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Building Blog Community by Setting Homework For Readers

HomeworkA month back I finished a post on how to increase your blog’s page views with the tip of ‘give your readers a homework assignment’.

I included it as a tip based on what I’d been experimenting with for just one week – it was really an unproven tip based largely upon a hunch.

I thought it was time to expand the tip as I’ve continued to set homework for readers, especially on my digital photography school blog and in the last couple of weeks have been quite amazed by the results. Below I outline the benefits of setting homework for readers.

Firstly here’s how I’ve been doing it:

  • Each of my assignments is based upon a ‘tips post’ I’ve written on DPS.
  • At the end of each tip I point to an assignment thread over at the DPS Flickr Group.
  • The Assignment thread links back to the tips post that the idea for the assignment came from.
  • Assignments are simply an invitation for readers to take the concepts in the post and practice them – sharing the results of their photos in the Flickr group (it’s not rocket science).

Benefits of Reader Assignments:

  • Reader’s Improving Technique – I’m getting a lot of emails back from readers thanking me for the assignment threads and asking for more. They are telling me that having a practical space to do what I’m teaching and to see how others are using the information is helping them to improve their technique.
  • Participation levels are on the rise - the DPS Flickr group is increasing in numbers of members (just under 1000) but also in the participation rate of members. The latest assignments have hundreds of responses and users are beginning to start their own threads of discussion in the group (a new thing). Of course when you get your readers to take a step towards doing something with what you write you’re a step closer to a loyal reader. A community of users is slowly developing around assignments.
  • Assignments are Driving Traffic to the blog – I’ve started to notice that the discussion forum is actually starting to drive traffic back to the blog via the links in the introduction to each forum. Other Flickr forums are linking to our assignments which draws new Flickr users to our forum and then the blog and weekly newsletter.
  • Users are creating content - In the last week a number of the Flickr group members have been posting content to the forums that would be suitable to be used as blog posts. With their permission I’ll begin to use this on the main blog – once again interlinking the forum and the blog to drive traffic in both directions.

All in all I’m feeling like I’m onto a winner with Assignments.

One word of caution
Assignments do take a little work. First you need to write in such a way that engages with and motivates people to participate, secondly you need to come up with quality assignments and thirdly you do need to monitor/moderate the results as well as be prepared to engage with those who submit things. Unless you’re willing to do these things the results won’t be quite live up to their potential.

Lastly – a word about why I’m using Flickr Groups
To be perfectly honest I initially set it up because it was easy and I had limited time to throw at it. My ideal at the time would have been to set up a forum using forum software.

However since setting it up I’ve realized that one of the reasons it’s had the success that it has is because Flickr is a natural gathering point for photographers and the ease of use factor has come into play. As part of their normal Flickr rhythm many are participating in the discussions and assignments.

Having said that, I’m not completely happy with it. Flickr Groups give you little control over look, feel and format for discussions. You also have restrictions on what you can and can’t promote in the forums (you’re not supposed to do anything for financial gain). Once I’ve got a little more time and if the membership will go with me I’d eventually like to transition to a forum over on my own domain (unless Flickr add some features that keep me with them).

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Sophi says:

    now i’ll also participate

  2. Paul says:

    This is actually what drew me to your Digital Photography School blog. It’s one thing to preach about the right principles, the right techniques, etc, but it’s another to let readers actually experience the advice first-hand. This could be a very helpful resource for readers – even more so than the actual advice – especially when the situation lends itself to group work or commentary (such as in photography or in writing). Thanks!

  3. Adrian says:

    But is this method worth applying for everyone? Doesn’t it depend on the type of blog one has?

  4. Darren Rowse says:

    By all means Adrian – some ‘newsy’ type blogs wouldn’t be able to set homework but a lot of ‘how to’ or ‘tips’ blogs could definately use variations of this.

    I guess I’ve been experimenting with it here at ProBlogger also in it’s ‘group writing projects’ – different but the same concept and similar benefits.

    Perhaps I should have finished with a paragraph on the need to experiment with different methods and approaches on different blogs.

  5. Peter says:

    Darren,

    An excellent idea, I was wandering what you meant about “homework” after reading the original post. I always thought that the Group Writing projects were an inspired piece of marketing.

  6. brem says:

    To be able to give your readership assignments, your blog has to have some intrinsic educational value. I mean by that that your readership has to come to your blog to learn about something. This way, they are already one step closer to participating. Otherwise, people won’t be participating if they don’t feel involved or feel it can be beneficial to them.

  7. Stu says:

    I think you also need to have a decent readership, and a high standing in whatever niche you are involved in for this to work.

    If any Joe Blow decides to set his readers homework, I think the response rate would be somewhere close to 0%.

  8. brem says:

    stu: exactly.

  9. Theresa says:

    There is a few wahm that have a question of the week, similar to a carnival but we all answer one question. It gives us links, new readership.

  10. Elaina says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Elaina

    http://www.craigslistpostingtools.info

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Problogger suggests setting tasks or homework for your users as a way to increase participation in this post and this one. If you already have a blog with a large amount of loyalty and participation this can [...]

  2. [...] Give readers homework – try it, it works [...]

  3. [...] I discovered the power of homework on my photography site a couple of years back. Our readers there loved the idea so much that we now have a weekly assignment in the forum. Heaven forbid if we miss a week – our readers love it so much that if we do miss one they certainly let us know! Read more on setting readers homework [...]