Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Guest Post: A Belle, A Bean & A Chicago Dog

When I started blogging, a little over a year ago, my priorities were a little askew. Like many new bloggers I was torn between writing for myself and writing to get readers. In the beginning I was obsessed with getting new followers and comments on my blog. I tried everything and anything to attract new readers- linky parties, giveaways, blog hops, reading and commenting on other blogs. But somewhere down the road I realized that even though my GFC numbers were going up, I still didn't feel connected to my readers.
And then it dawned on me.
Having followers is very different than having a community.
Followers may read once and never come back. But a community of readers, read and comment on every post. They are there to bounce ideas off of. To answer your techy questions. To inspire and encourage you.
About a year after I joined Twitter I was lucky enough to find Liz from A Belle, a Bean, and a Chicago Dog. The fact that she was a former Chi-Town girl is what initially attracted me to her blog, but the content and her down to earth writing is what kept me coming back for more. And the real kicker was when I started talking to her on Twitter, she actually Tweeted me back.
Since then Liz has become one of my favorite Tweeps. In addition to just being fun to chat with, she has become an extreme source of inspiration and support. 

I am very excited to have Liz here today talking about what it takes to grow and nurture your community. If you read her blog regularly you know that she is full of useful tips and tricks. When she is not giving away this useful information on her personal blog, A Belle, A Bean, and a Chicago Dog she is working with Kirstin from Taming Insanity on their latest venture, Eli Rose Social Media Consulting. When I switched over my blog from IMO to Mama Insomnia, Eli Rose was crucial in making the switch smooth and seamless. Their professional advice was key to boosting my stats and has taken my community to a whole new level.

So without further ado, please welcome Liz....

I'm pumped to be hanging with some fellow Insomniacs today! Angie was so kind to ask me over to her digs to talk about growing a community around your blog. While it's a process that takes some time to really develop, I feel like growing a community basically boils down to 2 key things.

1. Determine your preferred form of social media, and then utilize it to its fullest potential. I'm a big believer that you aren't being effective with your time or efforts if you are trying to participate in multiple social media sites all day, every day. Also, I don't think there is 1 tool that is best suited for everyone.

Early on in my blog career, I spent considerable time over at The BlogFrog. In fact, many of my current readers have told me they initially found me over there. It didn't take long for me to catch the Twitter bug, though, and in my mind, Twitter is where it's at! I can interact with bloggy friends on Twitter, I can promote my posts easily on Twitter, and I genuinely enjoy using it as my preferred social media tool.

But as much as I swear by Twitter, I know many people who swear by Facebook. You need to utilize whatever social media tool that works best for you.

Some things to consider: Where do you spend most of your time? What tool do you most prefer to use? From where do you get more traffic? What tool is easiest for you to use to interact with your readers?

2. Build engagement with your readers. In order to create a "sticky" blog reader - meaning they return to your blog time and time again - you need to engage and connect with them on a more personal level. If you think about the blogs you love to read, you probably love them because you can identify with their stories, you feel like reading a post is like having a conversation with that blogger, and you feel vested in their lives and their families.

To build engagement with your readers, there needs to be interaction that occurs beyond the comment section of your own blog. One way to do so is through social media (which I talked about above) and the other is through visiting your readers at their own blogs.

This approach for building engagement is one that is met with some resistance. Bloggers, in general, often lament about how much time reading and commenting takes. Also, there are many people who would say they don't agree with the "a visit for a visit" mentality.

While I do not think that anyone should be forced to read something they don't enjoy, nor do I think any blogger needs to respond to 100% of the comments left on their blog, I do think taking the time to read someone else's words is essential to forming a connection. If you have a group of dedicated readers who keep coming back to your blog, post after post, it's because they can identify with you, and chances are you will identify with much of what they say, too.

Something to consider: If you went to a party and met a bunch of new people, would you leave the party saying you had a really great time because of the people you hit it off with or because of the people who never spoke to you even when you tried to make polite conversation?

I liken building a community to forging friendships; there is a give and take from both sides. Showing people that you appreciate them stopping by and that you care about what they have to say, too, makes all the difference in growing a strong blog community.

How have you helped your community grow?