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G2 Qs: Monina Wagner's Secrets on Building a Strong Content Community

December 2, 2020

Monina Wagner

Monina Wagner, Community Manager at Content Marketing Institute, shares her unlikely foray from journalism to content marketing with the G2 community.

Monina shares how her background as a journalist, mommy blogger, and Disney Parks Mom Panelist, all prepared her for the work she does now building community around one of the world’s biggest content marketing brands.

Key takeaways from this article:

  • Community members hold more power than ever before. The future of communication is being driven by consumers, not your marketing or public relations teams
  • Companies that avoid taking a public stance on their values are going to find it harder to build trust with the public
  • COVID-19 accelerated community building and is forever changing the way brands communicate with (and retain) their customers

Interview with Monina Wagner

Lauren Pope: Hey, how are you?

Monina Wagner: Hey! I’m good, how are you?

LP: I’m good. Thank you again for agreeing to do this interview with me. I actually created a shortlist of people I wanted to interview when I pitched this idea to my boss, and you were on the list. So I'm three for three right now.

MW: That’s awesome, thank you. I’m excited to chat.

LP: For people who don’t know you as well as I do, why don’t you just tell us a bit of yourself and your career?

MW: Definitely. I’m Monina Wagner, the Community Manager at Content Marketing Institute. For people who don’t know CMI, our mission is to advance the practice of content marketing. Which is crazy because that's not how I started.

I never thought I would end up in marketing. And when I did, at first I was like, how did this happen? But I think it’s funny to look back at my career and see how every role I’ve had before this one was centered around community, whether I knew it or not.

I actually started in TV when I was 15-years-old. It was local access, you know, as a high school student. But I was lucky that our school did have that studio because for four years I got to do what I loved, and I loved every minute of it. I knew I wanted to go into journalism because of it.

So I went to journalism school and got all the way through college and internships before I realized that I didn’t want to be in front of the camera. That just wasn’t what I wanted to do long-term. I ended up working on the assignment desk, which is basically the heart of a newsroom.

As an assignment manager, I ended up choosing the stories that would be delivered throughout the day, which reporters would report on them, and which photographers cover it. I would be answering calls from viewers and from sources. That's just what you did on the assignment desk. And what I didn't realize then is that I was really bringing people together. I was bringing these stories to life and I was connecting people.”

This is also around the same time that I’m running my mom blog. And this was the early days of blogging when it was still fairly new and not a lot of people were doing it. My blog quickly became a destination for other moms and my role as a blogger kind of transformed into this community builder. I started heading up forums for new moms online. That [project] was about connecting people with a shared interest.

And that’s really what community building is. So it kind of makes a lot of sense to me that I ended up in a role like the one I have now as a community manager.

LP: It’s so interesting that you mentioned how different blogging is compared to when you started because that's kind of leads into my next question. How has the role of “community” changed since you started?

Because I feel like at least for me, with my early career, it was more like you put the content out, people read it, and they move on. Now it feels like a much more collaborative experience. I'd love to get your insight.

MW: No, that's a great way to put it collaborative because community now, I think compared to when I first started, it would never have been a fully-formed career path for anyone. There just wasn't any importance put on it. It was kind of an afterthought, right. But community now is seen as really vital to a brand's health.

“Community can not only attract audiences, but it can retain them. And it wasn't like that before.”

Monina Wagner
Community Manager at Content Marketing Institute

The benefits that communities can bring really extends out to every function of an organization. That is miles from where we were even five years ago. I think year after year we see how communities are evolving and growing and changing into something new. It gets me really excited to see because I think it's the easiest way for a brand to kind of show its human side is by bringing those people together.

But in the same breath now that I say that, I think a huge way that community has also changed is technology. Technology makes it easier to connect, but for others it's rather isolating. So you know, that's my job as a community manager to kind of find that balance.

And I think this was the case even before 2020. The pandemic certainly made it more evident that there was work to be done with the community.

LP: I think that's a great point. I really feel like we've kind of accelerated in hyperdrive since March in terms of just work and company culture and just what people expect, not only from the businesses they work for, but the businesses that they work with.

MW: Absolutely. You know, I love that you said that because it's so true. I was having a conversation earlier with someone about how brands have come out and say a lot of things during the pandemic. They’ve made a lot of promises. You know, whether it be about the pandemic itself or things like community, or even civil rights. And I feel like the community is what kind of drives that and keeps brands accountable.

“If you’re building a brand community by bringing together those people, they in turn are going to keep you honest.”

Monina Wagner
Community Manager at Content Marketing Institute

It keeps organizations faithful to their word. And people will abandon communities and companies that make false promises, so I think that’s an interesting change that’s happened over the last few years. The power the community holds in the relationship with brands is growing and it’s not slowing down.

