Most of us aren’t in the content game because we’re great at online community building — we like to write, or make video, or design. We tend to be a heads-down people, absorbed in our craft.
And while we do need to be skilled content creators – that’s just part of a good content marketing. Online community building is a critical part of that strategy, too.
Teach For America reminded me of this in their C3 presentation on the “content loop.” They spoke to the fact that content and online community building are separate but dependent parts of the content marketing assembly line.
You can’t just build content, because then you won’t really find an audience. You can’t just focus on online community building, because then you won’t drive your audience back to your brand.
You need both, together, in a balanced strategy. Even if the online community building part is hard for us artist-types.
How Teach For America Balances Content + Online Community Building: The Content Loop
Teach For America’s Content Loop is essentially this philosophy: Content creates conversation, which creates online community, which creates content.
Their content loop, centered on the North Star, helps them continually balance their brand’s objectives and their audience’s desires.
Let’s break down the Teach For America Content Loop. (Take this with a grain of salt, since the order, in practice, should be fluid.)
The North Star: Your Guiding Principle for Online Community Building and Content
The North Star, like its name suggests, provides an underlying guidance for all of your content and online community building efforts. It keeps those content and community goals in balance. Here’s Teach For America’s North Star, shared at C3:
Publish personal, clear, and relevant content that ignites conversations and makes diverse audiences feel confident about their commitment, empowered to take action and engaged in the movement for educational equity.
The Teach For America team worked hard on this… about six months of development, followed by continual tweaks based on their listening strategy.
To create it, they dug into all their internal documents and distilled those messages into one mission statement that would help them drive their audience into action for their brand.
Content Loop Quadrant 1: Listen/Iterate
This is a no-brainer: fuel your online community building by listening to your audience.
Begin to record:
- What topics are important (keyword research, social listening)
- How they are important (explore search audience intent, gauge sentiment)
- To whom they are important (which personas or audience groups?)
- When they are important (Where are they in their buyer’s journey or seasonal cycles affect them?)
- What do people associate your brand with? (Are you tagged or mentioned with certain groups or topics? Are your competitors?)
What you learn in the listening process fuels the whole content loop. Iterate and adapt your existing content to the feedback you continually gather.
Quadrant 2: Create Content
Once you’ve listened, you then decide: do you respond, and how do you respond? How do you change the conversation to point to your content and online community building North Star? Inform your content with the data you’ve gleaned from listening.
Pick your content, your content type, and your intended audience. (Now’s the time to put that artistic prowess to use.)
Teach For America crafted six organizational content themes, based on blending internal feedback and opportunities uncovered with their listening data. That informed both the kind of storytelling they do, along with which stories they focus on.
Quadrant 3: Publish
Publishing is pretty straightforward… except for the fact that there really are endless publishing options and opportunities. Publishing necessitates answers to these questions:
- Where does your content go? Which channels?
- Which devices and locations will you optimize for?
- What are your marketing channels?
- Who promotes, and when? How often?
Quadrant 4: Amplify
At first glance, publish and amplify may seem synonymous. But that’s a common pitfall for content marketers.
While publication focuses on which channels your content is shared in, amplification focuses on the larger conversation happening in your community.
What preexisting conversations that you should potentially join or influence? Amplification is focused on online community building: it involves curating and giving a platform to content that may not be your own, but is in your community.
One poignant example Teach For America shared was giving away Selma tickets to their community; this was a community-oriented amplification that fostered goodwill and added their voice to a conversation outside of their site’s content.
Back to Listen/Iterate
Then, you’re back to the beginning – or rather, there’s not a beginning after all. It’s a flat circle. Start listening again: did your content do well? Do people care? Does it resonate? Should you follow-up? Should you “kill your darlings” if your content and online community building isn’t working, and try something else entirely?
Online Community Building through Content: How Teach For America Does It Right
The video below is an example of Teach For America’s content, wholly informed by online community building. It’s a great example of how following the content loop philosophy effectively blends your content creating and online community building efforts.
Teach For America’s team learned from following Reddit conversations that November is a tough time for teachers: all those ideals of what the school year could be are starting to settle into what they actually are. To respond to that conversation and inspire their teachers, the Teach For America team created this video.
Every single reference in the script, the team explained at C3, came from data gathered by listening. (Yes, we have it on authority that Taylor Kitsch is a very common teacher crush.)
Content Thrives on Online Community Building, and Online Community Building Thrives on Content
The content loop in a nutshell: listen, create content, publish, amplify, and then start all over again. Build on this endlessly; since Teach For America began to use the Content Loop philosophy, they’ve seen their followers and their organizational ROI go up.
As Teach For America’s Stacey Jaffe says:
“In a way, [the content loop] is predictive marketing. You’re giving your audience what they always knew they always wanted. I purposely did a turn of phrase there… I don’t think it’s about giving them what they never knew they wanted. I think people always know what they want and the trick is using your metrics to hone in on that.”