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7 Practical Strategies for Building Community With Your Blog

Today’s episode is about how to build relationships with the readers on your blog. Having a community around your blog gives your blog social proof and makes your blog more useful and satisfying to you and your readers. This is the second part of a two-part episode. Part one was an in depth look at why you should spend time and energy trying to build community. Today is all about practical strategies and tips for how to build community.

Castellers (Human Towers) by sergi escribano on

In This Episode

You can listen to today’s episode above or in iTunes or Stitcher (where we’d also LOVE to get your reviews on those platforms if you have a moment). In today’s episode:

  • How to build a ‘culture’ of community
  • How to map out what you want your blog community to look like
  • How to write in a conversational voice instead of talking AT your readers
  • 7 different ways to invite interaction from your readers
  • How a dedicated community area or forum can help you build blog community
  • How using interactive and accessible mediums like video and live streaming can build community
  • How to use projects and challenges to give readers the chance to show off and to connect with each other
  • How you can use real life events to strengthen your blog community
  • 7 ways putting your readers in the spotlight can build blog community

Further Reading and Resources for 7 Practical Strategies for Building Community With Your Blog

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Hi there and welcome to the ProBlogger Podcast episode 61. My name is Darren Rowse and today, I want to talk about how to build community on your blog. In episode 60—the last episode—I talked about the benefits and some of the costs of building community on a blog, but today, I want to get a little bit more practical and give you seven practical strategies and tips on building community on your blog. You can find today’s show notes at

Today we’re talking about building community on your blog. As I said in the last episode, this is so important. It has the potential to really build your blog, to build social proof, and make it easier to find new readers for your blog, but also to make your blog more useful and satisfying for you. Before I get into today’s seven strategies and practical tips. I want to talk a little bit about some overarching tips that I think are really important to acknowledge before we get into the practical stuff.

Firstly, what I’m talking about today is not just about getting reader engagement. I see a lot of people talking about reader engagement. I like the idea of engagement, but for me, that’s not ultimately what I’m aiming for. What I’m aiming for is a culture of community on my blog. For me, an engagement from a reader is more about getting a comment, more about getting a like, more about getting a share, or a vote in a poll. All of those things are good, but in my mind, they’re just stepping stones to a real community.

Engagement’s great, but most successful bloggers that I’ve come across go beyond getting those moments of engagement to something deeper with their readers where their readers not only interact with them or engage with them. But their readers actually have a sense of belonging, a sense of ownership. When the reader almost embodies and lives out the values of the blog with one another, this is what I’m really aiming for with my blogs. It takes time to get to that level.

When you have that deeper kind of engagement or community with your readers, that’s when your blog really comes alive in ways that I described in the last episode. This is when you get that sense of belonging and ownership with your readers, when they become advocates for your blog and when they start to add value to your blog. As I’m talking today, and I’m talking about some strategies that might help you to get deeper engagement, keep in mind that those engagements are really just stepping stones to building this culture of community for your blog.

The second thing I want to say before I get into the practical stuff is that if you’re going to build a culture of community for your blog, it’s really important that you realize that this needs to start with you. You need to be the community that you want to have. It’s really important for us as bloggers to take the lead in building that community that we want to have. If we’re not willing to be that community, then why would any of our readers want to do that. We need to take the lead, we need to model it, we need to set the tone for the type of community we want to have.

I think if that’s true and it certainly has been the case in my own blogs, it’s when I’m most engaged that my readers are most engaged. We need to almost put a little bit of thought into the type of community that we want to have. I would encourage you to do this exercise to map out, to describe, in just a few sentences, perhaps a few bullet points, the type of community that we want to have. What do you want your community to look like? What values do you want it to have? What boundaries do you want it to have? What is and isn’t acceptable behavior in the community that you want to have on your blog.

The clearer you are about what you want your community to look like, the better position you’ll be to start modeling that for your readers. It will also help you when things perhaps don’t go particularly right in your community as well because you’ve already thought through what is and isn’t acceptable.

