As marketers, we have to remember that we humans are social creatures.
That's probably why niche online communities have been taking off so much recently. There's a ton of value in putting a bunch of engaged, like-minded people in one place.
And the best part? Being natural and real makes "networking" way less tedious.
Nathan Collier created an engaged content marketing Facebook group, and he's on the show this week to talk about how to build a social community.
Example questions that are answered:
- Why did you decide to start the Content Marketing Lounge?
- Why do you think Facebook groups are taking off?
- How have you built up the membership?
- What are the biggest insights you've learned about keeping people engaged?
- What's the greatest value that these types of communities provide?
Check out the episode to hear our tips for crafting a successful online community.
- The Content Marketing Lounge [Facebook group]
- The Content Marketing Lounge [website]
- Facebook has a new mission: Bring the world closer together, Zuckerberg says in Chicago [Chicago Tribune]
This podcast seeks to answer your questions about content marketing and digital PR with straightforward, actionable tips. You can find all episodes here.
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Amanda Milligan: Welcome to Ask Amanda About Marketing, a podcast in which I, Amanda, or occasionally a special guest, answer your questions about inbound marketing. Straightforward, right? If you want to submit a question, email me at email@example.com. I'd love to hear from you. Let's get right to it.
This week, I have the pleasure of speaking with Nathan Collier, who is the creator of the Content Marketing Lounge. Welcome to the show, Nathan.
Nathan Collier: Hey Amanda. Thanks for having me.
AM: Of course. So the reason why Nathan's on the show this week is because I've heard a lot of questions—and I actually have my own questions—about how to most effectively build online communities, and I've seen this become more and more popular over even the last few months, let alone the less like a year or so in terms of Facebook groups and other more niche communities where people are sharing content about their interests and just having much more of a high engagement level.
I think that learning a little bit about this and how to make your communities or even communities you participate in the most effective would be really valuable for a lot of you. So Nathan's here to talk about how he built the Facebook group called the Content Marketing Lounge. Nathan, would you mind just providing a little bit of background on what it is?
NC: Sure. I don't know, it's kind of my baby. So, I started the Content Marketing Lounge. It's a closed Facebook group that has I think at the moment, I don't know, 2,600 people, something like that.
I started almost two years ago and it's a community of—it's just what it sounds like. It's a community of content marketers. It's a place where people who do content marketing for a living can come and chat. My whole vision for it from the start was I kind of had this idea of—I wanted it to be like the lounge after a really great content marketing conference that you went to.
I don't know if you've ever been to a great conference and maybe you have a drink afterward. You go to coffee with some people and there’s tons of ideas from all the chats you heard and things like that and that's where a lot of the value happens, in those conversations that you have with people at the conference. Not necessarily just from sitting in the presentations.
So the Content Marketing Lounge, I hope, is a place where people can have conversations like that all the time and that was my vision for it, that's
part of why I created it.
AM: It's interesting to hear you say that you had that vision. I think a lot of people might just kind of create groups about topics and hope that it takes off and I like that you had like you even had a vibe that she wanted to communicate.
NC: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, I had a sort of a feeling I wanted it to have and everything I do in there is this still guided by that. I'm trying to create that atmosphere the same just like you would at a really great meet up or something like that.
AM: Right, so, were you at a conference at one of those after events and that's kind of what sparked the idea? Or what when did you actually decide like to sit down and make that Facebook group?
NC: It was kind of the convergence of two things. One is that yeah, I was at a conference here locally. I live in Dayton, Ohio and there's a conference that happens every year here that's called a “social media conflab” and it was just great. I had really great conversations at that conference. At the same time, that was the summer of 2015. I was transitioning out of a full-time job and transitioning into being a full-time freelance writer at the time and I needed—I felt like I needed to get in the content marketing game for myself.
I had been working at an enterprise software company and I was a content manager there and you know, I was well known within my company and as a guy who was an expert inside the company, but nobody knew me outside my company. I was looking for a way to sort of establish myself as somebody that people knew as an expert and things like that because I knew that I had a lot of value to provide the world, but nobody else did.
