Chat-based communities vs content-based communities

Published 2023-01-25
Indie Maker, Digital Nomad, and founder of the Indie Worldwide Community

A new user joins your community Slack and sees the last post in #general was a week ago with 100 comments.

“Ah”, the user thinks, “this community is dead”.

A new user joins your subreddit and sees the last post was a week ago with 100 comments.

“Ah”, the user thinks, “what a vibrant and useful community!”.

Chat-Based Communities are conversational. They are centered around an ongoing conversation commonly hosted on Discord, Slack, or in a long-running group chat on WhatsApp.

They must deliver constant novelty and quick replies or they will be deemed “dead”. Each individual message only needs to be marginally useful.

Content-Based Communities are also just what they sound like. The focus is on long-form, often evergreen, content that users might refer to for years to come. These groups are hosted on platforms like Reddit and Forums or less formally on places like YouTube and TikTok.

Each post must be high effort and ideally teaches something in a novel way or which has not been shared elsewhere on the internet.

Which type of community should you build?

The community designer needs to understand what type of community they are building and optimize accordingly.

Chat-based communities can be easier to start if you are not already an expert on a topic.

These communities only require getting together a sufficient density of people interested in a topic to work. You don’t need to make any content yourself.

However, they can die just as fast as they can be built. They need constant fuel to keep burning.

Is the topic interesting enough that your members will contribute content themselves? Do you have the endurance to keep stoking the fire for months or years whenever activity dies down?

Content-based communities are a bit harder to cold-start. Can you convince experts to write useful long-form content? Can you write it yourself? Those are the requirements to build a useful content community.

It can take a long time to build up a library of content and a reputation, but once built that content will continue to attract new members for a long time.

Mixing content and chat

You’ve probably already begun to think of examples of communities that have elements of content and chat.

The comments below a YouTube video. The discussion on a Reddit post. Courses and Learning Communities that gather their members into a group chat.

Those are all content-based communities that include conversations.

Meanwhile, conversational communities will often produce content, write blogs, and host events, producing content that can attract new members.

Strong communities do both, but they also recognize their core format and invest most heavily in their core strength.

Diversifying your offer

If you are a chat-community, you can attract new members by investing in content. If you are a content-community, you can increase engagement by investing in chat.

Ideas for adding content to your chat-community:

  • Start a podcast interviewing members.
  • Ship a weekly newsletter recapping the best conversations from chat.
  • Start and solicit posts from your members.
  • Host a group challenge based on the goals your community members are pursuing.

Ideas for adding conversation to your content-community:

  • Create a group chat for your super-fans.
  • Enable comments on your posts and encourage replies by responding to them.
  • Make 1-1 introductions between members of your community.
  • Host meet and greet events (in person or virtual).

Investing in your strength


  • Hire community managers to start conversations and help solicit more 1-1 connections.
  • Hire moderators to prevent bad-apples from spoiling the bunch.
  • Be aggressive about removing negative members from your community and recruiting positive potential members to join.
  • Find ways to reward the accomplishments of your members.


  • Create a content team of specialists to create better content than you could on your own. Writers, editors, graphic designers, or whatever it takes to make the best possible content in your format.
  • Find ways to invest 10x more in your content than your competitors. Do things that have never been done before in your format.
  • Spend 50% of your time brainstorming ideas. All good content starts with a good idea.

Are you a startup founder? Check out Indie Worldwide, my community for bootstrapped founders and indie makers. You can also follow me on Twitter @AnthonyCastrio where I tweet about community building.

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