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March 30, 2010

4 Pillars of Excellent Blogging: Pillar 4 Community

SnshotOver the last month(-ish) I have examined three of four pillars of successful blogging – consistency, content, and tone.  Hold onto your hats because today is the exciting conclusion to this white-knuckled blogging series:  community!  

“Community” is all about directly connecting with your fellow bloggers and readers in your posts, comments, and overall dealings on the web.  That’s right, in case it wasn’t difficult enough consistently writing engaging content in an accessible tone, now you need to get out there and include others. 

Community is one of the fundamental pillars because blogging is about creating a conversation between you and your readers, the readers with each other, and other bloggers and their readers.  Ignore the community and you lose not only a big part of what it means to have a blog, but you’ll likely miss out on the traffic that you’re seeking by having the blog in the first place. 

A blog’s growth and popularity are tightly connected with how many other bloggers link to the blog (and, no, not in a blog roll type of way either) and the comments that result.  Furthermore, you want other bloggers talking about you because when they talk about you, they are talking about you to their entire readership.  That sort of organic promotion is hugely valuable (and definitely more valuable than paid promotion), but it takes serious work.       

JeanLucPicard
"Engage."

There are three main ways to involve readers and bloggers:  1. Link to other blogs; 2. Respond to (some) comments; and 3. Be active in the space.

You’re Not Alone and Neither is Your Blog, So Start Linking
Like I said above, successful blogs regularly respond and riff off of what they find on other blogs.  In fact, blog aggregator Technorati determines the reach and popularity of a blog by tracking how many other blogs are linking to it on consistent basis.  Back in the old days of blogging (way back in 2002/2003), a blogger would analyze his traffic and see the sites directing traffic his way.  If he saw lots of traffic coming from another blog, he would go check out why and frequently respond, in kind, on his own blog.  His readers would then be made aware of this other blog, thereby increasing the visibility of the blog sending him traffic in the first place.

It’s important to keep your expectations under control when you start linking to other blogs, especially the big ones.  Big blogs (e.g., HuffingtonPost.com, DailyKos.com) notice big traffic.  They probably won’t notice an occasional link driving a few people.  However, bloggers who write for smaller blogs are much more likely to notice the traffic you direct.  Try weaving quotes, interesting analysis (or correct incorrect analysis), and tidbits that you find on their blogs into your own posts.

Respond to Comments…Sometimes
Now that you’ve created a blog, it’s actually time to talk with people.  The “with” part, however, is frequently ignored.  You’ve probably seen it a dozen times - an organization is eager to start a blog to start a “conversation.”  They write interesting stuff, get a few comments, and then completely ignore the people who actually showed interest.  The “conversation” becomes yet another one-way communications vehicle.  Readers feel ignored, get grumpy and things that should be responded to, don’t.  Now it’s true that eventually your readers will (hopefully) respond for you at some point.  But that point is far down the road, so you’ll need a strategy in the meantime.  What do you respond to?  How do you respond?  There are many questions to sort out.  Here’s a handy chart put together by the US Airforce of all places on Jeremy Owyang’s Web-Strategist blog.  You should also spend time reviewing and honing your editorial guidelines and community guidelines.

Be Active in the Space
Your blog is not alone in whatever space your non-profit operates, whether it’s health, environment, education, etc.  It is one of many blogs covering similar issues.  So get to know your fellow bloggers – comment on their blogs or respond to their posts on your blog. 

You may be tempted to do a few commenting no-no’s though, like just linking back to your own blog in a way that shows that you clearly didn’t read their post.  For example, “Hey, this is really interesting, I actually talk about this on my blog (www.my-org.org).”  It’s spammy and annoying to the blogger and other readers.  What you should do is dive in and respond in a way that is appropriate to your organization.  When and where appropriate, you can link back to your own blog.  Another commenting no-no is the “post and go” strategy.  You post a comment and feeling like your work is done, you never return.   Be prepared to respond to responses to your comment(s).  Your comment will appear spammy and your reputation on the blog will be marginalized before you even get started.  So, to put it in the words of Captain Pickard, “Engage.”

You’ll also want to match your comment frequency to the amount of comments already occurring on the site.  If a blogger you’re “courting” is only getting 2-3 comments per post, don’t respond to each of them just to show you are interested.  Respond only when you can really add something to the conversation.  And don’t forget that you are representing your company, so make sure that it is appropriate for your nonprofit.


So there it is – the four pillars of excellent blogging.  Feeling overwhelmed?  You're not alone.  Blogging is truly a serious undertaking which is precisely why most organizations need to take a hard look at whether they are prepared to start blogging before leaping into the blogosphere.   I would love any feedback on these pillars – do you agree disagree?  Anything you might add?

Comments

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Hi Joel, thank you so much for this great series. I especially like your point about snarky blogging. Re: #7 in your To Blog or Not to Blog Post -- I’m stumbling on the “readership milestones” part because -- to continue the analogy -- what if you're not set on what a respectable finish for the race would be? For that matter, what if you're not 100-percent sure how many runners are competing (size of audience), and if they are first-string varsity (very engaged online) or…? Is this something you have to figure out by looking at various performance indicators over time? Thanks again, sorry I had to use wacky analogies to explain myself, & looking forward to reading more.

Hi Pune,

Thanks for tuning in and for your comment. The thing to remember with readership milestones is that, at some point, an organization needs to weigh the cost of running the blog (staff time, etc.) against it's benefit for the org. There is no doubt that directly measuring who is reading your blog is difficult, however, so you may end up measuring those things that you can measure - blog traffic/increase in blog traffic, number of comments, and so forth. You can compare this against the traffic your website gets in general or try to compare it against other blogs/websites targeting the same audience. In terms of establishing your base readership, you'll need to do a little market research. You probably don't need exact numbers, but ballparks - is my audience a few thousand people or are there hundreds of thousands. How old are they? etc. You can then extrapolate potential audience size and their relative web-savvy by comparing it against general online demographics (Pew Internet & American Life Project has a lot of good information). Over time, as your audience size increases, you can test by doing surveys, etc.

You can compare this against the traffic your website gets in general or try to
compare it against other blogs/websites targeting the same audience. In terms of establishing
your base readership,
but you'll need to do a little market research.

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I appreciate your analogy of Star Trek. I guess it's also fitting to remind that you should be passionate about the topics you blog about. Readers will likely follow bloggers who write with depth, and not just write something for the sake of it. Blogging is, first and foremost, a writing platform, so you have to do a bit of a word game to impress.

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