It is about mutual purpose to action, serving the needs of customers and employees outside of transactions and pay.
5. How does a company without a community start?
The keys are enthusiasm engagement and effectiveness. First of all, find enthusiastic people. Generally, they will self-identify if you just ask. People who can be relied upon to contribute, who have purpose, energy and altruism, will form the core. Identifying these people can just be a matter of finding hand-raisers and harnessing their leadership and excitement into some kind of purpose. If you don’t get hand-raisers – you have community problems. We’ll look at troubleshooting those in s future column.
6. How do we identify our purpose? Isn’t that the same as our mission?
Purpose within a community can take many forms – make our neighbourhood more beautiful, deliver a better experience to our customers – but it must have tangible application and milestones. Often purposes will be short-term – understand reluctance to use this new feature, create content that our audience gets more value from and converts better – but ladder up to a larger, visible outcome. As purposes shift, members will too.
7. What comes after enthusiasm?
Engagement around the purpose, whether it’s better content, tackling an issue that is impeding productivity, or improving customer service, activities that have purpose, are effective and lead to real outcomes will generate the most engagement and best results.
8. What’s the best way to manage community?
Understand that each community has its own life cycles as well, and have engaged leadership representing both the company and the community. Set goals and tasks and outcomes that ladder up to a purpose. For a detailed look at how to form a community from scratch with a seed community model, where members help to design the experience from day one, you can check out this set of steps.
Originally published June 28, 2017 on The ACA Edge.
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