How To Build Online Communities Around Your Content


Illustration by Zoran Lucic

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Rufus Griscom
Cofounder, General Manager, Babble Media

Vivi Zigler
President, Digital Entertainment, NBCUniversal

The dialoguers: Vivi Zigler won three Emmys last year for web content relating to NBC shows, and Rufus Griscom is one-half of the husband-and-wife duo behind new-wave parenting site Babble.com, which Disney acquired last fall for approximately $40 million.

ZIGLER: It's a little scary for a company to put things out on the interweb, as we jokingly use Tracy Morgan's word from 30 Rock, and see what happens when you lose a little control. Big media companies are becoming more comfortable in understanding the medium, but that's an area that still gets a lot of conversation.

GRISCOM: We've always been very comfortable with the lack of control. Something that's been risky for us--and everyone in the online space--was making the decision to push content out to other platforms such as Facebook or the Huffington Post. That was scary at first. We worried, Are we giving away the baby? But we've concluded that it really is the right approach.

ZIGLER: That's a good one. We went through that as well and we decided we should be where our audience is as opposed to insisting that they come to us. Once you start to put it out, you get it back tenfold. People appreciate it when you honor their experiences. On Facebook, you're, in essence, broadcasting back to your friends what you've just done somewhere else, so that's a fun social event.

GRISCOM: If we have more comments on a Facebook post than on our own site, are we pushing the conversation or the audience away? But of the 6 million folks who come to Babble each month, about 35% are coming through social media--Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Stumble- Upon, and various aggregators. And we started to realize that a lot of these are actually filtering our content better than we are.

ZIGLER: When people ignore something we put out there, that's a pretty loud signal for us to leave that and do more of what they're playing with.

GRISCOM: One of the fun things about the parenting field is that everything is wildly controversial. Every time we do a post that touches on a hot topic--co-sleeping, breastfeeding, circumcision--we know we're going to get a very passionate and articulate avalanche of comments. Sometimes it can be very heartwarming. A blogger put up photos of her stomach after giving birth. And others did the same, and there were hundreds of comments saying, "That was so courageous and I feel so much better." It's kind of a collective therapy.

ZIGLER: I bet you're having tons of conversations right now about people feeding their baby like a bird. Our fans surprise us all the time. That's one of the best things about working in this space.

GRISCOM: One of Babble's founding premises is that the brands of individuals are ascendant. It used to be there were famous people on the television set and all the rest of us. All of a sudden, these individual brands are becoming more powerful. How do we partner with them in ways that are mutually beneficial? A lot of the way that media evolves in the coming years will be informed by this.