This post is based on episode 61 of the ProBlogger podcast.
Last week I talked about building a community around your blog, and how it can benefit you as much as it can your readers. Well, this week I’m going to give you seven practical tips and strategies on how you can go about building that community.
But before I do, I need to clarify a couple of things.
Firstly, what I’m talking about today is more than just engagement. Don’t get me wrong. I still think you need engagement on your blog. But ultimately I’m after more than just comments, likes, shares and votes. I want to give my readers a sense of belonging and ownership, and for them to practically embody and live out the blog’s values with one another.
Secondly, you can’t just set up your community and then watch it from a distance. You need to be a part of it. In fact, I would go so far as to say you need to be the community you want to have. You need to be there from the word go to shape your community and define its values, its tone, and what is and isn’t acceptable.
Besides, if you don’t want to be part of your own community, why would anyone else?
Okay, now let’s get into what you can do to start building your community.
1. Write in a conversational voice
It’s important to write in a way that’s engaging. I always try to write the way I speak, and I think the most successful bloggers do the same. 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 also try to tell as many stories as possible, even if they’re just a couple of sentences. It makes your writing seem more personal, and you more relatable.
If your readers feel like you’re talking to them, they’re much more likely to want to interact with you.
2. Invite interaction
A lot of bloggers fall into the trap of talking at their readers rather than with them. But the art of conversation is as much as being interested as it is about being interesting. Good conversationalists ask questions. They pause to let others speak, and listen to what they are saying.
That’s why I think it’s really important to ask questions on your blog, invite people to interact with you …
… and then stop and let them talk.
The most obvious way to do this is by asking your readers to comment. Ask them to share their opinion, their story, their experience, or their own tips. But you can also just ask them whether they think you’re right or wrong.
And when you do ask your readers to comment, guide them with a more specific question than just “What do you think?” or “Please leave a comment”. Give them some alternatives, or perhaps some examples to help them to make that first comment.
You can also encourage your readers to interact by setting them a challenge to complete, or creating a poll and asking them to vote on something.
3. Set up a dedicated community area on (or off) your blog
While your readers can comment on your posts (and each other’s comments), there are better ways to build a community around your blog.
Forums are one option. They’re a bit old fashioned, but some readers really love them. As well as helping build a community they can increase your reader engagement, help you to generate user-generated content, and increase page views.
But they also have their share of challenges. They can be hard to set up technically, they need moderating, and you need a critical mass (i.e. hundreds of people) for them to be effective.
To get around the technical issues you could use a Facebook or LinkedIn group instead of setting up a forum on your own site. But keep in mind that you will need to play by their rules, which makes moderation even more important.
4. Use interactive and accessible mediums
To encourage people to join your community, try to be a little more interactive, accessible and transparent. One easy 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 instances where bloggers started posting pictures of themselves and completely changed the dynamics on their blog.
Another way is to post a video. It doesn’t need to be anything spectacular. The first video I did for ProBlogger was a simple talking-head video where I stood in front of a camera and talked about blogging. I don’t even remember what the blog post was about.
But I do remember seeing the comments stream in.
That day I received comments from people who had been reading the blog for years but had never left a comment before. That video really touched people on a deeper level, and made the content feel more personal. They saw my face and my body language. They heard my accent and my expression. And It opened up conversations in a way I never expected to happen.
It takes courage to stand in front of a camera and talk. But I encourage you to give it a go. Of course these days we can all do live video, which takes even more courage. But it’s also more interactive, which can make it even more appealing for your audience.
5. Run a project or a challenge on your blog
I’m often asked what the tipping point for ProBlogger was in terms of readership. And while there have been a few, the first was when I ran the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge. Each day I challenged my readers to complete a blog-related task then come back and share what they had learned.
I had no idea what was going to happen. But it turned out to be an amazing event that built a community in ways I never expected.
Of course, there are plenty of other ways you can challenge your readers. My wife Vanessa did a style challenge where every day for seven days she nominated a different color or pattern for people to wear. She then asked her readers to take a photo of themselves wearing that particular color/pattern and post it on Instagram.
Try to come up with your own challenge. But I recommend starting at 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, and won’t overwhelm your readers either.
6. Try to have real-life interactions with your readers
One of the most powerful things you can do to build a community with your readers is to meet them face to face. Yes, meeting as a group is a logistical nightmare at the moment thanks to COVID-19. But getting together with even a handful of your readers is amazing.
I started doing this in fairly simple ways. My first attempt was a meetup in Melbourne where I just tweeted “If anyone wants to meet for a coffee or a drink, let me know”. About half a dozen people responded, and we all got together at a bar for a drink. It was a bit awkward and a little bit strange, but I found out who was reading my blog and it began to deepen the relationships with some of those local readers.
Another way to do it is to attend other people’s meetups and events. I started attending conferences both in Australia and internationally. And when I did I’d tweet to my readers (and sometimes post on my blog) “I’ll be in this city at this conference and I’d love to meet with you”.
You need to careful not to hold an event in competition with another conference. You don’t want to hijack it. But many conferences don’t mind you doing this type of thing as long as it’s at a time that’s doesn’t clash with something they’re running.
Of course, you can take things to the next level by running your own events. Our first ProBlogger event was relatively small, with 120–130 people showing up to join us in Melbourne. But the numbers quickly grew, and one year we had 714 bloggers from Australia, New Zealand, different parts of Asia, the Middle East and the US.
Running these events has deepened the community both on and around our blog in ways I could never have imagined. It could never have happened to the same extent through social media or by using other tools.
7. Put your readers in the spotlight
Back in 2006 I wrote a very short post on ProBlogger encouraging bloggers to make their readers famous. It was a bit of a throwaway idea at the time, and not something I’d really pondered too much.
But ever since I wrote that post I’ve tried to do it on both my blogs.
The idea is pretty simple: put your readers in the limelight of your blog. Most blogger put themselves in the limelight. But when you put the reader in the limelight and make them famous for a few minutes, your readers really take notice of you and your blogs.
One way is to turn a reader’s comment into a blog post. Sometimes a reader will make a really insightful comment on your blog. They might tell a story, give you an observation, or provide a great tip. Unfortunately, only a few of your readers will actually see it.
But if you take that comment and turn it into a blog post, their comment will have far more impact. And it will show your readers that you really value their comments.
You could also write a post about a reader’s blog, and encourage your other readers to check out what they’ve written. Or you could give your readers the opportunity to promote themselves in some way. From time to time on my Facebook group I invite my readers to share their Facebook pages or their blogs, or to show off a blog post they’ve written in the past.
Another way to put your readers in the limelight is to invite them to write guest posts for your blog.
How will you start building your community?
I hope you found these tips of building a community around your blog useful. But there’s plenty more you can do. The key is to be the community you want to have. You need to build your readers up, serve them, pay attention to them, make them feel noticed, and do whatever you can to make them feel like they belong.
Yes, it’s going to take time and effort. But you’ll reap the rewards many times over in the years to come.
So how are you going to start building your community? Let us know in the comments.
Photo by Levi Guzman on Unsplash