July 12, 2021 Content Chat Recap: How To Grow A Brand Community in 2021

A #ContentChat header image that says today's chat topic is how to grow a brand community, with guest Monina Wagner.

Many brands and individuals strive to build flourishing online communities, hoping to expand their reach, bolster connections, and drive engagement all year. However, many brands and professionals approach their communities as an audience—a self-serving approach that can quickly alienate your community members and significantly limit your ability to achieve the many benefits of an engaged brand community.

In this #ContentChat, we’re joined by Monina Wagner, who has had an integral role in building the Content Marketing Institute and #CMworld community, to discuss how to grow a brand community in 2021. Read the full recap below, where we explain how to grow a new online brand community, ways to keep your community engaged throughout the year, how to co-create content with your community, and more.

Q1: How do you define a community? What makes a group of people a community instead of an audience?

Your online following is simply an audience until you build relationships with and actively engage the individuals who follow you. You talk to an audience. You interact and engage with a community.

A1 Among other things, a community is when you talk WITH people, and an audience is when you talk AT them. #contentchat

— Martin Lieberman (@martinlieberman) July 12, 2021

An audience consumes. A community engages. #contentchat

— Dan Goldberg (@Jonas419) July 12, 2021

A1: Well, you know what most celebrities and influencers do? Stay in broadcast mode and rarely speak to their audience?

Yeah, that’s NOT a community. Be opposite. #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/HXVsRVq4kI

— SPW ✍️🤓 (@ShawnPaulWood) July 12, 2021

One thing I’ve been educating clients is that it’s *easier* to get an audience… those are just numbers. Communities are filled with engaged ppl. #ContentChat https://t.co/UJ0GzDw51X

— Shane Shaps (@520eastbrands) July 12, 2021

An audience and a community are groups of like-minded people who have a common interest or goal. One difference is that a community stays together after their immediate needs have been solved.

A1a This one is tricky. The definition of community is complex. It’s a group of like-minded people who have a common interest or goal. They go to their community because they trust its members. They feel like they belong. #ContentChat

— Monina Wagner (@MoninaW) July 12, 2021

A1b Why is a community a community and not the same as an audience? A brand has to engage its audience. It’s one-way. A brand is *part* of its community. It’s a collaborative experience. #ContentChat

— Monina Wagner (@MoninaW) July 12, 2021

A1 A community and an audience are both groups of people brought together by a common interest, but a community stays together once their problem/need has been solved/filled, cares for and nurtures their relationship with others in the community
-Alyx #contentchat https://t.co/fdRhXDSV6c

— Charlie & Alyx – Charlie Appel Agency (@ColfaxInsurance) July 12, 2021

A1: A community can be an audience, and different audiences can make up your community. The real difference is the relationship between the “brand” and the community member rather than any potential marketing characteristics that might be involved. #ContentChat

— Derek Pillie 🎯 (@derekpillie) July 12, 2021

A1: A community is an invested audience. Whether that’s an investment in you personally or your product, it’s one with a targeted outcome. An audience is whomever you happen to reach. #ContentChat

— Rachel Wendte (@rkwendte) July 12, 2021

A1: That’s a really great question! I think a community is often more engaged than an “audience.” A community is typically full of thought leaders, sometimes fellow experts, and they have a deeper connection/affiliation with your brand. #ContentChat – @Missjflar

— Ledgeview Partners (@ledgeviewcrm) July 12, 2021

A community needs to be a safe place for its members. A place where they can openly share ideas, provide support, and celebrate together without judgment.

A community has to be a safe place. You want to be able to share ideas, commiserate, and celebrate without judgement. You want to know you’ve found your people, and they get you. #ContentChat

— Monina Wagner (@MoninaW) July 12, 2021

That’s why having some sort of a privacy layer is important. yes, anything you say on the Internet can be screen-capped and shared elsewhere, but for trust to be built, there does need to be a sense of confidentiality, for me. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Founder @ErikaHeald Consulting (@SFerika) July 12, 2021

A1. IMO a community where people are connected by a shared interest so they learn together, fangirl/boy together, support and lift each other and so on.