Since I was going to run a client-based business, I needed to have some credibility when I was doing outreach and things like that. So I tried to start with an email list and it just took forever. It was expensive and I wasn't really great back then at building email lists. I was in charge of a massive list of people at the software company and I was good at keeping them engaged. So content engagement of an existing audience was kind of my thing. The email list, when I tried to start that, I didn't get any feedback from the people that signed up for the list and I never really knew if it was doing what I wanted it to do.
So one day, I got referred to a Facebook group called The Cult of Copy Job Board, which is a Facebook group where clients find freelancers. And I from that, I found the main Cult of Copy group, which is a group which is a group run by Colin Theriot. At the time, it had like 12,000 people in it and he was running his whole business from this group and it was just a model that I had never seen before.
He was getting clients and selling products and I mean everything that he was doing in terms of like client acquisition—and he wasn't doing anything outside of his Facebook group. I was blown away by that because I was already pretty active on Facebook just personally and I see this guy who's just literally—all he's doing is hanging out on Facebook. That's his entire client acquisition strategy and I thought, I can do this. That's a model I can do.
AM: So when you decided to do it, like you said, it was tough when you're building an email list to get people initially. What was your strategy to get people to find out about your group?
NC: Oh, so people ask me that question a lot because it's one thing to start a group. You can start a group in like a minute but getting people to actually join is the hard part, right? So to be honest with you my recommendation—well, here's what I did at the beginning. My first hundred members came from direct outreach from me.
And what I did was I went into other Facebook groups that were similar to mine. So I found copy and groups and working in groups and you know, there's plenty of groups like that out there. Sometimes you'll see this where people kind of will go into groups like that and then they'll post about their group in another group and it just looks bad that's like bad form. So don't do that.
Instead, my strategy was just to be like a real human. I would just interact with people in the groups and I would help them if I could and if I saw somebody who was posting something that I thought was really valuable, I would connect with them personally. So I send them a friend request and if they'd accept it, I would I reach out to them via private message and I would just say:
“Hey, I know you posted this thing in this group. I thought it was really valuable. Can I share that with my group? It's a new group. It's over here. It's called the Content Marketing Lounge. I'd love to share with my group. There's only a few people in there, but I thought it was valuable and I think it would be valuable to my community. And if you like, you can come in and share it if you want, but either way, I'd love to be able to share this piece of content with my group.” Like 99% of the time that person is going to come from that other group into my group.
That's how I got people who were active. So not only did I get people to come into my group. I got people who are already active on Facebook, providing value and that gave them an opportunity to establish themselves as thought leaders into a new community of people. So that's the down and dirty way to do it. I did that a hundred times and that’s how I got my first 100 members.
AM: That's really interesting to hear about how you were basically reaching out to the best type of members to have in your group. A hundred people that might not sound like a ton but it is with are so relevant to the kind of conversations you want to be having and I think that's true of just groups in general. I think Content Marketing Lounge has what looks 2,600 members, right?
You know, obviously there are huge groups on Facebook, but 2,600 people who all work in content marketing. I mean that's it's a really targeted audience and a ton of value can be communicated in a space like that.
NC: It was happening when I had a hundred people. You know, I found that about a hundred people was when things started to kind of gain their own momentum. I'd have to drive it quite as hard to keep the activity going. It's been doing that ever since I mean I even as my group has gotten bigger, I feel like I've lost some of the sort of little intimate—that's just a natural part of the process as a group grows—it doesn't feel quite as intimate as it did before.
But I still do a lot of stuff now that I did back then and by that, I mean that there's certain posts that I do every week that keep people engaged and it's still small enough that I'm able to interact with everybody. Literally, everybody who posts in my group I'm able to interact with them and that way, they feel included.
It will get to a point where it'll be too big for you to do that. But even at 2,600 people, I can still interact with just about anybody who comes into the group.
AM: Wow. What do you think when you're posting those kinds of weekly posts? What do you think is the most engaging? What have you found, over the development of this group, has led people to be the most communicative or the most responsive—what kind of content?
