Last week we looked at some of the benefits and costs of building community on a blog – today I’d like to move onto some of the ‘how to’ by examining the stages of building community that I went through on Digital Photography School.
Build a CULTURE of Community – Not Just Engagement
Let me start by repeating the advice I gave last week that building community and reader interaction on a blog takes time. It won’t happen over night but develops day by day.
It is also something that YOU need to take the lead in as a blogger.
‘Be the community you want to have‘ is advice I regularly teach because what I’ve found is that readers often take a bloggers lead when it comes to engagement.
If YOU are obviously engaged with your content, passionate about helping your readers, interested in who they are, writing in an inviting way and willing to interact with others then you’ll be on the right track to developing a culture on your blog where interaction is normal.
Note: I really want to emphasise this idea of building a ‘culture‘ of community on your blog. This goes way beyond using certain ‘techniques‘ to get comments or engagement.
Engagement is great – but the most successful bloggers I’ve come across go beyond that to build something deeper with their readers whereby readers not only interact but have a deeper sense of belonging, ownership and where they embody and live out the values of the blog with one another.
The Stages of Building Community on a Blog
Stage 1: You
In the early days of your blog community generally looks like this:
Yep – just you.
Maybe if you’re lucky you have a partner, or a parent, or a friend who drops by once in a while – but it’s largely you. This is totally fine and normal. I remember my first 10 or so blog posts going up to the deafening roar of silence – I couldn’t even get my wife to read them!
In those very early days you can still write in an engaging way – but probably more important than lots of reader engagement is you writing engaging and compelling content so that when people do arrive they’ve got something to read.
This is also an important time to get your mindset right. Identify what type of community you want to have. What values do you want it to have? What are the boundaries of acceptable behaviour? The clearer YOU are on what you want to achieve the better position you’ll be in to start building and modelling it to your readers (remember – YOU have to BE the community you want to have).
Hopefully – with a little time and you putting yourself out there you’ll begin to find a few readers for your blog.
Side Note: ‘Finding Readers’ is a topic we covered recently in another series but a key component is putting yourself out there into the places your potential readers are already gathering. I cover this (and a lot more on the topic of Finding Readers in this free webinar). It is probably the most comprehensive thing I’ve produced on the topic of finding readers for a blog to this point.
Stage 2: Readers Engaging with You
After a few readers begin to arrive on your blog here’s what community looks like:
At this stage YOU are still the centre of your community and all interactions revolve around you. Your readers tell YOU what they think of your posts, they email YOU with questions and YOU need to take the initiative a lot.
In my own early days of blogging I used to email every person who left a comment on my blog to thank them for their comment and to let them know I left a comment responding to theirs. This had a BIG impact – in fact I know of a couple of readers who still read ProBlogger today who read my first blog because I emailed them in that way.
This is really where your ‘culture of community and engagement’ needs to find its foundations. If you look after the small group of readers you have really really well – in time you’ll find they’ll start to ‘catch’ what you’re on about and do it themselves.
Stage 3: Readers Engaging with One Another
What often happens next is pretty cool. It looks like this!
This is like when you have a party where you invite lots of friends who didn’t previously know you – and your friends start to hit it off with each other.
It’s actually something that I know some bloggers struggle with a little because suddenly readers start showing up on a blog to not only talk with you – but to interact with other readers.
It can be a little disconcerting to see this happen (and to see some readers run off with each other to start interacting on social media or their own blogs) but it is actually where real ‘community’ starts to happen on a blog.
When you start see readers interacting on a deeper level with one another you have a much deeper level of community engagement than you did when YOU were the central point of contact for everyone.
Stage 4: Community Evangelists
The next stage doesn’t always happen – but when it does you know you’re onto something pretty exciting!
In this stage you begin to see engaged readers begin to evangelise your blog for you. They’ve found something that they’re so engaged with and find so useful to them that they can’t help but bring others in.
I saw this at Digital Photography School when we started a forum for the blog (now a Facebook Group). I noticed a small group of readers who had been reading since the start of the site and who’d been starting to get to know each other began a thread in the forum about asking how they could help to grow the forum.
They’d found dPS to be a useful site for them but realised it’d be more useful with more members. That began a competition within this small group to see who could recruit the most new members to the site. They did it purely for bragging rights and because they wanted the community to grow!
I promoted this small group to be the forums first moderators!
Stage 5: Engagement
The final stage is a mess…. but at the same time music to most community managers ears.
YOU as the blogger are still there but relationships and interactions go on above, below and around you. In fact some days you may even wonder if anyone would notice if you disappeared (although they will).
