By Georgy Cohen published January 26, 2012

7 Ways to Bring Your Community into the Content Creation Process

Content is a critical interface between ourselves and our community. It helps us achieve organizational objectives, reinforce our brand, and communicate key messages.

We, as community managers and content marketers, are well-positioned to create relevant, useful, and interesting content that serves both our audience’s needs and our goals. We live and breathe those goals, and we know our brand identity almost as well as we know ourselves. 

But just because we can do it all on our own, does that mean we should? The truth is, our brand belongs to our community as much as it belongs to us, if not more so. That identity is not a decree that gets passed down; it is shared and, more to the point, it is co-created. While we shape and communicate it, they are out there living it.

It’s tempting to approach community management like we are conducting an orchestra. We want to lead a performance of everyone playing the same song in tune. But I think of it more like the scene from “Big,” where Tom Hanks’ character is playing “Heart and Soul” on the giant keyboard with the CEO of MacMillan Toys. In truth, we are writing and playing the song together.

Simply put, if our brand is a story, our community members are the co-authors. Their investment in our brand is a potent commodity to tap into. Finding ways to leverage that investment is powerful — the authenticity of their external perspective can bring tremendous value to our content marketing efforts. To that end, here are a few ways to integrate our community members into the content creation process.

1. Let their expertise take center stage

Whether it’s through the contact form on our website, an old fashioned phone call, or a query via Twitter or Facebook, we may spend a good part of our day answering questions from customers, prospects, and other interested parties. While we are perfectly able to answer their questions, there are likely experts within our community who are just as qualified to address issues and share their experiences. Queries present a great opportunity to highlight their expertise.

Use your social media channels to solicit responses to a query you feel others may be able to answer. Be sure to share those responses (just the accurate ones, of course) with the original requestor; you can also collect them into a knowledge base of questions and answers powered by your community.

Highlight their responses on your website, give credit where credit is due, and make this type of crowd-sourcing a regularly scheduled item in your editorial calendar in order to keep the knowledge base growing and up-to-date. After all, customer service is often the best marketing.

2. Activate your community in real time

The value of real-time content can be short-term, but high-yield. When a window of opportunity presents itself — say, due to a breaking news item or a special event —relevant content has tremendous potential to be viewed (and appreciated) by a large audience. Once that window closes, however, the content’s value and potential drops sharply. It’s a tricky proposition that requires being in the right place at the right time, ready to turn around and execute on short notice.

The same goes for soliciting content from your community. Activating your community members in real-time will help you see their true colors. Here are some options you can explore:

  • If there are current events with relevance to your organization, ask people to weigh in while they’re still hot topics of conversation.
  • Repost customer questions, and let others respond with their answers.
  • Share reporter queries with your audience and encourage them to post their take.
  • Use both online and offline channels to encourage event attendees to post pictures of themselves (preferably holding something with the company logo with a big smile) or share feedback on the day’s activities.
  • Got a deadline you want people to hit? Get your community to spread the word for you.

Also, pay attention to what is happening in the world at large. Anything from a particularly striking sunset in your city to Thanksgiving dinner to an awards telecast can spark a conversation and content creation around your brand. Tools such as Storify — which allows you to curate bits of content from various online sources and stitch them together into a narrative — can help tie all of the responses together.

3. Leverage the power of the hashtag

Whether it’s on Twitter or emerging channels like Instagram, hashtags are the topical threads that bind people and conversations on the web. By spurring conversation around a popular hashtag — whether it’s related to an event, a product launch, or just a brand theme — you can not only get your community talking about you, but you can trace and organize that conversation.

Using social conversation tools like Storify or Cover it Live, you can capture tweets from a selected hashtag and embed the collection on a webpage, blog post, or online article. A Twitter widget can simply scroll a raw feed of all tweets with the chosen hashtag (though be aware of the attendant risks of publicizing a feed you can’t edit). Alternately, you can simply mine the hashtag thread for interesting tweets that you can retweet, highlight as testimonials on your website, or use to inspire blog posts.

4. Curate and celebrate

Psychologist Carl Rogers once said, “Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.” Listening to our community members is integral to communicating in a way that will resonate with them. By listening, we can monitor our brand and find our fans (and foes); but, more to the point, it also helps us discover a trove of content and conversation. Turns out, the community is already talking and creating content about us, so why not use it to your advantage?

