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