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The Secret to Marketing Your Community: Show, Don't Tell

Written by Lindsay Starke | on October 19, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Long before I ever knew I could turn my love for online communities into a career, I was a professional writer and editor. This is relatively common in community manager land, I’ve found—so hello to all of my fellow failed novelists out there!

If you've studied creative writing, then, you probably know the aphorism "Show, don't tell." For those of you who are not recovering artsy-fartsy humanities majors like the rest of us, here it is in plainer English: "Don't explain it to me; allow me to see for myself." In the case of communities, I think this reminder is particularly salient: don't tell your members your community is totally awesome. Show them your community and allow them to become convinced by the sheer, undeniable levels of awesomeness (i.e. value) that are self-evident within it.

What your members need to be successful

Now, to be able to successfully communicate this value requires a certain degree of empathy with your members, as well as the humility to examine and admit where you or your organization has dropped the ball. Has your community become saturated with marketing messages that members are getting other places already? Have the conversations been low-value, either flame wars or fluff? Or, alternately, have the conversations been so arcane that someone has to be 15+ years into their career to find them useful? In other words: what do your members need to be more successful and happier people, and how can you fill those needs?

This is easier said than done, but it is doable.

One relatively easy way to increase the perceived usefulness of your community is to foster high-value, high-disclosure, and yet non-threatening conversations within it. Try tossing a few open-ended questions out to your members to invite the sharing of triumphs, tribulations, and lessons learned. My personal favorite is "If you could go back in time and give yourself advice when you were just starting out as a neurosurgeon/accountant/lion tamer/etc., what would you tell yourself?" This gets half of your members sharing wisdom and the other half listening intently.

Involving your members in making the community better

Along the same lines, if you want to get a better handle on what your members are struggling with, ask them. “What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now?" “What topics do you foresee becoming the greatest issues for our industry in the coming years?” Heck, even just asking, “how can this community serve you better?” is a place to start!

You can also enlist your thought leaders, event speakers, and other luminaries to help create conversations, plow through your organization's past hot topics, or just keep trying new things until you hit upon whatever gets people excited and, more importantly, sharing high-quality ideas, advice, and issues. Community management has many aspects of a scientific discipline, but there is also a bit of an adventurous art to it. Maybe that’s why so many of us CMs are former writers.

Now that you have a community that is self-evidently awesome, it’s time to show it off. Does your organization have a newsletter? How about a blog? A Facebook page? A collection of well-trained carrier pigeons? Chances are, there are communications channels you can tap into in order to reach the people who may not understand the incredible value of an online community.

Show (rather than tell) that beautiful content

Here is where you show rather than tell. You have cultivated all of that beautiful content, so make a newsletter or a blog post or an email blast out of it, wherein you feature the best of the best conversations. Select those discussions that are both informative and lively, and highlight the wisdom shared in them. Essentially, you want the people who might otherwise write off the community to see what they've been missing – and realize they are really missing out. If they keep skipping over the Daily Digest, they may miss that one piece of advice to become more successful or happier.

Plus, if you go to your marketing team with a ton of high-value, community-created content and ask them to help you push it out to the rest of the organization, they will be exceedingly grateful. Everybody wins!

So take your long-buried creative writing lessons (or maybe just reach out to a really great storyteller) and see what you can do to make your community shine. Awesomeness isn’t instant, and it will be an incremental process of reaching out and lifting up members’ stories and questions. Once that collection of member stories starts to fill up in the community, gather it all and share it as much as you can.

Have faith in your community’s awesomeness. Let it speak for itself.

Show us below—what makes your community and its members' conversations awesome?


2015 Community Benchmarking Report

Topics: Online Community Management, Engagement, Marketing, Online Community

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