Concept and definition
The purpose of your content strategy is to help you make content that keeps members engaged. In practice, a content strategy is the management of any media, messages, and communications that you and your virtual community members create and own. It includes written, visual, downloadable, audio, and other types of content. Your content strategy is a key component of your broader community building plan that establishes and describes what your virtual community is, what it does, what opportunities it offers, and the groups’ expertise.
Use your content strategy to ensure you are creating meaningful, cohesive, and sustainable content that attracts and retains your community members. When developing a content strategy, think about what content can be created specifically for your virtual community as well as what content can be shared externally through other channels to attract new members and showcase your community’s achievements.
*Important: Depending on the type of community you work with (its goals and audiences), different approaches to the content strategy can be applied. Adapt and adjust these guidelines to suit your virtual community’s individual needs.
A structured approach will help you become the manager of content pieces that are created and shared by members.
Instead of creating all of the content yourself, cultivate an environment where members take on the role of content creation through their natural interactions and activities. Providing members with a chance to showcase their actions and ideas as they support the community’s purpose is key to building a thriving community.
You can cultivate member-created content by:
- Considering your most interesting offering to members.
- Encouraging each member to become the individual within their circle who creates and shares interesting content.
- Empowering and encouraging members to use content as a tool to inspire their peers and foster practical solutions to individual and organisational challenges.
There is no content strategy that guarantees members will write content as much as you want or need. But you can use this conversion framework to help encourage members to participate in developing content.
Catch –> Connect –> Convert!
Catch your virtual community’s attention by creating content with a human interest angle that resonates with their own interest. This can include:
- Personal stories
- Group stories
- Stories of redemption
- Features of the people behind an organisation or project
Connect with members’ daily lives using powerful, no-nonsense data and information to position the community and provide opportunities. This can include:
- Data from surveys
- Details about projects
- Programs and events
- Learning opportunities
Convert people into content ambassadors by making them a part of your community movement. By using the audience mapping tool, you can identify who in your virtual community would make a good content ambassador. Select members as content ambassadors and include them in your content strategy. This will enhance conversions by helping content ambassadors to:
- Create content and view it as an empowering act of community participation
- Partner with you
- Get in touch with other members to work on projects together
- Share their experience
- Sign up to your newsletter
You can use this same conversion framework to attract new members by sharing content on channels outside of your community platform. Integrate this framework into your content strategy to help you curate content designed to grow the community.
A content plan is a tool that helps to set and program the information you will provide to your community and external audiences.
Every content strategy should include a content plan that helps you create and monitor content in a single place and link it to a content publication calendar. Modern content planner tools prevent virtual clutter by managing content according to the topic. Here is a content planning template that includes insights on audience mapping.
Once your approach is defined and your audience mapping is complete, it’s time to begin curating content for your readers.
“You need exclusive content for your members to see the added value of being part of your community. This means that sticking simply to listicles, repurposed content from marketing blogs and articles, repurposed posts from other groups and tons of links to outside articles will not do the job.”MOVE.BG.
Think of yourself as the content filter for your virtual community. Ingest content by using income content streams sourced from Google Alerts, Social Media, Reddit, Newsletters, Blog Digests Review the content from other sources and evaluate its quality and relevance. Select the most relevant pieces to share with your community.
Remember, using content from other sources is a good way to engage your community but you must also create and produce new and unique content that motivates members to engage.
Content can strengthen your reputation and build trust. Relevant and effective content demonstrates your expertise, what you offer, and provides readers with the information they need and want.
The competition for attention in the virtual environment is fierce and community members have their own businesses and projects to run so it’s important to use content that gets people’s attention. Think about what makes you unique and use it to create content that tells readers why they should engage with you. Ask yourself questions like:
- Are your programs, services, products, and tools a great asset to your community?
- What can you offer that will help members solve problems/gaps in their work or lives?
- Do you or your partners have relevant knowledge to share?
- Do members of your community have relevant knowledge and stories to share?
- Are there projects or opportunities for collaboration for members of your community?
Content Types and Topics
Depending on your community’s goals, there are a variety of content types and topics that can be used to engage members and external audiences.
The types of content that are popular will:
- Solve problems or uncover common challenges or mysteries
- Celebrate and feature people, especially community members
- Reduce challenges or fears
- Remind readers that they are not alone
- Create opportunities for collaboration
- Generate debate or the exchange of ideas
- Features a story about risk-taker
- Evoke curiosity
- Tell an emotional story
- Build suspense or excitement
- Showcase redemption or how a problem was resolved
If your virtual community is focused on promoting a learning agenda, check out this material.
