When a blog becomes a community destination it is more than writers writing and readers commenting. Readers get to know the names and avatars of blog authors, and check to see what they are thinking and reading. Readers who have questions may feel that the blog's collective expertise is available to them, and use it as a great place to refer others - a smart jump start for a business with aspirations of establishing authority.
Grow a team, grow a blog, grow a community? Of course it's not that simple. These steps may help.
Prep the Blog For Team Recognition
Use recognizable avatars for blog team authors. Avatars that show an author's face help me feel more connected with the people behind the posts, and communities are made of people. I do not have the same sense of connection with avatars that are logos, no matter how familiar or reputable.Readers who skim will remember faces long before they remember names. After a while, I involuntarily associate the author's name with their face and wherever I have seen their face, on the company blog or elsewhere. That's one of the reason I like the MyBlogLog widget - your faces have become friends to look forward to seeing around.
Brand association can become community outreach. Blog team members who are active independently elsewhere will spread awareness of the company wherever their avatar appears. An active, happy team is a precious, natural community-building resource.
Schedule, Schedule, Schedule
A schedule can help to cement teamwork, because each team member will know that others will be there on a regular basis to help share the load. Backing each other up has power as a community-building value.
Think of a blogging schedule as community service. As a community-building tool, a schedule teaches readers when to expect something new, while establishing a sense of commitment to the readers and the qualities that the readers will want to see. For instance, readers of Search Engine People know to expect the Friday Funnies each week. Fans return, and newcomers may wonder if the Funnies happen every Friday.
Regular readers may know that their favorite blogger posts on a particular day of the week, and watch for the next installment. Speaking of watching for the next installment, blog topics that lend themselves to a series will free writers to dig deeper, and freed writers are more fun to follow.
Don't Blog About the Business
I'm not saying to avoid blogging about the business's goods and services, or not to link to such information. I'm saying to leave the sales copy in an "about the company" section of the site.
A sales pitch brings out critical assessment that can come in handy when framing marketing materials for those who are already considering a purchase: should I start big and invest in the whole shebang, or do less with just service number three?
Blog posts, on the other hand, can connect with a much wider slice of the world - absolutely anyone online who has an interest in your niche. They are your potential community.
Do Blog About the Reader's Interests
Blog to connect with your community. Blog about that place where the user's interests happen to overlap the business's goods and services. To put it more generously, blog to celebrate your niche, and where the Internet is concerned "niche" can include worlds of possibilities.
Use ideas to build community identity. Promote ideas and ideals that further the quality of your industry. Be a knowledgeable fan of the best ideas in your niche.
Most of all, blog like a friend. This is one place where blogs have changed the face of authority. Blog comments can put visiting industry experts and unknown beginners in the same conversations, in the house of the business owner. "Friendly" goes a long way to bring that diversity happily into the same destination.
Create Community by Being Community for Others
Encourage your team to participate in Social Media. In the last few years, online "community" has sprouted up in scattered filaments and pockets, from Sphinns to Tweets and back again. A blog author with a recognized avatar and an active Social Media profile can help to draw a community-bearing line from the great wild Internet straight to a destination blog.
Use Social Media to send fan mail. Even one line can go a long way to make someone's day, and what goes around comes around. Want blog comments? Leave blog comments. And, friendly communication has bonuses. Each comment conversation can be a reason for RSS subscribers to visit a blog in person.
Use varied formats to share the love. Add someone to your blogroll? Shoot them an acknowledging pm via wherever they interact. Tweets beget tweets. Stumbles beget Stumbles. The medium at hand will be the easiest way for your audience to respond.
And the Reveal
If you've been watching the Search Engine People blog for a while, as I have, you'll recognize having witnessed these tactics in action. Jeff Quipp and his crew Stumble and Sphinn each other, and do the same with readers like me, who end up Stumbling and Sphinning them, too. When I was digging into applying personal branding to personal benchmarks, Jenn Osborne was there. When I was ready to guest post, Ruud Hein was there with an invitation to post here.
Community used to be a social construct that helped to keep order. People found their place within a community and took it from there. This blog is one example of how today we can create our own place, while inspiring our readership and modeling what is possible for our clients.
Pretty cool, huh?
I'm Elizabeth Able, owner of ablereach.com, and I love to blog, analyze, understand and invent. Show me a puzzle and I'll keep turning it over until I have a practical working model of how it works and what it's good for, be it the secrets of making a crack-free white chocolate cheesecake, or what motivates web site visitors to stay on a site. Motivation fascinates me, and I am honored when I am a part of inspiring others.
Images courtesy of: chaparral