5 Ways to Grow Community on Your Blog
Every online community or blog needs leaders or facilitators to keep the discussions lively, upbeat, and on topic. Encouraging growth in any community requires a certain level of patience, persistence, and attention — but when it works, it really works. Here are some tips:
Establish a regular schedule for maintaining your blog. A schedule really helps readers know what to expect and when. A regular schedule can even build anticipation and excitement. Be open to ideas, provide a welcoming environment, and keep yourself on topic so that interested, engaged readers get what they're looking for when they visit.
Listen and respond to readers
One of the best things that you can do for the community is to make sure that everyone's having the best time he or she can. How do you know whether your readers enjoy their time on your blog? Why not just ask?
Give people a way to let you know whether the community aspects of your site work for them by including a Contact Me page. But if you really want to hear about how things are going, try just posting a blog entry asking people for their thoughts and constructive criticism about what you're doing.
You may not even need to open the lines of communication with your readers. In fact, they may already be reaching out to you! If someone asks you a question, either in the comments or through e-mail, make sure to reply.
Visit and participate
Join other communities. If you want to build a community around your blog, you need to participate in others. Find blogs that are related to the topic areas of your blog. Jump in to the conversation by offering a different perspective or some feedback to the blogger or to the folks who leave comments.
Mentioning your site on other blogs is fine, as long as you make sure that your comments relate to the subject at hand and add to the conversation.
Also, don't just write and leave. Keep active in the communities in which you're a member and use that time to connect with others. Take what you can from the community, but also give back what you think can benefit everyone as a whole.
Remember that participating in these communities might even give you ideas for your own blog, so you're likely to benefit in several ways from the time you spend on these blogs.
Guest blog and invite guest bloggers
If your blog readership is up and running and you're attracting a significant number of daily readers, you can request that members of your community help you out by guest-blogging on your site. Depending on the software you're using, you can either set up secondary blogs or allow guest bloggers to post to the main blog of your site.
These relationships are great to have when you get sick or want to take a vacation. Tap your guest-blogging community for help covering your blog when you aren't around to do it.
It's also a great idea to look for opportunities to write on other websites as well. See whether other blogs might need a little help with a few additional posts. Also, help keep the conversations going on other blogs that you enjoy. Each time you comment on another blog, you get exposure to a few more potential readers for your own blog and build links back to your blog.
Be sure to have a guest blogging policy in place for your site, covering topics such as length of post, topics to be covered, and payment.
Communicate with e-mail and newsletters
As spam-ridden as electronic mail can be, you can still use it to stay in contact with your community. Offering newsletter delivery through e-mail of some or all of your blog content to your readers can attract users who aren't comfortable with some of the fancier technologies, such as RSS. Try these three tactics:
Offer readers the chance to subscribe to bonus content that does not appear on your blog.
Allow your users to sign up for e-mail notifications when you post something new to your blog.
Let your readers sign up for an e-mail newsletter that recaps recent blog posts of interest.
Many blog software programs have built-in Tell a Friend or Email a Friend functionality. If you turn this feature on, every blog post includes a small icon or link that, when clicked, lets your reader fill out the name and e-mail address of a friend and send an e-mail notification about your blog post to that friend. It's like free marketing.
You can easily reach users who have mastered e-mail but aren't up on newsreaders and RSS by setting up your blog to allow users to sign up for e-mail notifications when you post a new blog entry. Allowing them to sign up and also remove themselves from your e-mail system puts them in control of the situation, which means that you don't contribute to the spam problem.
Taking the time to create some kind of additional e-mail newsletter can also get people interested in your website. You can take a little time at the end of each calendar month to pick out your best or most popular blog posts, including the links or the text of the blot itself. You may even want to highlight the top blog posts of some of your friends!
You can create this kind of newsletter in several ways, but it's most effective if you sign up for an e-mail service provider such as Constant Contact, Topica, Emma, MailChimp, or Lyris HQ, to name a few.
You can find a few free mailing-list options out there, but most of them involve a monthly fee. Shop around to find one that fits your price range.