I've been thinking a lot about online communities lately. Partially because I see the old methods of building community (comments, Twitter and Facebook interaction) dwindling, and partially because I think about how my relationships with other bloggers have evolved. As a blogger, I'm always trying to grow my own site's community, and being a contributor at IFB has taught me in the intrinsic value of a community.
We can try every tip in the book for growing our page views, getting to 50,000 Facebook fans, or getting hundreds of re-tweets – but are those the only foundations of a strong community?
That's the focus of your site – or your niche. I've always found narrowing myself into a niche difficult, but as a result, I've always found it difficult to create content without a focus or defined niche. People trust niche sites: it's easier to establish authority and credibility, and your passion and enthusiasm shine through. (Read: How to Identify, Grow, and Find Success in Your Blog's Niche.)
Focus is the first step to building a strong community – it's like in Field of Dreams, where they say, “If you build it, they will come.” If you build a site focused on the the topics that you love, your audience will find you.
2. Point of View.
Your point of view is your personality – it's what readers respond and relate to. It's what makes them come back. While readers are supportive of growth and change, it's important that you're not flip-flopping around — whether on your opinions, your focus, how often you post – any of it.
Be confident in what you share, be earnest and honest in the stories you write, and your blog will have an engaging point of view. You created your site to share a point of view – YOURS. Don't let other sites, trolls, or fear hold you back from building a site with your footprint on it.
Trust is the backbone of every strong online community, and trust is built as a result of your focus and point of view. Trust comes when your readers know you're honest. When you share the bad as well as the good. When you open up about the challenges or pressures that come within your niche. (Read: Getting Your Readers to Know, Like, and Trust You.)
And trust creates a domino effect: when your readers trust you, your fellow bloggers will trust you. Once readers and bloggers trust you – and believe you're an authority- brands and PR agencies become open to working with you. And if you give them a positive experience, then they'll trust you.
This? This is when you've got the foundation you need to accomplish your goals.
Engagement happens in blogs at all levels and is the core of an online community. You may have a blog of 50 followers, but if they're actively engaging with you, trust your recommendations, and respond as a result? That's something you can't buy. Bloggers and brands alike become too focused on quantitative measurements: the number of blog followers you have, your Twitter followers, your Facebook fans, or how many people like your Instagram photos.
But I've seen many sites with 50,000 Facebook fans, and their posts receive no likes, comments, or shares. They may have numbers, but they lack engagement.
Engaging your audience, and keeping them engaged, may be the hardest thing thing to do as a blogger. Pay attention to your audience's needs, their feedback, compliments, and criticisms. Don't lose sight of their role in your blog's success, and respond to what they give you.
When you look at big sites with massive, engaged audiences, what pillars do you think are supporting and growing that community? What other pillars do you think are necessary for a strong online community?