Before I get into the practical things, I really want to encourage you to think about the type of community that you want to have and how you can lead the way into that. Let’s get into some of these more practical things on how to build a community. There’s a whole heap of different ways of doing it. These are just seven things that I’ve tried to build into my own blogging.

The first one is to write in a conversational voice. I actually think the community starts with you and the way that you communicate. This fits into the “it’s not rocket science” category of blogging tips as do many of my tips. However, I think it’s really important to write in a way that is engaging. I see regular bloggers falling into the trap of talking at their readers rather than talking with their readers. The art of conversation is as much as being interested as it is about being interesting. I think it can really shine through in the writing when we are interested in our readers, when we are interested in what they think, and when we are interested in serving them rather than just trying to be interesting.

Good conversationalists ask questions. They pause to allow other people to speak. They listen to what other people are saying. I think this can shine through in your writing in a whole heap of different ways. For me, I try to write like I speak. My best post often starts out as me writing to a reader in an email or answering a question in a very conversational tone. I write like I speak. That’s partly just my voice, it’s partly just my style, but I think most bloggers do best when they write like they speak.

Another thing I try to do, that I think helps to bring that conversational tone to my writing is that I try to tell as many stories as possible, even if they’re just really short two-sentence stories. I was doing this the other day and this is what I learned. Those anchoring the things that you’re writing about down in real life really makes you more relatable. It makes your writing more personal. I tried to use personal language in my writing. I used the word I, you, we quite a bit to my readers. I try to personalize as much as possible. I also try to share my opinions and I’ve talked about this in previous episodes of this podcast. Sharing your opinions actually makes your writing more conversational, makes it more about an individual writing rather than just a theory being shared.

Whatever you need to do to come across in a more conversational tone of voice can really be effective in helping to build that culture of community. If your readers read your content and they feel like you are interested in them, they feel like you are talking just to them, they’re much more likely to want to interact with you.

If you want to learn a little bit more about writing in this more conversational tone, check out episode 52 of the podcast where I interview Beth Dunn on this very topic of sounding more human in your writing. I think it does have a massive impact and sets the tone for the community on your blog.

The second thing that I want to talk about today is to invite interaction. This really builds upon your conversational style of writing. As I mentioned before, good conversationalists ask questions and they pause to allow their readers and their listeners to interact with them and to respond to them. I think it’s really important in your blogging to ask questions to invite people to interact with you and then stop and let them talk.

There’s a whole heap of different ways that you can do this. The most obvious of which is probably in your blog post to ask your readers to comment. At the end of your posts, you can signal that you want them to say something. Whether it be sharing their opinion, share their story, share their experience, share their own tip, or just to respond to what you’ve written and to let you know whether they think you’re right or wrong.

There’s a whole heap of different ways that you can shape that. You can ask very specific questions. I actually find this gets you more comments if you ask a specific question. Instead of ending your post with, “What do you think?” Or, “Please leave a comment.” Guide your readers with a more specific question about your topic. Give them some alternatives perhaps, or some examples to help them to make that first comment. Give them guidance in the type of comment that perhaps you’re wanting.

Another technique that you might want to use to get that first interaction from readers is to have a blog post that’s purely about discussion, that’s purely a question for your readers. We’ve done this a number of times both on ProBlogger and on my other blog, Digital Photography School, where the post might only be a sentence or two long and it just invites readers to give their opinion on a particular topic.

We ran a series on ProBlogger a few years ago, it was a whole week of content on the topic of using Pinterest and we finished that series with a discussion post on the topic where we invited our readers to share their Pinterest boards and to share their experiences of using Pinterest. The post itself was three or four sentences long, but we got a whole heap of interaction. It signals to our readers that we weren’t there just to teach, we were there to learn and to hear from our readers.

