“Coming for the Content, Staying for the Community” Started With Video Games (Or Maybe Religion?) But Will Define Media This Decade
Watching a half dozen French Resistance soldiers standing around debating whether Taco Bell is “authentic” teaches you some things. First, that most people have no idea what real Mexican food tastes like. Second, that community is the most powerful retention mechanism available to game developers, because you see, these “soldiers” were players in an online WWII multiplayer simulation. While the chance to shoot some virtual Nazis was likely the original motivation to sign-up, it was the presence of other people which brought them back each day (and bill their credit card $12.95 each month). As I looked around for more examples of this I found that the introduction of connectivity to gaming (hello internet!) had really emphasized how much play was about community. Whether the MMORPG guilds hanging out between dungeon raids, or casual sites like Yahoo Games where the checkers, backgammon, and so on were really just something to do while you text chatted, there were numerous examples of people talking more and more about how the game was a ‘third place’ for them.
Working on the virtual world Second Life at the time I had the proverbial “front row seat” to what online interaction could look like down in the future. It was, or rather is, a fully user-constructed shared virtual world. Think Minecraft but like 100x less successful! Although to be fair, (i) Second Life is still around and profitable and (ii) many of the design choices we made were quite influential on later products. Anyhow, we over-indexed on the community and left the content largely up to the inhabitant which was only appealing to a limited number of passionate users (about half a million). I spent about three years as part of that team and the notion of “staying for the community” lodged itself deep in my cranial matter. Then my time working on AdSense and YouTube for nearly a decade gave me other vantage points from which to see where eyeballs and dollars traveled in media.
If Second Life was 20 years ago, what’s happening today? Over the last year I’ve started paying more indie creators directly for their work — heavily biased towards podcasts and newsletters/blogs. The other night I was wondering which ones I’d likely still be subscribing to a year or two from now. The “absolutely yes” category was dominated by creators who had branched beyond their initial piece of content and created some persistent space for the community to aggregate. Most typically in Slack, Facebook, WhatsApp or Discord. What they’ve done is use their content to assemble an audience and then create a space for that audience to create content with each other — aka community. In some cases the space is an extension of the content, talking about that week’s newsletter or podcast. But the most interesting ones broaden to envelop the general common interest areas of the group. For example, Lenny Rachitsky writes a newsletter devoted to technology and product development. It’s good. But he also runs a paid-subscriber-only Slack group [Friends of Lenny’s Newsletter, partial screenshot below] that has channels for job openings, startup advice, technical talk and so on. He moves from author to convener and his newsletter subscription is auto-renew because I don’t want to lose access to the group.
I’m of the belief that “Come for the Content, Stay for the Community” will be one of the dominating themes for media this decade. As more creators break away from companies to go subscription indie, they’ll find it to be an effective and rewarding strategy to think of ways to build ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ experiences and even perhaps subscription tiers based on access to these events, community spaces and chats. A slew of platforms and apps are letting creators do this without large event staffs, logistics or the costs typically associated with physical gatherings (although getting your fans together IRL will still be a thing post-COVID).
So it’s not a question of “how many newsletters can one person pay for?” it’s “how many communities does someone want to be a part of?”
Notes and More
✍️ Other examples of content + community
Lean Luxe (business of commerce and brands) has a newsletter and Slack group
The Profile (news and bios about successful, interesting people) has a newsletter and a WhatsApp group
My Climate Journey (climate and sustainability) has a blog, a podcast and a Slack group
FinTech Today (financial technology and startups) has a newsletter and a Slack group
Culture Study (what it sounds like) has a newsletter and a weekly subscriber forum topic
2PM (commerce) has a newsletter and upsells a community of industry leaders you can join
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