October 10, 2020

You, your community, and all the content

Rosie Sherry
My early days of community building were very much influenced by marketeers and the social web. These days I’m more influenced by indie hackers, makers, and founders.

To be honest, there isn’t much of a difference between them all. It’s all labels. They are all essentially people with the urge to create and make. I believe community builders should fall into this creator type mindset too. It doesn’t mean you have to be an independent maker or founder, it’s more about the mindset of creativity and always looking for ways to find good growth.


Content strategies for communities have a different focus


If you go searching on the internet everyone has an opinion on what is the best content. It is easy to get sucked into things that don’t actually move the needle, especially from a community perspective.

There is no shortage of advice on how to:

  • create better headlines
  • write content that engages, whatever the heck that means 🥴
  • structure content for maximum success
  • A/B test the heck out of it and come to no further conclusions
  • write for SEO, and disregard the people 🤷🏽‍♀️
  • create a content schedule that increases ROI by 65.75%

I’m joking to some extent on some of these, but it is to make a point. Community content is often different than traditional content. Many of these things do not apply. Community should (generally) have different goals.

The goals for each community will vary, but generally, you are aiming for conversations, collaboration, connections, and personal growth or education of your people.

For example, headlines are super important for pulling people in. The content within can make a difference, but it’s not always the case. The number of comments are probably a better indicator of success over the number of views. Most of us probably know that zero responses makes a sad community builder.

As community builders, we want to have a bit of marketing mindset, but not too much, and not too little. 😊 How and what we write matters, and we should always be looking for ways to improve. The ability to connect is what matters and everything we create we should be asking ourselves if we are making the right connections.

The key is to balance marketing out with good conversations. Having this balanced community marketing mindset will help your community conversations get better results.

Some things to ask yourself when it comes to your community content:

  • Do people actually care about it?
  • How can you start conversations to test people’s true interest in the topic?
  • Will the header pull people in?
  • Is the subject relevant?
  • Are you posting it at the right time of day?
  • Is this something that can be reposted on a regular basis?
  • Has it already been asked?
  • How is it helpful?
  • Does it help you get one step closer towards your vision?
  • Is the post worthy of an email message?
  • Should you be sharing the post on social media? Parts of it, all of it, or the ideas behind it?
  • Where else could you be talking about this discussion to help it gain traction?
  • Do people need nudging somewhere else?
  • Can you tag in, or encourage, a person of value to contribute?
  • Is this a theme that keeps popping up? Is it worth diving into more detail about it? Or finding a good source to link to?
  • What makes a successful post in your community?

All of these things are important. But none of it matters if it isn’t helping people grow, converse, and connect with one another.


Community is about conversations


Personally, I love marketing. And I love writing. But I’m inconsistent and improper with both of those things is so many ways. That’s my imposter syndrome creeping in, I suppose.

I guess I like writing from a conversational perspective. Or maybe this is an excuse to avoid structuring my content properly. I just know if I take too long writing something it makes me lose momentum and then I never end up publishing anything.

Whatever it is, when it comes to community, it’s the conversations that tend to matter. If you are doing community full time then you are non-stop communicating with people. Email. Forum posts. Chat. Social media. Talking. Videos. Podcasts. Meetups.

These are focused on conversations and building relationships. There is no escaping it.

So, naturally, for me, content should be formed around the conversations we have, or want to have.

Much of this comes back to the ideas of studying your people. Before you start a community you want to know the things that interest them. You also need to know how you should talk to them and the language you need to use. The more you get to know them, the stronger the relationship you can build, and the better conversations you can have with them.

As you build your community you will get to know them even better. You’ll probably even feel conversation overload! Brain melts and all that. With so much to digest it can become overwhelming to decide what to do with it all.

However, being overwhelmed is probably a good sign. In the sense that there is so much you feel your community should or could know about. If you are not overwhelmed with all the things you could be doing then maybe there isn’t enough room for your community to grow into.


Note-taking habits are key


My mind is a mess. My notes have been a mess too. I’ve been getting better over time and have mostly settled down with Notion to help me. I’ve let go of the idea of perfection and continue to strive for just trying to improve bit by bit.

Note-taking has been important for me because my brain, nor any brain, can hold in all the information you’ll need.

In the back of my mind, I’m always looking for potentially interesting things that I can bring back to the community.

Generally, I get ideas from:

  • the community itself, the discussions and comments
  • podcasts, Indie Hackers specifically, but any podcast can potentially spark and idea
  • Twitter, LinkedIn and wherever my people hang out
  • news, blog posts, newsletters, and articles
  • books, videos, and courses

I look for things like:

  • successes
  • recurring discussions
  • problems
  • trends
  • ideas to educate and help my people
  • things that align with the vision of the community
  • things that I can reframe in my own words

For Indie Hackers, I dump all of these back into a Notion page and use it to help me plan the following month. I have one single Notion page for each month, my brain can’t seem to handle more than that.

