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https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/0963/eli5-blog-third.pngYou probably haven't heard of Explain Like I'm Five. Only about 250,000 people have.

ELI5’ is a subreddit, a stream on the content behemoth Reddit. And it's an amazing example of community in action, one that's been taken to a new level by the people running Reddit recently, with a small move that should be front of mind for any brand attempting to build a community. 

Like most of the best ideas, ELI5 is simple.

Users submit questions on any topic that interests them, and the community of users answer in simple, layman’s terms. Whether you don’t understand quantum bubbles or you’ve just always wondered what the difference between Elves and Dwarves is, this is the place to find out. 

Listen and Learn 

Of course, simple explanations are great, but would these answers work on actual five year olds? Reddit recently decided to find out. Posting on the site, Reddit’s general manager Erik Martin explained: 

A bit about the inspiration of this project...We at reddit HQ are big fans of /r/explainlikeimfive and although we know that this sub is for "simple, layman-friendly answers, without fear of judgement", we always wondered what would happen if you actually tried to break down one of these complicated subjects and explain it to literal five-year-old. We used some of the top comments and metaphors in various ELIF threads on the different subjects as inspiration when writing the scripts. - Hope you enjoy this little experiment, and keep up the great work in this community.

And that’s it.

It’s simple, it’s straightforward, and it shows that the site managers really do value their community’s input. It’s this human touch and involvement that really makes the difference here. It shows that Reddit is listening.

We previously published figures that show that even brands with dedicated response channels struggle to maintain response rates, meaning brands tend to prefer to push advertising messages and simple couponing campaigns on social, but this isn’t where user engagement comes from, as there’s no sense that the user is valuable, only that they are there to be sold to. 

Let’s take a closer look at the content Reddit produced around Explain Like I’m Five: 

Funny and cute yes, but why is it so effective? 

Inbuilt virality

It has the potential to be massively viral. And not just because it’s a funny video. The reason your Harlem Shake videos aren’t doing so well is because people don’t know you. To most people watching, that’s a bunch of strangers dancing about like loons. Who really cares about that? 

Here we’ve got something informative and entertaining, but importantly it relates directly to the existing community, meaning there’s an increased chance they’ll engage with it and share it with friends, in turn increasing the size of the community among relevant users.

There’s no direct cash payoff here, but there is massive brand lift and awareness available and long term, that can be more profitable.

Content is circular

Content marketing is inherently about providing added value, and this project delivers in spades.

Reddit could have simply made these videos and released them. They’d have funny, original content doing well on YouTube.

But that wouldn’t have displayed the deeper engagement available on the site. They’ve also made a point of explaining that these answers came from the existing community. That this might be a place where you’d like to spend time and engage with people and content.

They’ve given props where props are due, explaining that they are just the platform hosting all this amazing content, but that the community really drives it.

Creating a community is hard. Many, many brands try, and often fail. And even if you do manage to create a hub of activity, more often than not you'll find it does something completely unexpected. Your carefully constructed Q&A site filling up with cat videos, or your brand outreach platform falling over under the weight of customer service enquiries. 

If you follow Reddit’s example, you’ll just roll with it, and assume that long term value will come from providing your community with what they really want, rather than looking for an immediate commercial return.  

Listen to your existing users and provide content that kick starts conversation. This is about more than just asking questions on Facebook. Think deeply about how you can allow your users to be useful. 

People enjoy talking, it’s valuable to them to be seen as an expert in their space.

This is a simple point but it’s what drives almost every comment on every post on any blog you care to mention.

If you can take that further and allow it to feed that into your content strategy, then you’ll have a robust community voice that will actively promote your business and create content for you, as well as providing relevant feedback and audience insight, the value of which should be so simple a five year old could understand it. 

Matt Owen

Published 20 March, 2013 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

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