There is an old adage that goes “two ears and one mouth, use them in proportion” and that is the phrase that should be foremost in your mind when building community around your blog or business.
I always thought that community happens where you find a post or a product – it happens there and it stays there. I now know that blogging communities are a fluid thing and leading a blog-related community can be managed like a relay race; the baton passed to the next person to continue the race to the best of their ability. I will assume for the rest of this post you have a blog promotion strategy in place, as here we are going to talk the nitty gritty, the details of building a blogging community.
With these thoughts, let’s talk about building a community.
A blog’s community starts with listening. By listening you hear your advocates, your apostles, your second customers, your readers; the people who love your blog. These can be early adopters as well as paid evangelists. But to find them you need to listen.
Facebook and Twitter are the obvious starting points to listen, and using search tools you can find the advocates in your community. In finding your advocates you will also find the people who need support, those that are disappointed or needing extra guidance.
You can reach out to those people and then segment them into a Facebook list, Twitter list or G+ Circle.
5 listening tools you can use to hear your blog’s community
Everyone has heard of them but have you actually set them up? Personal experience indicates these are highly ineffective whilst they are waiting to be activated.
Google Alerts as a listening tool image
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A social search engine that searches blog posts, microblogs, forums and most forms of social media for your keywords or company name. Like Google Alerts you can receive updates via email. Social Mention is a power tool for brands monitoring customer satisfaction. A blogger can use this tool to find credible sources to link back in their post, and remember to comment in these places to drive back traffic to your own post, but only when relevant.
An image of social mention as a listening tool for communities
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Where Social Mention actually searches can be seen by clicking the arrow in the search box, you can search blog specific sectors. Handy for locating places for backlinks?
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Boardtracker is a tool that will enable you to track conversations about your brand,blog topics, similar products or companies that take place on discussion forums and message boards. This gives you real time engagement opportunities and can help keep your blog post high on the agenda to discuss. Again alerts are available along with advanced search and if you purchase the premium option; detailed analytics.
Blog Pulse is an in-depth listening tool for you to track your products and conversation about them via blogs. If you use PR firms to submit information to bloggers then this is a terrific tool to keep track of those conversations. Of course you can also see what is popular with other bloggers and add your voice to the conversation.
Beta testing blog profiles
If you build your blog’s community, they will not come. They don’t give a toss.
Seriously, why do I care about what your blog can do for me? What’s in it for me? You want me to do something and act in a certain way, you need to show me what you would like and make it worth my while. I am a busy mum, I need more hours in the day. If you showed me a teleporter I will instantly grasp how I can save time. If you showed me something else, I will need showing the light. Showing not telling. Guiding not preaching.
Interact with the people discussing your topics of interest, if you talk to them be welcoming and not thrust a brochure in their face. Yes, just jumping into a conversation with a link to your blog post is the online equivalent of thrusting a brochure in the readers face. That method never generates you more leads, recommendations or links for your blog. In fact the traffic is very disappointing when you do that.
When managing a pub, I found community was extremely important: integral to growing my business. I went where my customers were, I listened and I acted upon their needs. They felt welcome. It works like that for your blog too.
There’s listening and then there is listening
Ask your blog community questions – this works perfctly in the pub and many other offline businesses. Whilst pouring a pint I’d say to Joe a regular of 20 years “Fancy doing a quiz night next week?” and I’d listen to his reply and then I would ask questions. The questions are important. If Joe says “quizzes worked well before” I’d ask “What worked well? Who devised them? What day did you have them on?” and Joe whilst sipping his pint would share with me what worked and what didn’t. It was a two way conversation that was extremely useful.
Henry Ford has a fab quote about listening to customers and potential customers in your community:
“If I had asked my customers what they wanted,” Ford said, “they would have said a faster horse.”
Blogging communities can focus on the now, and what their problems are right now rather than future problems that may not happen. As well as listening, you need to be understanding them, their needs and their time-scales. With the above listed tools, you can listen with both ears.
By listening, I learned. I learned what my readers liked, how my posts were doing, where they were being shared and more importantly how happy they were with the services that I provide.
Sharing comes after learning, and that means listening to their needs and not your own
Sharing with your blog’s community – what you may value your community may not and vice versa. If your community is on Twitter you may find that they talk to you there as they want a speedy response. If you cannot deliver what they want, when they want they may no longer be interested in you. Remember that when building your blogging community, the members can be transient. That doesn’t make them less valuable. It takes a lot for them to come back, so make it worth their while. Make it easy and be welcoming.
A community member who comments once a year is just as valuable as a member that comments every day. If a person doesn’t seem like a regular then step back and see a bigger time frame, you may be surprised at how many long term regulars you have. Welcome everyone equally.
Welcoming your commenters to your community
When in the pub it was easy, it was a hello, how are you. A greeting by name if I knew it, and an offer to get them their drink of choice. It makes them feel comfortable, recognised and welcome. Far more effective than “can I help you?”
If you greet someone use their name, make them feel welcome. A smile helps too, and a smile and a friendly manner can be depicted as easily online as it can offline. Friendly does not make you unprofessional, far from it.
There are multiple ways of communicating with the blog community you are building, as well as face to face at events like Blogworld, there is email, the telephone (remember that? 😉 ) as well as blog commenting, forum commenting, Twitter commenting. Not all the interactions are going to be highly visible ones.
For example, a lot of people read my blog posts by email. They have a question for me? They email me direct and I respond. That doesn’t mean there is less of a community, it means it’s not always visible. In your quest for social proof you may find you want a community that is involved and very visible. You have to make that interaction happen.
In any community there has to be recognition that the voices are heard
That’s engagement. Engagement may involve acknowledging comments and interaction. Failing to acknowledge will make people think their thoughts and opinions are worthless and slowly they will cease to share or become very vocal when they have a problem. When listening to conversations about technical issues be sensitive, do not assume that the person making the query is an idiot – that doesn’t make them feel valued. Engagement is in the conversation. In the conversation opportunities will arise for you to mention a post.
That’s a lot of steps so far, in fact it’s a journey and the blog promoting opportunities don’t appear straight away.
By taking time to listen, learn, share and engage your blog community will grow along with your business which in turn will lead to more business. It’s important to lead and guide the way gently, a forced community is akin to a prison and builds rival factions which ultimately destabilises the community and the value that it brings.
Over to you – by comment, by email, by tweet – whichever way you prefer, I’m listening.
PS: I have not forgot measurement, I just feel that that isn’t part of the building aspect of a blog community, blog promotion more of the raw data crunching and metric analysis. Sometimes people get so wrapped in the measurement they forget to listen, to learn.