I like to say there are three pillars to community design: events, conversation, and content. I define content as long-standing resources for the community. Often communities try to find ways to turn conversation and events into content (a library of recorded events, for example, I would say is content).
Two of these three are dynamic and one is static. Conversation and events are in a continuous, time-based flow, which is great incentive to interact with these two pillars. Content, on the other hand, usually lives on in a sort of archive, waiting for the day when members to bravely sift through mounds of information to find what they need.
Content is not time-bound like conversation and events. The event happened today, so you had to show up today, but the recording is available any time, so you can always (read: never) watch it. If you want content to be a strong pillar for your community, you need to use a different prompt to get people engaged with it.
To approach this from a new angle, I want to use the analogy of a lazy, but incredibly powerful river. If you’ve ever "floated the river", you know that as soon as you get in, you're off. The water is going to take you downstream wether you like it or not.
Now, a thoughtfully designed lazy river journey will start you out real smooth and maybe grow in excitement and depth over time.
But the problem is, you can’t always control how and where people enter the river in your community (or you can, through a cohort-based design, but let’s assume you aren’t doing that).
By nature, when they first get into the river, they are taking in everything around them. They are onboarding to your community and that first 30 days is going to be unlike any other time they have in your community, so you must be incredibly thoughtful about how you talk to them and what happens to them at that point.
But after that onboarding season, things sort of even out. They are used to the ever-flowing conversation and events in your community and there’s a natural lull. That’s when they arrive at the dam in this extended analogy: content.
Just when you're starting to think you've seen it all, we show you a thoughtfully curated catalog of all the things up-river from where you entered that you might have missed. Instead of allowing these golden nuggets to float by like most conversation and events, the very best is selected and used to construct the dam. You, as the floatee, might be invited to pause in your float and sit a minute with some of the valuable content that we snagged for you to view.
I have yet to find a platform that is truly, thoughtfully considering how to help the ever-running flow of conversation and events become content. Right now community platforms treat content like a dusty old catalog of every single event and conversation. But good content needs to be more curated and segmented for that individual's experience. No one needs access to your entire library of AMAs, but they should be notified that the person who they've been DM-ing has a recorded AMA available.
Right now, we basically tell members “hey, hold onto this rock and then try to swim upstream through this onslaught of conversation and events and you might find some good stuff that's relevant to you. There’s some great stuff there, we promise… SWIM HARDER!”
And if you’ve ever tried to swim upstream, you know how tireless and unrewarding this task can be.
What we need is a thoughtful way to identify and then clearly pluck golden nuggets from the ever-flowing river of conversation and events and make them accessible to people who join further downstream. Even better, because they are downstream, we should have a pretty good idea of who they are and what they like, so the golden nuggets we pluck should be specifically curated to what we know they will find value in. What conversations deserve to become content and who is it good content for?
While I believe there are severe limitations to how much we can do without community platforms thoughtfully designing for the conversation, events, and content flow, here are a couple tips to create your own content dam.
Tip #1 Create a 2023 Wrapped Email Campaign
Make this an annual tradition. Once a year create an email that curates the most popular and engaging conversation and events of the year. Share it with your community.
Tip #2 Add one more email to your onboarding flow
In your last email of your onboarding series, share the most popular conversation and events of all time in the community. This will not only help new members glean from value that is clearly shared in your community, it will also help them feel on the "inside," participating in popular content that might give them better context for the community itself.
Tip #3 Start segmenting your community
You have likely identified 2-4 different types of community members coming into your space. During the onboarding process, help them identify which one best fits them and get them tagged in the community accordingly. Leverage these tags in a weekly Throwback Thursday ritual to post content that type of member might find interesting.
A word of caution
Not all content should be brought back upstream or safekeeping. The majority of conversation and events will quickly become irrelevant, but for the minority that creates timeless value, isn't it low-hanging fruit to find new ways to engage your new members with material that has already proven effective and valuable?