Another way that you can do this is to set a challenge for your readers. Every week on Digital Photography School, we set our readers a little bit of homework. It usually builds upon a tutorial that we’ve done in previous days and then we asked our readers to go away and take a photo, based upon the tutorial that they’d read and then to share it in comments. It gets out readers doing something, but then also it gives them an opportunity to show off what they are doing. I’ve done the same thing on ProBlogger over the years with group writing projects where I ask my readers to go away and write a certain type of blog post and then come back and leave a comment with a link to that blog post.

There’s a whole heap of different ways that you can do that, but setting your readers a challenge, giving them an opportunity to show off what they’ve gone away and done, builds community. It shows your readers that there are other readers interacting with you and it gives them a chance to do something, which is a very powerful thing.

Other things you might want to do to get people interacting, to put polls up. We do this semi-regularly on Digital Photography School, we ask our readers what type of cameras they use, or if they’ve ever done a photography class, all kinds of things. It’s really interesting both to get that interaction, but we also find our readers really enjoy looking at the results of those polls as well. We follow-up the poll with a results poll, which again, shows off the fact that people are interacting with you. To be able to say, “Here’s the poll results and there were a thousand people who responded in this poll,” actually builds a little bit more social proof.

The other thing that you might want to do is to invite interaction off your blog. The community doesn’t always need to be happening on your blog for it to be worthwhile. Invite interaction on your Facebook page, on your Periscopes, on your Blabs, on your LinkedIn, on your podcasts. There’s a whole heap of different places where you can give your readers an opportunity to interact with you. I’ll touch on some of them a little later on in this podcast. Invite interaction is the second point that I want to make today. Some of your readers will simply not ever interact with you unless you invite them to. So, go out of your way (whenever you can) to invite interaction, make it really clear to your readers that you want to hear from them. 

The third thing I want to talk about today is to consider a dedicated community area on your blog or off your blog. Now, blogs have a community built into them to some degree by allowing comments to be made on blog posts, but there are many other options for you to build community on or around your blog. For me, the first time I ever did this was on Digital Photography School back in 2006 or 2007, I think it was when I started a Flickr group.

Flickr (the photo-sharing site) has the ability to start groups in a similar way to you being able to start a Facebook group or a LinkedIn group. I found really quickly by starting this group in a place where my readers were already hanging out, that community formed quite easily. I didn’t have a whole heap of readers at that point, but by starting that group I not only built a community, I also found some new readers as well.

The Flickr group for me was a bit of a stepping stone, though. As we started that group, we found out readers were asking for a forum. The features on that group were fairly basic and they wanted to be at a setup thread of discussion in different areas. I transitioned that Flickr group into a forum that we built with vBulletin on my own domain.

I found forums to be quite successful for us. They are a little bit old-fashioned in some ways, but some readers really love forums. It may be something that you want to consider for your own blog. Forums do increase reader engagement, they build community, they’re great for helping you to generate user-generated content, they increase page views, and they’ll appeal to a certain type of person. But there are some challenges as well with forums. They do take moderation, they need a critical mess to really make them effective. You can’t really start a forum with 6 people, you need 600 or so people (maybe even more) to get it going, and there are some technical challenges of getting them up and running. 

You may not actually want to start a forum on your blog, you might want to use someone else’s site or tools to do that. A Flickr group was an example of that. Today, Facebook groups are very popular with many bloggers, LinkedIn also has groups as well. I know a number of blogs who use those.

Of course, keep in mind here that you are building on someone else’s property here. By not hosting it on your own domain, you really need to play by their rules. Be a little bit careful with investing too much into groups on other people’s properties. Certainly, I think it is a way to add a little bit of community around your brand. But again, it takes work. Don’t start a Facebook group unless you’re willing to moderate it and be involved in it in yourself or to at least bring someone on into your team to help you with that.

Tip number four is to use interactive and accessible mediums. While we’ve been talking about different types of social media, let’s touch on a range of other tools that you can use to help build community on your blog through being a little bit more interactive and accessible and transparent. Perhaps the simplest way to do this is to post some pictures of yourself when you blog. It may sound a little bit strange, but I’ve seen a number of times now where bloggers have begun to post pictures of themselves and it’s really changed the dynamics on their blog.

