This guide will help you create content that attracts 10-100 times the content of your average community topic.
Communities are fantastic at creating content. They excel in filling in the long-tail of audience interest. Specific problem solving, weird questions, one-offs, temporary issues, etc. are what forums are built on. However, they tend to need some help with the short- and medium-tail. Well crafted, evergreen, curated pieces of content, interesting for a large part of your audience. Getting started guides, common problems, frequently returning questions, etc.
There is a power law in play here, short-tail topics tend to attract 10-100 times the traffic of long-tail content. They are worth a bit of extra effort to create and maintain. See this almost textbook chart from the Top Refered Topics on Meta as a prime example. Our focus will be on the left side of that chart. High impact stuff
Using this guide, we will create this type of content, drive traffic and help your community.
Before you can even start creating content, you need to know what your audience wants. Sounds simple, and it is in principle. But it can become complicated due to the overwhelming amount of options.
Where do you find inspiration? Your community is an obvious candidate. Your support department can be a treasure trove too. If your people are on Discord, Reddit or Twitter, these would be logical places too.
We’ll be looking for topics that meet the following criteria:
We’re looking for content that will remain useful for a long time. This will result in months/years of steady traffic for each piece. So avoid topics that are only temporarily popular. Not topics that surround with world events, product releases or conferences.
You’re looking for topics that address a significant part of your audience. There are many signals your users will give that reveal their needs. Traffic analysis can help, counting likes, retweets or similar is a strong signal too. Anything that validates that this is a popular topic.
Try to find content that you can convert without involving a Subject Matter Expert. So if you find popular questions, prefer the ones with a supplied answer.
Your users operate in a variety of places. The best sources will depend on your specific community. Some examples:
If you work for a company, you most likely have a support department. Chances are that they will have an extensive list common questions with answers.
The end result can be impressive! One of our customers used their support department as inspiration. Queried every friday: “What are the three most asked questions this week”. Turned those three into an article. Did this every week, for two years.
Now they have an archive with 300 articles that drive massive amounts of traffic. 3.6 Million pageviews to be exact.
Support often has templates ready for common answers. Which is another strong signal of audience need. See what content you can get out of the templates.
And here’s the fun bit: once you start posting these topics, support will see a positive impact on their work. So don’t act surprised if they end up reaching out on their own with new content suggestions.
You have a fantastic community to help you with content!
As said, communities are fantastic for creating tons of uncurated content. You should “promote” some of these pieces, giving them some editorial love. You will improve their readability and thus their readership. Do remember that we are looking for evergreen, popular topics, since they need to be worth this effort.
- Sort by views, past year, in specific categories and see what you find.
- Ask your superusers/moderators what questions they often encounter.
- Look into the Top Referred Topics in the Data Explorer to see what people are already finding.
- Trending Search Terms in the Data Explorer are an excellent source of information. This is strong evidence of interest. Interest you can capture.
This point is specific to product-communities. There is a ton of value in making your documentation more accessible. Guides, tutorials and other simplifications of your documentation. Documentation can be an excellent source of content.
Salesforce’s widely successful trailhead is a perfect example of making your own documentation more accessible.
The success of Trailhead has many parts. They have a playful style, gamified everything and it’s pushed by a behemoth of a company. The quality is great, their tutorials offer a hands-on, no-nonsense way of learning.
Even though there isn’t a lot of information in there that isn’t also covered by the documentation… Millions of people have created an account and participated in this community of learning.
So think of a few challenges people face when using your product for the first time.
Note: newly hired colleagues can be an outstanding source of insights here.
Write a guide, maybe two.
Don’t be afraid to lean into and draw inspiration from other places. Your people will congregate on places that are convenient for them. Sometimes that is not your own community and that is OK.
When converting these to a community topic, be sure to credit the original post (and poster).
- If there is a specific subreddit, that’s an excellent place to search. Sort by top, all-time, and see what surfaces.
- If your topic is covered on Stack Overflow or any of its sister sites. Excellent place to go.
- The Google Search Console for your main website could yield interesting results.
- Google Analytics (or similar) has an overview of performed local searches. Running this report for your main website will tell you what people are searching for.
- It’s a bit messy, but you could trawl Twitter for insights.
