Guest post from Elissa Smith
Building a community around your website or blog is a pretty big challenge. Not only do you have to get people’s attention, but you also have to make them want to return over and over again, as well as directly interact with what they’re seeing. That being said, while attracting people may be hard work, there are plenty of ways to help encourage reader participation. Here are some tips to help establish your online community and then build on it!
How to build your community
1. Check your site’s appearance.
Let’s start off with something pretty basic... make sure your site is actually good. No, I’m not even talking about your content at this point – don’t worry, we’ll get to that soon – I mean the actual, physical appearance of your site and the way it works.
Does your site take forever to load? Does it look like something a middle school student would have made in the 90s with a GeoCities account? If so, you should probably get that fixed before you start seriously building your community. First impressions are a pretty big deal, and you want to make a good one.
Keeping your site up to date is also very important. This means going back to fix any broken links or images, fixing up any mistakes you may find, and making sure that you always update your homepage content. If someone sees new and exciting things with every visit, they’ll be more inclined to come back, and maybe even join in the fun and comment on some posts!
2. Keep content new and exciting.
Having different types of content is very important. The amount of videos watched online is predicted to rise to 1.5 billion in 2016, so including them along with the usual text posts, as well as image galleries and other media is a huge benefit in keeping people interested in your community.
Part of the benefit of having good content is that it not only attracts people, but helps them attract new readers for you. It sounds obvious, but make sure you have sharing buttons on your posts. You want to encourage people to spread your content for others to see.
Finally, be sure to share other people’s content as well. It is especially easy to do this on social media, where you can directly interact with people, rather than waiting for them to come to you. Sharing other people’s content not only has the benefit of entertaining your readers, but it also allows you to build relationships with similar blogs and websites, and gives you access to their community as well.
3. Welcome new people!
Image source: ba1969/RGBStock
So your website looks good, those broken YouTube links are all fixed up, and people are actually visiting and taking a look around... what now?
Well, now it’s all about getting them to actually participate in the community, which means being as welcoming as possible to newcomers. A huge part of this is being user friendly – for example, some blogs make you register or sign in before leaving comments to prevent spam. If you feel the need to do this, make sure the registration process is as quick as possible. You don’t want to discourage them from leaving feedback.
Having some sort of “About Us” page is also a great idea, as it gives a new reader one place to get all of their information about your blog, yourself, and why the community even needs to exist to begin with. This saves them from having to scroll through past posts to get more information – a frustrating step that could turn people away altogether!
It also wouldn’t hurt to directly welcome new people. I’m not saying you need to make a big production every time someone new signs up, but a quick message saying “hi”, or a nice comment on their first post goes a long way, and can encourage others to do the same, increasing participation in the community.
How To Maintain Your Community
1. Encourage participation.
Think about every blog you’ve ever seen. I’m willing to bet most of those posts included some form of call to action for their readers, even if it was just a simple “what do you think?” That’s because asking questions at the end of posts is probably the quickest way to encourage participation. Calls to action are quite possibly the easiest thing you could do to pique people’s interest, so there’s really no reason not to include them. There should also be easy ways for readers to move from one piece of content to another, be it a “Similar Articles” widget at the bottom of a post or even links within the post itself.
A reward system is another really fun way to encourage people to participate in your community. I remember being part of a community that would assign you a new ‘rank’ for different levels of posts, and when you hit a certain amount, you got to choose your own... and you know what? We all posted, and in doing so actually became invested in the community as a whole, and the topics we were talking about. Giving people some sort of incentive, even if they’re fictional, can have a huge impact on whether or not your readers care about the community. User profiles are another great way to get members interacting with each other. It gives them a place to display who they are and what they enjoy, allowing for those of a common interest to find each other and interact on your website.
2. Interact with the community.
One thing I’ve noticed on my own blog is that certain commenters will show up again and again. And you know what? These are people who I talk to, both on the blog and outside of it as well on social media. These are people who bring in their friends to read our content as well, and want to contribute even more. Try to maintain a good relationship with the people who contribute the most, as it will encourage them to keep up the good work, and bring new people along for the ride!
You should also be open to communicate with all members of the community. This means keeping everyone updated on the goings on of the community and the website in general. This can range anywhere from a quick note somewhere on your site, to a formal newsletter, but people should be reasonably aware of what’s going on within the community. Also, make sure you’re available for feedback. This means responding to comments and complaints in a timely manner. It can be really easy to let emails sit in your inbox, especially if your blog isn’t necessarily your top priority, but it’s something that needs to be done. Your community will feel much more comfortable knowing that the person in charge genuinely cares about what they have to say.
3. Keep building!
Remember the methods you used to initially build your community? Keep doing them! Sharing great content on a regular basis and always making sure your website is up to date shouldn’t stop just because you finally have a community built – you need to continue, both to increase the size of your community, and keep the members invested.
What tips do you have for building an online community? Do you have any of your own tips that worked really well for you? What about things you should avoid doing at all cost? Let us know in the comments!