Recently on ProBlogger we’ve been looking at the topic of building community on a blog. We started by identifying 9 benefits and 3 costs of community on a blog and then looked at 5 stages of building community on a blog.
Today I want to dig deeper into some specific things to DO to build community on your blog.
1. Write in a Conversational Voice
This tip fits into the ‘it’s not rocket science’ category of blogging tips (as do many blog tips) – however as simple as it sounds I regularly see bloggers falling into the trap of talking ‘AT’ readers rather than blogging in a conversational voice.
The art of good conversation is as much as being ‘interested’ as it is about being ‘interesting’. Good conversationalists ask questions, pause to allow others to speak and listen to others when they are speaking.
Good bloggers similarly often write in a more conversational way and in doing so invite readers to respond.
Every bloggers needs to find their own style and voice but I’ve found a number of things have been helpful in writing more ‘conversationally’:
I write like I speak
My best blog posts often start out as me writing an email to a reader answering a question. Alternatively I will often imagine I’m talking to someone as I’m writing – which leads to a post written in a more personal way.
I tell stories
I don’t do this in every post but I find that when I weave some kind of personal angle into a post that it seems to draw readers into recounting their own stories. The story need not be long or highly personal story – it could simply be sharing how you did something in your business (you’ll see me do this below when I talk about how on dPS we added a Flickr Group to dPS as an intermediate step on the way to starting a forum, now a Facebook Group).
I use personal language
When you talk to another person it is common to use words like ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘we’. Conversely when you write in a theoretical language these words often disappear. Check out the top 20 posts on ProBlogger in 2012 and notice that over 50% of the most read posts that year had personal words in their titles.
One of the most powerful ways to get some kind of a reaction from readers is to share you opinion. Doing so will automatically trigger your readers to think about their own opinions and whether they agree with you – and more often than not you’ll find at least a few of them will let you know if they do! Tread a little carefully here – opinion pieces can cause debate and depending on the tone of your writing and the topic can lead to heated conversation!
2. Invite Interaction
Part of writing in a conversational tone is to invite others to participate in the conversation. While some of your readers will comment without any kind of interaction you’ll be surprised how many more will interact with you with a simple call to do so!
Inviting your readers to interact with you can include numerous things such as:
- asking readers to comment (and not just at the end of posts… you can signal right at the beginning that you’re interested in other people’s thoughts on a topic (as I did several paragraphs above).
- asking specific questions – I find the more specific your questions are the better better responses you get (i.e. instead of ending a post with a general ‘what do you think?’ guide your readers with a more specific question about your topic or give them some alternatives or examples to help them make that first comment.
- write posts that are purely questions – one of the best ways to get responses is simply to write a post that is little more than the question itself. These ‘discussion’ posts can be gold (for example recently to wrap up a week of content on the topic of Pinterest we finished the series with a discussion post on the topic.
- Setting a Challenge – on dPS we do a weekly themed challenge for readers to go away and take a photo on a theme and then to come back and share what they did (here’s an example of one we did on the theme of ‘Nature’). This not only gets a good number of comments – it gets readers DOING something quite involved which is a sign of real reader engagement. Another recent example would be our recent Group Writing Project here on ProBlogger.
- Polls – perhaps the simplest method of getting a first time reader out of passivity and doing a little something is to run a poll on your blog. Having them simply choose from a couple of multiple choice options and clicking ‘vote’ may not seem like much but it signals to your readers that you’re interested in their opinion or experience and takes them a tiny step down the road to engagement and community. The other thing you can do with polls is once they’ve voted ask them to tell you why they voted as they did. For example on dPS we asked readers if they’d ever taken a photography class and then at the end of the post invited them to tell us what class it was and how they found it. 161 people added a comment. While this was a small % of those who’ve voted in the poll it was a higher number of comments than an average post on the site.
- Tell Readers about the Community – while we’re talking about polls, the other thing I’ve found useful is to not only run a poll but to post the final results of a poll too. For example in this post we shared how many of our dPS readers are looking to buy a new camera. In doing this readers see where they fit in to the diverse membership of your community and you remind them that they participated. The other good thing about showing results is that you signal to your whole readership that others are engaging with you. In that example above we mentioned that 28,000 people responded to the poll – great social proof!
- Invite Interactions OFF your blog – community does not just need to happen ON your blog for it to be worthwhile. In fact some of the best community discussions I’ve seen among my readers have happened on our dPS Facebook page or on my personal Google+ page. People are trained by these social networks to interact – so it can be a great place to begin conversations and relationships that may lead to ongoing community.
Regular invitations to your readership to interact will gradually draw more and more of your readers out of passivity and into an interaction with you. Even a small first step towards community could lead to a passive reader becoming super engaged which as we’ve seen previously can have many positive benefits.
3. Consider a Dedicated Community Area
Blogs have community built into them to some degree by allowing comments to be made on any post. Many blogging tools now not only allow comments but allow threaded comments which enhance the experience and allow mini-conversations to happen in an easy to follow way.
