Online communities: What is content?

by Martin Reed on 23 June 2007 in Articles

Regular readers of this blog will know how I often talk about the importance of creating content on your site if your online community is to succeed – this is particularly important during those early days when you are trying to get your community off the ground.

Build it and they will come

This is one saying that certainly does not apply to online communities. It is ridiculously easy to setup a forum, blog or other community website. It is amazingly challenging however, to make it succeed and attract long term members and user-generated content.

You need to take charge

Your community will consist solely of you in the early days. Therefore you are the person that needs to create the content. Don’t wait for people to join your community and create content for you – you need to do this yourself.

What is ‘content’ for a community site?

Put simply, content means creating new threads and posts on a forum, writing new articles and responding to comments on a blog, and interacting with visitors on chat sites.

Most online communities are centred around a forum – if you are setting up a forum from scratch, try collecting an email database of interested users ready for when you launch.

Before you launch, fill your forum with content. Create threads by the dozen – you can stick with your own username or use a few different ones to give new visitors the impression of additional interaction on your site. As long as each post you make is of a high quality, it does not matter what name appears as the author.

Forum content means new threads and posts

New thread is new content

Do not let a single day go by without creating some form of content on your forum. Set yourself a target to post a certain number of new threads and posts each day, and stick to that target.

When users join and post, reply to their comment. This not only counts as content, but it also makes the user feel more valued.

Blog content means new articles and responding to comments

New blog article is blog content

A blog is nothing without content. Blogs rely far more on their author to create the content. Forums will eventually require minimal content creation by the author as most will be user-generated.

Blogs create a certain amount of user-generated content through the commenting system, but visitors will not comment unless they feel compelled to do so after reading an original, quality article.

As with forums, make sure you reply to each and every comment and set yourself a target for posting new articles.

Chat site content means interacting with your site’s visitors

Chat room interaction is content

Chat sites are extremely challenging to establish as they require a high number of simultaneous visitors in order to succeed.

There should always be a staff member in your chat forum to interact with visitors as they drop by. By keeping visitors in your forum, you will hopefully hang on to them long enough so that when the next visitor drops by they will not see a completely empty forum.

Content is essential

If you don’t create content for your community it will fail; it really is as simple as that. You cannot expect a visitor to join your community if it is empty. Not only do you need to create content, you need to be continuously adding more on a regular basis.

If you have no content, you have no community – so create it and keep creating it!

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Cifra June 24, 2007 at 9:06 am

That is why sometimes even paid posters are a good investment.

Shane June 24, 2007 at 10:13 am

Good read Martin,

It’s gotta be tough to establish a forum without some way of seriously driving traffic to it on launch. I think I’d only attempt it if I could promote it and get a community jazzed about it before it went live.

Tim June 24, 2007 at 11:20 pm

Nice article Martin,

@ shane: The problem with forums is not usually getting traffic to it, but getting them to join your forum and stay active aswell.

We tried putting an ad on the site of a game our forum played once and got 500 signups and maybe 3 of them that actually stayed…

PS: Thanks for the praise Martin :-)

Martin Reed June 25, 2007 at 7:14 pm

Cifra – The jury is still out on my opinion of paid forum posters. I wrote an article detailing my thoughts back in March entitled ‘Should you employ paid forum posters?

Please do take a read, and let me know your thoughts.

Shane – It is most definitely an advantage having a community in waiting to be unleashed on your site as soon as it is launched.

Most of the time though, we build and then seek our members – which, as you say, is a huge challenge!

Tim – I think getting traffic to your site is just as much of a challenge as keeping the visitors once they arrive.

You are right though, that visitors are worthless unless you can keep them on your site and retain them as regular members who return time and time again.

Jay July 24, 2007 at 2:32 pm

Great info. I plan on launching a forum at some point, but this article makes me realize that I’m definitely not ready yet.

Martin Reed - Blog Author July 25, 2007 at 12:46 pm

Jay – It’s great to hear that you are thinking about launching a forum in the future. Just make sure you release it only when you are ready to dedicate the time and effort needed for it to be successful.

My article entitled ‘Starting a forum from scratch‘ may help out in your case.

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