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Tap User Psychology to Build an Indestructible Community Around Your Blog

This guest post is by Richard Millington of FeverBee.

Many blogs attempt to build a community, but few succeed.

At best, they build an audience. They build a following that reads and responds to posts, but those readers don’t meaningfully build relationships with one another.

If you want a blog that solely distributes information, this is fine. However, if you want your blog to be the hub of a major community, then you need to develop a strong sense of community.

There is decades of advice about building a sense of community. To simplify, we’re using McMillan and Chavis’ 1986 Psychological Sense of Community summary.

In this post I’m going to highlight how you can apply proven research concepts from social science to build a strong sense of community around your blog.

To build a strong sense of community, you need four elements:

  1. membership
  2. influence
  3. integration and fulfilment of needs
  4. shared emotional connection.

Let’s go through each of these in turn.

Building a sense of membership

Membership is how members know who’s “in” and who’s “out.” How would one member identify another? Membership comprises of four elements:

  1. Boundaries: these are the skills, knowledge, interests, experiences and assets that allow members to be accepted into the community. Communities with higher boundaries have a stronger sense of community. If you want to increase the sense of community, raise the boundaries. Write and talk about the elite people in the field.
  2. Emotional safety: in the community, members have to talk about their most difficult issues. You need to initiate and facilitate discussions about the most hardcore topics. Discussions about whether it’s best to use the ZT451.4 Transistor or the ZT452.3 instead are terrific for increasing the sense of community. So are skewing discussions to the most hardcore, deeper levels of self-disclosure. Your community has to be the place for members to discuss the most emotive and hardcore topics. Members have a social fear about discussing these matters at first, so you have to help them feel comfortable enough to do so.
  3. Personal investment: successful communities solicit active contributions from every member. It’s not enough to ask members what they think and respond to a few comments. You need to establish challenges, set goals that members can contribute towards achieving, and call for support on future topics you’ll tackle. Co-ordinate events with your members.
  4. Common symbol systems: members identify each other by their shared symbols. In the physical world, these relate to the way we dress, speak, and style ourselves. Online, these symbols include the words, images, ideas, and signs that have unique meaning to our audience. Identify these (interview your members if you have to), then use these within your content.

Give your members influence

To build a strong sense of community, your members need to feel they can influence that community. Most brands get this wrong: they give their members no influence. Our need for efficacy is at work here. We like to be able to shape the environment around us. You can encourage this.

  • Create opportunities for members to be involved: proactively provide members with opportunities to influence the community. Frequently call for opinions and ideas, and solicit actions. Have a Be more involved tab, recruit volunteers to send in the latest news, interview popular people in your sector, and actively recruit new people to join the community. Mention the opinions of members by name in your content—let members contribute their own content, as opinion columns, advice pieces, interviews, and more.
  • Feature contributions from members: prominently feature the contributions of members on your community platform. If a member makes a great contribution, mention it in a news article and encourage other members to respond.
  • Write about your members: use your content to write what members are doing. Talk about their milestones—it might be a work achievement, a topic-related success, or even a lifestyle success. If a member is getting married or has a child, congratulate them. This individualises the community. It makes it about the people who are interested in the topic, rather than just the topic itself.

Integrate and fulfil members’ needs

What needs does your community satisfy? If your blog is just trying to satisfy someone’s informational needs, that’s fine. However, it puts you amongst a lot of tough competition with little loyalty. If instead you try to satisfy users’ social needs, you attract members for life.

There are three key elements to this:

  1. Ensure your community is a status symbol. To be a member of your community should be a status symbol. You need to raise the profile of your community outside of the community itself. Ensure it’s featured in other channels—especially channels your members are engaged with. Set goals that your community can achieve. If you can’t think of any, then make it a simple fundraising goal. It’s important to give the impression of momentum around your community. It might also help, if the community is exclusive, to have a badge/Twibbon that members can display elsewhere.
  2. Attract and promote great people. We all want to participate in the community that the most talented, knowledgeable, popular people participate in. So you need to attract these people. Appeal to their egos. Let them have weekly columns, interviews, and other opportunities to feature. Write about their latest contributions to the field. Document the best practices your community has shared and uncovered. Make these documents sharable—ebooks where members share their best advice work well here.
  3. Shared values: Write down a statement of what you believe in, or what your blog stands for. You should attract others who share your values. If you like, let members sign a pledge committing to those values if they join the community. Proactively seek out and invite people to join that share these values.