However if there may come a time on your blog where you want to give readers the ability to not only respond to what you or your writers have to say – but also to start threads of new conversation.
To do this you’ll want to consider some kind of dedicated community area.
There are a number of ways to do this. On dPS I first did this by starting a ‘Flickr Group‘ where I invited readers to share photos and start conversations. dPS being a photography site and Flickr being full of photographers this not only gave our readers a place to interact but also helped us to find new readers.
For dPS the Flickr group also gave our readers a taste of community and whet their appetite for it to the point that they began to ask if I would consider starting an actual forum area – something I did (and then went on to create the dPS Facebook Group) after I saw that there was enough demand to kick it off with enough active members.
A forum comes with its own advantages and challenges.
In short forums benefits are:
- Increasing Reader Engagement
- Builds User Generated Content
- Increases Page Views per Visit
- Appeals to different types of readers
However the challenges of forums include:
- The challenge of moderation (they can take a lot of work and are often targets of spammers)
- The challenge of having enough critical mass to make the forum active enough to be attractive
- The technical challenges – as with most self hosted blogging platforms forum platforms need maintenance and upgrades and can be a challenge to manage.
Further Reading on Forums: check out 10 Mistakes that Will KILL a Forum (or blog) and 6 Tips on Adding a Forum to your Blog.
Other options for community areas on a blog include setting up off site community areas such as:
Of course with all of these options you’re really at the mercy of other companies who have control over the hosting and upkeep of your community. You also lose some control over features etc.
Add to the conversation: If you’ve had experience with other types of community areas on your blog (or other people’s) I’d love to hear about them in comments below.
4. Use Interactive and Accessible Mediums
While we’re talking about using different types of social media let’s touch on a range of other tools that you can use to help build community on and around your blog.
A number of years ago I experimented over with using Ustream to connect with my readers. I set up a ProBlogger channel and on a fairly regular but impulsive basis used to jump onto it to do Q&A sessions with readers.
This is an idea I carried over onto Facebook, doing many Facebook Live Q&A sessions and even hosting coworking sessions. Every time I do a Live I get a lot of positive feedback from readers as it allows them to not only interact with me by asking questions but allowed them to see and hear my responses live and they can also interact in the comments with the other people watching the live.
The other option on this front is to experiment with running webinars – something I’ve also done a lot of.
I use GoToWebinar (to which I am an affiliate) to run ProBlogger webinars and while mine have only been me talking to slides or me interviewing guests (audio only) I’ve had more positive feedback about our webinars than I have about most other things I’ve done in the past couple of years here on ProBlogger.
GotoWebinar have also just introduced Video conferencing also for 100-attendee webinars (soon to be adding it for larger plans too) so that those attending can see you live. Another very popular option for meetings and webinars these days is Zoom. And you can also conduct webinars via Facebook Live, although you may want to use some third party software to improve the experience – here’s my live streaming setup.
5. Run Projects and Challenges
I’m often asked what the ‘tipping point’ for ProBlogger was – the moment that the blog really took off. There were a number of these but one was the first time I ran the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog (31DBBB) challenge.
31 Days to Build a Better Blog is today our best selling Course but it didn’t start out that way. It actually began as a series of blog posts that I put together over a month in 2005 which I then formatted into an ebook, which in turn morphed into the current course.
The idea started as a joke with a fried but was one that wouldn’t go away and so on the spur of the moment in the early hours of a night when I couldn’t sleep I posted that we were going to run this challenge where I’d give readers a little teaching/theory on an aspect of blogging every day for 31 days and would also give them a challenge to complete that related to the challenge.
I didn’t really expect it to take off too much but the next morning I awoke to a lot of comments on that post and people emailing to say that they were excited. The following 31 days not only saw increased traffic on the blog but readers engaging in a deeper way than they had before.
I ran 31DBBB over the next two years again and each time we saw readers becoming more and more engaged with the site.
What I realised through these projects is that giving people a common task to work on over a period of time gives them a shared experience that draws them closer together.
Since 2005 there have been many such projects run around the blogosphere. In fact inspired by 31DBBB Nester from Nesting place runs an annual ’31 Days of Change’ project on her blog in which bloggers are invited to run a ’31 Days’ series on their blogs.
In 2012 Nester saw over 1200 bloggers run 31 Days Challenges over the month of October (just a few pictured below)! That project is growing every year and I suspect it is because bloggers who join are discovering the power of running such a project on their blog.
There are many other challenges you can run. Check out FatMumSlim’s Photo a Day Instagram challenge for example which is participated in by many thousands of people. Similarly Fox in Flats runs a Style Dare a Day challenge that is always popular.
Add to the conversation: If you’ve run a challenge like this – please tell us about it in the comments below so we can learn about it!
6. Real Life Events
One of the most powerful ways of building community with your readers is to actually meet them – face to face.
I know this is full of all kinds of logistical challenges but IF you can meet your readers – take the opportunity because face to face interactions and a real life shared experience certainly seems to speed up the building of community.