Probably the best example I can give you if this is my own wife’s blog, Vanessa. Some of you know her from Style & Shenanigans. For the first month or so of her blog, she didn’t use her own name and she didn’t post pictures of herself. She was shy and I guess was a little concerned about privacy. But one day she summoned up the courage and posted a selfie on her blog. Now her blog’s about fashion and style. She posted a selfie not just to show herself, but also to show a dress—I think it was—that she was wearing. That post, where she posted a picture of herself got the most comments she’d ever had. In fact, it’s 10 times the normal amount of comments on her blog.

It showed her the power of using a medium that was a little bit more transparent and that showed who she really was. I actually found the same thing to be true when I first started posting videos on ProBlogger. The first video that I did, it was just a very simple talking-head video, where I stood in front of a camera and talked about blogging. I can’t even remember what the blog post was about, but I remember seeing the comments stream in.

I had comments that day from people who told me that they’d been reading for years, but had never left a comment before. It’s saying that video really touched people on a deeper level and it made the content more personal to them. They heard my accent, they saw my face, they saw my body language, they heard my expression. It opened up conversations in a way that I never expected to happen. 

It takes a little bit of courage to stand in front of a camera and talk, but I would encourage you to give it a go. Of course today, there are all kinds of other mediums that are even more interactive because they take into your live interaction as well.

A number of years ago, I began to experiment with a tool called YouStream to connect with my readers. It was a live streaming application where I set up and sat in front of a camera and took questions from ProBlogger readers. I think I did it on Friday afternoons and called it Have a Beer With Darren. It was really fascinating to see out of those interactions only 50 or so people ever showed up to those live streams, but I noticed that the people who did show up became more avid commenters on my blog and they seem to interact with me more on social media as well. 

Today, there are all kinds of other options for their live engagement. We’ve got Periscope, we’ve got Blab which I talked about in episode 44. We’ve got Google Hangouts, which are perhaps a little dated now; I would encourage you to probably move towards Periscope or Blab before you go to Hangouts. We’ve got other tools like YouTube Live and Facebook Live which is now available to some people, not everyone.

There are other options as well which are not so much about video, but still, have a live element to them. You might use a webinar tool. Again, some of those do have video, but a lot of them are more just audio, but there are live audio interactions. And then there are also things like Twitter chats where you can have a chat, a live chat on Twitter using a hashtag. All of these mediums give you live interaction with your readers, which in my experience takes things to the next level of community.

There’s something about a live interaction that just seems to make people feel a deeper connection with you and others in your community. Even in Twitter chat, it gives people that conversation with you which goes beyond a comment conversation because it happens in real-time. The other thing about a Twitter chat is that people see you interacting with other people and they begin to meet with each other, and this (I think) is a very powerful thing. When your readers feel connected not just to you but to each other, that’s where true community happens. It also personalizes your brand in a way that can only really be beaten with a face-to-face meeting. So, give some of these live interactive mediums a go.

Another thing you might want to try is my fifth tip, is to run a project or a challenge on your blog. I’m often asked what the tipping point for ProBlogger was in terms of readership the moment that that blog really took off. There were a number of these, but I think the first time that things really began to take off on ProBlogger was when I ran 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. It’s what many of you have heard in the first 31 episodes of this ProBlogger podcast, but originally, it started as a 31-day series of blog posts that are run on ProBlogger where I gave my readers a little challenge to do every day and invited them to go away and do the experiment and then come back and share what they had learned.

I didn’t really know what was going to happen when I ran that first 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge, but it was an amazing thing. While running this challenge with my readers for 31 days, it just built a community in ways that I could never have expected. I’ve seen this happen many times on many different blogs. It seems 31 Days to Build a Better Blog triggered a whole heap of other people doing 31-day challenges on their blogs. In fact, I think it’s Nestor who runs every October a challenge for bloggers to run their own 31 days challenges which sounds a bit bizarre, but I think last year there were thousands of bloggers who joined in on the 31-day challenge.

