What comes first… people or content?

When you first start out on the road to building your community, a question I’ve heard over and over is, what’s more important – the people or the content? This is a conundrum that can be difficult balance in finding what you want to focus on first.

On the first hand, it’s called a community. Communities need people. That’s a fact. Without people coming to your community there’s no engagement, no interaction, no relationship building, no breaking out of silo’s, no learning from others and so on. So what are you doing to get people into your community. If it’s internal, how are you teaching people about the benefits of community to their working life and other areas of their lives? How are you encouraging people to be involved? Are your leaders on board? If it’s a customer community, how are you highlighting to your customers what they can hope to get out of your community and why they should be there? Where are your touch points before the community, to guide them in?

Then we begin to see the overlap with the second point: once you’ve guided them there, what keeps them coming back? Compelling and engaging content, for sure. Conversation and relationship building. When they need to come to your community as part of their daily work. All of which leads us to the second point of interest here.

Without content, when people turn up at your community, there’s nothing for them to do. Nothing to engage them and keep them clicking, reading, posting, liking, asking, helping, learning. It’s like turning up at a bookstore and the shelves being bare.
Why would you stay? There’s nothing to see here!

So who contributes this content? According to an often cited theory, the 1% rule, only 1% of your users will actively contribute content. The rest, pretty much, will consume, or lurk. Part of the community manager’s job is looking for ways to convert those lurkers to joining the 1% and becoming active contributors. The answer of course is that anyone can contribute. But how are you managing that? Who are your early adopters and how are they being encouraged to post? If it’s a customer community, who are your advocates out there in the customer population and how can you encourage them to become active contributors? Maybe you need a community advocacy program like Salesforce’s MVP program? Do you have internal champions or ambassadors who are ready to reply when people post and continue encouraging participation and engagement?

I guess the answer to the conundrum I posed at the beginning, what’s most important when building your community – the people or the content – well, they must be of equal importance to you if you want your community to be a success! You need to drive people to your community, make sure they know the benefits and what it can do for them. But then you need to make sure that when they get there it does all of that, and more. Make sure that you keep them there and that they keep on coming back. You need to reach a tipping point for people where visiting your community is how they find things out, how they learn, how they get things done.

One way to ensure that all of this starts off on the right foot is to have a clear idea, not just of who and what, but WHY. Why would people use your community? What’s in it for them? What’s the point of it? If this question isn’t answered with clarity in your planning, then it’s time to stop for a moment and reign things in.

Take some time to establish why you want to implement a community; why people would contribute; what they might contribute; and why people would want to view and participate once there.
Once that’s clear for you then you can begin to have a better idea of how you’re going to drive people there and what content will keep them there.

What have you found has worked with your own communities, has one come before the other? Have you got a clear sense of why? What is it? And how can you use that in your driving both traffic and content? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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