P.S. Slightly late but 👋 everyone #ContentChat

— Masooma | Content Writer (@inkandcopy) July 12, 2021

A community manager plays a critical role in nurturing the community and fostering a culture of inclusivity.

The sense of belonging is the end result of having a strong community manager who cares about its members. There’s a lot more to it than just standing up a community platform. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Founder @ErikaHeald Consulting (@SFerika) July 12, 2021

But your community should be able to sustain itself regardless of any individual person and the role they play.

I think there is an alternative model in which the “brand” is separate, but its community members engage in peer-to-peer interaction #contentchat

— Dan Goldberg (@Jonas419) July 12, 2021

Yes!

I always say the #CMWorld community can exist without me. I hope that never happens LOL but members support each other. They don’t need me or a brand to be the fantastic group that it is. #ContentChat

— Monina Wagner (@MoninaW) July 12, 2021

Q2: Communities can take any range of shapes and sizes. What are some of the most common types of communities you’ve seen in terms of brand or content marketing industry communities?

Brand communities can gather in any range of spaces, including social media channels, third-party community platforms, or in person.

A2 I’ve seen everything from groups on social media to third party community platforms. I don’t think one over another is common for content marketing. It’s really what works best for the brand.

But I do love when online communities can go offline. That’s my fave! #ContentChat

— Monina Wagner (@MoninaW) July 12, 2021

Most of our community members have been part of communities that predominately engage on social media, including Facebook and LinkedIn, or other channels like Slack and Discord.

Groups groups groups! #Contentchat

— Shane Shaps (@520eastbrands) July 12, 2021

Agreed. A lot of brands start with Facebook or LinkedIn groups. Because of working with tech companies, I end up in a ton of Slack groups. And, of course, Discord groups b/c of online gaming. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Founder @ErikaHeald Consulting (@SFerika) July 12, 2021

A2. I’ve usually seen either Slack communities or social media communities (Facebook groups, for instance) #ContentChat

— Masooma | Content Writer (@inkandcopy) July 12, 2021

A2: The big trend in community building is Facebook groups. I like it!

It’s funny bc when I was in high school groups were for if you lost your cell and wanted everyone’s number or to declare your love for bacon.

But the added features make groups a great choice. #ContentChat

— Rachel Wendte (@rkwendte) July 12, 2021

When creating a community, meet your members where they are. Do not force your members to join a standalone community platform or a new social media channel if they already prefer a different channel that offers similar capabilities.

A2: In prior years, it seemed like more brands were using stand-alone community platforms. Over the past two years, it feels as though there has been a shift towards meeting people where they are, i.e. using those technology platforms they already are part of. #ContentChat https://t.co/op4OQ3ZUox

— Erika Heald | Founder @ErikaHeald Consulting (@SFerika) July 12, 2021

Great point. Instead of compelling people to join another platform, log-in to a website, etc. use the platforms where people already are. IBH, I’m sick of every brand now wanting me to download their app to get what they used to give me via email or on social. #ContentChat

— Jennifer L. Dawson (@JLDContentQueen) July 12, 2021

The point is to find a space where everyone can engage, promote work, and help each other.

A2: I think of some Facebook Groups and Slack Chats I’m a part of that are really great examples. People are engaged in conversation, want to help each other, and help promote each other’s work. @CMIContent and @MoninaW do a really great job at creating communities! #contentchat

— Julia Rose (@Missjflar) July 12, 2021

A2 People like to feel like they are valued. So one of my favorite types of communities is where people rally to help each other out. It’s not always about the brand providing answers and sharing expertise; people are encouraged to share their own, as well! #contentchat

— Martin Lieberman (@martinlieberman) July 12, 2021

Your community moderator should act as a connector to spark conversations and match community members based on interests, regardless of where your community gathers.

It’s so helpful to have someone who acts as a connector to get the conversations started and to match community members with each other. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Founder @ErikaHeald Consulting (@SFerika) July 12, 2021

…especially if you have a bunch of shy/introverted community members who feel exhausted at the very thought of reaching out to a stranger! #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Founder @ErikaHeald Consulting (@SFerika) July 12, 2021

Q3: What tips do you have for growing a community that’s just starting out?

