When I started at Commsor, I was a content team of one.
Also — full disclosure — I was working for a company pioneering software in the community space. And I knew nothing about community (yet). Eep.
I had to create enough content to feed:
I knew there was no way I could generate enough content for all these channels alone. At least, not at the quality I wanted to, anyway.
I also knew that if I wanted to create resources that were actually helpful to our audience, I needed expert help.
Luckily, I had experts at my fingertips: our community of community professionals, The Community Club.
It started off small and ad-hoc. I’d reach out to a member who had answered another's question in our Club Slack group, or members who had a specific area of expertise and pick their brains. This slowly evolved to full-on interviews. The content was good. But the process wasn’t scalable. While their knowledge was invaluable, production was still slow going.
Suddenly, a wild idea appeared. What if… I let them create the content themselves?
I had a small budget to play with. Yes, I could have hired a bunch of writers who were just as clueless as I was. The very good ones would have done the research and interviews and the content would have been solid.
But what if I used my budget to elevate the actual subject matter experts — who also happened to be our customers and community members?
Enter: the beginnings of our very own creator program.
Coming from a journalism background, it felt natural for me to start with a system that ran a little bit like a remote newsroom.
The Guildies (as we lovingly call them) would pitch ideas, I’d send over an article brief, and they'd whip up a draft. From there, we’d workshop the article until it was publish-ready.
Their deep knowledge, subject matter expertise, and personal stories made for a formidable combo. This wasn’t empty, content marketer-ese, SEOed up to the teeth. This was community pros creating content for community pros, work that resonated deeply with the people we were trying to reach.
It’s little wonder then that today, our Guild content ranks among the best-read articles on our blog, our most-opened newsletters, and one of our biggest engagement drivers on social media. So much so that, while our Content team has grown (by two amazing writers), the program lives on (see benefits below to understand why).
Our CEO (cheers, Mac!) saw the benefits too, and encouraged us to expand the program. With help from our small but mighty team of in-house writers and a partnerships manager (who I like to see as the conductor of our content symphony), my hacked-together ‘Creator Guild’ is now the Commsor Guild.
The Commsor Guild includes not only community pros, but experts from other industries, too. We’ve also broadened our scope to create events and courses.
Have I convinced you yet? The beauty of a creator program is that it doesn’t have to be a huge drain on resources or take multiple teammates to run. I ran a small version of the Guild myself for months (and honestly, it was a lot less intense than creating all the content from scratch myself).
This is an MVP approach to building out a creators’ program. The best advice I could give you going in: start small. Get your processes in order, and add creators from there.
This needn’t be an elaborate magnum opus. There are just some key things you need to be clear on before you put the pedal to the metal, including:
The goal with our first iteration of our Guild was simple and perhaps too broad, but it gave us a north star:
The Guild is a team of community pros who share their experiences, strategies, learnings, and more to elevate the community industry as a whole, helping them and Commsor become thought leaders in the space.
Answer these three questions at the get-go:
For question one, don’t forget to tie these back to overarching business goals, so you can help motivate for resources and prove return on investment (ROI).
This article assumes you already have a content and (if applicable) event strategy in place.
At this step, you need to connect the dots between your creator program and your content plan. Pinpoint the categories you want your creators to contribute to.
This was how I laid things out for our first Guild:
The Guild will create content that solves problems for and helps empower Community Managers at all stages of their careers. This will include:`
Tactical content offering guidance for both new and mature communities on key areas of community management, including:
How much are you able to pay per piece of content? Set standard rates for each content type.
For us, compensation was a must. Community professionals are regularly asked to contribute their expertise without compensation for their energy and time — with only the nebulous promise of ‘exposure’ in return. It was important for us to break with that industry-wide problem.
If you’re a cash-strapped Content Marketer or Community Manager with zero budget, don’t abandon all hope here. Could you offer them product perks in return? Some (decent) swag? Access to experts on your own team? There are ways to get creative here without leaning on the exposure fallback.
Who will be involved in working with your creators internally?
Get these teams’ buy-in, and identify specific people who will be involved in the process (whether that’s sourcing creators, contributing ideas, or editing content).
Whether it’s a brief list or a flowchart, outline your workflow, from start to finish. Again, this doesn’t have to be elaborate. Here’s a super simple one I used for our first iteration of the Guild:
As you get to creating this, you’ll want a version you can send to creators in their onboarding to set expectations. Include answers to questions like:
There are two routes you can take here: a call for applications, or your own research and outreach.
In both cases, there are some specifics you’re looking for:
Make your creators feel welcome and set them up for success.
That might mean a 1-1 call with your new creators to get to know them and their areas of expertise a little better and walk them through all the documentation you put together in step 1.
Whether you meet with them or send over a welcome email, you’ll want to share as many resources as possible, and be upfront about expectations.
This includes things like:
We’ve created a fairly elaborate guide for our latest iteration of the Guild, complete with processes for all the various things they can create with us (content, events, courses).
But our first version was a simple PDF I hacked together, which I (rather generously) dubbed our Guild welcome pack.
Creating a channel for our newly minted Guild in The Community Club was a no-brainer. It’s a place where our Guildies can easily chat with our team, share ideas, give each other feedback on their work, and collaborate on bigger projects.
It’s helped us cultivate a real sense of camaraderie, and (of course) community among our creators.
If, unlike us, you don’t have a community to easily put your creators in the same proverbial room, there are a plethora of ways to connect. A LinkedIn group, a Twitter list you can share for them all to follow, and even a brief video chat hangout to introduce them all to each other could have a similar effect.