Customer Experience, Online Communities Need a Spark? Turn to Original Content
Community managers are the unsung heroes of successful online communities. They’re the tireless advocates of members and ensure the continued success of the community. The role of the community manager isn't getting any easier: competition is fierce. In any given market, it seems a new online community is launched every week.

So how will they keep the interest of their members in 2014? Original content.

Between the allure of social media and short attention spans, it’s a challenge to sustain an active and engaged online community. Members need to “care enough” to return, engage and participate. If they return and lack the engagement, your community falls flat. What’s a community manager to do?

Complement with Original Content

Let’s consider two success stories.

American Express OPEN Forum launched in 2007 as an online community of small business owners. While OPEN Forum exhibits all the necessary member-to-member engagement features of successful online communities, what makes it unique is their wealth of expert-contributed, original content.

Guy Kawasaki was an early contributor and Mashable provides OPEN Forum with weekly articles on “how small businesses can leverage all of the digital and social tools out there to grow their businesses.”

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Our next example is LinkedIn. In 2012, LinkedIn entered the original content arena with the launch of their Influencer program. They landed some of the most influential people on the planet, from Barack Obama to Richard Branson to Martha Stewart. LinkedIn members can “follow” an Influencer and comment on the articles they publish.

OPEN Forum and LinkedIn found great success in marrying original content with online communities. In 2014, online communities will adopt a similar strategy for these four reasons:

1. It’s hard to achieve self-sustaining community engagement.

Community managers continuously seek an inflection point beyond which a community is self-sustaining. This tends to happen in year five, rather than year one. Until then, how do community managers “get over the hump?” Original content.

2. It generates an ongoing dialog.

The publishing of expert-contributed, original content allows you to plant the perfect “seeds” that cause hundreds of flowers to bloom. In other words, captivating content will generate comments, which generates comment threads, which generates new discussions. Encourage the experts to be part of this discussion and the activity will climb even higher.

3. It’s a win for members.

Peer-to-peer engagement is good. Solving each others’ problems is very good. Giving peers expert content, however, is great. If you manage an online community of marketers, imagine the benefits of having Guy Kawasaki contribute original content.

Learning Opportunities

4. It’s a win for experts.

LinkedIn doesn’t pay its Influencers a dime, but there’s a reason they participate. Perhaps it’s the instant readership of tens of thousands of people. “Sell” your experts on the potential of reaching your online community. Their involvement can increase mindshare and sell a few books.

What If You’re Not American Express or LinkedIn?

I know what you’re probably thinking: my community doesn’t have the same reach as American Express or LinkedIn. How do I find and attract the experts? Let’s consider a few tips.

1. Look within

Promote from within your community. Look for influencers:users whose content receives a high number of Likes, up-votes and positive comments. Among the influencers, seek effective writing, in the form of blog posts and comments. As other members see their peers “elevated” to expert contributors, they become more motivated to participate: in fact, you’ve now given them aspirational goals (i.e. “I want to become an expert contributor, too!”).

2. Identify domain experts “on the outside.”

Have a look at the most-shared (or “liked”) external articles or blog posts within your community. These articles signal thought leaders who are influential to your users. Develop relationships with them and invite them into your community. Once they’re convinced of the value your community provides, it becomes easier to “convert” them into an expert contributor.

3. Use industry connections.

Think like you would on LinkedIn: use your first degree connections to introduce and connect you to their contacts (e.g. second degree connections). I’m always surprised at the reach of my first order connections. If I need to connect with industry influencers, I can often reach them via an introduction from one of my first degree connections. Use the same strategy within your online community: identify, then personally engage with individual community members and ask if they can introduce you to their connections. A simple introduction can go a long way.


Without original content, online communities will face challenges in 2014 to grow their member base while sustaining activity and engagement. That’s why our prediction is that they’ll look to original content as the spark plug to keep firing on all cylinders.

Title image by A_Y (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more from Dennis, see The World Has Gone Social: Make Sure Your Web CMS and Website Are Not Left Behind