How to Build Community on a Blog
I’m sure not every blog develops in the above 5 steps exactly – but it is how I’ve seen emerge a couple of times now on my blogs.
Next week we’re going to get a little more practical on the topic of building community on a blog by really drilling into some specific tactics on how to do it!
If you’re serious about building an audience for your blog and want to go beyond engagement and unlock the power of Community, ProBlogger’s Build Community Course will give you clear action points to develop your audience into a community.
This post was first published on 27 March 2013 and republished 17 March 2022
Great post Darren! I’m between stages 2 and 3; I know of a few readers who have started interacting with each other but it’s still forming. This was very insightful as I agree with the feeling that maybe they are forgetting me but now I realize the reality – and it’s good news! How long does it typically take between stages? (It’s obviously relative to the work put in but how long did it take you to arrive at stage 5?)
I’m need to work on developing that 3rd step. Right now, step 3 only happens sporadically. Looking forward to the next post.
Building a community is very important because as you can see in stage 5, you’re well on your way to achieving quantum entanglement at an organism level. Einstein called this, spooky action at a distance… and while it might not enable you to teleport yourself across town, you’ll be able to transmit information globally at the speed of light thanks to some very complex networks.
If you’re building an empire with a secret focus on world domination, this sort of capability is rather useful.
Darren, I started seeing this happen on my blog just this past week. I write a small blog, not for commercial purposes, but to share my history research findings. I have a handful of faithful readers who comment regularly. But they pretty much always fell into your Stage Two category. The most inter-reader interaction I’d see on comments would be along the lines of, “Yeah, what she said…”
For one of my posts last week, a reader took the initiative to comment directly to another reader’s comment, and the chase was on!
In addition, I’ve experienced hitting Stage Four long before ever being awarded my first baby steps onto Stage Three. I guess every community formation has a personality of its own.
I’m looking forward to hitting stage four! Right now, I’m at stage three, but 2 months is not too bad for that sort of engagement. I’m really excited to see how long it takes for us to reach stage five. Thanks for the gleam of hope, Darren!
Very valuable perspective Darren. Thank you! I think I’m at Stage 2 now (sure beats Stage 1 :). It’s all about steady growth and improvement. Doesn’t happen overnight. Best advice for the evolution from Stage 2 to Stage 3? In other words, how can we evolve in our message to the community?
I have a similar question to yours Brent. But I’m more interested in going from stage 1 to Stage 2 – no readers at the moment :( What way worked best for you?
To other commenters, I’d like your advice as well.
PS: I’m very new to commenting. If i say something I should not have, or if I should have comment in a different way, please forgive and do let me know. I’m keen to learn. Looking forward to hearing from you guys :)
Hi Seth, I started a couple of weeks ago and have started to attract a few followers now. Obviously I’ve not seen your blog or the niche you are in. Have you submitted your blog to the search engines? Do you have plenty of keywords within your blog posts? Are you active on social media channels such a Facebook and twitter? If you are does your niche resonate with any if your contacts (this is where I got about a third of my initial followers)?
Hope this helps
Hi Brent, I’m at same stage as you – good luck! The follow article to this post is very interesting – I’m going to give the suggestions a whirl.
Hi Rob, thanks so much for your advice and replying to my comment. I think I made a wrong statement – I thought I was in stage 1 but maybe I’m not even at that stage yet :)
What I mean is, I have 2 drafts but I haven’t actually published it. I know this sounds silly because obviously I wont get followers if I haven’t published anything. I might sound pessimistic but I think I still need to edit them more. They’re on health topics: “skin cancer vs vitamin D”, using commercial refined oils for cooking.
There are other reasons – I might need to get written permissions from the source to avoid breaching copyright (something I’m really interested in as well because I don’t want to get into any trouble). I thought of including credible reference because it makes the information more reliable.
I like all of your advice, except “submitting my blog to search engines?” I don’t know how to do this or what you mean by it, but I have a feeling it will be good. I’ve included keywords, but maybe I need to check there’s enough of them. And I really should be more active on Facebook and twitter (still new to twitter).
Once again, Thanks so much for everything Rob. Will check out your blog soon.
PS: What did you mean by “the follow article to this post…”
You are very welcome. When you are ready to go live with your sites check out this google advice page for submitting your site http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=34397. Basically its about making google aware of your site and requesting it proactively to crawl your pages, it is worth submitting a site map too, info all in this advice page. I’ve followed this same process and now already rank on the first page of google for some of my keyword phrases.
Might be worth doing same thing for Bing too.
Re ‘follow’ I meant Darren’s next blog post- very useful.
