Stoney has offered up a few articles here in the past week that aim to remind folks of the importance of community when it comes to building and establishing solid content. He took a lot of heat for the first one from the industry. Mostly, from folks who felt you couldn't have community without content. I've been thinking this concept over for the last week and I've got to say, I agree with Stoney.
In his last article, he wrote the following:
Every online business should be seeking to build itself a community. Building community is about building trust that brings people back to your site for thoughts, opinions, advice, service and even your products. Communities don't necessarily have to interact with each other (though that can help) but they do need to have an interaction with you, which can be as simple as an emotional or intellectual interaction. Build a community and you build repeat customers.
Content isn't dead, but it has stepped off the throne to serve in the new kings court.
He's right. He's also right in saying that many of his detractors have missed the point.
See, here's the thing. In the Web 2.0 world we now find ourselves operating in, community and content becomes a chicken/egg issue. Some folks will tell you that you can't have the community without the content. Others will tell you that you can't have the content without the community. I think it's more complicated than that.
I don't see this as content = community or community = content. There's no denying that you simply MUST start with content. People won't just go to a site void of content because you tell them to. (Well, they will, but boy will it cost you a lot in advertising and bribery.)
I think of it as a snowman equation.
You need content to attract the community...but once the community arrives, you need them to build MORE content. The new community created content combines with your original to draw in more community which in turn, creates more content. Think of it as the work you do in creating a snowman. You start with a teeny tiny snowball (your content). You set this snowball down in the snow (the Internet) and you begin to roll it. As you roll it around the yard, it picks up more and more snow. It quickly becomes a giant snowball ready to serve as the base of your snowman.
The issue here is that you have two choices. You can be the driving force behind the content or you can allow (no, encourage!) the community to do it for you. When you look at it from this perspective, it becomes pretty clear that the community is essential. In fact, without the community, you hardly stand a chance of being able to compete in terms of content.
Even apart from the content generation issue, consider the power of community. Content can draw people in, but community keeps them there. How many of you have blogs you read not just for the blogging, but for the conversation in the comments area as well? Do you value Amazon.com for their great product descriptions, or is it the consumer reviews that draw you in? Would Digg be the powerhouse it is if there was no community associated with it? Of course not! It would simply be another RSS feed.
In fact, Sexy Widget has a timely post on the subject of content and community today. The post talks about a massive hit to the community that creates the content for RateItAll, one of the oldest consumer generated review sites on the web.
It takes a special sort of person to be one of the small percentage of "creators" - folks that are contributing hours of their time towards creating content and building relationships in an online community. It takes passion. And when something goes wrong, that passion can very quickly turn to anger.
If you're interested in seeing a taste of what this passion looks like, take a look at this thread from the RateItAll blog. Our community is going through a bit of a crisis - four very prominent, very respected members of the site have decided to exercise their rights as RateItAll Reviewers and permanently delete their accounts.
While the number would seem to be tiny (versus 1.1M visitors last month), the impact is huge. Between the four of them, they accounted for about 20,000 pages of (high quality) content, not to mention they were people's friends, mentors, and co-collaborators.
20,000 pages of high quality content lost because four members of the community decided to take a hike? I'd say that shows the power of community over content.
No one, not even Stoney is saying content isn't important. What I do think he's trying to do is remind people that building a community takes a lot of work. In some ways, it takes more work than writing the content yourself. On the other hand, the value of content that comes from good community generally makes the investment worthwhile.
What are you doing now to build a community around your site?
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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