Monina notes that more brands have focused on growing their communities since the pandemic, which is a sign that people view communities as vital to a brand’s health.

A3a This question makes me happy because I’m seeing it more and more post-lockdown. It means communities are being taken more seriously. People are seeing it as vital to brand health. #ContentChat

— Monina Wagner (@MoninaW) July 12, 2021

Actively solicit for ways your community can improve. Ask your members what challenges they face in their work. What topics are they interested in? What is working in the community? How can you improve their experience?

A3b People say you should listen to your community. And that is true. But you should talk with your community. Find out what’s on their mind. What’s working in the group? What’s not? How can you better help them? They’ll tell you. #ContentChat

— Monina Wagner (@MoninaW) July 12, 2021

A3 Admit your weaknesses and ask questions for resolving them. No one wants to hear you brag anyway. #contentchat

— Dan Goldberg (@Jonas419) July 12, 2021

Start small and stay focused. Your member growth rate will likely be low for a few weeks or months. That’s OK. Focus on the quality of the interactions and the active relationships you’ve built with your members. Your community size should not be your focus.

A3: Start small, and stay focused!

It can be discouraging to focus on the number of new members and the growth rate. Instead, focus on the quality of the interactions and the value the community is bringing to the active, engaged, members. Seed wisely! #ContentChat https://t.co/sorNV6fVBj

— Erika Heald | Founder @ErikaHeald Consulting (@SFerika) July 12, 2021

This! Numbers shouldn’t matter in the long run too IMHO. Small, well-knit, and active communities are so much better than large, passive communities that feel like a broadcast channel than a sharing/supporting community. #ContentChat

— Masooma | Content Writer (@inkandcopy) July 12, 2021

A3: It all begins with targeting the right people. Find folks who are engaged, active, and full of belief in what is the connective tissue among everyone.

Find them. Engage them. And they’ll help you grow the community. #ContentChat

— SPW ✍️🤓 (@ShawnPaulWood) July 12, 2021

A lot of the time it’s important to build the audience/beacon, and then find ways to encourage engagement among them & outlets for them to be included. #ContentChat

— ✌️ Craig Inzana (@craiginzana) July 12, 2021

Treat your community members as unique individuals, not a collection of potential sales prospects or business stepping stones.

A3: Many of us are marketers. It can be hard to step out of that “promotional” box, but when you’re building a community, talk to them, don’t pitch them. Think about how you’d approach people at an in-person event (not a tradeshow). Focus on building relationships. #contentchat

— Julia Rose (@Missjflar) July 12, 2021

Ensure all members of your team understand how they can best contribute to the community.

It’s also important to make sure you have the rest of your organization aligned with the community goals. Because having someone else from the team pop into the community with a promotional message can undo all of your hard work with one spammy message. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Founder @ErikaHeald Consulting (@SFerika) July 12, 2021

Create a community manifesto to showcase the purpose of your community, and arm your members with materials that help them promote your community in their networks.

A3: When you’re building community from scratch, relationships are key.

As you build, be shameless in your messaging: “Share with your friends, *and here’s some copy you can use*”

People are much more apt to share w/ a plan.

Create a community manifesto, too.#ContentChat

— Rachel Wendte (@rkwendte) July 12, 2021

Remember to give back to your community. Make connections between members. Provide valuable resources, templates, and tips. Genuinely thank people for being a part of your community.

A3. My observation-based tips include:

• Make sure you’re taking the steps to engage your new community. It takes work and people won’t be self-engaging—that takes time.
• Give back to the community. This applies to communities of all sizes & in all stages. #ContentChat

— Masooma | Content Writer (@inkandcopy) July 12, 2021

Your community success will largely depend on if you can stay consistent with your activities.

A3 A big one is simply to … Be present. #contentchat

— Martin Lieberman (@martinlieberman) July 12, 2021

And your community manager should regularly track their own successes to demonstrate the value they have driven.

