Building an audience is the first step towards a successful blogging business. The second major step is turning the passive lurkers into more active participants. The problem, however, is that within the blogger-audience paradigm, fostering interactions beyond likes and clicks can be a tough call – particularly with the continual rise of Social Media.
Leading a community, on the other hand, means that you can have a two-way conversation (communities are more social per se). Having a community around your brand means that your ideas, vision and content spreads further; your fans interact with you on a deeper level and attract new like-minded folks to the tribe.
If that’s something you strive to achieve for your blogging business, here’s a four-step framework for getting started with community building.
STEP 1: STRATEGIZE!
Rallying a community of fans and brand advocates sounds great in theory. But if you ever made any attempts in that direction (e.g. started a dedicated Facebook group), you know that community management can quickly eat up a lot of your time, yet bring little business value.
Even the brightest ideas flop without strategic execution. So ask yourself – why do you want to start a community? What do you want to accomplish? What are your specific goals? For example, do you want to:
- Warm up your target audience for a product launch.
- Create an additional channel for promoting some types of content e.g. YouTube videos.
- Increase your affiliate sales or subscribers lists conversions.
Next, you should also understand why people love to contribute to online communities. Peter Kollock, a sociology professor at the University of California, identified the next three reasons:
- Anticipated Reciprocity – we are active and contribute to a community as we expect to receive useful information and help sometime in the future too.
- Increased Recognition – some users want to be credited for their effort and desire to be recognized as an “expert”. Typically, giving some credit (rating/stars etc.) to users drastically increased participation.
- A Sense of Efficacy – contributing gives users a sense that they have some effect on shaping the community.
Keeping these points in mind, let’s move on to the next step.
STEP 2: BRAINSTORM YOUR UNIQUE VALUE PROPOSITION
A community thrives and grows when…
The community leader can bring unique value to participants. They should clearly understand the perks of being part of the group and how their experience would be different from interacting with you compared to other brands via other platforms.
For example, there are a lot of “bag lovers” groups/forums/communities around the web. But quite a few of them focus on buying vintage or pre-loved purses. Your community needs a unique twist and theme, which would make it stand out from the crowd.
Try to summarize it in one quick sentence using the next template:
“I want to create an X community, that would be unique in ways Y and Z, and will be valuable for [my ideal reader]”
Here’s an example “I want to create a community like Depop, where a curated list of pre-loved outfits from bloggers will be sold and a certain percentage of profits will go towards a charity. Participants will also be able to exchange style advice; post questions and offer items for auction.”
Successful communities also occupy a specific niche and target specific people. You should model your community around a topic with a sizeable, evergreen interest.
STEP 3: CHOOSE YOUR PLATFORM
You have two options here:
- Develop your own community platform – on your blog subdomain or as a separate website.
- Leverage an existing platform such as Facebook or Slack to host your community.
In the first case, WordPress has a number of great membership and forum plugins that you can use to add a discussion section to your website. The biggest advantage of hosting a community on your website is the SEO benefits – participants will consistently generate new content for your website, which will rank in search results and attract more traffic to your blog.
On the other hand, you will need to invest time and effort in moderating all the incoming content, making sure that it’s valuable, on topic, and doesn’t appear to self-promotional. Neglecting that area of your website can negatively impact your brand.
Hosting your community on another platform e.g. Facebook or Slack means no SEO-benefits for your blog. On the positive side, attracting new participants may be easier as a lot of people specifically search for groups there. Also, they will not need to register yet another account if they want to join.
STEP 4: RALLY THE EARLY-BIRD SUPPORTERS FIRST
Build up the anticipation before officially “cutting the ribbon”. Empty, non-active communities don’t ooze credibility or encourage people to sign up.
So you will need to have some content posted and conversation happening before you start inviting everyone and anyone. Thus, create a pre-launch list of the most active fans, email subscribers, and blog besties – the passion group that will bring life to your community, so that you can launch with a bang later on!