Do you know how to create content that builds community?
If you are already approaching community content with an incredible degree of strategy around relationship-building, stop reading now.
This post isn’t for you.
But if you’re like most people, getting your community members to have meaningful conversations with each other is a difficult puzzle to solve.
Not anymore! 🙂
I’m about to reveal the top 5 pieces of community-building content that I used in DigitalMarketer’s Facebook Group, DigitalMarketer Engage. I’ll outline exactly why these pieces worked and hopefully inspire you to create your own engaging content.
But first, we need to lay a strong foundation by defining exactly what we mean when we say “community-building content.”
Community-Building Content Builds Relationships
In order for a group of people to be a true community—that is, members are forming emotional relationships with each other—it’s important that your content helps those connections happen.
To do that, it’s helpful to understand how emotional relationships start in the first place.
Enter Levinger’s Relationship Model:
Developed by George Levinger, a prominent scientist in interpersonal relationships, this model outlines the exact steps that people take in order to form a strong emotional relationship.
Let’s do a quick breakdown:
Stage 1: Acquaintance
The first step of any relationship—professional, personal, or romantic—is all about identifying a mutual interest.
This means that you have enough in common with someone else to start a conversation. It usually isn’t a strong common interest, and the conversation at this stage is mostly small talk (think questions like, “Nice weather today, isn’t it?”).
These surface-level common interests can be anything from sharing a mutual attraction to just being at the same location at the same time.
Let’s say you’re sitting at a local bar enjoying a beverage, and a complete stranger sits down next to you. Congrats! You are both now in the Acquaintance stage—you already have enough in common to start a conversation (we humans are passionately social creatures, after all).
Imagine what kinds of things you’d bring up to start the conversation…
- Would it be a comment about the weather?
- Ask them how they are liking their drink?
- Comment on a recent sports game or world event?
That’s Acquaintance-level conversation.
In this stage, you basically feel comfortable drumming up a conversation, but on safe, non-personal topics.
Similarly, every new member of your online community is entering in the Acquaintance stage.
What general information do new members have about others in the community? Hopefully, the topic of your community is enough to get people acquainted—in the DigitalMarketer Engage Facebook Group, for instance, newbies already understand that most people in the group are interested in digital marketing.
This common bond is enough to start a conversation, but most members need a little nudge to start connecting.
Stage 2: Build-Up
If a relationship progresses from Acquaintance, it moves on to the Build-Up stage.
Build-Up means that you are determining compatibility with your new friend—through your discussions, you’re discovering that you have even more in common than what first brought you together.
For instance, let’s say through the course of conversation, that stranger at the bar mentions that they have a dog. You happen to love dogs.
Now you might switch from talking about the weather to more meaningful conversations:
“Was your dog adopted from a shelter? How long have you had him?”
“I actually just moved into the area. Is there a good place to walk my dog?”
“My dog is chewing up everything I own. Do you have any suggestions?”
Your emotional bond is strengthened, and you feel safer discussing topics you care about.
The concept of a person revealing their inner thoughts and feelings to another person—like when your new friend mentioned they have a dog or when you admitted your four-legged friend has a chewing problem—is called self-disclosure.
Self-Disclosure: The process by which a person reveals their inner thoughts and emotions to another person.
Self-disclosure it VITAL to building communities—because no one moves through the Relationship Model if they aren’t having meaningful conversations with each other.
It has to move beyond the small talk.
Stage 3: Continuation
Continuation is all about making a show of commitment to the relationship.
This can be something huge, like getting married. But there are endless ways people can make commitments to their relationships that don’t involve a license from the government.
Let’s say your new friend from the bar suggests that you meet next weekend at the dog park.
That’s a sign of commitment! That stranger—perhaps now someone you would call a friend—is signaling that you have enough in common to move things to the next level—hanging out again and bringing your dogs! For this specific relationship, that is a huge sign of commitment.
The more conversations you have with your new friend, hopefully, the more you’ll discover you have in common—and the stronger your emotional connection will be.
Stage 4: Deterioration
…But sometimes the connection doesn’t last.
Deterioration can be caused by something dramatic—like a breakdown in trust—where you don’t feel safe having self-disclosure conversations.
