A loyal online community is one of the hardest assets to cultivate, but often one of the most valuable. Unlike one-off click-throughs, members of a community engage in an on-going relationship. Depending on the context, their value comes through in the form of support, input, awareness, data, SEO, repeat purchases…the list goes on.
Consistently publishing high-quality content is one way to cultivate an online community. Fred Wilson’s blog AVC is a perfect example of this. By churning out value on a daily basis he has cultivated a loyal community. Make no mistake, building this community is the product of lots of hard work; regularly publishing thought-provoking posts and accomplishing the things he has as an investor and community leader is no easy task. But his publishing labor does bare fruit. You need to look no further than the hundreds of comments on each post, AVC meetups around the world, and the composition of every entrepreneurs twitter followers to get the sense that Union Square Ventures is privy to some of the most exciting investment opportunities out there. The AVC community and their network effects certainly contributes to this.
Fred’s blog in the context of the entrepreneurial eco-system demonstrates how content can affect markets. In the case above, the brand is Union Square Ventures and the consumers are the entrepreneurs. The top entrepreneurs are looking to exchange equity with investors who they believe will provide the most strategic value (and best/fair terms). VC’s want to invest in the most explosive opportunities and the best entrepreneurs. In the most explosive investment opportunities, entrepreneurs have options. Their purchasing decisions take the form of determining which venture fund they’d like to trade equity for cash with to build their business. It seems that many of the top entrepreneurs want to purchase USV.
The main point I want to drive home here is that content drives purchasing decisions. Assuming that products are equal, consistent publishers of high-quality content can gain a competitive advantage. This is by no means meant to take away from the fantastic team and track record of USV. They have rightfully earned and deserve every skin on their wall. Rather it’s to demonstrate a market dynamic that holds true across verticals whether we’re talking golf balls or venture funding. The bottom line is content can drive purchasing decisions. Note that “content” can take the form of videos, photos, social media, etc.
Let’s shift the discussion to what we more traditionally think of when we hear brands like retail, online services, etc. One of the many reasons that brands have become publishers is due to the dynamic above: content can create communities that provide engagement and drive purchasing decisions. Just as this dynamic straddles verticals, so does the winning combination: brands must strive to publish original, high-quality content on a consistent basis.
But brands face a much more challenging publishing eco-system than venture capitalists. Their are more players in the space, a higher frequency of purchasing decisions, and greater distribution across multiple channels (web, video, social). Many brands have the resources to compete in this eco-system, but not all do. Producing high-quality content at scale is difficult and often expensive. Some look to hire more people to mitigate their output difficultites. Unfortunately, this is not a scalable nor inexpensive solution. Its simply a horizontal move that will again need to be readjusted as the demand and content eco-system continue to grow. Further adoption of smart mobile devices and real-time social platforms will fuel this. Are you as excited about the additional noise as I am?
A more scalable option is to make the publishing process more efficient. Automated content platforms have existed for awhile, but they lack any semblance of originality or brand curation. Cookie cutter solutions do not effectively build sustainable communities. Their audiences quickly become desensitized and relegate the content to noise.
Where am I going with this? Mainly, I think there are opportunities for companies that facilitate the ability for brands to efficiently publish high-quality content at scale. The ideal blend will most likely offer a mix of original and automated content. Brands will have the ability to quickly curate and offer a layer of originality on top of automated solutions in order to accommodate the necessary scale while avoiding the appearance of cookie cutter content. There are a couple of companies working on these type of solutions and I’m anxious to see how they do.