POV: You've just arrived at a friend's house party. You're new to the neighborhood, and don't really know anyone other than the host. Of course, she's mingling elsewhere, offering up drinks, taking coats, and making intros. Everyone seems to know each other already, and you're feeling pretty awkward. Should you go up to that group in the corner and join in on their conversation? No, no... that would be weird. You're starting to look like a spare coat rack lurking by the door like this. And you don't know what do to with your hands.
Wait — is that... a charcuterie board?
And just like that, you're at ease behind the relative safety of the snack table. There are chips, dip, and a great selection of cheeses to pile onto your little plate. Mercifully, you've got something to do with your hands. And hey, striking up a conversation with the next human who comes foraging doesn't seem so scary at all, now does it?
Just like a great party, every community needs its 'snack table content', says Community Education Manager Noele Flowers. At a party, where do folks hang out if they don't know anyone, and aren't quite ready to start any conversations? They hover by the pretzel bowl. Snacking gives you something to do, a reason to be hanging out – just like great content within a community does.
"Snack table content is an important element of content planning for Community Managers," Noele says. "Some content is about elevating the conversation, getting to the bottom of a tricky subject, facilitating connections, etc., but planning some content whose primary purpose is to give people who haven't made friends yet a reason to hang out in the community is essential."
When we say 'content', we're not only talking about long-form blog posts. Anything that invites engagement and provides value could be considered your community content. The short daily posts, the discussion threads, the ad-hoc Q&As — they're all part of the fuel that feeds your community fire. Granted, some longer form content and events may take more time to digest (so we might be pushing the snack table analogy a bit). Noele refers to these pieces as 'Showstopper content' — more on this below.
Let's take The Community Club, our private Slack group and forum for community pros. Yes, making connections with other folks in the industry is great (we certainly like it), and while that might be a big part of what keeps people coming back, it's not what got people engaging in the first place.
Rather, it was the snack table: they tucked into the best in community resources, events, job postings, AMAs, and expert guidance from other people working in the field to get comfortable enough to start striking up their own conversations.
In the same way that snack tables are made up of quick nibbles, bigger platters, and a few bites that require more time and energy (we see you, hot wings), your community content should have a good mix of dishes, or content cadences.
Building up a content plan and calendar starts with cadences. Simply put, a content cadence is the pattern of your posting. Most thriving communities will have several content cadences stacked on top of each other to cater to the needs of various members.
A rule of thumb: as the cadence gets broader, the level of effort for the team increases. On the flip side, for more frequent cadences, your content will be more off-the-cuff, or developed dynamically in response to whatever is going on within the community.
Here's a look at the various cadences:
Low effort, high frequency
A thriving community's bread and butter. This content is relatively low-effort, and the most frequently posted in your community. This could happen daily, every other day, or three times a week.
More often than not, these are engagement prompts — think seeding conversation within the community, or modeling what you'd like your members to talk about.
Medium effort, medium frequency
This could take the shape of anything from little rituals (a Monday morning goal-setting thread, for example) to low-effort events like Q&As or AMAs ('ask me anything's) with experts within your community.
These events don't necessarily need to be live, or in a workshop-style video chat. AMAs in particular lend themselves to asynchronous conversations. Here's an example of how we handle those in The Community Club.
High effort, low frequency
As above, but monthly. These 'showstopper' content pieces take a little more preparation and effort on your part to create, and thus happen more or less monthly. These can take the form of medium to high-effort events like partner workshops, product feedback groups, or even challenges.
These events should provide tangible value to your members, and offer an incentive for them to jump in and take part.
Highest effort, lowest frequency
The big ones — the most 'showstopper' of all your content. These are events or content pieces that take serious planning and prep work — things that will likely be months in the making.
Some communities run things like annual summits or conferences, or in-person meet-ups. Offerings like an in-depth research report on the state of the industry (like The Community Club's annual community jobs survey) or even an educational blog or video series would fall into this category too.
It's worth noting that your showstopper content should be advertised outside of the community, Noele says. "The purpose of these pieces of content is to engage members who are not opening up the community regularly. To continue the house party analogy, think of these content pieces as a local band or DJ that might play," she adds. "You go 'for the event', but once you're there, you're still going to pick up a few snacks."
Setting the table
You might be reading the above and thinking, "Great. I like the idea of more intensive, monthly content. I'll focus on that." But we'd argue that all the various pieces are necessary to complete the puzzle.
For example, a member might not have the time to engage for an hour-long workshop, but would be happy to jump into lower-effort chats. Conversely, the daily chat might not be as appealing to other members as an in-depth webinar. Your members have different needs — meet them where they are to maximize your chances of engagement.
Once you've chosen you've got a good mix of content for your proverbial snack table, the next step is to slot them into a calendar. Initially, the Community Manager will handle the heavy-lifting for keeping up a regular stream of content within the community — particularly when it comes to daily or weekly content. New community builders need to create the scaffolding for things people can talk about (and it's a step often missed when setting up a new community).
Yes, it can be frustrating at first — our CCO Alex Angel compares it to shouting into the abyss in her Community-Building Checklist. But keep it up, and you'll see a return on your investment. Your members will pick up the reins in time — and start bringing their own snacks to the party. Community potluck, anyone?
Interested in learning more?
The above is one of the concepts we unpack in C School, our 12-week Community Manager program. In this hands-on course, we offer education, mentorship, and independent practice — everything you need to land a full-time job in community.
If you’re interested in applying for a C School cohort, apply here if you’re looking for your first job in community. If you're already a CM, apply here. These are rolling applications, so you can apply now even if you want to participate in the future. You can also email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. This program was built to help community folks break into this field and make their start in a way that enables long-term growth. If it's up your alley, we can't wait to hear from you.