Another challenge that faces a lot of bloggers who’ve reached a point of getting their blog past the ‘launch phase’ and where they have regular readers is forming those readers into a ‘community’.
What I noticed in the growth of my photography site was that in the first 6 months most of my readers seemed to be in ‘consumption’ mode (there just to consume and not really interact or participate) and that in the next 6 to 12 months a community began to emerge with readers interacting more with me and one another. In the next 6 months readers have begun to really take more ownership of the site and are more regularly contributing not just in comments but in writing content, volunteering in the forum etc.
This seems to naturally happen over time to some extent – but was also something that I have been quite intentional about fostering within the readership.
Here are a few tips on how to do it.
1. Start with Comments
Perhaps the most natural place to start to build ‘community’ on a blog is within its comments section. This is a good place because in our day and age it is a place that most web users are ‘wired’ to look for interactivity in. The keys in building community within your comments section include:
- Ask Questions in posts (this will draw comments out of readers)
- Interact with Readers (if you’re not willing to comment why would others – this gets the ball rolling)
- Model the type of comments and tone you want (if you want people to feel safe and at home you need to police and moderate the trolls and spammers)
- Followup Questions (answer questions whether they be in comments or via email)
2. Reader Centered Posts
Show readers that you value them by regularly publishing posts that are ALL about them. There are lots of ways of doing this including:
- Answering Reader Questions
- Inviting Questions from Readers
- Posting a Question for discussion
- Highlighting a reader and their blog, comment, site
The key is to regularly build into the rhythm of your blog moments where your readers take centre stage and have an opportunity to contribute and be valued.
Further Reading: The Power of Making Readers Famous
3. Interactive Tools and Projects
Whether it be running weekly polls, using quizzes, running a competition in your comments section or some other interactive tool or project – the more you get your readers to ‘do’ something the more ownership that they’ll feel over your site. I find that even the anonymous voting in a poll has the power to make a reader feel connected.
4. Invite Reader Generated Content
I’ve talked about reader generated content in an earlier post in this series with regards to how it can help you keep fresh content on your site – but the other benefit of it is that it can help readers grow in their connection to your blog.
The way I grew reader generated content on my photography site was simply to start a photography tutorials area of the forum there. In that area I invited readers to submit their tips. The idea was that the area would help identify readers from within the community who had a talent and passion for teaching others. I’ve since used some of the best tutorials on the main blog and one or two of the authors have become regular writers.
5. Become a Cheer Leader
Look for any opportunity that you can to cheer your community along. I regularly attempt to give feedback to DPS readers on how well ‘we’ are doing as a community. When ‘we’ hit a new milestone in terms of forum members or traffic numbers I talk about it in our newsletter, when ‘we’ get mentioned in a mainstream publication I make note of that….
My approach with this feedback to readers isn’t to highlight how good ‘I’ am as a blogger – but to show the community what ‘we’ have achieved. I find that each time I do this that the feedback has been excellent and that it spurs readers on to help us grow and become even better.
6. Give Readers Jobs
I wrote about this a couple of years ago now but one of the best ways to build a sense of engagement and ownership within your readership is to give readers jobs. You can’t do this with everyone of your readers but it is amazing how many people don’t want to just read and consume – they want to be a part of building something that matters. ‘Jobs’ can be anything from getting them to help you moderate comments, to being a forum moderator, to coming up with poll topics, to judging competitions, to writing guest posts etc
7. Set Reader Homework
Another great way to get a little more interactivity and buy in from readers is to set them homework in your posts. This is particularly effective when you have a ‘tips’ or ‘how to’ type blog where you’re teaching people and it is a natural way to finish a post to say ‘go and do this’.
Again at DPS we have a photography assignment area in our forum where we have a weekly assignment for readers to go away and complete before reporting back with an image that they’ve taken. Heaven forbid if we miss a weekly assignment – our readers would be up in arms!
You don’t need a forum area dedicated to this to set homework. Just end a post with an invitation to go and do something and to report back on how they did and you’ll find a percentage of your readers will complete the task and in doing so will feel more loyalty to you and your blog.
Further Reading: Building Blog Community by Setting Homework for Readers
8. Give multiple avenues to ‘join’ or be a ‘member’
I’ve mentioned a few times above the forum at DPS. I can’t express to you just how powerful that area of the site has become. While it doesn’t have as many unique visitors each month as the blog segment of the site – it is visited by a growing number of hardcore DPS fans who are visiting on a daily basis and really creating an amazing community there.
Similarly – adding a weekly newsletter to the site has created another ‘connecting point’ with readers and a gentle reminder each week to stop by the blog and or forum to interact. I’ve found that having a blog, forum and newsletter to be a lot of work but a fantastic way to engage with different readers in ways that appeal to their learning style. Many readers have connected in 2 and even 3 of these ways – each time they access a new part of the site they ‘buy in’ just a little more.
One last tip
Above all, the best way of building a community on your blog is to lead the way and start to BE the community that you want to form. This is something that will bring the 8 tips above to life…. or…. if you don’t do it is likely to ensure that you fail in building community on your blog. Readers will take your lead but are unlikely to want to join a community if you as the leader of it seems ambivalent about the whole thing.
How do You Build Community on Your Blog?
That’s enough of me talking – what have you found to be useful in building a sense of community on your blogs?
This post is part of a series on taking blogs to the next level. Next in the series we’ll be looking at shaping the brand of your blog.