Previously with Ministry of Testing I used Trello to organize ideas. At MoT I was responsible for lots more content than just discussions. We had articles, live online talks, conferences/videos, and podcasts. At one point we even had a printed newspaper. By keeping an eye on all of these and taking notes it helped me try to find a way forward with keeping a constant flow of discussions, content and product ideas.


The less formal content, the better


I seriously recommend avoiding creating ‘formal’ content as much as possible. When people start communities they quickly and easily get carried away with all the ideas and things they could create.

ALL THE THINGS! So, so tempting.

I suffer so much from wanting to do all the things. It gets me into trouble. Please resist it when you can, your future self will be thankful!

It’s easy for things like a podcast, a regular newsletter (ahem), a video series, and text interviews to consume so much of your time. Yes, there’s a good chance you’ll need at least one of these to help you get off the ground. Just don’t underestimate the amount of time each piece of content takes to create AND distribute effectively.

A podcast generally is not just about the recording. There’s a website to maintain. An email list to market to. Images to create. Transcripts to publish. People to research. Questions to plan. And so forth.

Before you know it one type of content can become a big commitment, especially if you want to do it well.

However, just to be difficult and contradict myself, formal content is often needed. Which is kinda annoying because doing it well takes lots of practice. It’s also annoying because with most content initiatives they take a long time to gain traction. We all know time equals money. 😬

The big advantage with community is that you can create a bit of a flywheel loop where the community contributions assist you in figuring out the more formal content you should be creating.

In an ideal world, you won’t have to do outreach, surveys, or anything like that. Why? Because the community interactions you have (every day) will give you enough insight to have confidence in the content decisions you make.


It ain’t gonna write itself


I trust you want to create an awesome community.

I also trust that you will have heard people say how communities reach a tipping point and they end up self-managing. It’s a lie! The quicker you can come to terms with it, the better.

The life of a community builder, in my humble rosie opinion, will always need leadership, management, and direction when it comes to the conversations that are happening. It is up to you to bring important things to the table. To help, facilitate, enable, inspire, and educate your community.

You’ll get better, quicker at it, and hopefully, develop a flow. There’s a chance the community will keep things flowing to some extent. However, the need to create, maintain, and nurture conversations will always be there.


Types of community content


When I look at the ‘community focused’ content I’ve created for my communities they tend to come under these main categories: discussions, questions, conversations, and ‘formal’ content.

Discussions need to be happening all the time. I don’t think this ever stops. It never has for me. There will come times when it becomes less of a job, but as a community builder, you most likely have some of the deepest knowledge and understanding of the industry you are in. You should use this to your advantage to bring certain things to people’s radar.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that discussions can happen in so many different ways. They don’t have to be as time-consuming or as complicated as you think.

For example, the simple act of sharing a link or an informational type of image can lead to great discussions. The whole of Hackernews is mostly built on sharing links.

Questions are a great way of creating conversations. Sometimes they are educational, sometimes it is just a social way of connecting and trying to develop deeper relationships.

I can’t imagine a community without regular conversations of some sort. These can be talks. Or chatting away at events. These days they are more likely to exist in online meetups, conferences, and now perhaps audio-only situations.

Whatever it is, finding opportunities to have real conversations is super important for building a strong community bond. These opportunities are not only about the ‘big names’, it’s equally as important to find and give opportunities to those who want and need that confidence boost.

There is almost nothing more rewarding than seeing unknown people grow up within a community and reach a level of success. In my humble rosie opinion, of course. 😊

Formal content, like articles, videos, and podcasts (as mentioned above) can be important too.

Sometimes they come first and the community follows, this happened with Indie Hackers where it started out as a content site with interviews with indie hackers. It then added on a podcast and the forum.

Other times the community comes first and the content follows. With Ministry of Testing I started with a forum which then inspired and enabled me to create content.

There is no right or wrong.


The never-ending content wheel


The community content wheel can feel constant and neverending and that’s because it is! That’s a total reality check right in your face. There’s no point hiding from it. Sorry. 🤷🏽‍♀️

Community builders need to be willing to dip their toes in these areas. It doesn’t mean they need to become experts in marketing, copy and content production. But they do need to become an expert in their community and make decisions on what content would work best.

To know what content works best you need to know what is happening in the world today and apply some creativity on how you can apply it to your people with a community-focused aspect.

Most people won’t write about content from a community perspective, it is up to us to make the tweaks we feel are necessary.

Thanks for reading. 🙏


As I finished this piece up I realize:

  • it would be super useful to follow this up with a ‘community content flywheel’ piece.
  • it would also be useful to create some practical examples of what good content can look like.

Hopefully, they will come in the near future. Let me know if you have any ideas or practical examples that would be worth including.

—Rosie Sherry