A Primer on Content Development for Community Managers

In today’s business environment, building online community has become a necessary condition for success. The trouble is community management takes a whole lot of time and effort—even for a seasoned pro, let alone a CMGR with minimal marketing experience.

Building a community is hard. It takes time to develop new connections across your industry. Even more, it takes a sustained effort to forge the kind of customer relationships that eventually blossom into full-fledged advocacy.

The hardest and most time-consuming activity for community managers is developing high-quality content. That’s because content is indispensable. You can get up on your digital soapbox and attract a small crowd, but without anything meaningful to say, they’ll quickly disperse.

If you’re just getting into community management, here are a few examples of content you’ll need to regularly churn out:

  • Blog Articles
  • YouTube Videos
  • Instagram Photos
  • Tweets
  • Facebook Posts

Developing each of these pieces takes basic knowledge in content production tools and skills in using them efficiently, not to mention enough background knowledge in your niche to… you know… actually come up with something worthwhile to say.

In this primer, I want to familiarize you with two basic types of content:

Textual – The foundation of virtually everything you do with content.
Visual – Eye-candy for taking your words and ideas to the next level.

For each type, I’ll give a basic description, followed by a quick and dirty method for generating content, and finish up with an annotated list of some helpful tools to get you started.

Before I do, though, I need to say something about content calendars…

The Editorial Calendar

I’ve written about this before. If you want a more methodical look at this process, go here.

When most community managers start out, they often don’t think hard enough about planning content. At first, they may be sitting on boatloads of ideas. For at least the first week or two, they have no trouble cranking out interesting pieces that resonate with their audience.

What happens, however, when a month down the line they’ve completely tapped the well and are left staring at a blank computer screen? In that moment, when the well is completely dry, they drive themselves up a wall looking for fresh, new ideas.

What’s the solution to this common predicament? You guessed it: an editorial calendar.

Block out a portion of your schedule for one day a month to do nothing but generate ideas. Dump your brain out onto a whiteboard and then whittle your thoughts down to topics that will actually work. Then, organize those ideas according to their suitability for different content types, plug them into a strategic calendar, and then spend the month following that calendar.

With a little foresight and planning, you’ll never have to burn half a day staring at an empty screen, trying to come up with something new to say.

Words, Words, and more Words – How to Develop Compelling Textual Content

Text should be the backbone of your content development plan.

I say that knowing full well that there are a number of industries—photography, for example—that skew heavily towards the visual side of things. Taking that into consideration, I’m going to hold firm to that statement.

After all, there is a reason they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

A Process For Developing Text Content

I’ll illustrate each step as if I were the owner and operator of an organic baby product eCommerce site.

1. Pick a Topic – Decide what area of your niche you’d like to discuss. As we saw above, content calendars make this part a whole lot easier.

Example: Let’s say I want to write a Facebook post about cloth diapers.

2. Sketch What You Want to Say – Based on background knowledge and specific content needs, write down the main idea you’d like to get across. If you’re working on a longer piece of content, sketch a short outline covering how you’ll make your point.

Example: Since it’s Facebook, I want to write something relatively short that will invite conversation. Here’s a simple idea: “I think GroVia diapers are superior to bumGenius in every way. What’s your favorite brand of cloth diaper?” In the case of follow-ups, I’ll jot down a few of my best reasons for making that statement.

3. Do Some Reading – Start with the normal “go-to” publications for your industry. Once you’ve exhausted those sources, do some poking around on Google. The point here is to support or correct your main idea and to find a few valuable resources along the way.

Example: After some light Google searching, I found a website with a pretty comprehensive matchup of the two dueling brands of diapers. I could dig a little deeper, but for what I’m trying to do, this is more than enough.

4. Revise What You Want to Say – Now that you’ve got a little more context as well as supporting information, you can go back and revise what you want to say. If you’re working on a longer piece, you can fill in your outline with useful information.

Example: I like what I wrote earlier, but I’ll do a little revision to make it a touch more conversational and include a reference to the piece I found. Here’s my new idea: “After checking out this helpful comparison from Prevailing Parent (link below), I’m even more convinced that GroVia is a much better choice than bumGenius. What do you think?”

5. Write Your Piece – With your outline, source materials, and notes in hand, you can now get on to the good part: writing. If you’ve followed the process up to this point, you’ll be surprised how easy this can be. Just follow your outline and strive to express your one big idea clearly.

Example: Since this is a short Facebook post, I’m not left with too much to do here. If I were writing a blog post, I’d take the substance of what I have and stretch it out into 300-500 words.

6. Proof and Publish – Once you’ve written your piece, let it sit for a while. For a simple Facebook post, a few minutes may be fine. For a longer piece on your blog, give it a day to rest. Come back in a little while to tighten up your style, grammar, and spelling. Once that’s done, either let it fly or schedule the post for later (see below).

