This article is part of a five-part series dedicated to the challenges and opportunities in content marketing.

Netflix has created a community for comedy fans, deemed @NetflixIsAJoke, using social accounts on Instagram (701,000 followers), Facebook (80,000 likes) and Twitter (116,000 followers). Mustache, the social agency behind the accounts, posts memes, short comedic videos and even glamour shots from Seth Rogen’s recent GQ cover to drive engagement, conversation and, of course, get fans to watch Netflix comedy content.

It’s just one example of how brands are using content marketing to attempt to build some kind of “community” for the brand’s customers. By creating communities, agency executives say, the brands are able to lower content costs, drive engagement on social platforms and to tap the community for research and feedback around new products or strategies.

This push into building communities comes as marketers have had to revamp their content marketing strategies. After the platforms changed the news feed to deprioritize work from publishers marketers looking to create content marketing, it became more difficult to get organic reach. Marketers have had to rethink their strategies and often put paid media behind content marketing.

It’s also indicative of how much content marketing has changed. Pushing out “content” on social platforms and hoping it takes off doesn’t work anymore. Now, agencies behind content marketing say they have to create work that they can put paid media behind it to target specific audiences and that the work is meant to get consumers to want to be part of a brand’s community.

“People used to think of content marketing as being more or less just organic, more or less earned,” said Steve Weiss, CEO of MuteSix. “The reality is with the news feed now, organic reach going down to literally 5-10%, now there has to be an intersection between paid media and content marketing.”

In recent years, unless brands are working with top-tier talent for content marketing, it’s rare for something to take off online without paid behind it, said Jason Berger, founder of content shop Kids at Play. “It’s very hard to do without some level of paid media,” said Berger.

By driving consumers to become part of communities — something marketers were testing back in 2018 — marketers, especially those of small to midsize brands, are able to get more bang for their buck.

“Marketing dollars are so squeezed throughout,” said Berger, adding that very few marketers have billion-dollar budgets. “For midsize companies to compete for some of the market share, they have to kind of build these communities throughout.”

One solution has been to create spaces where fans of brands can talk about something they love, be it comedy for Netflix, surfing for Rip Curl, sports for Under Armour or financial wellness for Suntrust.

The types of community vary by brand. Some, like Netflix, aren’t looking to use content marketing to get people to purchase something but to use something they already own. They do that by creating content that sneaks into culture and drives the conversation around the brand. One example would be the BirdBox memes that helped drive viewership of the film as people wanted to be able to understand the memes. Another would be communities like Netflix’s @NetflixIsaJoke social accounts, which are created by social agency Mustache for comedy fans to get them to watch Netflix’s comedy work.

“Most of you already have a Netflix subscription,” said Anthony Hagan, director of social media at Mustache. “What they’re selling is the culture behind it and the Netflix universe that you really want to be a part of and want to watch.”

For others, brands are looking to own their community without being at the whim of the major platforms and the ongoing algorithm change but that can create its own set of challenges as changing consumers’ behaviors can be difficult. “It’s a little scary sometimes to be at the mercy of the big platforms because they have their own priorities,” said Jake Avnet, chief operating officer of Indigenous Media. “It makes sense, if you can, to build your own one-to-one strategy, but it’s very expensive and it usually doesn’t work.”

Some marketers have been hesitant to push into the content marketing and community building approach as measuring the results can be more difficult than traditional marketing efforts. But agency executives argue that brands need to focus on how the level of engagement with the content, rather than specific impressions, can lead to more insights for the brand.

“If you have a community, you could really understand which specific products to launch and when,” said Weiss, adding that direct-to-consumer brands that have used this approach to grow large communities like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club are the ones that have seen major acquisitions. “It makes the research element of your brand even easier. You also get feedback and reviews from the community. People buy more of everything now based on reading feedback.”

Join us at our Content Marketing Forum in New York on Wednesday, June 5th.

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