Why Content is the Fuel behind Online Community Engagement

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Photo Credit: Zach Dischner

The sun. It helps me get out of bed each morning and get started on a great day. It provides warmth and sunlight (of course!). It makes the grass grow and flowers bloom. It powers the solar panels on our roofs. Farming could not exist without it. In fact, all the life forms on Earth could not exist without it. The sun fuels our planet.

Content is like the sun. Content fuels online communities and online community engagement.

Upcoming CMAD Hangout

I consider 2013 the “Year of Content Marketing,” in terms of both its practice, along with the “frequency of use” in the term itself. When we look back upon 2014, we may call it the “Year of Content Marketing in Online Communities.”

I’m thrilled to be part of a CMAD Hangout, Communities Around Content, which airs at 6pm ET on January 27, 2014, as part of Community Manager Appreciation Day. This panel discussion will include an illustrious line-up of content and community management experts:

  1. Megan Berry from RebelMouse
  2. Ally Greer from Scoop.it
  3. Nick Kellet from List.ly
  4. Elisabeth Michaud from UberVU
  5. Marc Rougier from Scoop.it
  6. Derek Shanahan from Playerize

I hope you can join us! To set the stage for this Hangout, let’s consider reasons why content is the fuel behind online community engagement.

1) It sparks activity

Healthy online communities will see a high percentage of conversations seeded and started by the community members. Conversations typically arise from an underlying piece of “content.” That content may be a blog post (within the community), an article published by a mainstream media site or even a celebrity tweet.

Content has a way of spurring engagement and commentary. Really compelling (or even controversial) content creates more of both. As community managers, we need to understand and embrace this dynamic and discover the right tools and processes for seeding our community with the right content.

2) It helps new users discover your community

Content leads to commentary. Commentary is itself a form of content. These conversations create “indexable inventory” for the search engines. Just as the sun causes plants to grow, content (and conversations) causes your community to be discovered (by new users), which in turn helps grow your community.

3) It provides value to community members

When I think about my favorite people on Twitter, I cherish the valuable information they provide me (in the form of thoughts and ideas, as well as the links shared in their tweets). I learn new things and I discover great articles I otherwise wouldn’t have found. These shared links help me gain expertise and even advance my career!

As community managers, you can serve a similar role to your members. If you curate and share useful content with them, they’ll see increased value for their membership and participation.

Types of Content to Consider

In addition to curated content, I recommend that community managers consider producing two forms of original content.

Content that’s organic to the commu

In a piece at CMSWire (“Online Communities Need a Spark? Turn to Original Content”), I wrote about the benefit of using original content to fuel online community engagement. Try to build a roster of experts and thought leaders, who can publish content (e.g. blog posts and articles) in your community. That content will spur conversation within the community and will be indexed by search engines.

Content about the community (Meta content)

In a post at FeverBee, Richard Millington writes about basic principles of building online communities. Of his fourteen excellent tips, the eighth tip was “create content about the community.” Richard writes: “Use content as a mechanism to highlight key contributions, reward the best contributors, and subtly nudge the community in the direction you want to go.”

As community managers, you take on an added role of media outlet, where the topic you’re reporting on is the community itself. Trust me, your users will love original content that’s all about their community.


If 2014 is truly the Year of Content Marketing in Online Communities, then I think online communities will grow like wildfire.

I hope I’ve been able to set the stage for the upcoming Hangout. I’m very excited to learn from my panelist peers about content for communities. Hope to see you there!

For more info on the Hangout: http://communitymanagerappreciationday.com/schedule/communities-around-content/

Photo Credit: Zach Dischner, Flickr

Dennis Shiao

Director of Product Marketing at DNN
Dennis is Director of Product Marketing at DNN (@DNNCorp), where he’s focused on product and content marketing. Dennis is a contributing author to the book “42 Rules of Product Marketing” and is a frequent contributor to the DNN blog. Feel free to reach out to Dennis via email, dennis.shiao@dnnsoftware.com or find him on Twitter, @dshiao.
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