- Consider Discord, Slack or other chaotic fast-lane environment if you have it available. Distilling frequently asked questions into a ready-to-go-answer could be an excellent source.
- If your colleagues are speaking at conferences, those presentations could yield some insights.
I’m sure you can think of a few more specific ones for your community.
Once you have a list, it’s time to get to work and convert your list into community content.
Who should create this content? Should you do it yourself? Can you hire a writer? Or will you ask colleagues or even community members to write on your behalf?
This is the most obvious and easiest choice. It will all depend on your skillset and if you have time available or not. You aren’t scalable, but for the initial stages a few hours per week will be all you need.
I would suggest that consistent and regular new content is more important than having it be perfect, especially in the beginning. So be realistic in your approach. You may feel like it needs ‘one more redraft’, but don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
Like all good community initiatives, consistent writing takes good old elbow grease. It takes discipline and if you are anything like me, you can use some help. Set yourself a schedule. For example, set yourself a recurring 2-hour meeting in your calendar. That is the time you will spend, every week, on writing/curating and publishing a topic.
Be strict with yourself. Make it a hard 2 hours, and make sure your process can fit into that 2 hours. If it starts to balloon to 3 or 5 or ‘I’ll finish it at the weekend’ then it will become unsustainable fast. You need to keep this tight and keep the momentum going. Celebrate each time you Get One Done™ and use that to motivate you for the next. One by one they’ll start to build up and you will soon see your efforts flourish.
Another logical choice is to ask your colleagues. Usually there are no hard budgetary issues. Your colleagues are often Subject Matter Experts. Most can spare a few hours per month without a lot of hassle.
They will need guidance on what is and isn’t acceptable to write. Make sure you have a contributor guide where you explain the expectations.
Consider the worries your colleagues might have about:
- Their NDA, what are and aren’t they allowed to post on the community? What to do when they are in doubt?
- “Competing” with their Professional Services? When does documentation become consultancy?
- Tone of voice and other brand guidelines. Share a link to the brand guidelines if your company has them available.
- Whether use of generative AI is acceptable.
If you have SMEs that are inexperienced writers, they might be hesitant. Consider pairing them with a more prolific writer who can help them make progress.
You might be lucky enough to have active members eager to help you write. This will have similar concerns to asking colleagues, see that section for guidance.
Keep in mind that your Community members have lives outside of your Community, and approach this with a high amount of respect for their time. Remember that your deadlines are not relevant to them; they may not be able to prioritize this (volunteer) work, so allow for some flexibility. It takes consistent effort to nurture and encourage your most productive community contributors.
But if you put in the effort, you are well on your way to creating advocates for life. So shower them with public praise, goodies and attribute their content accordingly. Also consider inviting them to a conference (maybe even to speak on your behalf?).
As a colleague of mine put it:
"I used to give my super-users questions that needed answers. They loved being trusted as SMEs. So much so, that it wasn’t long before they were identifying high-traffic topic candidates and asking if they could write the content. They owned some of our top traffic drivers. The Community as a whole seemed to respect the fact that we recognized the expertise of our own customers. As a bonus - if questions arose, the SMEs answered them, so I didn’t have to know everything about everything! "
Contracting a professional writer can work too. Though they often need a hefty amount of background knowledge and onboarding before they are effective.
This model works best if you pair them with SMEs.
Be wary of writers that pad out tiny slivers of actual content into long fluff pieces. It’s easy to appear knowledgeable at first glance. Your readers will realise what’s happening and at best stop engaging. At worst you will generate rightful hostility and negative engagement.
Many people forget that content is the largest part of SEO. There is a technical aspect for sure, but Discourse ships with excellent SEO features that cover the basics and beyond.
Your community can become an SEO juggernaut purely based on content. We see many communities outrank the corporate websites of their company
Make sure “X topics published” is part of your personal KPIs/OKRs and that your manager is aware. Be accountable.
I suggest you publish every week. So set X to 45 or so.
If you publish one topic every week, I guarantee you results.
Finding content is tough, but most communities have access to hidden pools of knowledge. Try to find those, tap into your organisation’s distributed knowledge and writing potential. Then you are very well positioned to drive tons of traffic to your community. Traffic which will serve as a springboard for more signups, more discussions and become a part of your overall community success.