Brian Rice didn’t set out to launch the Web’s version of a marketer’s water cooler — a community of digital marketing people, SEO and social network gurus, and content marketers where they can post and share latest insights, discuss, and connect. Yet that’s exactly what he’s done with Business 2 Community.
What began just over two years ago as a side project for Rice, a Philadelphia-based senior marketing manager for SAP who wanted to blog about his experiences in the field, has rapidly turned into something much bigger. Today, the site has more than 5,000 contributing authors, pumps out an average of 50 articles a day, and draws over 400,000 visitors per month. And while Rice’s site is chock-full of free advice — articles tend to be of the “5 Tips for Terrific Power Tweeting” variety — his own story about B2C’s growth would make a smart roadmap for any nascent content marketer.
An open, neutral platform from the beginning
Just two years ago, B2C was simply Rice’s personal blog. Even today, the site remains an after-hours endeavor for Rice and his co-founders, Michael Brenner and Dan Criel. Yet it has the polished look of a professional operation; its content is written and posted almost entirely by outsiders seeking a little extra exposure. (Disclosure: Our own Jeff Davis contributes as well.) Anyone who wants to submit, once they’ve signed up, is free to do so. Quality control is the domain of one editor, plus the vagaries of the audience. The blog is entirely independent, and while individual pieces can sometimes get overly self-promotional, the site overall remains neutral. That openness, Rice says, lends his site credibility and encourages outsiders to participate.
“If someone’s going to contribute something that’s too promotional or it’s garbage, either nobody’s going to read it, or they’ll get comments from people that it’s junk,” Rice says. “I want to let people openly share their thoughts, even if it’s a difference of opinion from my own.”
A shift to user-generated content
But the site didn’t start that way. Rice says that for the first few months, he was its only contributor, and its sole purpose was to express his thoughts about the market. The blog was small, but it got a little buzz in marketing niches, and after three months it earned a spot on Ad Age’s Power 150 list of top marketing blogs. Then the requests started trickling in, from outsiders looking to submit a piece.
Initially hesitant to open it up, Rice soon found the workload of writing new material daily — on top of his day job — overwhelming. Thus, he decided to accept contributed pieces.
“So I started with people I worked with, people I trusted,” Rice says. “And those did really well — they were well received, the social shares were great, the comments were great. So I started thinking about how I could build an audience beyond just what I was doing for other people — how could I syndicate people’s content, and how could I get more contributors to the site?”
Aggressive author recruitment
So Rice set out on a recruiting push. He says there was no magic formula, either — just looking up marketing blogs, leaving comments, sending emails. And most of the time, he says, people wrote back and were excited to submit to B2C. ”Additional exposure and pageviews is usually what people are after,” he says. “And it’s hard to establish that just as an individual. So this idea of an open community really appealed to me.”
Eventually, Rice says, the blog reached a critical mass of both readership and contributors, and it took off. Rice says he fields about 20 or 25 requests per day from outsiders looking to submit to the blog.
Organic growth strategies
The conversation he’s started through B2C is, for marketers, immensely valuable — and difficult to manufacture. Rice says that the openness of B2C and the fact that it doesn’t treat its audience as customers, but rather as participants, has had something to do with its success. While content marketers drool at the thought of creating a robust, active community of like-minded, loyal readers, Rice warns that there’s a difference between fostering a community, and herding readers to one place so you can market to them.
“So the fact that I’m coming at it from a position where I’m just like you — I’m trying to get my voice heard — it just became very organic, and once it started happening, it happened [fast].”
Plus, he says, despite how big it’s gotten, he still goes out of his way to touch base with new contributors and welcome them to the fold. “I put myself out there. If people take the time to email me, I’ll take the time to email you back. We’ve taken tons of suggestions and implemented them … So that’s really made people feel like they’re part of this as well.”