The Definitive Guide to Content and Community Marketing for Data Companies

Content marketing, in its simplest form, is creating and distributing content in order to build awareness about a product or service. And generally speaking, content in content marketing refers to written content published in the form of blog posts.

Now, it’s no secret that content marketing works. HubSpot pioneered inbound marketing, which was essentially how content marketing came to be, and even after crossing half a billion in revenue, HubSpot believes in content marketing so much that they recently bought a fast-growing media company.

Naturally, every brand began investing in content marketing—and in order to rank well, they began feeding search engines (that had ravenous appetites) with a high volume of content. This approach worked for a better part of the last decade, resulting in poor-quality blog posts ranking high in search results.

Content marketing needed to change. And the pandemic has only made that more apparent.

With more people glued to their screens and consuming more content than ever before, marketers and CEOs thought doubling-down on content is the best way forward.

Yes, it’s time to double-down on content marketing. But more importantly, it’s time to double-down on the right content—content that your users want to consume and share with their peers. And creating the right content is not just about producing more content.

The old way: Content marketing = Content production

Creating more content is not the answer to investing more in content marketing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Today, content marketing is harder than ever because every brand is doing it. And sadly, most are following a dated playbook that worked in the early days of Web 2.0 when quantity—not quality—brought big wins.

“Creating more content is not the answer to investing more in content marketing.”

In 2021, choosing quantity over quality won’t work for most companies. It will definitely not work for companies in the data space building products for a savvy, tech-loving audience—people who know what they don’t want and are on the lookout to solve hard problems.

Buyers and users of data products:

  • Want expert, unbiased, and actionable answers to their questions
  • Want to be educated rather than sold to
  • Want to learn about benefits rather than product features

The new way: Content marketing = Marketing your content like you market your product

The content you create is an extension of the product you build.

  • Build a great product and shitty content, and nobody will come
  • Build a shitty product and great content, and people will come in droves but will also bounce equally fast
  • Build a good product and great content, and people will come, they will stay, they will listen, and they will help you take your product from good to great

Therefore, every piece of content you create should go through the same process that every new feature you build goes through. Just like your engineers have an incentive to build a product people will love and rave about, your content creators should also have an incentive to create content that people will love and rave about. It’s really that simple!

Also, just like how shipping feature improvements is as important as shipping new features, improving existing content is also as important as creating new content.

Treat new content like new features

They both need a launch plan.

When you wear your PM hat and start looking at every piece of content as a new feature, you’ll see that a lot of thinking needs to be put into every little aspect of launching one:

  • What does our user expect? (The body)
  • What should we call it? (The title)
  • How should we make it look good? (Images and diagrams)
  • How do we make it intuitive? (To read and comprehend)
  • How do we tell people about it? (To have them read it)
  • How do we make people tell others about it? (To have them share it)
  • How do we gather feedback on it? (To improve it)
  • How do we measure its performance? (To see how many people read it)
  • How do we measure the impact? (To see if it contributed to more users or demos—and, subsequently, more customers and revenue)

The bottom line is that creating good content is hard, creating excellent content is very hard, and being able to do either week over week requires talent that is extremely hard to find and resources that are aplenty. And even if you have both, it’s tough to prevent burnout—after all, good writers don’t like to write about the same stuff over and over again.

So if you, like most others, are obsessing over publishing one article every week (every content marketing agency wants you to), it’s time to take a step back and reassess your goal behind content marketing.

Is it to publish one article every week? Or is it to build brand awareness, exhibit thought leadership, drive organic traffic, or something else? Today, objective-driven rather than frequency-driven content production just makes more sense.

Community marketing

Community marketing has been synonymous with community-building, and that too needed to change. Once again, in the post-pandemic world, marketers and CEOs thought that people wanted more communities.

“The most engaging and thriving communities are the ones that aren’t tied to any financial goals.”

In reality, more people started looking for relevant communities to hang out in—communities where they could meet others with similar interests, working on similar things.

And the most engaging and thriving communities are the ones that aren’t tied to any financial goals—as is the case with every product community.

The old way: Community marketing = Community building

Everybody wants to build a community—literally everybody!

And the benefits of building your own community are obvious. You can control the narrative, you can control the reviews, and you can own the rights to republish reviews. That sounds pretty good, right?

