Building A More Communal Blog

Communities have been around since the dawn of time, well the dawn of internet time anyway and their benefits to a site are well known: increased ‘stickiness’ and return visits, a member feeling of ownership and loyalty, a userbase to tap into for anything from promotions to assistance. Blogs are inherently communal, but without effort, they are only so at the most basic level. There are however things you can do to make your blog more communal, and here are 29 of them, split up loosely into basic and advanced:

Basic Things you can Do

  1. Focus at least a portion of your posts towards Discussion as opposed to just ReadershipThis can mean ending the post with a question – like “what do you think?” or posting on a controversial topic
  2. Create a Top Commenters ListOne of the key four components to community is recognition and showing a list of top commentors can help users achieve recognition. There is a famous WP-Plugin to do this.
  3. Reply to CommentsThe core of any community is social interaction. If you don’t interact with users, how can you expect others to?
  4. Show Recent Comments in your sidebarThe more hook-ins to the discussion there are, the better. So long as its not overwhelming of course
  5. Use basic interaction features such as polls to get people involvedNot all users will interact in the same way, polls are a good way of getting the ‘shyest’ users interacting in a broad sense. PollDaddy.com provides widgets to do just that – for free.
  6. Invite a few Top Commenters to Write a Blog Post each monthBlogging tends to make the community focus around a single person, the more you can distribute this the better, by allowing key community members to write a post you distribute the focus.
  7. Let people get notified of activityAllowing RSS or email subscriptions to blog posts means that users can keep track of discussion. There are WP-Plugins to do this
  8. Get the Conversation startedIf your blog’s conversation isn’t happening others might not want to start it. You can kickstart your blog conversation by inviting friends to write interesting comments after each post, by writing controversial posts, by asking for opinions and even by - and i may be risking being flamed for saying this - by creating pseudonyms and starting conversations yourself. Whatever the means you use, getting a discussion started will in turn generate more discussion.
  9. Use Blog Community Widgets like MyBlogLog or Explode to connect with your readersMyBlogLog has really taken off recently and helps bloggers and readers connect by showing recent readers, links, community commentary and so on.
  10. If you aren’t using MyBlogLog, consider adding Pavatar to let your readers show themselvesPavatar lets users add images (or avatars) for themselves, theres a WP-Plugin for this as well… but the page is in French!
  11. Don’t make your blog annoyingIf you want your blog to be communal then it needs to be somewhere people are comfortable coming back to time and time again. Loading up your page with blaring ads covering every pixel makes it hard to visit.
  12. Think of your blog as belonging to its usersMost blogs are personal creations, however if you want a blog to have a community, it needs to belong to everyone else. This means using language like “We”, talking about your community in posts and avoiding really personal posts like ‘what position i fall asleep in’ – unless its relevant!
  13. Run promotions for your communityIf you are making money out of your blog from ads and affiliate programs, then you should give back some of this to the community – after all the site belongs to them! Running little giveaways or promotions not only boosts activity but also gives users a sense that the site cares about them not just the owners profits
  14. Make sure you are part of the larger blog communityNo blog is an island, make sure you have links to and from other blogs in your area. Mention them and credit them for ideas. By being a part of the larger distributed community you not only position your own blog well, but you invite users and members from other sites.
  15. Acknowledge Useful comments in other PostsAnother of the key four components to community is ‘Efficacy’, that is that users will contribute valuable information because they see that they have an effect on their environment. By acknowledging or building on user comments in follow-up posts, you provide feedback to these users as well as tie commenting and posts together even more tightly
  16. Push your PostsThere are a few strategies you can employ to push your posts, at the most basic level you can show ‘recent posts’ just to get users reading, at a more advanced level you can show ‘related posts’ and at the most communal level you can show ‘most commented on posts’ to help promote those topics people are really talking about
  17. Invite Users to participate in content generationAsk your users to email in their favourite links, images or other content for inclusion in an upcoming post to get them further involved on the site
  18. Create contests or competitions for usersContests can be used to drive certain aspects of the site (e.g. a prize for the top commenter of the month) or to generate content (e.g. a prize for the best blog joke), either way they encourage user participation and produce a more active site

