The internet has redefined communities. My grandparents, who are in their 80s and 90s, still consider a community the people they see pulling out of their driveway, or those they run into at the grocery store on a weekly basis. To them, a community is the physical people around them that share a similar lifestyle to their own. They also don’t own a computer.
For those of us that do, we know that a community doesn’t have to be made up of those in close proximity to us, and often times aren’t.
Take the TopRank blog for instance. We have loyal readers from Minnesota, Texas and Illinois. Then we have international readers from India, Australia, the Netherlands and France. They’re all joined by east and west coast readers from California and New York. Regardless of where they’re from or how far away they are, they make up our community.
Like the physical community my grandparents still hold dear to their hearts, online communities need to grow and change and adapt. Cora Harrington has built an incredibly successful community for her blog, The Lingerie Addict. In her NMX session Harrington told the story of creating a community and gave a few pieces of sage advice to help others do the same:
What a Community Is and Why You Should Care
Every blogger should want to have a community. That should be your ultimate goal. They’re who will read your site, promote your site and be your calling card when people want to know where to go about a certain topic or for certain information.
A community is a group of people who are really into you—they know what you’re about, they care about what you care about, and they care about what you’re doing. You want to care about the people who are going to keep coming to your site day after day and share with their friends.
A community exists even when you’re not directly around. Those people will still talk about you, your product and your message—they’ll keep contributing to your blog, your comments, and your social media channels.
How to Define Your Community
Defining a community is where a lot of people fall short because people want to appeal to everyone. Well, you can’t be all things to all people. It’s just not possible. There are a few things you should do to define your community:
- Create a clear sentence of who your audience is: don’t just say your community is women, or bloggers. Be more specific. ‘New moms who are interested in starting a blog and are looking for deals for their children’ is more targeted. The more specific you can be the better. Trying to talk to everyone will frustrate you and no one will know why they should come to you because they won’t know you’re talking just to them.
- Think about who is welcome, and who isn’t. Everybody doesn’t have to be a part of your community. For example, Harrington’s blog doen’t allow people who participate in ‘body snark’ (talking badly about other people’s bodies). They just don’t need to be a part of her community because they go against what her site stands for. You don’t want people in your community who are going to drive away your target visitors.
- Think about core values. What are the top 2 or 3 things they should think about when they hear your name?
How to Make Sure Your Community is Full of the Right People
Defining your community will naturally filter out some people online. But there are a few other things you can do to make sure your community is full of readers you want that will enjoy and share your content:
- Address commonness: You can create a very strong, robust community on any topic or subject. What matters most is that you’re passionate, can come up with ideas, and have a clear enough point of view that people will want to come for you. Find what you all have in common and start there.
- Be conscious of size: Communities be humongous, but they can also be small. Sometimes, the smaller the better. A small, extremely passionate one can be more invested in what you’re doing than a massive one that’s only minutely interested in your topic. Spend your time thinking about who you want to be in your community and who you specifically want to talk to, and attract those people.
Actual Things your Community Needs
- Rules/Boundaries: This community represents you and your site and what you’re about. For example, The Lingere Addict has a rule “no body snark” because Harrington wants all of her visitors to feel welcome regardless of shape or size and know they won’t be attacked for their bodies. Whatever your rules are, make sure they’re enforceable and easy to remember -for you and your readers.
- Sense of Direction and Purpose: What makes you different? What do you have to offer that no one else in your particular niche can offer? Why should people listen to what you have to say? What needs are you answering that aren’t being currently fulfilled? Those things can help you provide the best content for your community.
- Relevant Issues: They need you to be a leader about the topic you’ve chosen. Sometimes you’ll have to talk about things that are completely different than what other people are talking about, and that’s ok. Being different helps you stand out and gives your community a reason to become loyal.
- Access to You: It’s essential to interact with your community. That will mean different things to different people. What it boils down to is paying attention. Show that you’re paying attention to people as individuals—that they’re not just blips on a screen or lines on a chart—that you actually care about them.
- Connections: Be a connector–how can you connect your readers to things they haven’t heard about, or other people in the industry they should care about? Doing so shows you care about them and are interested in helping them.
A community should be a place where people feel safe to contribute, engage and participate. Use your blog or your site to create that space for your audience. Then put in the effort to maintain it so they don’t fall by the wayside. One of the best things you can to do turn your audience into a community, “don’t be wishy-washy,” Harrington says. “People will know, and they’ll call you out on it and that’s no good. Know what you’re standing for and be prepared for the consequences of it.”
How have you attracted the right people to your community?