I first experimented with this in the early days of my first blog when I didn’t have a heap of readers but when I posted that I would be in London on a holiday and asked readers if they wanted to meet up for a drink. I had 3 people show up for a beer – not a large crowd but the first time I’d met readers face to face.
Now almost any time I’m in a new city I’ll try to tweet/post out a time and place to have a meet up. Sometimes we get a good turnout and other times it is small – but every time it gives me an amazing opportunity to meet readers and build relationships with them (and for them to meet one another).
The other way I put myself out there to meet readers was to attend events that I thought my readers might be attending. In the early days for me this was about buying a ticket for popular events just like everyone else but in time it meant accepting speaking invitations when they came for the events I knew my readers were attending.
Over the last few (pre-pandemic) years I’ve of course had opportunity to not only attend other people’s events but to run my own ProBlogger Training Events here in Australia. This started relatively small with a hastily arranged 100 person event but each year it has grown – to the point that our September Gold Coast event sold 200 Early bird tickets in a couple of hours.
The added bonus of our real life event is that a virtual event runs alongside it both in the selling of virtual tickets but also through the hashtag for the event. While not all ProBlogger readers are able to get to Australia in person the event hashtag last year saw a lot of readers engaging with one another and the ProBlogger brand and created a real buzz.
What I notice after running an event or meeting people face to face is that in the days and weeks after we meet in person I’m much more likely to see that person engaging with me on social media and on the blog. It’s one of the fastest ways to build deeper engagement.
The perfect example of someone who has run hundreds of real life events around the world is Chris Guillebeau who when launching his books has done meetups in every state in the US and for his recent book every continent around the globe. I was fortunate to go with him to one of these events in Melbourne and was amazed at the enthusiasm his readers turned out to the event with – it’s no wonder Chris has had such a massive impact upon so many.
7. Put Your Readers in the Spotlight
Way back in 2006 I wrote a very short post encouraging bloggers to ‘Make Your Readers Famous‘.
At the time it was a bit of a throw away idea and not something I’d pondered too much but in the last 7 years it has been something that I’ve seen the power of many times.
The idea is simple – put your readers in the limelight on your blog. Most blogs keep the blogger on the stage with the microphone and the readers inn the audience – but what would happen if you allowed your readers onto the stage?
The answer to that question is that readers will take real ownership over your blog and become a lot more loyal to it if you allow them opportunity to share the limelight.
Most bloggers use their blogs to build their own profile – but when you use your blog to help your readers to build their profile and achieve their own goals something special can happen.
Here are a few ways that you can make your reader famous that I’ve previous published (updated for 2013):
- Promote a comment to a Post – sometimes readers make incredibly insightful and wise observations and tips in the comments of your blog. While they will be read by a handful of people in the comment thread – why not pull it out and use it as the basis for one of your post – highlighting the wisdom in it and the person who made the comment.
- Write a Post about a Reader’s Blog – visit the blogs of those leaving comments on your blog and pick one that you resonate and that is relevant to your readers. Write a link post linking to that blog highlighting the best posts and what you like about it.
- Send Your Readers to Comment on Someone Else’s Blog – write a post that links to someone else’s great blog post and instead of asking your readers what they think about it on your own blog ask them to head over and comment on it on the other person’s blog. Shutting down the comments in your own post and saying that you’ve left a comment on their blog already can help make this more effective.
- Give Readers an Opportunity to Promote Themselves – run a project or write a post that gives readers an opportunity to promote themselves in some way. For example on dPS I wrote a post asking readers – do you have a photoblog?‘ As I wrote the post I thought I’d add a line inviting readers to share a link to their photoblogs. I didn’t think much of it until the next morning when I woke up to 250 comments on the post and a whole heap of emails thanking me for giving readers the opportunity to highlight their work.
- Run a Reader Poll and Highlight Answers in a followup post – have a post one weekend where you pose a question to your readers. Then in the week that follows do a followup post where you add some of your own thoughts on the question and pull out some of the best comments left by readers. Alternatively you could survey your twitter followers on a topic relevant to your blog and then highlight their responses as a blog post (example of this).
- Invite Guest Posts – often ‘guest posting’ is talked about solely as a way to get free content for your blog. While this is nice – one of the things I love about it most is that it puts the microphone in the hand of someone else and lets someone who would normally be constrained by the comments section have a little more power and influence on the direction of your community for a moment in time. This can have a real impact upon the person doing the post – but also upon your readership as they see someone like themselves featured on your blog.
- Invite your Readers to Promote their Social Networks – a fun project I ran here on ProBlogger a number of years ago was to have a ‘social media love in‘ where I invited readers to share their social media accounts with us here on the blog. Readers left comments sharing their Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, StumbleUpon (and more) accounts and we compiled all the submissions (over 700) into lists so readers could all follow one another. It was a massive amount of work but helped our readers grow their profiles.
There are many more ways to put your readers into the spotlight and help them out with their own online projects and goals. Please let us know below how you’ve done this type of thing on your own blog!
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 28 March 2013 and republished 24 March 2022