Drive Engagement with an Online Community Content Calendar

Community Strategy // Community managers have to put a lot of energy into their community content strategies. Make your job easier with this comprehensive guide to building an online community content calendar.

Laura Coscarelli
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Having a strong community content strategy is a big part of being a community builder. In order to increase online community engagement, establish a clear value proposition for joining, and encourage community members to participate, you need an organized plan for when and what you’ll share.

But how do you manage your community content in an organized way that increases engagement?

Enter: Your online community content calendar.

Editorial calendars aren’t just for marketers or magazine publishers. They’re must-have tools for community builders to engage your members, customers, and employees. The main goal of your calendar is for you to be prepared to engage your community members – and plan in advance for how to distribute your content throughout the year.

Why Consider a Online Community Content Calendar?

Do a search on Amazon for planning calendars and there are thousands of results – some with llamas on them. You can put a llama on your “How to Increase Community Engagement calendar” if you like, but what we want to talk about here is how and why to incorporate a content planning calendar into your online community engagement strategy.

Looking for a complete guide to getting more online community engagement? Don’t miss this eBook, filled with tips to help you engage your users and keep them coming back.

As the leader or manager of your online community, you set the example for how to interact within it. Whether consciously or not, members see how you respond to comments and what types of content you upload and will follow suit. So how is your content strategy telling members how to behave?

When your content strategy is ad hoc – adding documents, webinars, blog posts, etc., as they happen rather than on a regular schedule – you actually might be harming your community’s engagement.

Without consistency, members never learn what to do, and they may stage fright because there aren’t set standards – no one wants to accidentally make a mistake and embarrass themselves in front of everyone.

That’s why it’s so important for the community manager to create standards through their own engagement in the community. And a community editorial calendar can help you bring the content consistency that your community needs.

At our annual conference, Super Forum, Georgina (Cannie) Donahue, director of community at the Pragmatic Insitute, shared some compelling reasons to adopt a community content calendar: “When we fall into scattered and scrambling content creation or engagement post distribution, not only does it eat up community manager time, it also inhibits the flow of a uniform and cohesive content stream. This lack of consistency is felt by members. The absence of a stable engagement framework makes it unclear to them how to appropriately engage.”

Here are just a few more reasons to adopt a content calendar:

  • Stay more organized
  • Share your plans with team members, colleagues, and management
  • Add discipline to your engagement strategy
  • Create regularity that becomes habit-forming for your users
  • Help see where your content fits with other activities
  • Visualize all the content types to ensure you maximize all the possibilities
  • Support culture-building in your community
  • Establish guidelines and standards for all the content you deliver

The calendar helps show you when to deploy community content. It’ll help you remember to support your annual user event. You can add seasonality as appropriate to your industry and audience.

But Wait, I Thought My Community Members Were Supposed to Create the Content…

Ideally, your customers or members will create most or all of the discussions in your online community. But it takes nurturing and tending from the community manager to start conversations and come up with creative ways to engage those members who won’t naturally start conversations on their own.

By making your content production process organized and consistent, you’ll have a system in place to continuously show members why they should keep coming back to your community. When a new member arrives in your community, they need to instantly find something that grabs their interest and motivates them to participate. It’s a key part of community management.

How Much Time Does a Community Content Calendar Take?

We all know that planning saves us in the long run. Building your master calendar is worth the investment to set up, as it’ll streamline your activities. You can plan out your work in advance, so that on any given Tuesday, you know what you’ve got on your plate.

After that, the amount of content you post depends on your community. You may need to have a staff person posting every day in some situations. In other cases, it’s ok to slow down your activity level in favor of encouraging your power users to take a leadership role. In Higher Logic’s online community platform, you can assign admin privileges so that your community volunteers don’t have access to everything but still can help you.

What Should My Community Editorial Calendar Look Like?

Although the concept is similar, a community editorial calendar looks different than a blogging editorial calendar. Rather than only focusing on blog posts, a community editorial calendar can run the gamut when it comes to content types. Since your community houses so much diverse content, from webinars and to Ask Me Anything sessions to post-event discussions, your community editorial calendar should include variety.

“There is a lot going on in a successful community,” said Georgina. “It can be tough for members to find their way. So let’s do the hard work for them. We can funnel them into a pathway we intend them to follow. An editorial calendar will allow you to channel fresh streams of content into regularly recurring programmatic anchors that your members know how to navigate.”

Here’s a list of potential content types that Georgina recommends:

  • Blog posts – these can be authored by guests, members or your organization
  • Subject matter expert contributions – like an Ask Me Anything, blog post, webinar, or eBook
  • Executive engagement – such as a blog post, an Ask Me Anything or a webinar
  • Member photos – such as event photos
  • Video media – like a webinar or an informational video

This list will definitely vary depending on what your community is like, your goals for engagement, and what resonates with members. It’s very valuable to have many different content types in your community, but it’s also a lot of work on the community manager. With a calendar for guidance, engaging your community members becomes much easier.

How Do I Create an Online Community Content Calendar?