Foster a shared emotional connection

The final element is to develop a shared emotional connection amongst members. Strong communities oscillate at the same emotional frequency. They think and feel the same things at the same time. They feel a sense of connection through those shared emotions.

Developing a shared emotional connection is perhaps the hardest and most important element of the four listed here. It comprises of several elements.

  • Regular contact: to feel a shared connection, members must regularly interact with each other. You need to provide a tool for that to happen. You need to sustain and drive those interactions. Events, challenges, and highlighting popular discussions within your community are good ways to do this.
  • Increase the quality of interactions: it’s okay for members to share information, but you also want to encourage bonding and status-related discussions. Introduce and highlight discussions that encourage high levels of self-disclosure from members. For example “What was your best experience in {topic}?” might sound like a simple question, but it creates a terrific way for members to bond.
  • Create experiences your members can share: Shared experiences breeds a stronger community. Organize regular events and activities. This doesn’t have to be an offline meeting (although those are terrific)—it can be online live discussions, quizzes, challenges, campaigns to change something in your sector, and so on.
  • Write your epic shared history: Ensure that the community has an epic shared history, not just an About page. Document who founded the community, who were the early members, and what were the big and controversial discussions and events. Imagine this as a story to tell new members, then send it to them!

You will notice with many of these tactics that you’re narrowing your audience. You’re deciding not to reach everyone but to turn the audience you have into a strong community. That’s a good thing, as it’s the more closely knit communities that are the most enduring and successful.

Have you built a community around your blog? How did you do it? We’d love to hear what you did—and how it worked—in the comments.

Richard Millington is the Managing Director of FeverBee.com and author of Buzzing Communities: How To Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities.

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Comments

  1. Roman Soluk says:

    Fulfilling readers needs is really important. I try to do it as a blogger and I easily notice it as a ordinary web user.

    Thanks for such a detailed post! It’s truly useful!

  2. Ehsan Ullah says:

    Building a community of bloggers is what I have been doing on my blog by guiding newbies on every step of blogging. Building a sense of membership and letting people know about the members of community is the first and most important step, plus It is also important to find people’s need and serve them because that is what which will make them love the community.

    Thanks for writing on this Richard, You’re doing great at Feverbee.com :)

  3. Seriously an awesome post. Shared and bookmarked. Understanding the psychology of our community is very important in its development especially when it is a growing community. Love the shared emotions point. That is very much needed for communities to exist.

  4. This is really great, Richard. We’ve been focused on these topics over the past 2 weeks and I think you’ve really covered some of the key points in terms of focusing on strengthening your community.

    Empowerment, control, safety, and enthusiasm all need to come together to create a thriving community.

    Thanks for the article!

  5. Samuel says:

    There is always a need to connect with your audience on all levels.

    If you are looking to expand your blog even more, I would suggest studying psychology of an individual and the internet!

    Thanks for the article!

  6. Hi Rich,

    I’m always concerned / excited about how to build a better online community. I’ll admit my initial attempts to foster a sense of belonging have fallen short. But I already made plans for 2013 to increase the community aspect of my website and this only motivates (and educates) me more in that pursuit.

    This was so good I shared it on Twitter and became your most recent RSS subscriber. Nice work!

  7. Richard, what do you think is the best way to build a community around a business blog? So if I own a SEO firm, how could I make a blog that will build a community of business owners or industry followers?

  8. I’m not sure if I want a community or just an audience, or maybe a following as you describe in the beginning. I’d like to hear more about the pros and cons of each, but I’m leaning toward a following more than membership. It may be because that’s how I prefer to interact with blogs (like a follower of the blog vs. a member). I tend to engage more with blogs I follow, and abandon the sites I join for membership. I don’t know why that is. Maybe my psychology is different.

    I’m fascinated by cross-disciplinary work. Great job making the correlation!

  9. I feel like I’m light years from using the info in this post, but I’m still glad I read it. I especially like the idea of giving your members influence, like actual column space on your blog, etc. I wouldn’t have thought of inviting other bloggers to be regular contributors on my own blog, but that sure makes a lot of sense…it’s a win-win situation, I think.

  10. Erwin says:

    Hi everyone,

    I’m running two blogs: http://erwinmentel.com and http://stabilitate.com/wealthandhealth

    But to build a community is a hard thnig to do and it requires a lot of work.

    But thanks for the tips

    And I hope I will implement them right to achieve success.

    All the best and see you on top.

    Erwin

    FREE DVD how to build a list: http://howtobuildlistfast.info