There’s a whole heap of other variations as well. You could check out Fat Mum Slim Photo a day Instagram challenge which we can link to in today’s show notes. Vanessa, my wife, did a style challenge where every day for seven days she nominates a different color or a different pattern for people to wear and then her readers go away and take a photo of themselves on Instagram and hashtag that. She had hundreds of people participating in her style challenge.

There’s a whole heap of other challenges and community challenges that bloggers have run over the years. These challenges usually revolve around hashtags on a social network or networks and they usually give readers something to do and something to show off a little to get their readers engaging with you as a blogger, but also each other.

Give it a go, come out with your own challenge. I encourage you probably to start with 7 days rather than 31. It’s a lot of work to get through a 31-day challenge, but a 7-day one is achievable, I think for most bloggers and it won’t overwhelm your readers either with just 7 days. 

The sixth thing you can do to build community on your blog is to not just have virtual interactions with your readers, but have a real-life one. This is easier for some bloggers than others, depending on where you live and how many readers you have. What I found over the years is that this is one of the most powerful things you can do to build a community with your readers, to meet them face-to-face. It’s got all kinds of logistical challenges, but if you can do it, it’s amazing.

I started out doing this in a number of fairly simple ways. I did meetups, at first. I think the first one I did was in Melbourne where I just tweeted out if anyone wants to meet for a coffee or for a drink, let me know. The first meet up that we had, there were about six or seven got together in a bar for a drink. It was a bit awkward, I have to say, it was a little bit strange, but they did show me who was reading my blog and it began to deepen the relationships with some of those local readers.

I then did one in London when I was traveling there for a holiday. Again, we had 10 or so bloggers show up. Again, I learned so much in those interactions. It got to the point where pretty much any time I go to a new city, I try to tweet out and post a time in a bar or a café where I will be and allow my readers to come and interact with me. Of course, I did have a blog with quite a few readers already, it was a little bit easier to get people together.

Another way to do this is to attend other people’s meet up and other events. I began to attend conferences both here in Australia and internationally. When I would go to a conference, I would just tweet out to my readers and sometimes even post on my blog that I will be in this city at this conference and I love to meet with you. You want to be careful here not to hold an event in competition with another conference, you don’t want to hijack it. But many conferences won’t mind if you do this type of thing as long as you do it at a time that’s not competing with something that they are running.

Of course, you can take things to the next level. If you’ve got a blog perhaps a larger readership by running your events. This is something that I’ve done now for six years here in Australia with bloggers. It started out relatively small, the first time we did it we had 120-130 people show up to an event here in Melbourne and it’s grown every year since.

This year, we had an event for 714 bloggers, mainly from Australia but also from New Zealand, different parts of Asia, and we tend to get a few people from other parts of the world as well, from the Middle East and from the US.

What I’ve noticed is that by running these events, it has deepened the community on our blog and around our blog in ways that I could never have imagined otherwise. It could never have happened to the level that it has on social media or using some of the other tools. There are plenty of other bloggers who have built their blogs by doing these types of events.

Chris Guillebeau is probably one example of someone who’s done this. He actually took meetups to the whole next level by doing every state in the US and trying to have them in every country around the world as well. It’s quite amazing, I went to one of these events in Melbourne and a hundred or so people showed up to that. He has a massive impact by holding real-life events. 

The last thing that I want to talk about is to put your readers in the spotlight. This is tip number seven. Back in 2006, I wrote a post on ProBlogger and it was a very short post. It encourages bloggers to make their readers famous. At the time, it was a bit of a throw-away idea and not something that I’d really pondered too much.

