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What Comes First, the Content or the Community? June 29, 2011

Posted by christinapappas in Content Marketing.

I asked myself this very same question as I toggled many times with the idea of starting my own blog. I mean, I have been on LinkedIn for quite a few years but only just got on Twitter about 10 months ago (should I even be admitting that?!?) and while I guess I know people, do I really have a community? I mean, one that will read my stuff, subscribe to my posts, participate in the comments and beg me for more? And if I have content but no community, what does that mean? Will content bring me a community or should I have a community first to share my content with?

It’s the old chicken and the egg with this question because you will find supporters of both angles. For me? I think I am right in the middle. I am extremely proud of my network but would never put a cap on it exclaiming ‘I have all the important people here’ because I meet more inspiring and very smart people everyday! On the other hand, I just couldn’t wait to start creating my own content. So here I am.

With that in mind, here’s my thoughts on how you could effectively consider and, more importantly, execute either approach:

Content First

If you start first by building and creating content, then I would have to assume you already know who your audience is and what you are going to be discussing. Not necessarily that you have an audience but you know what you want your audience to look like once you get it (if you don’t, then start a persona discovery project). Two key ways to go about executing a content first approach: 1) write the content in a way that it’s found by the people you want to find and consume it and 2) ‘seed’ it accordingly in all the right places.

First, work with your SEO or PPC expert (if that’s your job too, even easier!). Get the list of targeted keywords that your site is currently being optimized for to reach your audience. These will be vitally useful in getting your content found by the right people. Ensure you are incorporating these keywords into your content whether that’s whitepapers, ebooks, blogs posts or even tweets so that your content will start to appear in the search engines. The goal here is to create content that shows up when someone searches for a term, so that when they do click on it and read it, they will subscribe and join your community.

You can measure your success by tracking the keywords and phrases that visitors are searching to land on your blog and see how these have supported the overall SEO strategy. Also measure the pageviews vs. subscribes. If you are seeing a lot of pageviews but nobody is subscribing, take a look at how much time they spent with your content and the bounce rate. Then modify your content accordingly.

Another way to support content first before community is to pay attention to where your readers ‘hang out’ online and join their community. Are there industry bloggers or news sites or even influential people on Twitter? You should be subscribing to, reading and following the same things. An exercise I conducted was to perform an advanced search on LinkedIn that comprised of the job titles, company size and geographic location of my ‘ideal subscriber’. I sent messages to contacts that shared groups with me and simply asked them where they go to find information. I received a response from nearly everyone I reached out to and I had my list. Take a look at the types of content other people within your industry are creating. What are they writing about and responding to? Leave comments on their blogs and ‘seed’ your content where its relevant to do so. Share interesting news on Twitter and strike up an online chat with an industry figurehead with a link back to something interesting you created that you think they would enjoy.

You can measure your success by looking at your inbound referral traffic from other sites. If you are leaving comments with a link back to a blog post or you can also simply link your name to your blog site, measure how many people clicked to learn more about you and your content based upon your comments. Track this against the growth of your community. Again, are you receiving traffic and no subscribers? Re-think where you are commenting and what your comments look like. You may not be setting the right expectation for readers if they are coming to your blog and leaving.

Community First

I read this amazing story about a blogger who spent 30 days straight on Twitter building a community. He got up to 1000s of followers and then started his blog. Having already established himself with his following, those 1000s of people subscribed and started participating in his blog. Now I know most of you don’t have 30 days to fully devote to Twitter (although its sounds like the best job eva!), so how do you build the community first?

The answer is to become a content curator. If you are not creating the content, then you need to build a community around the notion of helping people by immersing yourself into everything and passing around other people’s content. Of course, continue to post comments on those blog posts, leave your opinion and even start a discussion about the topic on LinkedIn. Again, subscribe to everything and start talking to people. What are they struggling with? What do they needs answers for? What is their problem? Find the answer for them. Now its not always going to be your company’s solutions so try to hold back from selling to them during the first interaction, you are here to build a community.

Use the social networks. Now I am going to assume you have some customers and that’s ok if it’s only a handful but that’s a good base to build your community. Start following them, join their Facebook fan club, subscribe to their blogs, share their stuff with other people. One of the first things I did when I joined Twitter was search for everyone I could think of whether I knew them personally or just knew of them and started following. I made custom lists that enabled me to keep track of my favorite bloggers, people that shared cool stuff or just generic search terms like ‘social media’ or ‘content’. Dd you just read an article about how to measure the ROI of social media and someone of Twitter just tweeted ‘anyone know how to measure ROI of social media?’ Send them the link! Instant credibility.

Whether you start with your content or your community or somewhere in the middle like me, the two go hand in hand. Always exercise patience with either approach since results likely won’t happen overnight.

What is your approach? Content first or community?  



1. Elizabeth - June 29, 2011

Great conversation, thanks for sharing!

Community breeds community and good content breeds good content. Work on both and keep it authentic and useful for your audience: as you say “what is their problem… find the answer for them.”

Create content that allows the community your are building the chance to interact with each other to help solve problems, develop ideas and strengthen relationships through you.

christinapappas - June 29, 2011

Thanks for your comment Elizabeth! Sounds like most people are starting with the content first and letting their community find them and build from there. I mean, you really need to have something good first to provide. A promise in some ways and a reason for people to join your community and keep returning for more of your stuff. Then, once you have a sufficient community, you can start tailoring your content more towards their specific needs (you can get a lot of ideas just from reading comment threads!).

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