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The Marketer’s Guide to Community-Driven Content

Your community can and should become the pulse of your content marketing strategy, but the first step is deciding if you have one. While you may have millions of users, you may not yet have a community.

Do you have a community?

What is the difference between a user or client base and a community?

  1. Self-identification: Members recognize the boundaries of membership and see themselves within those boundaries on an ongoing basis.
  2. Influence: Members yield some degree of influence on the shape of the community.
  3. Shared emotional connection: Members feel special due to their shared belonging to the group.
  4. Fulfillment of needs: Members’ values or identity aspirations are embodied by the community.

If you already have a community, then congratulations! This post will explore how you can empower them to become your greatest advocates. If you have a client base, but are still building your community from the ground up, then check back next week for the marketer’s guide to community building basics.

“Interactive” Brands are Community Driven Brands

The better you understand your community’s needs and emotional connection to your product or service, the stronger your community will be. How do you strengthen your understanding of your community? Empower your community to influence you and other members of your community through community-driven campaigns and user generated content (UGC).

We’ve heard time and time again that brands are becoming more “interactive” than ever before, but what this really means is that they are becoming increasingly more community-driven. When your community is the pulse of your content marketing strategy, you are poised for high returns. Today, Millennials trust UCG more than any other form of media and 84% acknowledge it yields influence over what they buy.  UCG yields real power. When anyone can say anything about your product today with a single click, how do you empower them to spread a constructive message, and who do you empower?

Identify your VIPs

The first step is to identify your VIPs and empower them to advocate on your behalf by understanding and including their voice. VIPs aren’t necessarily the people spending the most money on your product, but they are without a doubt your most valuable customers. These are the community members who are talking about your product the most, both online and offline, yielding influence over your community, and growing it in the process.

Here are a few ways to identify your VIPs:

  1. Social media mentions: Who is mentioning you the most across social media channels?
  2. Referral codes: Who is evangelizing your product the most both online and offline through referral code traffic?
  3. Self-selection: Send out an email asking for feedback through user experience interviews. Who jumps at the opportunity?
  4. Product usage: Who is using your product the most often or for the greatest amount of time?

Once you’ve answered these questions, see which users’ names emerge the most. These are your VIPs! Now, it’s time to involve your VIPs in your feedback loop and work with them to create fitting opportunities to contribute to your content channels.

Creating Your VIP Program

Here are three powerful ways to invite your VIPs into the

1. Content Beta-Testers: Invite your VIPs to an invite-only group where they can give feedback on copy for your communication channels before it goes live. You can even ask them to sign an NDA. This makes them feel special, and sets the tone that they are the voice of your product.

2. Media Ideas Lab: Include your VIPs in the ideation phase of any campaigns you intend to create. Ask for their feedback as your evolve your campaigns ideas. After they invest their feedback, they will help you promote the campaign even more. This also mitigates against creating campaigns that don’t resonate with your audience.

3. Community Empowerment: Let go of the reigns a little and empower your VIPs to influence other community members through leadership opportunities. You can offer a stipend to your VIPs to create events offline that they can then cross-promote across your social media channels. Etsy famously did this by giving stipends to their VIP sellers to create events for their local seller communities.

When you involve your VIPs in the feedback loop and you empower them to help grow your community, you offer them both creative license and legitimacy, which is then reinvested into your marketing making it more authentic.

Using VIPs to Engage the Rest of Your Community

Once you’ve placed your VIPs at the center of your content strategy, there are a myriad of ways you can work with them to catalyze your greater community to participate.

Ideas for driving community content:

1. Contests: Work with your VIPs to create contests that resonate with why or how your community uses your product. For example, Starbucks White Cup Contest in 2014 asked customers to share their drawings on their Starbuck’s cups and then selected one winner for a limited edition cup. This contest captured how Starbuck’s community uses caffeine for a creative boost and solicited 4k entries in less than 3 weeks.

2. Member Spotlight: When hundreds, or thousands, or millions of people use your product, then you’re bound to have some really interesting stories, advice, and use cases amongst your community. Work with your VIPs to identify the knowledge valuable to your community from within your community and feature it across your blog and social media channels. For example, at Vint, an on-demand fitness app, we feature our instructor’s own fitness journeys and advice amongst the greater community to show that both Vint instructors and Vint members alike are always working towards a fitness goal.

3. Reviews: Create valuable spaces for your community members to review your products and design the experience in a way that maximizes the content shared. For example, add a photo icon to encourage users to share pictures of themselves using the product when applicable, a comment field to encourage responding to reviews, or allow upvoting to highlight the most valuable user generated reviews. Modcloth provides an excellent example.

4. Display tools: Use display tools like TINT to highlight your community’s content in one place, which builds trust across your product, and prompts your community to produce more content. When you feature community participation on your website or live at an event, you draw in more community members to participate from your audience while engaging them in new ways. For example, the SF Ballet recently engaged previously less active millennials in a new way during a show and they ended up trending on Twitter.

Suddenly, you have more content that is more authentic than a full time staff of content writers could have produced. Just make sure to review this guide on rights to user generated content before you incorporate it into your marketing strategy.

Now, can you do me a favor? Take note of your levels of engagement across your content channels, the lifetime value of your customers, and your net promoter score over the past six months. Then implement this strategy, and six months from now, highlight the areas that improve when your community is the center of your content strategy. Then show those numbers to your team to help grow the number of community managers on your team. Whether or not you believe that community is the future of marketing, community content is trusted more today when making purchases than referrals from close family and friends.  Community-driven strategy is rewarding — it brings the company vision and customer voice closer together.