Ever since I wrote that post, I have tried to do it on my blogs. The idea is pretty simple, it’s to put your readers in the limelight of your blog. Most blogs keep the blogger in the limelight, but I think when you put the reader in the limelight, you make them a little bit famous for a few minutes, that’s when your readers really take notice of you and your blogs. There’s a whole heap of different ways that you can do this and most of them are pretty simple that you can do.

The first one that I’d encourage you to think about is to promote a comment to a blog post. Sometimes you’ll have a reader who makes a really insightful comment on your blog. That might tell a story, give you an observation, or a tip. While that comment might be read by a few of your other readers, it’s not really going to have a massive impact, but if you take that comment and make it into a blog post, it actually makes that comment have a bigger impact. It makes it seen by more people, it also has an impact upon your reader. It shows your reader that you really value their comments.

There are other ways that you can do it. You could write a blog post about one of your reader’s blogs. Actually encouraging your readers to go off and read something that they’ve written. You could give your readers an opportunity to promote themselves in some way. This is something that I do from time to time on my Facebook group, I just invite my readers to share their Facebook pages, or their blogs, or to show off a blog post that they’ve written in the past. Sometimes people will say, “I don’t want people to leave links on my Facebook page,” but I actually invite it. I want my readers to have an opportunity to grow their blogs and to show off a little. This actually shows your readers that you care about them.

Inviting guest posts from your readers is another way that you might want to encourage your readers and put them in the limelight. It may even be that you just ask your readers on social media to give you a tip and then you combine all of those responses into a blog post. There’s a whole heap of different things that you can do to let your readers show off a little and to have a moment in the limelight of your blog. Use your blog to build not just you up, but to build your readers up to benefit then. That’s when they take notice.

Related to this, I have some one-on-one interactions that you can have with readers that really build up a community on your blog. I think it was in episode five of the ProBlogger podcast. I encouraged you to email one of your readers as part of the 31-day challenge. This is something I used to do on my blogs all the time. Any time anyone would leave a comment for the first time on my blog, I would email them personally to thank them for leaving a comment, to respond to their comment, to show them that I care, that I noticed that they’d emailed. As I said back in episode five, I still have readers today many years later who continue to read my blog because I emailed them, because I went out of my way to welcome them to my blog.

You can, of course, pay attention to your readers in a whole heap of different ways. This is one-on-one interactions by answering comments when they ask a question or they leave a comment, actually responding to those comments both on your blog and social media, responding to the individual needs that you see in your readership. From time to time, readers will tell you about their problems. Actually, help them, go out of your way to serve and encourage individual readers. Sometimes these things happen in public, but many times, it’s important to do them in private as well. This has a big impact.

The last thing I’d encourage you to think about doing is to surprise and delight your readers. What about giving a prize away to one of your readers. Your most prolific commenter. Someone who has added value to your community. Actually reward the type of behavior that you want to see more of.

This is something I’ve done over the years on ProBlogger. I recently did it in some Periscopes. I emailed some of my Periscope listeners who had been the most prolific commenters and said, “Here’s a free ebook.” It doesn’t cost me anything to give an ebook away, but it has an impact on the people who receive it. We did this at our event last year as well. We got a couple of our attendees up on stage and gave them free tickets through the next year’s event. The surprise and delight have an impact upon the people that you give the gift to, but they also show other people that you care about your readers as well.

I feel like today I’ve just scratched the surface with these seven tips of building community on your blog. There’s a whole heap more that you can do. The key is to be the community that you want to have. To do whatever it takes to build your readers up, to serve them, to pay attention to them, to make them feel noticed, and to do whatever you can to make them feel like they belong. This investment of time (and it does take time) will pay off many times over in the years to come on your blogs.

I look forward to hearing your tips, your responses to what I’ve gone into today. You can find today’s show notes at I’d love to hear your tips and thoughts on how to build community on blogs as well. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you in episode 62 of the ProBlogger Podcast.

How did you go with today’s episode?

What did you learn from today’s episode? Do you have other tips that have worked for you? What will you try next?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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