NC: Well, I'm going to give you two answers to that. One is in my specific group. So when I researched content marketing groups on Facebook when I was starting the group, what I found was there were other groups that were talking about content marketing but they weren't really talking. All it was is—you go into a content marketing group and they'll just be this feed full of links to people's blog posts.
Like people are so this so desperate to drive traffic to their own blog posts because either they want the traffic or the Facebook pixel tracking or their boss wants the traffic numbers or whatever. It's a flood of links and that’s the opposite of the conference lounge atmosphere that I was that I had in my head. So for me—one of my rules is we don't spam the group. You don't get to just come into my group and post the link to your content because I wanted people to come in and have conversations. I wanted the value to be in the conversations that were being had there.
At the same time, I have a bunch of content marketers and they all have like goals to drive more traffic to their content. So once a week, I give them an opportunity to do that. It's like releasing a pressure valve. You know, it's on Thursdays, I posted a thing and I’m like, if you got new content, post it in the comments and everybody posts in that thread. So once a week, there's a whole bunch of articles that get posted in this one thread. It's sort of contained in this one place.
You know, that weekly is the most popular thread and I think that's a function of the fact that we are a bunch of content marketers and this is what we do. I'll tell you, the most valuable thread though is one I've started fairly recently and I’ve done once a week. I post the thread that just says: How can we help you? What's a question that you have that we can help you with? I see this in other groups, but I think the twist in our group is that it's not just me answering the questions. I actively invite other people who are members of the group who are experts to jump in and answer people's questions. And so in that way, I'm trying to build not just like, people are listening to me, but a community of people who are helping each other.
AM: So, you just talked about what had the most value in terms of the content on the group—what has been the most valuable to you or in the creation of this group? What do you think is so valuable about having a community like this that you spend so much time building and continue to invest in?
NC: Yeah. So there's a bunch of things and a lot of them were unexpected for me. Things that I didn't realize that we're going to be major benefits for my business and my career. When I started the group I thought okay, I'll have this audience and I'll be able to sell stuff to them, right? That's kind of the premise of content marketing in general.
I knew I would kind of enjoy it, I like networking and I like doing all this stuff anyway, so for me it didn’t feel like work. But what I found was that the network effects are just tremendous. If you own the group—like if you actually own the group—there's no question that anyone could ask me in any context that I don't either know the answer to or I know the person who knows the answer, right?
If somebody asked me, how do you start a podcast? I could send a message to you and I would say hey, I just got asked “how do I start a podcast” and I haven't started a podcast of my own—is this a question that you can jump in and help me with? I know by name—I know experts across all these different—it doesn't matter what anybody asks. Facebook, ads, SEO, podcasting, you know, just ask me anything and I can either answer your question or I can point you to the person who you know has the answer to the question.
So I'm a resource for people to go through. That's tremendously valuable for me as a business person because I can do all kinds of things to turn that into clients or turn that into referral fees or turn that into all these different things. So that's tremendously valuable and was something that I wasn't expecting.
The other thing that has been tremendously valuable is when I get the chance to help people, sometimes that comes back in ways that I didn't expect. I've had people come into my group and they'll ask a question and I can tell that they're fairly early on and their journey of learning content marketing. Then a year later. I'll start getting all these people into my group and I don't know where they're coming from and I’ll find out that it's because they wrote a blog post and there's a screenshot in the middle of a blog post of the interaction that I had with them a year ago where he’s like, I went into this Facebook group and this guy was tremendously helpful and you should go join his Facebook group.
There's one piece in particular that like I get I don't know seven or eight people a week that he sent me to you. It's because a year ago, I had an interaction with this guy and I helped him, you know what I mean?
And so my audience grows as a result of just naturally doing the things that you do to be a good admin on Facebook and I'm not doing anything for that. I'm not paying for ads. It's like SEO without the SEO. People are coming that way because—I don’t want to call it karma because it's not quite that but—you know when you help somebody and they explode, sometimes that comes back and you get a mention in a way that you may not have expected.