Additional strategies for increasing engagement
- When your virtual community is new, begin by creating content that fosters a common bond among members and helps people see their connection with the community.
- Make sure members find the information they were seeking when they joined your community.
- Introduce new members to the broader community in a weekly or monthly communication, for example, “This week joined @Member1, she works on #FinancialLiteracy, @Member2, he is interested in…”
- Ask clear questions but be direct–easy-to-answer questions make it more likely that members will respond.
- Include a clear call to action by telling people what to do or how to have an impact, for example, Click Like if you agree and comment if you don’t. Provide a link that directly corresponds to your call to action for instance, to a website, app, additional article.
- Encourage frequent participation, give members a reason to come back by asking what they’re working on, what they’re struggling with, or creating a weekly space for sharing.
- Ask open-ended questions like:
- Diagnostic questions (How would you explain this?)
- Challenge question (Do you have evidence)
- extension questions (Can you elaborate?)
- Priority questions; Action Questions (What would you do if…?)
- Prediction questions (What will happen next?) will all support members to engage.
- Provide opportunities for commitment by creating intrinsic rewards systems.
- Motivate others to move up within your community by highlighting stories about your community’s leaders.
- Highlight popular discussions by organising a space to share “hot” content.
- Highlight a victory by creating a #CelebratetheWin post once a week and invite others to add their successes so the group can celebrate together).
- Celebrate member anniversaries with a post showing your appreciation and acknowledge holidays.
- Share relevant information on your community platform first, for example, “We have free tickets for this event. First come first serve!”
- Include a visual with every single post to increase engagement.
After you have identified what topics you want to share or talk about with your community, it’s time to decide what format you’ll use to share information. At this time, you must also outline a content creation budget.
Will you create infographics, videos, blog posts? It is a good idea to choose your format(s) based on the results of your audience mapping. Once your format is selected and your content goes live, measure the response from your virtual community. These metrics will tell you what formats are preferred among your members.
No single type of content will appeal to every member. Vary your content by posting in a variety of formats including, multimedia, videos, tutorials, infographics, comics and the like. Below you find a list of content formats for you to choose from:
- Blog Posts
- Original Research
- Charts and Graphics
- Long-Form Articles
- Case Studies
- White Papers/Reports
- Book Summary
- Virtual events
- Events calendar
- Quizzes and Polls
- Tools Reviews
- Q&A sessions
- Day in the life of “post”
- Mind Maps
- Online Games
- Helpful Application
- User-Generated Content
- Organization News
- Press Release
- Email Newsletters
Remember, you can repurpose content in fresh and user-friendly formats. Repurposing minimizes your efforts and maximizes content value.
Considerations for creating quality content
“The life-blood of virtual communities is quality content: timely, relevant, rich and engaging. Quality content offers value (mental, social, emotional, practical) and instigates activity.”
Impact Hub Network
Content curation style
Your curation style will evolve based on member interests and data trends. The subject and format of your content are equally important. One month your virtual community members may prefer video tutorials about web tools, and the next month, they will prefer infographics about causes.
A high volume of poorly conceived, low-quality content will lower engagement and can cause members to lose interest.
Optimize quality content
An effective virtual host or community manager will take the most provocative or important message from an existing piece of content and turn it into a question. The post now speaks directly to the community, sparks interest in the topic, and starts a conversation.
Frame content for members
Be clear and tell community members what about this video, article, image you think will be interesting or relevant to them.
Information is more memorable and relatable when readers are given real-life examples of how an idea would look in the real world.
Couple and enhance relevant content
Add multimedia or visuals to written content whenever possible to give a post more depth and perspective.
Let the material speak for itself. Choose one or two high impact sentences to introduce a post and state its purpose or key message right away.
Notice trends, relationships, leaders, and preferences that tell you how your virtual community is responding to content.
Consistently track and interpret engagement metrics
- Number of posts, comments, likes, page views, per week/month.
- Access website, facebook, twitter or other platform analytics.
- Number of new members engaged per week/month.
- Time of day and day of week members are most active.
- Where are new members coming from?
- Who are the members (age, education, location)?
Incrementally log qualitative and quantitative community data
Create spreadsheets or reports with analytics and include metrics about top posts and conversations. These help you see trends and make informed decisions about future content.
It is important to define what language and tone your content will and will not use.
Write using appropriate language and a tone that represents the community host, the community members as well as the context and the topic itself.
Think of the language and tone you will consistently use when creating content as ‘your voice’:
Describing your voice in three words
Review your community’s goal and your community/audience mapping and traits. Group the common traits found in your community goals and audience mapping into three buckets.
Now, imagine your virtual community as a real person. How would you describe their personality? Is your community results-driven? A good reader? How do your community’s ‘personality traits’ make it different?