In the same breath, community managers like me have to remember we’re a brand. Measuring success still has to be a part of our work. We have to show business value. Pesky work. 😊 #ContentChat

— Monina Wagner (@MoninaW) July 12, 2021

Q4: How can you keep a community engaged, especially between any major community events or conferences?

Host weekly Twitter chats or similar social media conversations to keep your community engaged year-round.

Q4a Weekly Twitter chats year-round FTW! 💥 (Come visit us at #CMWorld then join the chats every Tuesday LOL) #ContentChat

— Monina Wagner (@MoninaW) July 12, 2021

I can not tell you how many IRL friends I’ve made thanks to the #CMworld chat + live event combo. #ContentChat https://t.co/OWhLM6b5FM

— Erika Heald | Founder @ErikaHeald Consulting (@SFerika) July 12, 2021

A4 You have to keep the conversation going, with a regular chat (as #cmworld does) or by regularly sharing content, and with lots of interaction. You can’t go from community mode to audience mode when it’s not event time. #contentchat

— Martin Lieberman (@martinlieberman) July 12, 2021

A4c On Slack, we’ve found success leaning on our talented community host. @JeremyBednarski welcomes each day with a group question. He is integral in planning platform-exclusive events such as our Super Bowl ad party. He always finds ways to keep our community going. #ContentChat

— Monina Wagner (@MoninaW) July 12, 2021

Connect members for 1:1 meetups.

A4b There’s been a few tweets about this already, but connecting members with each other for virtual 5 minute phone calls area great. Sometimes people need a nudge and community members can provide that. #ContentChat

— Monina Wagner (@MoninaW) July 12, 2021

Host regular presentations, panels, or open networking discussions about topics of interest to the community.

A4: You’ve got to make your own news, so to speak!

This can be include hosting community member AMAs, webinars, livestreams, recurring coffee or happy hours, drop-in office hours, book clubs—so many ways to keep the conversations rolling. #ContentChat https://t.co/BcokTA5AJP

— Erika Heald | Founder @ErikaHeald Consulting (@SFerika) July 12, 2021

A4: Get people who couldn’t attend involved by live-tweeting or live posting about the event on another network! You can do a Facebook Live video when something really fun is happening. There are so many ways to keep your group involved & make everyone feel present. #ContentChat

— Julia Rose (@Missjflar) July 12, 2021

Consistently spark conversations on relevant news or trends.

A4. By highlighting what’s happening, sharing your takeaways, and asking community members to share their excitement + lessons learned + connections made and so on. #ContentChat

— Masooma | Content Writer (@inkandcopy) July 12, 2021

A4: Create a sense of belonging and progress. And keep it consistent. Stay committed to the purpose and the people. #ContentChat pic.twitter.com/J5ay37CEKN

— SPW ✍️🤓 (@ShawnPaulWood) July 12, 2021

Q5: How can community leaders partner with community members for content creation?

Invite your community members to contribute to articles, join as an official guest for a social media conversation, and invite them to share content ideas that you can partner with them on.

A5 We love to involve #CMWorld community members in our content. We ask them to contribute to articles. We have them as guests on our livestreamed shows and on the Twitter chat. And we encourage them to share any ideas they have too! #ContentChat

— Monina Wagner (@MoninaW) July 12, 2021

Post a weekly question that can be turned into a blog post.

A5a: When I was working with @ginidietrich, we used to ask the @SpinSucks community for their feedback and participation in content regularly. One of the ways was posing a weekly question that was turned into a blog post. #ContentChat https://t.co/xnYlnjpJfl

— Erika Heald | Founder @ErikaHeald Consulting (@SFerika) July 12, 2021

Solicit for opinions and insights for roundup posts.

A5. Get their opinions and insights for creating roundup posts. You can also get community membership to contribute guest posts. #ContentChat

— Masooma | Content Writer (@inkandcopy) July 12, 2021

Ask members to share their examples of a specific type of content or template.

