By Wim Stoop, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Jive Software

Marketers, it's time to expand your thinking about content beyond creating and publishing blog posts, infographics, e-books and the like. Instead, look for ways to blend content and community into a unified engagement strategy. Cultivating a vibrant community takes your content to the next level. It makes information you provide significantly more valuable and creates an essential strategy for driving community participation. So how do you create community hubs around compelling content?

Here are five best practices that go beyond producing compelling content. They can help you build brand affinity through proactive community-building and authentic interactions that enhance your content.

1. Drive engagement with the content

Make your content interactive. Encourage your best content authors to be active members of your community. Ask them to engage in forums and discussions and respond regularly to feedback. Leveraging their unique expertise to do more than just publish will build authentic relationships with your audience in ways no one-way stream of information can match. You can even incorporate gamification to recognize and reward desired activities and top contributors. For example, you can incent readers to share your content with their social networks or to participate by commenting, voting-up stories or inviting other people to join your community.

2. Elevate the Voice of your Customers

Show that you listen by bringing your customers’ commentary and ideas back into your content marketing efforts. By collating and recapping information from external discussion threads, polls and customer comments or ideas, and sharing how suggestions have been implemented, you can celebrate valuable insight from your customers and prove that you hear — and care about — their voices.

3. Get to know your customers better

Offer content that addresses the needs and challenges of your customers. For example, you can create an interesting test or survey for your community, and based on the outcome, develop content with applicable tips and tricks. Ask for feedback, and allow your readers to respond and share their own information regarding those tips and tricks. Then use the insight you gather for your subsequent content.

4. Be everywhere

Don’t just drive people to your content via the community. Bring the information to wherever people expect it and want to consume it. One way to do this is to push your content through social channels, with all roads to engagement leading back to the community itself. Keep in mind that 85 percent of buyers expect content to be optimized for mobile devices, and 56 percent say they frequently use mobile phones to access content, according to an annual survey from Demand Gen Report. So make sure your user experience is optimized for all devices.

5. Coach your team on all of the above

Achieving these best practices is easier said than done. According to Michiel Schoonhoven, founder of Content Marketing Minds and an expert in helping companies transform to a culture of content and collaboration, these changes will most likely require a culture shift for many marketers. Depending on where you are in your content marketing journey, it can take time to get everyone on your team aligned with these approaches. So before you start with the best practices above, make sure the fundamentals of your organization are in place for this change, and actively coach team members and subject matter experts on their new required habits.

The marriage of content and community seems predestined. By building engaging communities around content, companies are increasing its effect and positioning themselves one step ahead in the struggle to stand out from the crowd. A unified strategy not only increases the value and lifespan of the content you work so hard to produce. It ultimately drives greater loyalty, satisfaction and brand affinity among everyone associated with your community.