Case study: 5 things ManRepeller taught me about content creation & community building

A truly engaged community is the holy grail for content creators, but working out what makes your audience tick — and keeping them coming back for more — can be a headache.

For most brands, it takes a while to get this aspect of marketing right. Months, even years, of throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks. Thing is, especially when you work at a startup, most of us don’t have that kind of time to waste (or enough spaghetti).

Whenever I feel like I’ve hit a wall in my work at Quuu, I turn to brands I admire for inspiration. And while spying on your competitors is always advisable, I actually find that looking outside of my industry can provide me with the freshest perspective.

Man Repeller, a women’s fashion and lifestyle blog started by Leandra Cohen in 2010, is a brand that I wholeheartedly adore. Not a day goes by when I don’t check their website for new content. I religiously read everything they post (including every single comment), follow all their social media accounts and have developed serious girl crushes on their writers (Haley and Harling, I’m looking at you).

But what is it about ManRepeller that makes me such a superfan? 🙋 In this post, I’m going to share five lessons brand ManRepeller has taught me about content and community marketing.

#fangirling

1. Create content that really resonates with your audience.

When asked to define ManRepeller’s relationship with its reader in a Vogue interview, Leandra Cohen said this:

“We’ve done a very, very good job of developing what seem like really deep and strong relationships with our community of readers, particularly because the writing is so honest and candid…if I had to compare it to a relationship I would like to say that Man Repeller is like your older sister’s very cool friend, who is surprisingly kind.

Leandra has a clear vision of how ManRepeller should serve its readers, which is reflected in the content they create. They’re experts at picking topics that matter to their audience — or, more precisely, topics that their audience didn’t even know mattered to them yet. Take this post, one of the most clicked-on in February:

Does Everyone Have a Friendship Complex, or Just Me?

Scroll down to the bottom of any ManRepeller article and you’ll see this level of engagement: lengthy, detailed conversations between readers that expand on the original points to the extent that the comments themselves become content. If the way I consume their content is anything to go by, the ManRepeller article doesn’t stop at the writer’s closing sentence, but is an ecosystem of ideas that keeps on growing and evolving as more voices join it.

2. Ask questions.

Want to see these kinds of parties in your own comments section? It’s simple: just ask.

Tap into subjects that your audience is keen to discuss is only the first step in engaging them; you then have to prompt them to share their own opinions. This may sound obvious, but it’s something lots of businesses forget to do, especially in the B2B space. If you’re creating content that’s educational or informative, you’ve got to assume a position of authority. It’s easy to fall into monologue territory here, but you should be thinking of each and every piece of content you create as a dialogue between you and your reader. Your blog post should serve as a prompt that inspires a response.

Take a leaf out of the Team MR book and always sign off by asking your readers a question.

3. Be responsive.

Let’s say you’ve dutifully signed off with a question at the end of your last post and hit the comments jackpot. So you do the same in your next blog post, and the one after that. However, the comments stop coming in after a while and you’re left scratching your head as to what went wrong.

Well, did you reply to your readers’ comments? In ‘real life’, if you asked someone a question, they responded, and then you walked away without saying anything, they’d think you were pretty weird. The same applies to your content: if your reader takes the time to comment on your blog post, but you don’t acknowledge it, they’re not likely to bother again.

The ManRepeller writers always make sure to reply to as many comments as they can, which is pretty impressive considering the size of their readership. By genuinely listening to their readers, they make them feel valued.

Furthermore, they’re receptive to feedback — even if it’s not entirely positive.

The main lesson here? The reader comes first. It’s ultimately their opinion that matters the most — after all, this is what your content’s success depends on.

4. Show some personality.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, my ManRepeller fangirl levels are kind of creepy. I have massive girl crushes on Haley Nahman and Harling Ross, two of my favourite writers on the ManRepeller team. I could tell you the names of everyone that works there, what they do, and probably what they like to have for lunch (I watch their Instagram Stories a lot 🤷‍♀️).

That’s because all of the content ManRepeller creates, whether an onsite essay or a 15-second social clip, is bursting with personality. This is something I often talk about in relation to marketing. We’ve reached the point of content saturation, so if people can connect your brand with specific faces and personalities, rather than just a logo, you’ll stand out from the crowd.

ManRepeller have recruited their employees carefully. Not only are they talented writers, but they also all have interesting and unique personalities. Watch their Instagram Stories and you’ll quickly get a sense of this through snaps and videos of the daily goings-on in their office.

However, it’s not just these BTS snippets that make us feel like the MR writers are that older sister Leandra described to Vogue. It’s the fact that they create deeply personal content, often putting themselves in a vulnerable position by doing so, that hooks the reader.

Now, this isn’t saying that if you run a marketing agency you should blog about what you learned from your breakup. However, transparency is an effective content marketing strategy that lots of businesses are putting to use. This could be anything from making your business analytics public to writing about mistakes you’ve made as an entrepreneur. The point is that if you open up to someone, they’ll open up to you. And we all know that understanding our customer’s needs and pinpointing their problems is vital for success.

5. Take it offline.

The thing that really sets apart MR’s approach to community? They’ve taken it out of the comments section and IRL, an increasingly foreign concept to most tech startups, who may not even work in the same office as their colleagues, let alone meet their customers in person.

ManRepeller first introduced this idea in spring of last year, when they hosted the MR Summer Sleepaway Camp, designed to unite the ‘sisterhood’ over Parent Trap-style camp activities.

This year, ManRepeller hosted another community event in New York, taking over four floors of a hotel for ‘the world’s greatest two-day sleepover extravaganza’. The point here is that you shouldn’t be afraid to think outside the box, or simply pick up the phone, to build relationships with your customers.

The bottom line

The fact that ManRepeller is willing to invest in these offline get-togethers (from which I’m guessing they don’t make a huge profit) really demonstrates how much they value their community. Figuring out how to monetise a blog is still a relatively new concept, and the leap from print to digital publishing has flipped traditional business models on their heads.

It’s interesting to compare ManRepeller to Glossier, a cult beauty brand Cohen’s contemporary, Emily Weiss, founded off the back of a successful blog with a devoted following. Whether deliberately or not, Weiss has reversed the strategy businesses have historically relied on for success. Instead of everything being built around the product, Weiss’s product materialised out the content and community she created.

ManRepeller appears to be testing similar waters, having released two MR by ManRepeller shoe collections, designed by Leandra for Net-a-porter. The product here is almost irrelevant; ManRepeller have already got their most vital business asset in the form of their community, a legion of fans all eager to get their own slice of the MR lifestyle.

Closing words

Founding a startup is full of risks, especially as the world is only moving at a faster and faster pace. Sometimes, you have to be ready to adapt and pivot with a split second’s notice. By prioritising community above all else, you’re effectively foolproofing your business, building a brand that’s so strong, you can sell anything.

Do you think we’ll see more businesses following this model? And which brands do you fangirl/boy over? I’d love to hear your thoughts! (See what I did there 😉)