Good luck with your site.
Great post Darren, Experience speaks. blogging is slow process and we need to make apply these type ideas on our blog. I will try to engage with readers and try to help their blogging problems.
Love it! I’m really excited about the new Reply feature on the Facebook pages. I hope that it helps improve engagement among my readers :) I do see them engaging on my blog. Love it. It’s very exciting to watch. I love the back and forths with my readers.
Great post Darren. I’m stuck at the early steps of Stage 2 like a bunch of other people. It seems like many people stop when they are still at Stage 1. Not sure if that makes me persistent or hard headed. Still not sure how to get more engagement but I keep trying.
I am new to the blogging scene and this is a very interesting concept. I just started my first blog and I am interested and excited to see this kind of development with my own blog. How long does this generally take to get to the 4th or 5th if you are are writing about 3 to 4 posts a week? I suppose it really depends on many other things… Thanks again for this perspective!
Now that about sums it up. A very dynamic diagram of cool. And it really is spot on Things really can get interesting once you hit stage 5.
Building a community is one of the best thing to do as a blogger. Darren, I couple of years ago I’ve read your guest post on ScribeFire about how Cat from a cafe thought you lessons of building a community on a blog. I’m using those strategies now, and working quite well.
The stage when a reader is communicating with other reader is just amazing. This is when you can be just the topic starter in the ground. I have seen this in several forum and it is less likely works for the blogs. In blogs mostly what a reader do is thanking. But in a forum the are the main focus of building the thread. So it is still helpful if you can have a forum to support your back.
Very cool way of explaining this Darren. I think the Stage 1 to 2 is where a lot of people have some difficulty.
It’s a long term process, nothing happens overnight.
Hey Darren Rowse,
Another insightful and very engaging post by Darren Rowse himself. obviously your blog here is at the stage 5 of building a community for me, i’ll love to see this point as a very lousy point because the blog really gets out of control which makes you know you’ve hit a jack pot. at this point managing the blog could be tough for you as an individual………..this often times, is a point where you’ll likely required a team of experienced people to help out.
Darren, your illustrations are perfect. It seems that at stage 5, the blogger does not have much work to do anymore, and that the community almost runs itself. I think at this stage, the blogger needs to be watchful to know when things go awry, instead of going to sleep because all is fine.
I was totally unaware of engaging my community in this way. My effort has always been to remain the focal person in my community circle and act as a host of program to moderate the intra-community communication. After reading your post I came to know that the level of liberty make community member to own it as if they themselves are moderator. Thanks of giving such nice and unique info on such an important topic
I’m definitely still in stage 1 with my own (personal) blog. It’s only been about a month though, so I’m hopefully that I will start to grow more of a reader base in time. I look forward to the next post in this series on specific tactics to gain more followers!
The first stage is always hard because you don’t see anything happening. I remember when I first started and am just starting again now.
But after a while, doing the right things and watching progression to the next stage over time, oh how sweet it is.
@Efoghor – I agree. When stage 5 is reached it’s too easy it seems for bloggers to sit back and let things happen. It’s much better to stay involved in case things get out of control. You never know.
Darren, that sounds really good. You are right about being the center of your own community. You should stay true to your brand and set the example of the members you are searching for, as you state.
I would really be excited to see step 5 happen on my blog. That is an awesome portrayal of the way it should happen.
I can not wait until the next issue. thanks
Great article Darren really enjoyed it.
Darren, I really like the idea of emailing everyone that comments. So simple yet I never thought of it. I’m going to start doing that from now on!
My guess is that if this is done right by way of creating meaningful content or a blogger website every day, additionally to engaging with people on social networks and social bookmarking services, that this can possibly build up passive online advertising revenue as well as steady streams of traffic in about a year or year and a half. I’m curious to know how long it took a majority of today’s unique content creators to build a loyal community in a certain length of time.
Good post darren I’m nearing stage 4 and getting really excited as I’ve noticed that new readers are coming and interacting more
I totally agree with you. All these stages happened on my community. Today there are lots of evangelists.
it is an amazing tip, this article is very useful to new beginner bloggers, it learns them more,
Great tips. I’m just starting out on my blog and this is a great way to see how it an all come together.
Really enjoyed your article, I started my first blog a few weeks ago and have started to attract some subscribers which is encouraging although I’m not getting much engagement yet, probably because my blog is light on articles (only 4 so far). I will definitely adopt the engagement tactics you suggest in this post and your follow up post.
Great content, looking forward to reading more,
How to make readers engage with each other? People usually comment on the topic of the blog. How to encourage them to discuss the topic between themselves?