Example: At this point, I’d pop my previously formulated post into a grammar checker, make sure it’s up to snuff, and then post it straight to Facebook.

For this example, it took me less than 10 minutes to come up with the idea, find the supporting post, read it, revise my post, and publish. For a blog post, you can expect it to take an hour.

This may not be the best method out there. I sincerely doubt such a thing exists. Still, it works. At this stage in the game, what you need is a method… any method, really. The point is to get you in a rhythm of reliable content production. Once you hit your stride, experiment with the steps until you get to something that’ll keep you consistently churning out high-quality content.

Tools to Help You Develop Textual Content

  • Grammarly – I use Grammarly as my internal editor to catch spelling, grammatical, and stylistic mistakes before my readers do.
  • WordPress – If you’re looking to develop a content-rich website, you’ll need an easy-to-use content management system. WordPress is about as good as they come.
  • Yoast Plugin – If you’re working with WordPress, Yoast will help you optimize your blog posts for the maximum amount of SEO juice from Google.
  • Buffer – This service will allow you to produce a number of posts and schedule them to be delivered at the desired time.

Don’t Tell Me; Show Me – How to Develop Attention-Grabbing Visual Content

Plenty of studies have shown what we seem to know intuitively: social media posts with compelling visual aids get shared far more than simple text alone. That said, not every community manager needs to be fully versed in graphic design. The following process will help even the most graphically challenged among us develop eye-catching visuals.

A Process for Developing Visual Content

1. Follow the Text Process (above) – The best visuals all have a message to convey. Follow the process outlined above to craft that message. If you’re planning to design a simple graphic, then keep the message short and sweet. If you’re going to record a 12-minute explainer video, then you’ll have a little more work to do writing up a script.

2. Capture/Collect Media – Using a website like Pixabay, you can scout out royalty-free images for your visuals. If you can’t find enough relevant content, break out your camera and either snap a few photos around the office or the neighborhood. “Homemade” doesn’t have to mean “amateur.” Plenty of people have had immense success recording their own short clips.

3. Design and Edit – Don’t get too hung up on production. While you want to take your time making a quality visual worth sharing, you also don’t need to spend all your time and money producing a Hollywood quality shoot. There are plenty of tools (see below) out there to help you get the job done quickly and inexpensively (if not free).

4. Publish – Once you’ve got the visual completed, you’re ready to either attach it to a blog post or share it on the Twitters.

Tools for Developing Visual Content

  • LiveLuvCreate – An incredibly easy service for creating quote photos, like this one
  • Canva – Same as LLC, but more versatile for creating a wider range of web graphics.
  • Hitfilm Express – A free video editor that’ll take you just about as far as you’ll ever need to go as a community manager.

Bonus: How to Turn Up the Volume on Your Content

Now that you’ve developed your new content, you need to get it out there. Sure, you could post links everywhere, but it’ll ultimately be up to your community members to take your content and spread it out into the world.

Here are three ways to help them do that:

Make Your Content Easy For People to Find

When it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO), gone are the days when you could pick a keyword phrase and mechanically stuff it into your content. Nowadays, Google is more concerned with the quality of content and the structure of the site on which it’s located.

So, take some time to make sure your entire site is completely dialed in. Sure, pay attention to keywords, but take it a step forward and deal with the nitty-gritty details like title tags, meta data, and link structures.

Make Your Content Easy For People to Share

You may have taken hours to produce a stellar piece of long-form content. All your literary effort notwithstanding, don’t expect readers to work up much of a sweat to share it with their friends. If you require too much of them, they’ll simply leave your post hanging and move on.

There are plenty of simple ways to ensure your content is easily sharable. Here are just a few:

  1. Include Social Sharing Buttons on Every Post
  2. Use The Appropriate Open Graph Tags
  3. Utilize Twitter Cards
  4. Set Up Pinterest Pins

Make Your Content Easy for People to… Reproduce?

More often than not, the best way to get eyeballs on the content you’ve produced is to have your users generate their own. Web visitors spend 90% more time on sites heavily stocked with user-generated content (UGC), leaving them plenty more time to see what else you’ve got.

Even better, promoting UGC will help ease some of your development burden. That’ll give you more bandwidth to focus on developing and promoting great content.

For a deeper dive on how to amplify your content, check out Vanilla’s free guide.

In this short primer, we’ve covered the two basic types of content you’ll need to master to get your online community off the ground: textual and visual. I’ve also shared a method for producing content of each type, as well as simple tools to help you along the way.

At the end of the day, each of these methods is only meant to get you started down the road to producing high-quality content that will serve your community well. Follow them as far as they’ll take you, but never stop looking for ways to improve—not only on the methods but on your ability to use them.

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