A5b: You can also ask your community to share their examples of a specific idea/topic/template, if they have any questions about [your big topic pillar], or publish contributor guidelines wherein you invite them to co-create content with you. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Founder @ErikaHeald Consulting (@SFerika) July 12, 2021

Conduct survey and polls that can inform new content ideas (including visuals).

A5: Getting external members involved in the creation process may also stem from surveys or polls too. Getting VOC feedback can help you create infographics, tip sheets, white papers, etc. surrounding your company’s customer success stories/ROI. #contentchat

— Julia Rose (@Missjflar) July 12, 2021

Rachel recommends sharing your content ideas with your community and invite submissions from anyone.

A5: When I worked in community this was my favorite thing to do!

Bring your idea to your community first. Frame it as a collaboration, but be sure the details are ones you’re comfortable with.

Invite submissions from all. You can build rapport & pick your faves. #ContentChat

— Rachel Wendte (@rkwendte) July 12, 2021

Q6: Social justice movements continue to be an important issue for people across the world. How can community managers best approach these topics with their communities?

At a minimum, marketing leads and community managers should assess whether key social justice movements align with the interests of your brand community. Does the movement directly impact your community members? Is it a topic that your community members are actively discussing on their channels, outside of your community? Is it a potentially sensitive topic that could cause a rift in your community (and, if so, how will you intervene in conversations that may get heated in your community)?

A6 A lot of tough conversations took place over the last year. I didn’t hold the answers. I didn’t know if promises would be kept. I had to be honest with the #CMWorld community. Transparency has been key in addressing current events. #ContentChat

— Monina Wagner (@MoninaW) July 12, 2021

A6: When you are representing a brand, you need to know how your leadership wants to speak on it. Because you are representing a company and not yourself. These can be murky waters, but the best thing you can do is to have a meaningful conversation with your management (1/2)

— Julia Rose (@Missjflar) July 12, 2021

A6: about how they want to address it, how you want to address it, how you think you can make a meaningful impact with the platform that you have to affect positive change, and so on. This makes me think of @salesforce’s #inclusivemarketingprinciples. (2/2) #contentchat

— Julia Rose (@Missjflar) July 12, 2021

A6: (Okay, I guess it’s out of three. Oops!) Here’s an article I wrote on putting #inclusivemarketingprinciples to practice. I hope you find it helpful! https://t.co/GbT77R7Ng4 @SalesforceEQ #contentchat

— Julia Rose (@Missjflar) July 12, 2021

If your brand is traditionally reserved in commentary about social issues, it is likely best to avoid social justice conversations (or pivot your brand identity).

A6: Unless your brand is founded on particular values that you speak on often, jumping into a social justice conversation for the optics & views looks just as bad as staying out.

If you are regularly outspoken, continue to be. But if it feels wrong, it probably is. #Contentchat

— Rachel Wendte (@rkwendte) July 12, 2021

A6: Too many times, people want to force the brand into a conversation or some haphazard attempt at newsjacking. If you don’t belong in a conversation, turn a deaf ear and join another. #ContentChat

— Woodworks Comms (@WoodworksComms) July 12, 2021

Consider using your community platform to help amplify voices.

And you can also take the opportunity to amplify other voices with your community platform. #ContentChat https://t.co/LAwv2sinKy

— Erika Heald | Founder @ErikaHeald Consulting (@SFerika) July 12, 2021

Q7: What are some of your favorite communities that you are a part of?

The community shares their favorite communities below. What are your favorite communities, and who are they a fit for? Let us know in the comments.

A7. Definitely the @CMIContent community, @jimmy_daly’s Slack community (and @ccmarce_writes’ too). Plus, lots of Twitter chat communities like this one. #ContentChat

— Masooma | Content Writer (@inkandcopy) July 12, 2021

A7: I can’t imagine having started @ErikaHeald without the support of the #Cmworld community, and @MoninaW in particular. #ContentChat

— Erika Heald | Founder @ErikaHeald Consulting (@SFerika) July 12, 2021

A7: Following #MarketingTwitter has introduced me to additional chats and professional communities.

— Jennifer L. Dawson (@JLDContentQueen) July 12, 2021

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