Product Strategy
If your product showcases UGC and in-house created content how can product and content strategy work together to achieve business goals?
Question from Beth
If your product showcases UGC and in-house created content how can product and content strategy work together to achieve business goals?
Answered by Natalie Rothfels
Co-Founder and Leadership Coach, OIR @ Reforge | Previously Principal Product Manager @ Quizlet and Khan Academy

This is a big question, and depends so much on what your product experience is and the stage of your business. That said, I’m going to walk through three steps that I might go through if I were onboarding to a new role in a content-focused organization.

Let’s walk through each.

1. Understand how each is responsible for growth, retention, and monetization today

Content can play many roles inside of a company, so it’s important to first take a pulse on how it’s serving your business today. For example, content is often an acquisition-driver, but it can also be an engagement or monetization-driver. Let’s look at a few examples to bring this to life.

A. Acquisition-driven content: YouTube, Reddit, NerdWallet. 

For all three of these platforms, content is indexed to search engines and then easily distributed to new users. The more searchable metadata available (e.g, transcripts for videos), the easier time search engines have understanding the content and being able to direct searchers to a good fit.

YouTube and Reddit have powerful user-generated-content acquisition loops. As more people create content, there’s more to index (or more to share or embed directly in other platforms), thus driving more people to the platform to consume content that’s been created. As those new users become more engaged, some percentage of them will also become content creators, thus adding even more power to the acquisition engine.

The mechanism is similar for NerdWallet, except content is largely generated in-house (likely because their product offers financial expertise and advice, which is rarely good to outsource to the masses). It’s likely that their content strategy is focused on high-intent SEO-driven queries, like “What’s the difference between a traditional and Roth IRA?”, which will quickly land me on this perfectly-tailored page that answers my question. Now that my eyes are captured, NerdWallet is both familiarizing me with their brand and nudging me to sign up and take advantage of their services.

B. Engagement-oriented content generation: Peloton, Strava

Once customers are already on your platform, content can also be a big driver of continued engagement.

This is the case for Peloton. When Peloton bike riders purchase the physical bike, their engagement with the platform is contingent on a subscription to live and pre-recorded classes. With thousands of classes across different skill levels and domains, it’s hard to imagine at this point that anyone could finish and consume every single class. Yet Peloton continues to crank out new classes every day. Why? Many members are so obsessed with their instructors and following the latest trending classes that part of their engagement model likely hinges on new classes being produced every week. It adds to the product experience of feeling like you’re part of something live and bigger than a static library of videos. Plus, live classes drive bigger audiences, as people compete with others on the leaderboard. The more success you feel finishing a class, the more likely you are to come back and do it again the next day.

For Strava, content is all about sharing workouts. It’s an opportunity to express and celebrate yourself in your social sphere, and be rewarded for that publicly. Strava’s content generation is both an acquisition and engagement play — people unfamiliar with the product begin to recognize the Strava brand when they see a friend sharing something on social, and athletes get to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in having their workouts seen by others, which provides motivation to come back into the product again.

C. Monetization-focused content generation: Udemy

For transactional (and many subscription) content platforms like Udemy (which offers user-generated on-demand classes around a range of topics), content is the business. Of course, there’s product around it (for example, on the supply side, teachers need tools to create content in the first place; on the demand side, students need to be able to easily find and discover the right courses for them), but without the content, there is no business.

Whether you’ve got in-house-generated or user-generated content, you need to clarify what role content currently plays in the business, and how you see that evolving over time. It’s quite likely that content won’t just play one role. At Quizlet, for example, content is an acquisition-driver for some users, an engagement driver for all users, and a monetization-driver for a third distinct set of users!

You need to first know what role content plays in order to craft a clearer strategy on how to use it more effectively.

2. Clarify what your business goals even are (and then how content plays a role)

Once you’ve got a good sense of the role of content and how it fits into your product experience and business, you need to clarify what business outcomes are most important. You should be clear on the following five elements:

Here are a couple scenarios played out where the answers to those five elements might differ:

Missing any one of these the five elements above will likely get you into a build-trap: you’ll build something but not know if it works (immeasurable) and why (hard to understand). That’s why it’s important to map them all out together so the puzzle pieces fit together.

3. Understand who creates, who distributes, and what you both need to be successful.

Once you know the role content plays, and you’ve clarified your business goals, you need to connect the dots between content and product. Ask yourself these three questions:

Let’s walk through the sewing example on Instagram:

Pattern makers are first value-creators by making patterns for purchase. When sewists buy the patterns, make an outfit, and then take a picture to post on Instagram, they become value-distributors. They are motivated by personal reasons (pride, belonging, personal accomplishment).

In order for each to be successful, pattern makers need a critical mass of interested sewists who will buy the pattern, but the more successful the sewists are at distributing their #memade outfits, the easier user acquisition becomes for the pattern makers. New sewists find posts from those value distributors, click on a hashtag for the pattern, and then start the loop all over again.

So what’s the connection between product and content here? Instagram’s hashtag functionality allows value-distributors to easily tag their posts with the right pattern. As more people do so, it becomes easier for new sewists to find popular patterns, and also get inspiration for their own makes. Without this distribution-mechanism, it would be significantly harder to restart the new-customer acquisition loop.

As you’re thinking about your own product and content pairing, think about what’s required within the product to make your value creators and value distributors successful as quickly as possible.

Piecing it together

  • First, understand the role that content plays in your product experience (and as a business driver). Is it primarily for acquisition, engagement, monetization or a combo of multiple?
  • Then, clarify what your actual business goals are, and how content plays a role in that
  • Once you’ve figured out how content will drive metrics, tie the pieces together with product by making sure your value-creators and value-distributors have the tooling they need to be optimally successful.
About the author
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Natalie Rothfels
Co-Founder and Leadership Coach, OIR @ Reforge | Previously Principal Product Manager @ Quizlet and Khan Academy

Natalie Rothfels is a product leader with a decade of experience building, launching, and scaling at Khan Academy, Quizlet, and Reforge.


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