To help you practice, create your own example using these three traits or choose traits that represent your unique community:
Create a voice that breaks down each of the traits by describing them in detail and defining what types of language they do and do not use. Think about how these traits can help you define the language and tone you will use to create content. When writing posts, blogs post, hosting webinars or creating videos, the language and tone use your authentic community voice to deliver your message. Ensure your content creators and host understand how to put your unique voice into action. Walk them through the chart as well as examples of content that is similar to what you want to create.
Take the time to revise content that does reflect your community’s voice as a team.
Defining your content tone and language
- Use standard language and follow established rules of grammar. The official language you will use must be one your members are comfortable with. Global communities normally use English as the agreed language for interaction, but for local or regional communities it might be different.
- Use a level of formality appropriate for your members. Online communities typically take an agile, efficient, and witty tone and voice that makes them approachable. But if your community is more academic, for instance, you might need to adjust to a more formal tone.
- When using less formal language and tone, be sure to remain respectful and professional.
- More emphasis is placed on language in virtual spaces, as tone, gestures, smiles and eye contact aren’t available and it is important to use intentional inclusive language.
- Avoid biased or derogatory comments. Do not use sexist language or language that is biased against any racial, ethnic, religious, age, or other group.
- Avoid comments, generalizations, examples, or jokes that affirm or perpetuate negative stereotypes.
- Be cautious when using jargon. Jargon should be used sparingly, and only when speaking or writing to an audience familiar with the terms used. If you feel it is appropriate to use jargon for a more general audience, define the terms for readers.
Content will be shared using different channels. Because our focus is on virtual communities, this resource assumes you will be posting on your own community platform or a social media group or page. Channels can include owned properties, your apps, platforms, website and blog; and social media properties like Facebook and Twitter.
Though you may be focusing on a specific platform, it is important to share some of your content across multiple channels. This helps to drive members’ attention back to the main community platform. For example, a newsletter can remind your community members that specific content was shared on the community platform and that an interesting discussion is happening there. Engage members by telling them about new content on the platform and providing a direct link.
Within your virtual community platform you will have different channels/groups. Consistently navigate all channels so you can see things from you member’s perspective. Identify and simplify bulky processes, offer supportive information, materials and real-time assistance.
Each time you share content, post it on your community platform. This can be a challenge for beginners but these simple guidelines can help you get started.
Length of post
In general, shorter posts are better for virtual communities. However, depending on the community and the content you are sharing, a longer piece of content may be more appropriate. Social content that is 80 words long tends to generate twice the engagement but content can go as high as 120 words.
Hashtags or tags
Depending on the platform, hashtags or tags are a good way to connect a post to a larger discussion. They can also get more attention if you choose them strategically, connecting tags and hashtags with the topic or goal of your post.
Limit yourself to a maximum of three hashtags or tags. Using multiple tags or hashtags can weaken the connection with other related discussions or content. You can create your own brand-related hashtags/tags and use them.
Time of post
When is the best time to post on your virtual community? Whenever your members are most likely to see and engage with your content. A well-timed post can lead to more likes, comments, shares, and click-throughs. Only by tracking member activity within your community can you know the best dates and times to post. According to broad market standards:
If you have less than 10,000 followers, post one or fewer times per day. Once you exceed one post, each post gets 60% fewer clicks per post.
If you have more than 10,000 followers, posting 1-2 times per day leads to the most clicks per post. 12 p.m. and 3 p.m are considered good times to post.
Decide who will create your content. The regular posts can be done by the community builder or host if that person has the experience for it or is willing to learn. Community managers can also work with professional content creators (external vendors) to develop specific content formats (articles, blog posts, infographics, videos) that enhance your messages and engagement. Freelance content creators can guide you in telling them what information they would need from you to create an article or other pieces of content. An external vendor needs briefing and your input as a subject matter expert to achieve the result you need.
Invite community members to create content and ensure they have the necessary knowledge to develop the message and format. Member-created content should align with your strategy.
A good content creator:
- Is up-to-date and knowledgeable about current topics relevant to your community and sector
- Understands your goals
- Understands your members’ profiles
- Understands your offer or the specific topic
- Respects the voice you defined for your community
- Creates content often
- Curates other people’s content (when it makes sense to)
- Networks at every opportunity
- Offer solutions, not just commentary
Your content strategy should be part of your community-building strategy or communication strategy and ideally have a budget of its own. The budget should cover for community builder(s) and content creators’ salaries, as well as extra tools for certain activities (platforms for webinars, for example) and specific formats (videos and infographics are more expensive than regular articles).