The 4 Pillars of a Strong Online Community

shutterstock_126452111I'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?

1. Focus.

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.

3. Trust.

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.

4. Engagement.

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?

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15 Responses

  1. Surjit&Jeet

    This article is spot on. Engagement is key to make your fans talk to you. If you can somehow relate to your audience that is an added advantage. With over 48K fans on facebook I post non fashion photos once a while and that change brings in so many fans to engage. I also post discussion topics related to fashion/non fashion and tell fans to give their opinion/thoughts. All this to keep the engagement activity high and not let fans get bored of seeing fashion pics all the time. hope this helps other bloggers out there as well. Good luck!

  2. Deirdre Attinger

    I agree with this blog completely, although where you mention:

    “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.”

    It is so common for brands to ‘buy in’ likes that do not ever engage with their page(s) which is why you have seen sites with low engagement. I think that it is much better to build a following organically with good content over a period of time.

    See for yourself, like and view our page:

    • Em K

      I don’t know that comments are as relevant as they used to be. Technology has changed so much in the last couple of years the way people consume and interact with blogs is so different. Personally (and I know I’m not the only one) I use my phone to read blogs but it’s a pain to comment from my phone so i don’t. That doesn’t mean I’m not engaged as I’m still reading and sometimes buying what the blogger featured.

      Plus I’ve noticed with a lot of fashion blogs many of the comments are spam, follow me/I’ll follow you so looking at comment numbers can be misleading.

      This was a great article Ashe and as usual you raised some really thought-provoking questions!

      Emmett – Hippie Lace

  3. Candice Shaw

    The engagement angle is exactly why I don’t buy followers or beg other bloggers to be my friend. I only message other bloggers if I really love their blog because what’s the point in having tons of followers on your blog or Twitter if they never talk to you? I never understood that.

  4. Donna George

    Great takeaway value! The engagement is what excites me so it makes perfect sense.
    Thanks for your thoughts and honesty.

    Donna George

  5. Xenia Metelski

    I though about nummbers too. You can have a hundreds of followers, but nobody comment your posts… It isn’t about nummers.

  6. Ann Krembs

    Hi Ashley,

    Thank you so much for this post! It was exactly what I was looking for. I do have a couple of questions, so I hope you can reply.

    In regards to the engagement, how do I get my readers to “engage?” I think I have about 100 readers. (I’d like to gain more but that’s a whole ‘nother topic;) I have hosted a giveaway, I post polls, I ask question, I seek their opinions….basically I feel like I’m really trying to get them to respond, but they just won’t. I think I can guess that my readers actually know me. I live overseas (and have lived in many spots), so when I look at where my site is being read, I can guess at each reader. Is it that they’re embarrassed to write? Is it my age bracket (I’m 41)? What are they thinking? And why won’t they share? It’s the weirdest thing….I really keep thinking about how I can get them to interact with me. And now look at me; I’m dumping it on to you!

    Sorry if this seems rant-filled. It isn’t. I’m genuinely curious as to how to ignite a spark in my readers. Hmmm, maybe I should just write a post and ask them!

    Thanks for highlighting these four pillars. I really appreciate your articles.


    Ann of Kremb de la Kremb

    • Ashley Robison

      Oof, that’s such a hard question to answer. I won’t lie! I write for multiple sites, and have for 6+ years now. And I think engagement & commenting are kind of at an all time low. Maybe it’s the saturation (we’re all reading so many sites that we aren’t really interacting with them), maybe it’s our content – it’s always hard to say. Sometimes people don’t know HOW to engage! I had readers who would always respond to my posts via email – they had no clue how to leave a comment, or didn’t want to.

      So in that sense – make engagement as easy as possible.

      If you know them in real life, sometimes they’re visiting to show support, but don’t recognize that… more than page views is important! I know that my mother-in-law, my aunts-in-law, and my friends all read my blog… but they all rarely, if never comment. Because they don’t know what blogging really is, how these things are measured, or the value of the interaction.

      So I guess with that, you need to ask – what does the engagement do for you? Why do you want it or need it? I have a new site I rarely promote, which has no engagement really.. because that’s not its purpose!

      And definitely – feel free to ask them! If you think you know who they are, maybe email them. Ask if they enjoy it, or what they like. At the end of the day… what does it hurt?

      • Ann Krembs

        Thanks Ashley. You asked two really important questions up above. You know what? I really don’t even think at this point the engagement is as important as finding an actual audience. Do you have any posts that recommend how to gain readers? That’s where I feel really, really stumped. I love days/posts (I try to post once a weekday, Monday-Friday) when I spike to 100, and I’m bummed when I don’t even reach 50. My most viewed post was 230–and who knows why? I can’t figure it out–maybe it’s because I was showing a lot of leg…? Or maybe the impending super typhoon was coming…. I don’t know! Go figure!! Anyway, I’d love engagement, but numbers would prove that to me. That’s what I need. Do you care to offer more advice….? (Sometimes I feel so guilty asking for more;P) By the way, here’s my highest viewed post–maybe it’ll make it to 231 now;D Big Wave Bay

        You’re adorable Ashley. Thank you for your help:D

        Ann of Kremb de la Kremb