AM: Absolutely. Do you think that explains the value that you've gotten from having the group but what do you think is the value that people who join are getting? I'm sure some of the same benefits of talking to a lot of people or experts in a lot of different fields. But what else do you think is available about maybe joining in a community like this?
NC: So it depends on where you're coming from. If you're an individual and you have a day job, the thing that can be really valuable for somebody like you is that you have access now to the same thing like what I was just talking about. You can ask people who are doing things outside of your company.
When I worked in a big enterprise company, it was very internally focused. We didn't talk to people outside of a company very much. Even the training that we took was done by internal trainers and so I wasn't exposed to all these different techniques that were happening outside of my company that I had never heard of before.
If you go back to like 2012, that kind of time frame—I didn't know all this stuff was happening, but once I started to get active in Facebook groups—this is before I started the Content Marketing Lounge—I started to learn things that I just wasn't exposed to elsewhere and it happens fast because the conversation is all bleeding-edge stuff, right? Because if you know the people that are in Facebook groups, they're doing the work every day and so they can help you in ways that you're not going to get in a book. If you read a book about content marketing, that information is two years old. It takes that long to make a book and get it processed. So that's one thing.
The other thing is network effects. You can get hired, you can build your own presence in a Facebook group. Even if you don't like own that Facebook group, you can still establish yourself as a thought leader or as somebody who gets hired if you do client work. That's a great way to do networking, just through Facebook groups. Even if you don't own the Facebook group.
AM: Definitely. So just to zoom out a little bit—and we've been talking specifically about your experience with Content Marketing Lounge, but like I said—there's this trend toward Facebook groups, other kinds of more niche communities. Why do you think that now that's becoming something that so many people are drawn toward?
NC: Well, there's a few different factors that are, I think, driving people towards that. One is that people are just spending more and more and more time online. I mean, as we spend more and more time online—it's because there's all these different things to do, so that's part of it. I mean, smartphones and you know—we're at the point now where basically everybody who's going to do this kind of stuff has a smartphone, right?
But beyond that, Facebook specifically has done a really good job of creating tools that we can use to connect with each other. If you look at the demographics, the time that people spend on Facebook is ridiculous, especially people who are in the age group where they have disposable income. So if you're doing marketing like you and me are, that's the group that you want to reach, right?
The 15-year-olds are hanging out on Snapchat, but I'm interested in reaching people who are 30 to 50. Most people are spending time on Facebook. So Facebook—and I think July this year, so a few months ago—they came out and they said that they wanted to get a billion people into meaningful Facebook groups right now. By their estimate, they had about a hundred billion people in meaningful Facebook groups.
We're talking like, Facebook wants to get one in every six people on the planet into a meaningful Facebook group. Like so Facebook itself is pushing Facebook groups. So that's one thing and the other thing is—we're all just humans and we like to connect and we like to be part of communities that are talking about things that were interested.
It's no different than when you were in high school, you wanted to be part of the “in crowd” or maybe you were part of a crowd that was sort of your own, you know, you're into your own thing. That's what Facebook groups provide and whether that's a group that's made for your T-ball team or your son's T-ball team or for, you know, your profession. I think more people are becoming aware that it’s a thing and it's just part of their experience on Facebook now because they don't have to go into a group. It's not like Reddit. You don't have to go into a Subreddit.
You’re just on Facebook checking your feed and then whatever it is that's in all these groups, it just pops up in your thread. So Facebook has done a really good job of just integrating into the natural experience of what you're already doing.
AM: Yeah, and it was almost surprising to me. Aside from the fact, like you said, that Facebook is kind of pushing it themselves, but for a while, Facebook always felt like the most personal one. So it seemed like it was going to be the most difficult to do anything related to business or work, right?
It's become so much more normal now and like you said, it's so valuable to have that in your feet. It just becomes a natural part of checking the news or checking what your friends are up to. It's like oh, I also want to check to see what my professional community is up to and I think that's so important for like what you were saying before about keeping it natural and more about the conversation and offering value that way—that's what makes it blend in better with the rest of the content on Facebook.
