Building Effective Content Strategy for Online Community

During our latest episode of LikeMinds Collective on Building Effective Content Strategy for Online Community, Pawan Rochwani, head of Community at Pepper Content, and Edwin Charles Albert, head of content and community at Airtel Digital take us through their experiences.

What is the role of content in building an online community and community-led business? 

Pawan: I believe the internet thrives on content as a commodity. It can be in any form; text, tweet, graphic post, video, etc. Content is what the engine is running on, so without a doubt, it is significant for businesses to invest in it. 

Talking specifically about communities that can be at any forum, how you interact with the community is how you engage with the community. Your communication narrative is highly critical as it builds the personnel of your online community. 

Little things like the name of your webinar, the title of your session, communication in the chats, social media engagement, newsletters, and so on become necessary. All the posted content should be in the same persona and tone for the brand's personnel. So, I think content is vital for communities.

How does content form a bridge between a brand and a community? 

Edwin: A brand's content strategy is very conducive to what you want to communicate to the community. It is essential to define what you want your brand to personify. Look at your community as a person and then devise a strategy that works for this person. Once you analyze the users, the plan will come in naturally. 

So, first, you define your target audience and devise a content strategy for that cohort. It then naturally translates into a brand strategy. It is like running a PR for an individual. 

Examples of brands where content has helped that community grow significantly, or that community-led business grow significantly? 

Nipun: Like GrowthX - they are growing phenomenally because of the kind of reach they have put out on LinkedIn and Twitter. 

Madhurima: With the content and quality they maintain, Leap Club hits the spot. Stoa's newsletters are targeted, precise, and have no bulshit. Community managers must understand that it is not always the quantity but the quality of content that is critical. 

Pawan: One of the practices that GrowthX has is to curate their newsletters with the list of their slack channel. That's a way of telling people to check out what's happening in their slack community. I think that's a content strategy that they are using. 

At Pepper, we recently did a Creator Generated Campaign where we asked all our creators to use the hashtag and talk about their stories with Pepper. Even now, people can go on Twitter/Instagram and search for the hashtag. They posted such beautiful things that even we had not realized that this was the impact we were creating. 

Edwin: One of the best online community-building strategies I have come across is Byte Dance, a community-driven business. The creators' onboarding journeys were terrific. During this process, the team interacts with even the tribal communities of the remotest villages. They teach people how to use mobile phones, record videos, and help them create content continuously. The team makes a deep connection with and gets to know these people. The company has different community-building strategies. It is not a spray and prays approach. 

Nipun: Content is the output that comes from community conversations and engagements. The community comes together and creates conversations and content. 

How has your role evolved in the community space?

Pawan: Back in the past, before the pandemic, I only did offline events. These were ambassador-run events. Later, when the pandemic hit, for the first time, I was using ZOOM and AirMeet. It felt bizarre to have that feeling of interaction. 

The value of events in online community building is the biggest pie in the chart. When you grow massively, no other kind of forum or WhatsApp group except doing a live session can make your audience feel involved. An event is a channel where maximum engagement is happening.  

Edwin: Events work for a Pareto of creators. Community Managers can handle 5% of the top talent, but productization is the only answer for the rest. If you want to connect to your creators or help them upskill, then events help greatly. Tech is the only way to reach out to a large scale of audience. Using tech and your product, you can create audience subgroups and connect with them according to their needs. 

Nipun: To Summarize this, think of your community as different micro-communities. Deliver value to each of these micro-communities depending on their needs, instead of a one-size-fits.

How is a community defined today? How do members add value to each other?

Edwin: An online community is a two-way street. The new and upcoming creators are eager to learn from more experienced ones, and the professional creators want to build a more loyal audience. Setting up strategies around this can encourage more members to be involved and add value.  

Pawan: Peer-to-peer networking and project exchange can be a community incentive depending on your industry and audience is another way of adding value to the community. 

What goes behind community building strategy?

Pawan: Here's what we did at Pepper. The first thing we did was engage with members and constantly be in touch with them. It would be the activation phase of the community. As a second step, we created an affiliate/referral process with them, which helped me grow the community. Meanwhile, we also engaged with the community's old and new onboarded members. In the later stages, we did a lot of partnerships with different brands and simultaneously did the engagement and referral programs. 

We also started posting success stories; these stories floated a lot and organically bought us many creators. Along with this, we did many content-related things, like podcasts, to keep the word about the community floating. 

We consistently kept repeating these processes. Consistency is the key to building a community; you have to keep at it daily to build a community. 

Edwin: When you start a community, have a purpose. It is crucial to figure out what problem your company is solving by building the community. Understanding the problem statement and ensuring the issue is solved. Building a community just to create it might not take you anywhere. 

What is the playbook for creating viral content? 

Edwin: The content should be original. Others on the platform can copy your content once and taste the virality but can't take the originality from you. Be true to yourselves. You have to create your brand and define your differentiator. You should understand your platform's algorithm and make your strategies around that. One hack you can keep track of is the trend on the platform. You can also use hashtags. It will help you enter the search algorithms. 

It is not vital to be on every channel. Find channels where communities of your industry already exist and grow on those specific channels. 

Pawan moving back to you, you run this successful newsletter from your handle, where you had 1000 subscribers and 50 paid subscribers. What's your take on newsletters and a few tips for someone starting a newsletter?

Pawan: I think newsletters work best when it's from a personal angle. I don't see a difference between a blog and a newsletter for a brand. Newsletters can be tricky for a brand because there is not much freedom to put out opinions because, as brands, we sometimes prefer being diplomatic. So starting newsletters from my account helped me engage better with the audience. Of course, being consistent is extremely important. 

What are the few differences between working on a community strategy for a large brand and a relatively more minor brand?

Edwin: So, the major difference would be at a smaller company. The strategist is not bound to brand guidelines. The brand image is more critical at larger companies, and the trial and error scope is not as much. However, working with more prominent brands helps you better structure your work and processes. Both experiences have their challenges and excitement. 

How do you tie your content strategy metrics and your community strategy?

Edwin: I don't take up a project unless the success metrics are defined. I look at a few major KPIs: DAU, MAU, Retention, and Engagement/user. Any input metrics, like content and activities, lead to output metrics. All my metrics would boil down to the KPIs, eventually leading to the business's revenue. 

Pawan: We try to specify our goal and then work reverse to achieve that goal. Before every event, the purpose is defined. These can be brand awareness, helping the company's business, marketing, or supply side. 

What is the idea behind involving your members in creating content? 

Pawan: Some of the campaigns that we do are simply brand awareness because, as a brand, we don't want to position just because of these events. So we do a mix of events and such campaigns for brand positioning. 

How do you partner or cross-pollinate between different communities and use it in your content strategy? 

Pawan: The community space in India is yet in the initial stages. If we partner with different communities, it uplifts the whole ecosystem, so yes, we can coexist and co-pollinate. 

Edwin: The businesses that I have worked with are majorly partner-driven. All the initiatives that we try to run, we can't run without our partners. We are co-creating the communities. It makes business sense for both of us.