Conversation often shifts back to small talk at this stage—you can be civil and even cordial… but you’re just not as comfortable sharing as you used to. As Pokémon GO experienced…
But relationships that move into Deterioration don’t have to be triggered by a big catastrophic event. Sometimes it’s just that interests have changed, and you don’t share the common bond that you used to.
For example, let’s say you showed up at the dog park only to discover that your new friend admits they changed their mind—they are actually a cat person and decided to get rid of their dog.
That might be a problem for you!
Stage 5: Termination
Of course, if things don’t work out… the relationship ends. Communication stops, and you spend your time elsewhere.
It’s only natural!
So now that we’ve set the stage for how relationships form, let’s talk about ways you can use content to move people along the first 3 stages of the Relationship Model using DigitalMarketer’s DM Engage Facebook Group as an example.
Community-Building Content That Moves Members from Acquaintance to Build-Up
The goal of content at this stage is to get people to start self-disclosing so that they can find all the compelling things they have in common with their fellow community members.
The welcome post is a wonderful opportunity to connect with new members, get them introducing themselves and plugged into the community at large.
You can see from this example that I asked our members 3 specific questions (a great idea swiped from the CMX Hub community)…
1. What industry do you work in?
2. What do you love about it?
3. What’s your biggest digital marketing challenge?
These questions encourage that CRITICAL element of relationship-building: self-disclosure.
Members can’t move along the Relationship Model unless they are self-disclosing meaningful, relevant information. Otherwise, your members just stay in the “small talk” zone forever!
Take a look at your welcome process and make sure it encourages new members to start talking about themselves—their likes and dislikes, favorites, feelings, aspirations, goals, successes, or fears.
Community-Building Content That Moves Members from Build-up to Continuation
Community content at this stage aims to encourage regular participation through initiating and sustaining community discussions. Your goal here is to help your members discover more compatibilities with their fellow community members.
One way to do this is through ritual content—community-building content that is posted daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly that your members learn to expect.
Ritual content gives your members a reason to come back and participate in the group, even if they don’t visit that often.
One example of this was our weekly #CelebrateTheWin post:
You can see how this post is framed to encourage members to reveal their successes—and the responses are chock full of those all-too-valuable self-disclosure statements…
The more you can encourage meaningful self-disclosure through ritual content, you’ll start to see members learning more about each other and initiating conversations themselves.
Community-Building Content at the Continuation Stage
The goal of community content is to provide opportunities for members to show commitment to the community.
But commitments look different for each community, so this step can be tricky.
Douglas Atkin, the Global Head of Community at Airbnb, looks at commitments through a curve that starts with easy, “low-barrier” actions a community member can take. As members move up the curve, the actions incrementally increase in difficulty and time commitment.
It looks like this:
In our DigitalMarketer Engage Facebook Group, our commitments look MUCH different—a low-barrier commitment would be asking a digital marketing question to the group periodically and discussing the responses.
Further up the curve, our members may start to provide answers to other people’s questions or encourage another member.
We also provide opportunities for commitment through community-building content.
Take a look at our quarterly #EngageItForward post:
Our community is full of digital marketers, freelancers, entrepreneurs, agency owners, and CEOs—everyone’s got something to offer.#EngageItForward was framed to give our members a chance to increase their level of commitment to the group by offering their products or services as a way to give back to the community.
Fulfilling these offers takes more time and energy than simply asking questions or replying to posts, so this type of content encourages members to enter (and stay) in the Continuation stage of the Relationship Model.
Remember: Meaningful Discussions are Key to Community-Building
As you’re creating your own community-building content, remember that the end goal is to get your members talking with each other.
That means content that you might use in other areas of your marketing strategy like…
- Blog Posts
- Lead Magnets or
- Press Releases
…isn’t designed to move people along the Relationship Model. If these content pieces are the majority of your community content, you most likely have a traditional marketing audience rather than a true community.
If you do want to include these pieces in your community strategy, try pairing them with a discussion question that encourages self-disclosure.
As you’re planning your community content, always consider the exact role your posts will play in moving members further down their path to creating emotional relationships—relationships that are stronger (and last longer) than transactional customer relationships.