When Virginia asked for your blogging questions, I sort of forgot that she'd probably get the question I hear all of the time. The question I've made a living by answering everyday for more years than I can remember. It should also be a lot easier to answer this question than it is. "How do you build community?"
While I have readers, I don't believe I have a community of readers -- I believe to succeed as a blogger you need that community. I welcome any thoughts on how to do that.
One reason it's so hard to answer that question is because online community can mean something different to each of us. Our reasons for wanting to build a community can also be pretty different from person to person.
For the purpose of this post, let's assume you're a blogger like Elana. Not really looking to create a brand new web portal and building community from scratch. You're a blogger who wants a community or a network of readers and bloggers to interact with on a regular basis.
The blogosphere is already a community. We are here, online, together. By virtue of being a blogger, you're in a community. What you really need to do is get more involved within the blogosphere or get involved differently so that you can make personal and professional connections and relationships.
Blogging can be a passive activity. You change that by stepping away from your own personal blog and immersing yourself in the community around you.
Have you ever moved, like in real life? From one city to another? What do you do when you move to a new city? Do you sit in your house and wait for folks to come knocking on your door and become your BFF or your new clients? Or do you get out there and make connections, friendships, and develop a new network of clients and support?
Relationships in new cities take time and effort. Relationships in the blogosphere take just as much time and effort. Finding your people in the blogosphere is very much like finding your people when you move to a new city.
You need to get familiar with the services and opportunities in your new city and you need to do that in the blogosphere too. Learn which tools are important. Figure out what people mean when they talk about RSS, blogging platforms, Twitter, Facebook. Jump in. Do some research (Google is your friend!) Start using these tools.
In your new city, you need to get to know people and you do that by introducing yourself, by visiting places where people congregate a lot, and by participating in discussions people are having - in the place that they are having them. You join clubs or churches. You volunteer.
In the blogosphere, you go to other blogs and you express interest in what those people are blogging. You share your own experiences with those bloggers. If you have knowledge and expertise, share it openly and willingly. You join group blogs or established online communities (like BlogHer!) and become as active in those communities as you can be.
If you start a business in your new city, you have to market yourself, you have to provide services people are interested in, and you have to be very, very good at what you do.
In the blogosphere, that means your blog needs to look good. It means you have to respond to people who comment on your blog. It means you have to be a good writer, an interesting writer. There are millions of blogs out there - writing well is key. Interacting with those who take the time to visit you is huge.
You have to become a visible, contributing, supportive member of the blogosphere. You have to work to make connections that mean something to you. You have to be open to being someone people want to connect with.
There are so many great people who have blogged about building online community. You must read these bloggers. Go through their archives. Ponder their ideas. Ask yourself the questions they ask in their blogs. Don't hesitate to reach out to them via their comments for more information about something they've said. Subscribe to their blogs in your feedreader right now.
Nancy White, my personal hero, has written more great things about community than anyone I know. There's a tag cloud on the left side of her blog - click "community", "community indicators", "online community" to get you started.
Skelliwag has great tips. Start with the link I've provided and just surf. You'll find great things if you just keep reading.
I'd love to hear your experiences with finding a community via blogging. I'm also more than happy to drill deeper into the "how" part if you have specific questions.
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PS. If you're interested in community building on a larger scale - developing a destination site, say so and we can talk about that if you like.