Today’s principle in our series on successful blogging is all about building community on your blog. Let me share how I discovered that community was possible in the online space with a story:
I discovered the power of online community on the very first day that I went online (I think it was in 1996).
Up until that point I’d always been quite sceptical of people who talked about ‘relationships’, ‘friendships’ and ‘community’ when they talked about their online experience.
I just couldn’t see how people could ever call online interaction any kind of community – but I quickly discovered how wrong my assumptions were.
I still remember the moment – the guy who’d come to install my new computer and modem (dial up) gave me a quick tour of how to access the web – Netscape, hotmail and then he opened up a little program called Comic Chat and told me it was for chatting to people online using a system called IRC.
I promptly told him that I wouldn’t be wasting my time with that and closed it down.
Later that day on a whim I opened it up and joined the first ‘room’ that I came across – an Aussie chat room. I used the handle of ‘oziii’ on a whim and entered the room. Within seconds I’d been noticed, welcomed and drawn into the conversation.
3 hours later my view of how community could be developed online was completely changed. 3 months later I’d spent an hour a day (minimum) in this room since that first day. Over the year or two that followed I’d personally met 20 or so other members, had attended one wedding from group members, had helped conduct an online memorial service for another who’d passed away and had become close friends with a number of others.
Was it true community? I’m not sure – perhaps a sociologist out there can fill us in on that – but what I am sure of is that people found a sense of belonging in that simple IRC chat room.
Of course we’ve come a long way on the internet since those days. The mediums have evolved (although I have to say that some of what I see on Twitter reminds me a lot of IRC) but one thing has not changed – people are still going online to connect and find community. In fact with the explosion of social media the web has only grown in the way that people are using it to connect, relate and find belonging.
My own story of learning about building communities online continued to grow with my own stepping into the blogging game – in fact it was one of two things that attracted me to blogging the most (the other one was the way blogs amplify a person’s voice).
I still remember the experience of reading my first ever blog and marvelling at the way that this medium not only gave an individual the ability to communicate with thousands of people around the world but the way that it enabled those same people to add to the conversation. I was amazed by the sense of belonging I saw among readers on the site, the way that they improved the site with their ideas and the way that around the blog was a community of other bloggers engaging with one another’s ideas.
As I began to develop my own blogs I saw this community first hand for myself and discovered that one of the secrets behind growing the readership of a blog is to give people ways to participate in it, ways to belong to it and ways to make it their own.
Over the last 7 years I’ve started over 30 blogs – the three that became most successful for me were the three that became communities rather than just information portals.
Yes some of the ‘information’ sites did get some search engine traffic and made a little money – but they never built a brand, they were never recommended by one person to another, they rarely generated comments and they never opened up opportunities to create indirect income streams like writing a book, selling an ebook or doing consulting or speaking.
I put down the failure of these 27 or so blogs down to numerous reasons – but the main one was that they failed to grow a community around them.
So how does one grow build a community around a blog?
This is an important topic and one that I really do recommend bloggers grapple with because it’s so important in a blog hitting the tipping point of becoming successful.
I’ve written numerous posts previously on the topic so won’t rehash them all here but do recommend that you read at least one of them – 8 Tips for Building Community on Your Blog – a post in which I attempted to summarise my own experience and advice in building online communities around my blogs.
Tip #9 – Play Match Maker with Your Readers
There’s one tip that I want to add to the 8 tips in the previous post and that is to work at helping readers to connect outside your community. This can seem a little counter-intuitive for a web publisher because we often feel like we want to keep people on our site and get them interacting more and more on our turf – however what I’ve begun to discover in my blogging on Digital Photography School and even here at ProBlogger and in the ProBlogger Forums is that when you give people a secondary connecting point with one another that it deepens their connections (and therefore the community) that happens on your own blog.
A quick example of this: earlier this year on DPS I asked readers to list their Twitter accounts. To this day over 630 readers have listed their accounts. Many have also gone through the list and added every other account.
What happened in the weeks that followed this post was that I noticed more and more of our readers getting to know each other on Twitter. While it’s difficult to measure the anecdotal evidence that I’m seeing is that it’s improving the quality of comments being left on DPS. I’ve also had numerous thank you emails from readers who tell me that they’ve met great new friends as a result of that post. There have even been a few readers who’ve started working together as a result of these connections.
As I say – it’s difficult to measure the impact but from what I’m seeing the community on my site has improved because I’ve played match maker with our readers and helped them to get to know each other.
While it’s still early days on the ProBlogger.com forums a similar thing has happened there with a thread asking members to share their Twitter accounts. I figure the more connected people are with one another the more likely they are to stay connected with the community.
More Suggested Reading
Check out Dan Blank’s post – Group Hug: How to Build Community Using Forums and Social Media -while not blog specific it contains a lot of Gold on building community online.
More Advice from YOU
I’d love to hear your advice on how to build community on a blog. I’d also like to highlight some advice from my Twitter Followers who answered this question on building community on Twitter last week. You can see a collection of their suggestions here.
Over to you – how do you build community on your blog? What’s worked for you and what hasn’t? Looking forward to seeing your ideas and experiences!
Read the full series on how to build a successful blog.