NC: Oh, absolutely. If you talk on Facebook like you're on Linkedin, it just sticks out.
AM: I don't think it works across the board for so many social sites. It always kills me when people are posting the same stuff on Facebook (laughs), Linkedin, Twitter.
NC: Yeah, Gary Vanderchuck talks about, “know the room that you're in.”
NC: I take that advice to heart because when I'm posting information that's about business and marketing but I'm doing it in a way that I'm also telling stories because I want my post to look and feel similar to what your friend just posted about. My experience, you know, some story.
Stories are more interesting anyway, they’re more engaging, they open the door to sales conversations, if you do it right, I mean—
AM: Yeah, there's hardly any downside on something to the story approach. So you are a content marketer and you started a group of content marketers. What do you think in terms of other hypothetical situations like people listening in now and they're thinking to themselves: What kind of group would it make sense for me to start? What if they're appealing to more of a tangential audience, know what I mean? So say you're an auto mechanic—are you necessarily going to start a community only of auto mechanics? For the everyday person who is still trying to reach an audience, what is that first step there?
NC: So I have a great example of this. I was working with a guy who had a lot of the same kind of questions that you're talking about right now. He's a fishing guide in Louisiana. So he specifically does kayak fishing, which I love because he spends all day on the water taking tourists out fishing in all these different really awesome places in Louisiana. He thought, can I do a Facebook group, and so I talked to him quite a bit about how we could do it or what it would be. So for him, it's a dual thing like he started a group, it's just called like kayak fishing with his name and he started it a few months ago and it's become one of my favorite groups to watch. I'm not even into fishing, it's not even my thing, but he does such a good job.
He's posting stuff in there all the time. The other day, he posted a picture of a bank from his kayak of the bank of a river. He was fishing and he drew lines on the picture somehow in photoshop or something and it's an “A, B, and C” and it says, “where do you think I got the fish from?” Space “A,” space “B,” spot “C.” There's like 70 people have a group and there's like 13 comments, which is a ratio that you don't normally see. We're all trying to guess which section he got it from. Later on, he came back and he posted a video of the act of him actually catching a fish from that section of the water. Then, he went on to sort of explain like, this is why I was fishing that area, it had a bend in it,” you know, he broke down why that specific area of the river was ripe for catching a fish.
From that, he's starting to get people who are interested in buying training products from him. He's starting to get people who are interested in taking tours with him. I mean, he's killing it with a group that’s less than a hundred people because he's able to show off his expertise and he's able to show off the experience of fishing with him. I don't care if you're selling if you're making cakes, you could be doing the same thing. If you're an auto mechanic, you could be posting interesting videos and stuff about cars. And that's going to bring people to you who need your services. It's also going to bring people to you who are like you who want to learn from you who also want to be mechanics.
So you can do two things there. You can build your client business. You can also become somebody who sells training products.
AM: That example is so fascinating to me because it seems like a three-parter in terms of how to come up with ideas, right? He didn't even just dive right into this, he engaged everybody with that initial graphic and I think that speaks a lot to like how much thought you need to put into strategizing the type of content you're sharing. You know, Fractl’s a content marketing agency. When we're creating content, it has to have that emotional impact, that engaging piece.
So, what advice do you give to people in terms of Facebook-specific content? When you're deciding, maybe outside of the normal stuff. You post, like you said, every Monday every Tuesday—how do you come up with, okay, this is going to not only just provide value but be really interesting to people.
NC: So, Trey Collins is that guy's name, in case people are looking for “Kayak Fishing with Trey Collins.” If you're into fishing, you should join his group. Plug for Trey. To your question though—my favorite kind of content—two things: one is stories. I got almost run off the highway by a van about two months ago.
AM: I remember reading this story!
NC: See, see! You read it. So what was your reaction when you read that story?
AM: I was stunned. I mean, it's not often that you read, first of all, a story like that on a Facebook group and something so personal. It really just it was very impactful.
