I don’t know about you, but when I hear the words “blog community,” I think of comments on blog posts and forums, maybe interaction between the blogger and readers on Facebook or Twitter. Really, though, how many of us truly have a community? We might have fans and regular readers, but it’s extremely hard to build an actual community of people who feel like they’re part of a group. It takes dedication and hard work to build that kind of following.
So how can you take things to the next level? Get innovative! I’ve brainstormed ten innovative ways to connect with your community, and I hold everyone out there reading this will pitch in and add at least one comment with your own innovative connection method.
In fact, that’s my challenge to you: Leave a comment with one innovative way to help build a sense of community on your blog. Here are ten from me to get you started:
When I was a kid, about once a week or so, we would have family game night, when we played board games and card games together (usually Yahtzee). With the power of the Internet and online gaming, you can host a family game night for your community. Wiis, Xbox 360s, and PlayStation 3s all allow you to play with friends online, and you can also encourage people to all log onto Facebook at the same time to play an interactive game there (just pair off and meet new people).
Along the same lines as a game night, consider hosting a movie night. If you have an Xbox 360 (and Gold membership), you can actually watch Netflix with anyone who is your friend (i.e., the move starts at the same time for everyone and you can text or voice chat if you want), but you don’t need to be a geeky gamer like me to do movie night. You could also start all at the same time and create a Twitter hashtag for everyone to use. I recommend choosing something that’s streaming on Netflix (a lot of people use that service) and something that is related to your blog in some way (documentaries are a great choice, for example).
Nick Cardot of Site Sketch 101 did this a few weeks back, and it was a really cool idea. A lot of people in his community got involved, and it became more about the fun and less about the prize money (though I’m sure people started commenting in order to win). When you’re encouraged to interact, you’re more likely to do so – and a prize is a gerat motivator to get people started.
Every week, I participate in my favorite Twitter chat, #blogchat, but there are tons of others online as well. Participating in chats is an awesome way to find new readers (and new blogs), and if you can’t find one for your niche that you like, consider starting your own. Check out my post on Twitter chats if you’re going this route!
People always feel like they’re a part of something when you recognize them. Use a tweet from one of your readers as a jumping off point for a post. Turn a comment into a post. Answer reader email (with permission) in a post. Once, I even posted part of a Skype chat as a post. It just helps people take more ownership in the blog if you’ve used a contribution they’ve made in some way.
If there’s a conference for your niche coming up (or if you write a blog that is based in something local), try hosting a tweet up (i.e., meet up coordinated on Twitter). It doesn’t have to cost anything – just name a place and time – people will come. (And yes, BlogWorld is an AWESOME place to do this.) When you meet readers in real life, it strengthens the community.
Prizes are great for contests, but how about some perks instead. Because they’re a member of your community, they get something with real or perceived value. Give away an ebook, offer a discount on a course you’ve created, and other perks. Maybe if they come to your site every day, there will be something special on your sidebar (such as a deal you’ve found for a product related to your niche). Maybe they get a newsletter if they’re part of your mailing list. Maybe mailing list members get to know one of your secrets first (Benny from Fluent in 3 Months, for example, announces to his list where he’ll be traveling next, so you have to sign up if you want to be in the know).
It doesn’t work for every community, but it might for yours. Giving them a name of some sort can help them feel like they’re part of something. A good example? Lady Gaga’s “Little Monsters.” It really just means “Lady Gaga fans” but then name makes it a little more special.
If Twitter chats aren’t your think, you can also set up time to chat with your readers using some other service. The BlogcastFM guys, for example, do Ustream chats. Do what works for your community.
One of the best things you can do as a community is come together for a cause. The best example I have of this is the crazy outpouring of love on The Bloggess’ blog back in December. What happened was nothing short of amazing. Also, I’ve bookmarked that link to read whenever I’ve lost faith in humanity. It works every time. (And I cry every time. Y’all done been warned.)
Okay – your turn! What are some innovative ways you can help connect with your community?