Creating Passionate Users has a great post on building community which I think can be applied to building community around a blog.
“The best way to grow a user community is to get even the beginners to start answering questions. The more they become involved, the more likely they are to stick with it through the rough spots in their own learning curve, and we all know that having to teach or explain something to another person accelerates our own understanding and memory of the topic.”
It reminds me of something that I learned in my early days of being a church pastor (tangent time):
Many churches have a welcoming strategy for new people that aims to ‘serve’ the new people in any way that they can. They go to extreme lengths to do welcome people in ways that make them feel included but that keep the visitor passive.
I found in my early days of church work that we had a much higher rate of integrating new people into our community if they were given a job right from the start. The jobs they were given were always small but they didn’t allow new people to remain passive for long but instead encouraged them to belong by actively participating.
So at LivingRoom (the community that I currently lead) you are asked to bring something to eat/to share from your first or second visit and are even encouraged (not forced) to lead (or co-lead) a night’s discussion in your early days.
In contributing in small but real ways people almost immediately felt like they’d invested something in the community and were more likely to continue to do so over the long term.
I’m pretty sure that a similar thing applies in building all kinds of community and can’t see why it wouldn’t apply to blogging.
My ‘group writing projects’ this year have been a great example of this. Many (I’d estimate up to 30-40%) of those who participated did so on their first visit to ProBlogger – and many of those have stayed on and have become regular commenter and even guest posters in my recent ‘quick tip’ series.
In a similar way over at Digital Photography School I have run a number of threads in our discussion forum asking readers to submit images with tips on how they were taken – I then feature some of these on the main blog. This has the benefit of me having user generated content – but more importantly the feedback that I’ve had from those who’ve been featured on the main blog indicates that they have been won over as loyal and active participants in the community there. One or two have even offered to contribute more posts.
Take home lesson - it’s never to soon to get readers actively participating in your blog!
So how do you do it? Here are a few ways off the top of my head:
• encouraging comments
• inviting guest posts
• running ‘projects’ for readers to contribute to
• run competitions
• emailing readers asking for feedback on aspects of your blog
• using polls and surveys
• inviting readers to email suggestions/questions
• asking questions and involving readers answers in future posts
I’m pretty sure that others will come up with a lot more ways than that – feel free to add your suggestions below.