NC: So, I was just driving on the freeway and all of a sudden, there was—I was in the right lane. There was a van, like a cargo van, drifting into my lane, right on my mirror and ran me off onto the shoulder and he then spun around and ended up in the middle of the road. Turn the wrong way on a 65 mile-an-hour freeway. Nobody touched anybody and nobody got hurt but it was like massive wake-up call right, for your life.
You can't go through something like that without having a little bit of an existential perspective shift on everything. Yeah, so it was kind of a moment in my life when I was like, you know, I kind of there's some things like in my business that have been drifting along a little bit that I knew I wanted to do, but I hadn't really gotten my foot on the pedal.
And so I used that story, I was like, this is what I'm going through and that my emotions were really raw and I just got on Facebook and I just kind of let it rip. I just told the story and I dumped out everything I was thinking and people responded like crazy to that. That was my most popular post last month or two months ago or whenever it was and I think people really resonate with anything that you post that's personal, that talks about a perspective shift in your life.
Especially one that is talking about a business perspective shift. That's one thing. Those are powerful. If you do this every day, people are going to get tired of it, but you know three or four a year maybe, if you have those moments, so don't be afraid to share personal.
I distinctly remember a post by Content Area where he posted like a video or a picture of himself in this strawberry patch with his four-year-old son and he's like, “Hey, it's a Tuesday afternoon. It's two o'clock and I'm out here picking strawberries with my son. Let me tell you why this is. It's because three years ago, you know, I started doing this marketing stuff and if you're not doing”— I mean like he tied it all together with the story about how he was doing something that nobody else could do because they're all at their jobs, you know, right? So this audience is people who are self-employed.
So personal stories are killer but as far as like regular content, I can post all the time little tips. So little things that I do that I know are valuable that maybe—everybody has these and you may not even think that other people wouldn't know about them. But if you listen closely when you talk to other people about what you do, they'll say, oh wow, that's really I never would have thought to do that.
When I proofread my content, my primary revenue generating source is still freelance writing. So when I proofread my content, I have my Mac, I use Apple Notes and I put my content into Apple Notes and I have the computer read my content back to me in my headphones.
AM: That’s a good tip.
NC: Look at it as a proofreading exercise, right? Spell check is okay. But when you hear your content read back to you, I hear all the dropped words and awkward sentences and stuff. That made my writing way better and it's a simple little thing that I can do for free on my computer. That's like one small little thing that I know that I can share with my community that will benefit them. And it also lets them know that I know what I'm talking about.
So that's a little tip. So I do that all the time. I'm looking for things like that all the time that I can share with people that will help them do their job better.
AM: You just gave me a little tip about a little tip (laughs). I think you know, it's interesting to think of it that way because outside of Facebook, you're creating all these super comprehensive blog posts, but when you're talking about communicating with people on an almost daily basis or more than a daily basis, it's like okay, I can't be giving them full comprehensive guides every single day about every—so it makes sense, you break it down into okay, they're going to read this post quickly this morning. What can I say in the most efficient way possible that's going to help them.
NC: Exactly and I think that's what Facebook is best at is those small things that you can implement immediately and it builds people's trust in you like crazy. If they get something from you today that they can use like five minutes from now, they're going to think of you every time they use that trick from now on. That me what are we doing as marketers right? We're building. We're building trust as an asset so that hopefully when it comes time for them to buy something that we sell, that they'll look to us, right? I mean, that's how content marketing works. So that's how it's done on Facebook.
AM: Makes sense. Well, Nathan, thank you so much for being on the show. I think that this offered a lot of insight behind the scenes of all these Facebook groups I've enjoyed recently and then how they come to be and I think it's really helpful for everyone. So thank you. Again, that's the Content Marketing Lounge. You can search it on Facebook or also go to contentmarketinglounge.com.
NC: Thanks, Amanda.
AM: Thanks again for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, click subscribe. Don’t leave me with the realization that I’m talking to no one and please rate and review on iTunes so I can keep making this podcast better and your lives easier. Take care.