I feel like people are realizing more and more that their customers have options and it's no longer a time where businesses can play the middle ground. You have to take a very concrete stance on what your business stands for. And I think companies that don't do that are going to have a hard time continuing to build that trust with the people in their communities.

LP: I like that. That’s definitely one area that brands will fail. Where else do you think a lot of companies go wrong when building a community around their brand?

MW: There are a few ways things can go wrong, but I think one of the biggest things that organizations tend to forget or maybe they don't even realize, that a good brand community is not necessarily driven by the marketing team or the public relations team.

I'm really lucky to oversee the CMWorld community. I love this community so much. But if I wanted to step away, the community would still thrive. It thrives now. But a truly strong community is one that can operate on its own. The members are what’s driving the conversation, the engagement, and the interactions. My role is more as a facilitator who helps foster the community and help it grow.

But the members are what make this community work. This community is what it is not because it's driven by our team. We're just a small part of it. And I think a lot of companies forget that it really is that human element that makes communities what they are.

And how I hate the word leverage, right? But that’s how that's how you can leverage a community is because you trust them to do their thing and most importantly, you don’t interfere with the direction they take the conversation. You need to let them guide it. It’s all about fostering the right environment for a community to grow.

LP: What does the future of community building look like and how do you think it impacts just the marketing landscape in general?

MW: I think we had touched this a bit before, but I think brands are really seeing that there's this need for healthy relationships. You're seeing organizations really recognizing now because of the pandemic, that communities can offer that positive relationship. So if you think about trust and you think about loyalty, building communities is the way we’re going to be able to do those things authentically.

I think you'll see more companies with digital communities that didn’t have an offline component creating more in-person activations. These new communities that have been built up, I mean, people have been inside for how long they're going to want to continue to foster that relationship outside of their online connections. I think events teams and community managers are going to be collaborating more than ever.

And I think it’s especially important that once we’re all back in person again and all together again, we need to put an emphasis on not taking advantage of that. How do we take these online communities we built and provide more value in person?

LP: And I think that's just a great point of how community functions in general. I think as marketers it's really easy to get desensitized to the numbers. You think about, you know, you build a LinkedIn group and you say, oh, there are only a hundred people in this group. We only have 5,000 people on this email list.

But you made a good point earlier about how those are each individual people that you have the potential to make a connection with. And I think that in-person element helps remind you that, hey, there are people behind all the lead capture forms and social media comments and metrics. How do we connect with them?

MW: And those are the people who want to be there. Right? And that's what makes them so special – they signed up to be there and they want to be a part of that community.

You know, it wasn't part of some offer and we didn't incentivize them to become a part of it. I think that's important to remember too is that the numbers are just numbers. You could have a hundred highly engaged members and build a fantastic little community around that. And I will always take that over thousands of thousands of people that I have to work overtime to engage them.

“It's much easier to engage people who are already excited to be there than it is to drag it out of people.”

Monina Wagner
Community Manager at Content Marketing Institute

LP: Absolutely. I worked in social media in a previous life and it's a kind of community building in its own way. But that’s one of those jobs where I was working nights, holidays, weekends. It's one of those jobs where you're kind of just expected to be on because the community never sleeps. How do you decide when it's time to be like, okay. I can leave this and it'll be here in the morning and nothing will be wrong.

MW: When I did social media straight out, I also really did feel like I had to be on 24/7. But I think having members who are so engaged that I know they can handle things on their own. And then it goes one step further in that my internal community, the people I work with at CMI, are so wonderful and supportive.

I'm lucky. I'm fortunate that that work-life balance has been created for me. My coworkers and I work hard and play hard and that means that I’m able to take the time I need for myself. And our community understands that I have my life outside of work, and they do a wonderful job of keeping things running. I guess it really all goes back to the idea that a good community that is not driven by your marketing team.

“A good community builder knows how to follow the lead of their members.”

Monina Wagner
Community Manager at Content Marketing Institute
And you know as well as I do content marketers are like professional and thoughtful and competent and just giving. I think I'd be hard pressed to find a marketer who I don't believe is like truly generous with their time and their knowledge because that's just what I see on a daily basis.

When you take care of a community that is full of these wonderful, generous people, they take care of each other and they take care of you. That’s when you know you have something special.

If you want to stay connected with Monina, you can follow her on LinkedIn where she’s helping CMI build one of the largest B2B content communities in the world.

Interested in reading more insights from experts like Monina? Check out our interview with Ramli John, Founder of the Growth Marketing Today podcast.

G2 Qs: Monina Wagner's Secrets on Building a Strong Content Community Monina Wagner, Social Media and Community Manager at Content Marketing Institute, shares her unlikely foray from journalism to content marketing with the G2 community.
Lauren Pope Lauren Pope is a former content marketer at G2. You can find her work featured on CNBC, Yahoo! Finance, the G2 Learning Hub, and other sites. In her free time, Lauren enjoys watching true crime shows and singing karaoke. (she/her/hers)

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