Rather than delighting your members through surprise, the aim of a community editorial calendar is to delight through stability.

Georgina shared her formula for creating a community editorial calendar that will ease the community manager’s job, create stability, and spur engagement amongst members. Here are her tips:

  • Time frame – First, instead of looking at your entire calendar (like the entire year or quarter), you need to break it into smaller chunks of time. Georgina suggested looking at the calendar in two-week segments.
  • Topic – Now, assign a topic for each two-week segment. For example, one segment can be ‘collaboration’ and the next can be ‘live events.’
  • Plug-in programs – Once you have a topic, plug in regular programs. For example, the first Monday of every two-week segment you’ll have an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session. The first Thursday of each two-week segment you’ll engage an executive and the following week you’ll have a member spotlight.
  • Shift topic, keep the framework – After two weeks, you’ll keep the same format (AMA on Monday, executive engagement on Thursday, member spotlight following week) but you adopt a new topic.

By creating a cyclical calendar, you’ll always have both consistency and fresh content. Watch how the community reacts and listen to what topics interest them the most. Since your editorial calendar is in such short segments, you can quickly adapt the next segment to have content pertinent to current trends.

3 Tips for Executing Your Community Content Plan

1. Plan in Advance

While you’ll probably want to break your content calendar down into a weekly to-do list, it’s helpful to plan out at least a month or up to 90 days in advance. Don’t plan beyond each quarter since you’ll likely want to tweak your system, messaging, and tactics throughout the process based on the data and feedback you receive from your community members.

2. Delegate Responsibilities

Each task on your community content calendar should be designated to a specific person so the delegation of responsibilities is clear. This helps to avoid any miscommunication and sets up a consistent routine for how to manage the different elements of content creation required to keep your online community running smoothly.

3. Be Open to Tweaks

Depending on how fast your community grows and how long it takes to grow, you might find that your calendar needs adjustments along the way. While sticking to your calendar is important, don’t be so resistant to change that you continue following a procedure that your metrics show doesn’t work. As long as you’re making data-driven decisions, changes to your content calendar are simply part of the process.

Plan for Content That Will Engage Different Types of Community Members

As you develop your community content strategy, you’ll want to plan different types of content for different types of community members. Our experience has shown that different types of content generate different types of engagement. It may make sense for your strategy to shift how and when you’re using different kinds of content, depending on your goals.

Traditionally, community leaders want to see more contributions than simply consuming (breaking out of the traditional 90-9-1 rule), which totally makes sense, since you want to have people engage that’s why the community exists.

Although we agree, don’t worry too much about consumers, or “lurkers” – you need the appreciators just as much as you need the louder people – they play a vital part in viewing, consuming, and benefiting from created content that your creators and contributors are making.

We like to classify community members into four different types in this sample community audience matrix.

Type Definition Scenario Ideas for Getting Them Engaged
CreatorsUsers who create posts, blogs, and other new contentEveryone knows Sally. She likes to write a blog post when she runs into a particularly interesting work situation and see what advice and reactions her peers have.Consider inviting your top creators to be in your community super user or champion program. These members are obviously committed to the community and you can enlist their help in moderating, writing a weekly post, or even activities outside of the community, like presenting at your annual event.
ContributorsUsers who reply to comment on the created contentStanley checks in when he sees interesting content in his weekly email digest. Very often, when he reads an article or a discussion, he will provide his advice.Send an automated email to your contributors encouraging them to submit a question for an Ask Me Anything session.
ConsumersUsers who exclusively view or log in to consume the created content and its contributions (also known as “lurkers”)Lakshmi regularly reads the content – we can see it in her profile, but she is highly unlikely to do anything more than view and read.Try grouping users who tend to consume and create an automated email that invites them to make their first post.
InactiveUsers who have not made any actions in the community in the last yearPieter joined the community a few years ago, but he hasn’t taken any action in the last year.If you haven’t seen a community member on the site in a while, contact them using automation rules or re-engagement campaigns. We’ve seen success rates upwards of 30% – and these users stay re-engaged more often than not.

 

For more, check out the Engagement Trends Report: It’s an entire report covering online community engagement trends, where you can find insight specifically around engaging different community member types.

Create and Sustain Your Online Community Engagement with a Solid Framework

A community content calendar is key to creating consistent and quality community engagement. With hope, you now know why you need a calendar for your online community, how to create one, and tips for the type of content to include.

Don’t stop there – read our guide to getting more online community engagement. It’s chock-full of tips, tactics, and strategy advice to help you create a truly effective strategy.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2016 and has since been updated to reflect accuracy and ensure we’re bringing you the latest and greatest.

Laura Coscarelli

Senior Community Strategist

Laura Coscarelli is a Senior Community Strategist at Higher Logic. With 10 years of previous experience as a community manager, she now consults with association and corporate customers as they plan, launch, and grow their online communities. Laura loves the excitement of the moment right before a new community goes live – knowing the impact that it will have on the organization and the users. When she’s not cheerleading for her customers, she enjoys hosting fondue dinner parties, restoring old houses, and biking with her husband in Washington, D.C.

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