How do you REALLY build a blog community? A love story.

This is my 500th blog post.

It snuck up on me. I’m sorry that I don’t have anything particularly profound to say to commemorate this milestone, but I thought I would address a question I hear constantly — “How did you build such an awesome blog community?” Certainly this has been the most visible achievement of all this work.

As I reflect on what has happened here over the past few years, I think a few turning points stand out that might help you in your own efforts. At least these are things that have worked for me.

Early promotion — I used the old marketing maxim to go where my “customers” are as tried to introduce the blog. For example, as I was trying to gain traction, I would use links to blog posts to help answer questions in LinkedIn forums.  I was an active participant in other blogs (as I still am) and also promoted the blog everywhere I would naturally have an email address. I used the blog to be authentically helpful and connect to new people. In all honesty, I had no idea what I was doing. This was a distinct advantage in some ways!

The first visitors — What a joy and surprise to find people enjoying my blog and even commenting. I made an effort to connect to them by helping to support their blogs and Twitter efforts too. Sadly, I have so many regular readers of {grow} I cannot possibly do this today.  The irony of social media is the result of success is LESS engagement.  I really hate that.

Asking for help — It got to a point where I was writing what I thought were really unique posts but they still were’t getting much attention. So I asked for attention. When I wrote something really great, I would send a link to some bloggers I admired and asked them for feedback. This is a euphemism for “a tweet.”  People are really nice on Twitter and I never had a request turned down. Of course I only asked sparingly and only when I thought I had an extraordinary post. But it helped.

Show gratitude — There is this rumor going around (Gini Dietrich!) that I wrote personal notes thanking people for their help. This is true. That may seem like over-kill but I didn’t know any better. I was being polite! For example, early in my blogging career Jason Falls wrote a very kind post indicating that I was an up and coming blogger to watch. So I wrote him a thank you note. Why wouldn’t I? Sidenote — Since Gini started broadcasting this two weeks ago, I have received three personal hand-written notes. : )

Taking a human view — Behind every little commenter picture is a story and an awesome person.  That fascinates me to no end. I am so hungry to learn more about you. I wish I could know all of you so much better. One of the things that has made a difference is treating people like people, not comments.  If I sense that a commenter is struggling or suffering, I invite them to call me.  I know that is seen as “taboo,” but the way I see it, we’re all in this together right?  Why not help each other when we can? There is no reason we can’t be friends.

Being involved — I try to thoughtfully respond to each comment. I think that encourages people to comment, but it also is courtesy. Every day I am blown away that people spend their precious time commenting here. I think I owe them a response in return. The least I can do.

But the big community driver is … content. It seems trite, but it really is true. I know that people find the blog and stay here due to the content. When I write something great, I am rewarded with comments and tweets, meaningful social media engagement. So if you want to grow a community, be prepared to put in the hard work to settle for nothing less than consistent, compelling, relevant and entertaining content.  And be human.  Think about your favorite {grow} post. I bet it had something to do with me admitting a weakness or having the courage to be humble. As writers, and as leaders, there is strength in weakness.

Where do we go from here?

The growth of the community has been staggering by every measure. I’m averaging more than 50 comments per post which I was told is in the top 1 percent of all blogs. And you’re a classy bunch.   I have had almost 11,000 comments on {grow} and have only deleted three for being inappropriate.

I have lots of ideas on how to grow {grow} and try some creative new ideas.  The hurdle is time and resources, which I’m sure will sound familiar!  I’m on a mission of continuous learning and improvement, which is what this is all about. This is a community of students, not gurus.

Yes, sometimes I get weary responding to comments at 2 a.m.  I have wondered if I am on the right path.  But then I catch a glimpse of an evolution of something exciting happening here. This is a REAL community. People are connecting and helping each other.

And when I finally meet folks from our community in real life … and they embrace you like a brother … and they trust you with their life story … and tell me I have impacted their life … I realize that this is becoming a movement that is leading to something bigger.  I don’t know what, but it’s going to be bold and amazing.

So 500 posts is just the beginning. The community has become important to me on so many levels. And I’m going to create insanely great content and respond to all the comments I possibly can because I can’t wait to see what happens next!

The answer to today’s post headline really belongs to you. Why are you here and why do you stay?  Do you have a favorite blog post that hooked you?  If you have been reading for some time, why not take the leap and tweet and/or comment. Join in and let everybody know you’re here!

Thanks to all of you — whether you comment here or engage in another way — for making this a special place and an amazing experience!

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