Related read: How to Bottle Community Lightning Like Datadog

In the last few years, a lot of companies have managed to build successful communities around their product by bringing together individuals with shared interests and aspirations to help each other, learn from each other, and have fun in the process.

Among data companies, dbt is leading the charge because they’ve built one of the most engaged, thriving product communities (their product being open-source has definitely been a huge driver for success).

I also experienced this firsthand when the Integromat community that I started in mid-2018 grew to over 10,000 members in about two years. It not only helped accelerate growth and drastically reduce the number of support tickets, but it also paved the way for Integromat’s channel partner program that boasts over 200 certified partners implementing Integromat for businesses small and big.

This trend is only on the rise as more and more companies realize the power of communities. However, the most active, thriving communities like the ones mentioned above are those where members come together around a common interest or desire—a better way to transform data in the case of dbt and powerful automation without code in the case of Integromat.

Moreover, there is no dearth of engaging communities for people who really like to hang out in them, and this is especially true for growth, operations, and data communities. In fact, if you’re active in some of the popular ones, you probably see the same faces wherever you go.

Product communities have worked for some companies but they’ve mainly been beneficial for freelancers, consultants, and agencies that offer services around the products whose communities they hang out in. If you have a product with a wide range of use cases and the potential for a strong channel partner network, it makes sense to build a product community.

If not, you need to build your brand’s presence across existing communities where your prospects and customers hang out.

The new way: Community marketing = Building your presence where your prospects hang out

This is not to say that community-building is dead—far from it. There’s a lot of value in building a community around a product, and if you can do it successfully there’s a lot to gain from it.

But community marketing is a lot more than just building an owned community, and successful community marketing hinges on building your brand’s presence in the communities where your prospects, customers, and evangelists like to hang out. These include Slack communities, StackOverflow-like forums, subreddits, and Quora spaces, to name a few.

From my experience helping build thriving product communities as well as building a thriving product’s presence across a range of relevant communities, I can tell you this: not every product contains the attributes needed to build a successful community around it. But showing up where your audience hangs out requires no such attributes.

Make yourself visible to build your presence

You, the human behind the brand, need to keep showing up.

In communities—no matter which company someone represents—at the end of the day, everybody has an individual identity. Moreover, active members of a community like to contribute because they want to share what they know and learn new things in the process.

“I like to hang out in communities so that I can be sold to,” said no one ever.

A community is not the equivalent of a marketplace. But this doesn’t imply that as a product representative or evangelist, you cannot share your expertise or answer people’s questions related to your industry or product category.

The person representing a product in a community—a founder, a full-time employee, or a freelancer—is the face of the company behind the product.

Therefore, you must be intentional about who that person will be and how they are to be incentivized to keep showing up every day where your prospects and customers are. And they must show up with the intention to help and provide value rather than selling.

It implies that to build a strong presence in a community, your community representative must:

  • Have a good understanding of the needs of the community and offer help in every possible way
  • Try to share their knowledge whenever there is an opportunity to do so rather than show up only in discussions about your product or category

One of the easiest ways to build your brand’s presence in a community is to answer people’s questions—even if it doesn’t relate to what you’re selling—as long as your answer will add some value.

A friend of mine knows someone who rightly said, “I don’t trust marketing—I trust the community!”

Conclusion

The new way to do content marketing is to think of each piece of content as a product feature: focus on quality, create a launch and distribution plan, and have the infrastructure in place to measure its impact.

And when it comes to community marketing, think of building your brand’s presence in the communities where your prospects and customers hang out with a goal to provide value before seeking it.

Whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear what you think!

A huge shoutout to Franciska from Iteratively and Rebecca from Datacoral for helping shape this piece.

Further reading

  1. This is Community Marketing (slide deck)
  2. Why Community Content is an Important Part of the Marketing Mix
  3. What is Content-Driven Growth?
Arpit Choudhury
Arpit Choudhury
Founder at Data-led Academy

Arpit is building Data-led Academy, a place to learn how to work with data and get expert, unbiased, actionable answers to questions about people, processes, and tools related to data! He likes to write, hang out in communities, and talk to his dog. And as you can tell, he also believes in the Rule of Three!
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