How InVision Used Community to Kickstart Its Content Marketing Machine

Under Kristin Hillery's leadership, InVision built a community-powered publication that serves as a highly effective demand-gen funnel.

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Nathalie Crosbie is a UX strategist, not a writer. But her writing appeared all over InVision’s Inside Design blog. That's because InVision’s first editor-in-chief knew that designers don't only want to read articles written by content marketers. They want to hear from their peers.

Since launching in 2011, Inside Design has become a go-to source of design insights and ideas. What may be surprising to some is that only 5% of InVision’s blog content came from paid employees and contractors. The other 95% was written by community contributors.

In this article, you’ll learn how InVision:

  • Scaled community contributions through manual author recruitment
  • Implemented quality standards and supported external contributors
  • Turned their community into a distribution network

Find your dream authors and invite them to contribute

After joining InVision as editor-in-chief, Kristin Hillery began inviting InVision users to write articles for the company’s blog. To cast her recruitment net even wider, Kristin pored over other design blogs and made a list of their best writers. Then she reached out to those authors to ask if they’d be willing to republish their posts on Inside Design—or, better yet, contribute something completely new.

Kristin’s approach worked, and authors almost always said, “Yes.” Slowly but surely, she built a roster of exciting contributors. Eventually, Inside Design became so successful that a switch flipped: instead of having to chase designers, would-be authors began coming to her.

“It took about two years, but eventually we started getting people writing to us asking how they could contribute,” Kristin said in an interview with Managing Editor. “These days, we put out a call for contributors every few months, but for the most part it’s designers writing to us to pitch story ideas.”

InVision’s crowdsourced content strategy created a breadth of voices, perspectives, and ideas to draw on—but managing a large pool of external writers wasn’t easy. Each new contributor meant a new writer to onboard, manage, and coach. Kristin quickly realized that she would have to implement guidelines to maintain InVision’s exacting standards.

Set quality standards and offer support

One of the largest challenges of any contributor-based model is maintaining quality standards. Not everyone with a smart idea can execute that idea, especially if they’re not an experienced writer.

InVision set up a support system for contributors, treating them as staff writers. To start, the company didn’t accept all contributions. Prospective contributors submitted pitches covering their story idea and why it’s important or interesting to the design community. With this step, InVision made sure every piece of content was a good fit.

When a new contributor joined the community, the InVision team shared editorial guidelines and expectations. This not only ensured brand consistency, but also helped the contributor produce a better piece of content.

After a draft came in, InVision’s in-house content team edited the article and gave feedback. The process went back and forth a few times, so that both parties could have their say.

When Nathalie began writing for InVision, she received “lots of help” from their editorial team to improve her writing and ensure that she told her story in the best way possible. 

She also said that the editorial team helped her not only edit the article, but even offered to purchase images so the article could really stand out. And unlike some other contributor platforms, she was empowered to give final approval before InVision published the article.

This process helped contributors learn what InVision is looking for, as well as get advice on how to write better. Offering support created a clear value exchange between InVision and its contributors. Both sides learned and grew through the relationship, which made contributors far more likely to write again in the future.

Promote aggressively—and expect the same from authors

After publishing a piece, InVision promoted it as much as possible: on social media, through email, and in person at conferences and other speaking events. Nathalie says that once her contributed article went live, InVision “promoted it through their newsletter list of recently published posts,” which went out to millions of subscribers.

With a contributor model, promotion is a two-way street. Distribution is tough for marketers, with paid distribution channels becoming increasingly expensive, so having a built-in community network can help increase ROI for the in-house content team.

“We found that making contributors look really sexy was super helpful,” Clair Byrd, former head of marketing at InVision, said in a GrowthHackers AMA. “We made our blog beautiful, and we leveraged existing assets (email list, press network, etc.) to pump up the impact of each blog post.”

Clair’s strategy paid dividends. In Nathalie’s case, she shared her article on her social feeds, and she also shared other articles from Inside Design, giving InVision a great organic distribution boost.

As more contributors wrote for the platform, the cumulative distribution from each share amounted to massive growth for InVision’s content. During the first two years of InVision’s community contribution program, blog subscribers jumped from 500,000 to 2.5 million. 

A company blog turned pillar of community

The idea of a company publication is nothing new: Stripe has Increment, Buffer has Flow, Slack has Several People Are Typing, and the list goes on. 

InVision’s early advantage—what transformed a humble blog into a publication that rivals established magazines in quality and reach—was its contributor network, which stood in contrast to competitors’ more heavily gated publications.

Changing to a contributor-based model isn’t a choice to be taken lightly: poor content can damage a brand as much as great content can build it up. InVision mitigates this risk by setting quality standards and providing contributors with editorial support. They know their community has a lot of insight to offer—and they invest the time to help them unlock it.

InVision created a platform that gave designers a voice in their community. They coached them, edited their work, and distributed their stories to millions of readers. In the process, they created a base of support that powered even more distribution and content opportunities.

While InVision’s content marketing has evolved since Hillery departed in 2020, her work left an indelible mark on the company. For her innovation, the design community rewarded InVision with a library of outstanding content and one of the best demand-generation funnels in the software industry.

David is a former craft beer journalist turned writer and digital strategist. He now helps ambitious technology brands tell narrative-driven stories.

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