More Advanced Things you can Do

  1. Thread your commentsIf a blog has a lot of readers then threading comments so that users can ‘reply-to’ means sub-conversations are more readable, thus encouraging further discussion. There are WP-Plugins to do this
  2. Best of commentsWrite up occasional posts that highlight some of the better recent user comments with credits to them. This helps users feel recognised and encourages well thought out participation. 37Signals occasional do this to great effect.
  3. Integrate forum features into a blogForums have been doing community for a long time and in that time they have developed certain features that users love. One such feature is recognising how many posts a user has made and possibly rewarding them with status such as titles or icons. Try utilizing features such as comment counts in your blog.
  4. Look at other non-traditional ways to show or make commentsNot all blogs and comments are set up the same, see this 37s post and this one about alternative comment setups.
  5. Introduce a Private Messaging SystemFor a greater sense of community, allow users to contact each other privately through a private messaging system. This helps take some of the focus of the site off the blogger as now some communication doesn’t even involve the blogger.
  6. Organise offline social or online chat meetupsOrganising events such as social get togethers or scheduled real time chat helps allow users to really get to know one another. Offline meetups are of course only appropriate for very large blogs or very localised blogs. Problogger is organising his first NY meetup shortly.
  7. Make certain decisions with the help of usersAllowing users to participate in key decisions that affect the blog increases the feeling of ownership. This is a very tricky line to tread as asking for opinions also means you have to take them seriously. Don’t ask for something you don’t want to listen to.
  8. Set Tasks for your usersDarren from Problogger suggests setting tasks or homework for your users as a way to increase participation in this post and this one. If you already have a blog with a large amount of loyalty and participation this can be a good exercise. It is essentially a more advanced version of things like contests and email in your favourite link from further up in this list.
  9. Allow (limited) member posts as part of the blogAlthough tricky, it is possible to set up a system where members can write posts for the blog the way performancing.com does
  10. Create a Public Broadcast systemThe design portal NewsToday successfully runs two blog like news systems, one is the private one and one is open to members to announce or write on. Having a publicly used/run blog sitting next to your main blog could work to help readers feel ownership and give them more of a voice on the site.
  11. Add a Forum to the blogForums have been the mainstay of online communities since forever and recently have been making their way on to popular blogs like techcrunch and blogher. Forums are a world unto themselves and require a lot of moderation, encouragement and management. Some interesting forums to try out are BBPress from WordPress, Vanilla or if you have the stomach for it and are using WordPress, this Alpha version WP-Plugin forum

So there you have it, a lot of food for thought and a lot of ideas to pursue. Naturally building a community around a blog is a slow, evolutionary process and is much easier with a larger or more popular blog. Do you have any other ideas for making a blog more communal?Additional reading:If you are interested in creating communities around a blog check out these links:Is 2007 the year for Blog Communities?6 Tips for Adding a forum to your blogWhat’s better for building community – blogs or forums?Original Publish DateI should point out that this article was originally written back in February I think when NorthxEast was a different blog, I kept it around with a plan to tidy it up and republish … which I’ve finally done today. So below you’ll see comments from a long time ago, I thought I should explain in case anyone thought they’d entered a time warp :-)

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18 Responses to Building A More Communal Blog

  1. Raghu CS says:

    That was a neat compilation. I am doing a few things but would definitely get to doing more of them

  2. Owen says:

    I’ve just started looking at doing just this and have started by increasing the siginificance of Comments in some of the ways you suggested. I also added the DoFollow plugin to WordPress (http://www.semiologic.com/software/dofollow/) so commenters can get some SEO benefit from their comments.

  3. Collis says:

    Oh interesting, i hadnt heard of the doFollow thing, ill take a look!

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  6. Good post, BUT do bloggers really invite top commentators to write guest posts?

  7. Collis says:

    Not that i know of, but perhaps they should! I think I shall do it one day when this blog is famous :-)

  8. Wallace says:

    you can install top commentators and comment follow plugins too,but i do welcome the quality comments only,so “#20 Best of comments” is considerable for my blog.

  9. Marko Novak says:

    Very nice set of suggestions. I will try to implement some of them on my blog.

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  11. Kyra says:

    I LOVE your site. How do I get in touch with you? I’m writing a new book about the basics of blogging and NorthxEast is featured as a MUST READ blog. Thanks for all your great advice.

  12. Hey Kyra, thats great to hear, you can email me on collis@eden.cc, that reminds me that this site could do with a contact page :-)

  13. Andrew says:

    Another great article as usual!

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  15. Jenny says:

    Great article. I just pulled off a couple of them. I have also stumbled and bookmarked it.

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  17. Positie 1 says:

    One of the best posts i read in a long time about making you blog more attractive to your readers. Some very good tips i didn’t use yet.

  18. I think number 3 is the most important one.’Reply to comments’. Too often i see many blog owners just neglect their base and not reply to anything causing less and less comments over time.

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