Do you ever feel – as you blog – like you’re talking to an empty room?
Day after day you publish posts only to have them greeted by….
If that is how you feel – then you’re not alone. In fact one of the most common questions that I hear from bloggers is:
“How do I get my readers to interact with me?”
Over the next little while I’d like to suggest some ways to increase reader engagement and would love to hear how you do it on your blog too in comments below.
But first – today I’d like to talk about WHY community and interaction on a blog is so important.
Blogging – More than Just Creating Content
There is no one way to build a successful blog but in my experience a blog really comes alive when there is at least some level of community on… or around… the the blog.
Perhaps the best example I can think of to illustrate this is the time I started Digital Photography School (my main blog).
When I launched dPS in 2006, I launched it without comments being activated on the blog. This was an experiment to see what impact not having comments would have on a new blog.
I quickly discovered that by starting a blog in this way had quite a few negative impacts upon the site – the main one being that not having reader feedback just felt plain weird and left ME as the blogger thirsting for interaction with readers. I guess I’d become used to getting readers engagement on my other blogs and without it just felt ‘wrong’ for my style of blogging.
Within a few weeks I’d not only turned comments back on at dPS but was already working towards starting a photography forum on the site too!
The impact of adding more and more opportunity for community engagement on the site was immediate and big. Page views went up, repeat/loyal readership increased and I feel the quality of the site also improved.
Why Build Community on Your Blog?
Let’s take a bit deeper look at some of the benefits of focusing upon reader engagement and building community on your blog.
1. Community Increases Your Blog’s Usefulness
Right from the early days of ProBlogger my mantra has always been that a good blog is a useful blog.
If you’re not being useful to your readers on some level (and being useful can be many things from being informative, to entertaining, to keeping them up to date) it is very difficult to have success with your blog.
My experience of having community on a blog is that it makes the blog exponentially more useful – something James Surowiecki wrote about in his useful book – The Wisdom of Crowds.
Together we are a lot smarter than any single one of us.
I’ve seen this many times over on my blogs. While I work hard to have as much expertise on my topics there will always be things I don’t know but which my readership has experience and insight.
For example I once received an email from a reader – Mandy – asking how she should go about photographing her dying grandmother with dignity. This was a long way out of my expertise so I asked my readership and we had over 90 responses.
Without the community on dPS I would have been unable to help Mandy.
This is a fairly extreme example but I see it in action on a daily basis in the comments sections of my blogs when readers have their questions answered by others in the community.
Ultimately for me – increasing your blog’s usefulness to readers is the number 1 reason to build community on your blog. However there are other reasons too.
2. Community Builds Social Proof
Have you ever chosen to eat in a restaurant purely because you can see it is popular with other patrons or passed by one that is empty?
If so – you understand the concept of social proof.
People attract people in all kinds of places – a blog is no exception.
It is much easier to attract and get engagement from a reader if there is already engagement from other readers.
I’ve seen this numerous times on my blogs (but also social media accounts). The more genuine interaction you have on your blog the easier it is to convince others that your blog is worth a second visit.
3. Community Increases Page Views
Page views won’t matter as much to some readers of ProBlogger as others but for those of you monetizing your blog with advertising you might want to take note.
Page views are important for those using Ad networks like AdSense or selling ads directly to sponsors because the more times the ads are seen on your blog the more you’ll be able to earn.
Community increases page views. If someone leaves a comment on your blog on most blogs that means 2 page views instead of 1. That person is also more likely to return to see if others leave a comment responding to theirs so you’re up to 2, 4 or 5 page views (and even more if a conversation between readers emerges).
Add a forum area to your blog and the average pages viewed per visitor can skyrocket – we regularly see as many as 10 pages view per visit on the Digital Photography School Forum.
4. Community Makes Your Blog More Attractive to Advertisers
Speaking of advertising as a model to monetize your blog – I’ve discovered over the last few years of selling advertising directly to advertisers on dPS that many advertisers are looking to not only see their banner ads on a site – but they are willing to pay for engagement with your readers.
One of the best examples of this is an annual competition we’ve run on dPS to give away a price from one of our regular site sponsors.
This competition is part of an advertising bundle that we run with this sponsor (they also run some banner ads but also sponsor our newsletter regularly).
While they get value out of the banner ads and newsletter ads that they run it is the competition that really converts well for them because it gets our readers visiting their website and engaging with the products that they offer (because to enter the competition you need to leave a comment saying which product you’d like to win and why).
This is the third year in a row we’ve run this particular competition and we’ve had 700+ comments left on each year we’ve run it.
5. Community Makes Your Blog Easier to Create and Sell Products
Back in 2005 I ran a series of blog posts here on ProBlogger titled – 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. The project was so successful that I ran the project again in 2007 and then again in 2009.
Each time I ran the project it grew larger and larger and readers became more and more engaged with the concept but also with the rest of my blog (it was a great community building project in and of itself).
At the end of the 2009 project a strange thing happened – my readers began to beg me to compile the 31 posts I’d written that year into a PDF… to sell to them as an eBook.
Yes you heard it – out of a period of intense reader interaction and delivering tangible value my readers asked me to sell them a product.
Not only did they ask me to create a product – 31 Days to Build a Better Blog (now updated from its 2nd edition into a course) went on to become my biggest selling eBook.
This illustrates just how powerful community is if you’re looking to monetize your blog through selling products of some kind.
