Building a Content Contributor Community

Guest posting by New Jersey-based digital experience strategist Laura Stringer


When you have a lot of content contributors - people creating content and adding that content to digital channels - you need a way to keep them all on the same (metaphorical) page. When they’re all in different departments and different countries, with different skill levels, working on separate but interconnected sites, in multiple languages, things can devolve into chaos pretty quickly.

Alignment will bring a consistent voice to every web page and every channel, and keep quality standards higher for writing, imagery, and other content, but finding a how-to guide has been hard. This is my attempt to create one.

Build a team with local autonomy and central control?

Especially in larger, traditionally siloed organizations, most content contributors may have no reason or desire even to know each other, let alone work together. They may not understand what guidelines to follow, how to follow them, or where to get help. And with so many moving parts, and so much variation in authors and editors, quality begins to suffer.

You may find some websites or sections looking good, with robust content, but composed very differently - a confusing experience for visitors. And there will be other sections half-complete, out of date, or just plain sloppy, because their content owners didn’t know what to do with them.

So how do you get several dozen people from around the organization to act like a team?

Create a community for your authorship.

To determine who should be part of this community, start by identifying everyone who edits content. IT should be able to provide a list of people with access to the CMS, which is an extremely strong start. Additionally, look for anyone who creates content, even if they don’t actually put it on the site.

If the organization is very complex, you won’t get everyone on the first pass, and that’s ok - start with the people who actively edit the site or who want to contribute.

Get everyone together

With that list in hand, invite contributors to regular calls. Start with a quarterly cadence; you can always adjust the pace as needed. Due to time zone differences, you may need to repeat each call to reach everyone in a time zone that works for them. That feels really repetitive for presenters, but the community will appreciate hearing things directly.

If possible, try for a videoconference. Seeing other contributors’ faces, and yours as the leader, will help drive a sense of community. If the number of people or available technology makes that impossible, then a regular teleconference is fine.

As a supplement to the calls, deliver a monthly or quarterly newsletter. The newsletter should repeat the information from the call, for those who may have missed it, and can also provide more in-depth information as needed.

For a true community experience, see if your organization offers some kind of internal message board platform, such as Slack, that you can use for free or very low cost. That ongoing communication and ability for contributors to support each other not only furthers the sense of being “in this together”, but it also takes some of the support load off your plate.

Keep everyone updated

At the meetings, follow a fairly regular script so the community knows what to expect. Some topics to cover:

  • Community announcements: new members, new dial-in number for calls, etc.

  • CMS-related news, such as new templates or patterns available for use, reminders to follow content guidelines, and updates to those guidelines

  • Calls for content for “common areas” like home pages or blogs

  • Upcoming technology maintenance that may impact CMS or other availability or require testing

  • Reminders to use any available reference documentation and where to find it, as well as how contributors can contact someone for support when they need it

Depending on the site and the community, you may also consider a friendly competition for things like content with the most SEO value. The competition can help bring the community together, and will hopefully help increase quality on the site!

Lastly, a community is not a one-way street. Always listen for concerns, confusions, and suggestions from the community. For example, a country may require a character set that has been unavailable in the past, or they may have trouble finding the right type of imagery. Or maybe a particular reference document is confusing.

Hearing and addressing these concerns will build trust among the community that they really are heard and supported.

No money? No problem.

This approach is a highly practical one, particularly if funding is limited. While budgets sometimes seem abundant for technology licenses and design agencies, many organizations are reluctant to spend money on “internal” things like contributor support.

No problem! It costs nothing to hold a few calls and send out some emails. Most organizations provide all employees with the technology needed for this approach. The largest potential expense is maybe a small fee for hosting a large conference call.

Additionally, a common problem among website owners is that they often are not actually empowered to perform the role of an owner, particularly when there are content leaders from multiple departments. This lack of authority makes forming the contributor community a really attractive first step. It’s a grassroots process that requires nothing but some phone calls.

Initially, membership can be on a volunteer basis, to help the community gain some traction. There will be website and content champions from around the organization who are eager to participate and advocate for the community.

What’s good for the community is good for the website

In a large, complicated, global organization, website contributors easily feel disconnected and unsupported. Bringing them together as a community helps keep contributors feeling included, supported, and cared about. And that feeling of being cared about brings motivation to do a great job, making regular, high-quality content updates.

Additionally, providing the tools and information contributors need not only enables them to do their best work, it also adds to the feeling of support. Everyone likes feeling set up for success!

You’ll find that content quality rises on the website, in terms of the raw content, plus any layouts, formatting, and of course the regularity of updates.

Getting around the challenges

For one thing, not everyone who should participate will want to, and without absolute authority you can’t force them. This is where leadership buy-in is a huge help. But if leadership isn’t convinced, you may need to run the community as a smaller group for a while to show the benefits, before getting official leadership support.

As a logistical obstacle, calls with the other side of the world are tough. No matter when you schedule them, it’s very early or very late for someone, meaning one half of the call will be tired. For those calls, try to find a time that works reasonably well for everyone on those calls - maybe it’s 8am in one place and 8pm in the other. And the newsletter will supplement for anyone who had trouble following along.

This all sounds very simple, and on paper it is. The complexity comes in identifying the right people, getting everyone excited to participate, and keeping it going. Even then, forming a community of contributors is one of the simplest things a website owner can do to help drive continued quality on the site.