Tracking terms or hashtags on Twitter, finding blogs that mention certain keywords via Google, and subscribing to tags on Flickr and YouTube are just a few of the ways you can listen to the community chatter. Then, you can curate the resultant tweets, blog posts, photos, and videos to create a community-authored reflection of your brand. Don’t be afraid to celebrate content that isn’t your own. In the end, it doesn’t matter who created it; it just matters how well it tells your story.     

5. Reach out and ask them to contribute

Along the same lines as the earlier point about letting your community members be the experts, sometimes getting your community involved in content creation is as simple as asking the right questions. Use your social platforms, newsletters, and other touch points to solicit responses to queries. You want your audience members to be interested in you, so it’s only fair to show some interest in them.

The questions you ask could be about your product or organization, for example, “What should we do better in the new year?” or, “What’s the most interesting way in which you’ve used our product?” But you can also use this as an opportunity to get to know your community members, and let them get to know each other, by asking questions that will be interesting to them, such as, “What are your new year’s resolutions?” or “How do you beat the winter blues?” or “What’s your favorite vacation getaway?” These are easy, straightforward topics people like to talk about and for which pretty much everyone has an answer.

6. Get a little chatty

In an e-commerce context, live chat functionality has been shown to lead to increased conversions and time on-site. In a content marketing context, live chat can help make our websites more dynamic, draw visitors who may not regularly go to our sites, and give our audiences the opportunity to shape our content with their questions and to feel heard. A live chat is great content both during the chat and as an archive after the fact. Also, topics that come up during a live chat may inform future content.

Rather than just publishing a Q&A interview or a two-minute video with a subject matter expert or notable individual, schedule and promote a live chat with them. One of my favorite services that deserves more ink than it gets is Cover it Live. As mentioned before, it not only can help you curate social conversation, but also allows you to host and moderate live web chats that you can embed on your website.

7. Add the sound of music

Music is the soundtrack to our lives, so make it the soundtrack for your content, as well. Social music services such as Spotify, Grooveshark, and Turntable.fm have become popular spaces for audiophiles to build networks around musical tastes. Spotify and Grooveshark are centered on the creation and sharing of playlists, while Turntable.fm combines a chatroom with collaborative DJ function.

Find relevant themes — they could be related to travel, holidays, exercise, geography, current events, you name it — and use your social platforms to ask people to suggest songs they think would fit. Create those playlists via Spotify or Grooveshark then share the links. On Turntable.fm, you can create your own room and encourage your community members to join and play songs around a chosen theme.

What other ideas do you have for integrating your community into your content creation efforts?

Image Credit: Marcin Wichary (flickr creative commons)

Author: Georgy Cohen

Georgy Cohen is founder and principal at Crosstown Digital Communications, a firm committed to helping organizations more effectively tell their stories online. Previously, she was manager of web content and strategy at Tufts University. Georgy is also co-founder of Meet Content, a blog and resource that aims to empower higher education to create and sustain web content that works. You can follow her on Twitter @radiofreegeorgy.

Other posts by Georgy Cohen

  • Sarah

    This was very helpful. Thanks for the tips and ideas. I especially like the music idea. 

  • http://twitter.com/SolRomeo Sol Romeo

    Great Post! Loved your point of view! This activities can really place your brand on the spotline!
    Regarding to your question, as a Community Manager I must agree that there are truly experts within our community and they can help us share lots of tips and tricks! We never stop learning from our community.

  • SusanLD

    Excellent post! I think so many people are “afraid” to involve their community to tell the story because they worry whether they will do it “right” or if they will “say the wrong thing.” Content is about engaging and every opportunity to involve your community lets you engage. Over the past year we have asked he question, “What’s your biggest marketing challenge?” – since reading the post I think we will engage these people again to help tell the story about their challenge and how they are addressing it.

    Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/pamstrayer pamstrayer

    Thanks for this line: Simply put, if our brand is a story, our community members are the co-authors.
    Not enough people give credit to contribution and contributors. I have so been enjoying reading David Weinberger’s latest book Too Big to Know (highly recommend) and his viewpoint that the world is rapidly moving into networks as the source of knowledge. If and when the network is the star, content strategy has a much bigger and better role to play in getting network content (as well as network features like problem-solving competitions, etc.) to the highest levels of sites, tablets and mobile phone screens.