I’ve seen the same thing happening on dPS where we’ve developed 11 photography eBooks – the readers who buy our products are often the most engaged members of our communities and interestingly when a discussion happens in our forum area on topics covered in our eBook it is our community members who ‘sell’ our eBooks to new members the best.
6. Community Makes Your Blog More Attractive to Sell
Over the years I’ve had a number of companies offer to buy my blogs. While I’m not looking to sell them it is always an interesting discussion to have.
In most cases the conversation starts with a potential buyer interested in your traffic numbers and income – however what I’ve noticed is that when you begin to talk about the high level of reader engagement that you have on your bog many buyers become a lot more interested and start talking about higher purchase prices. In fact the most recent acquisition approach I had was from a company whose main interest was in the community I had built and how I could also help them build community.
This will depend a little on the business model of a potential buyer – but I’ve seen this happen on at least 3 occasions in the last few years.
Community makes your blog more attractive to potential buyers.
7. Community Creates an Army of Advocates and Evangelists
An engaged and loyal reader is a powerful thing – not only because they’ll make your site useful and might buy your products – but because they are also much more likely to help you grow what you do.
This happens very naturally really – when you help someone on a daily basis and they feel a sense of belonging to your site they’re highly likely to tell someone about your blog.
I’ve seen it time and time again. I’ll often meet readers at a conference and ask them how they first became readers – the story is regularly ‘I am friends with Jim/Sarah/Bill/Joe/Anne… and they told me what a great site it was’.
Engaged readers don’t only help find you new readers – they can help you in many other ways.
Example 1: Several years ago one of my readers emailed me with an introduction to a New York Times journalist that they knew who was looking for someone to interview for a story. A week later dPS was featured in that publication.
Example 2: Around the same time a group of readers started a campaign to get our site on the radar of Canon and Nikon because they wanted them to advertise on dPS. They started a petition and did end up helping us land a small advertising campaign!
8. Community Can Help with User Generated Content
In a similar way – engaged readers who feel that they belong are more likely to contribute to your site by generating content for it.
This again may not be something that all bloggers are interested in – however if you’re looking to supplement your own content with guest posts from readers it can be an effective way of generating such content.
The other aspect of this is that you may not want to feature full posts from readers – but having engaged readers can help you generate other kinds of content.
For example I recently asked readers of my Google+ Account to share with us their advice on the topic of ‘finding your voice’ as a blogger.
I had some great responses and am compiling the answers into a post for ProBlogger (to which I’ll add some of my own thoughts). While not a ‘guest post’ as such it brings the wisdom of readers out of my social media community areas and onto the blog.
In the past I’ve done exactly the same thing by asking readers for their advice in the comments section of a blog and bringing those comments into a blog post.
9. Community Brings More Personal Satisfaction to Blogging
When I first drafted this post I didn’t have this point but on reflection of my last decade of blogging perhaps the biggest benefit of having community on my blogs has been it exponentially increases the personal satisfaction I’ve received from blogging.
I’ve had 30 or so blogs in the last 20 years and the ones in which I’ve invested into the community and had readers invest back into it have been the ones that I’ve been able to sustain over many years.
The blogs where community didn’t really click (and this can be the result of many factors) were blogs that I found most difficult sustain – probably because I wasn’t getting the engagement, feedback and encouragement of readers.
Maybe it is just me – although I suspect not – but it is community that is a fuel that feeds my blogs. Without it I can only sustain them so long!
The Costs of Community
The benefits of building community on a blog are many (and I would encourage you to add more that you’ve experienced to the comments section below) however it would not be balanced of me to talk about the benefits of building community on a blog without at least acknowledging that there are some ‘costs’ involved.
1. Building Community on a Blog Takes Time
Relationships and community don’t just appear out of thin air. They take time – in two ways:
- Firstly – building true community is something that generally takes a long period of time to gradually happen. While you can get comments on your first blog post – to get readers deeply engaged can take months… and years. We’ll talk more about how to build this culture of community on a blog in the coming days.
- Secondly – once you have community (and building community) can be something of a time suck and if you’re time poor it can be a challenge to do on a day by day basis.
2. Building Community can be an Emotional Roller-coaster
Building relationships with readers can be something of an emotional roller coaster.
In the early days it can be incredibly disheartening when community doesn’t seem to be happening despite your very best efforts.
But then in the longer term after community does begin to happen it can be so difficult to maintain once your community begins to pull in different directions and on those occasions when things go badly.
When community goes well it can be powerful – but when trolls, spammers or competitors infiltrate it can make you wonder why you bother at all!
3. Community Can be a Little Risky
I can think of a few instances over the years when a ‘community’ or readership of a blog have turned against a blogger and have really hurt the brand of a blog.
While these instances are certainly in the minority it is worth noting that if you’re not willing to invest into a community and lead it that you leave your blog’s brand in a vulnerable position.
We’ll talk more about this in the coming days as we talk about how to build a good culture of community on a blog.
How to Build Community on a Blog
In the coming days here at ProBlogger I want to explore the idea of building community and deepening reader engagement on a blog further.
Next week we’ll take a look at 5 stages of building a Culture of Community on a Blog and then the following week we’ll get a little more concrete and look at 7 Strategies for Growing Community on Your Blog.
As always – subscribe to our newsletter by adding your email address in that box on the right sidebar for a wrap up email at the end of this series so you don’t miss out!
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 26 March 2013 and republished 10 March 2022