The success of your blog rests on a lot of different variables. Your writing, your marketing, the site layout and design, features, and the branding all contribute to your overall product.
There are hundreds of quality writers out there, and if you have enough money you can buy a great design or the marketing to go along with it. Often the popularity of a blog or online community comes down to charisma, community management, and community development.
I know you’ve been told to not worry about what other people think, but if you’re only thinking of yourself, your website may not appeal to anyone else. If you aren’t likeable, no one will want to hang around in your community, and if you create a dysfunctional atmosphere, no one will stay very long.
I can’t stress the importance of strategy enough. You should already know what your ideal community members looks like: their demographic, age, gender, interests, income and online habits. Find people that best represent that community member and research their preferences when it comes to online interactions, the people they associate with, the brands they prefer and the networks they’re active on.
Charisma can be derived from strength, weakness, beauty, honesty, morality, lawlessness, innovation, talent, common ground, and a perceived importance. Empathy and inclusiveness can go a long way, but so can realism and exclusiveness; charisma is clearly a complicated and dynamic subject.
[box type=”info”] Definition of Charisma
1.Compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.[/box]
There’s just no right way to develop charisma; James Dean and Steve Jobs took radically different paths – ultimately it’s their nuances and subtle traits that make them who they are. Originality is where you find yourself. Every amalgamation of being will lend itself to a different level of charisma, and you don’t want to change who you are to optimize that; you may want to sand the rough edges though.
Give everyone a chance to get to know you on a personal level. Video is a powerful medium, and tools like Skype make it possible to remind everyone that you are a real person. You have some common ground with everyone, so focus on that and downplay your unpopular political opinions, your crusade against the protestant faith, and your collection of original Charlie Manson drawings. The Internet is a hot bed for free speech and disagreement. Someone will take all those roads so you don’t have to. If developing a strong community to support your brand is on your to-do-list, all those things you had planned that tend to alienate people can wait.
If you think that your charisma is seriously lacking in important areas, I strongly suggest bringing other people in on your project. Countries have royalty as figure heads, brands choose employees to represent them in media and at trade shows, and celebrities hire agents to do their dirty work. Every organization has their own Prince William, and a Prime Minister that takes out the trash at night.
Proactive Community Recruiting and Inbound Recruiting
The most popular tactic for recruiting new community members is to add a question to the end of your blog post. For example, after a blog post about your trip to Disney World, you’ll say “Now over to you. Tell us about your favorite moments during a Disney World vacation in the comments below.” This has almost become standard practice in the blogging world.
The important thing to remember is that when someone takes that bait, you need to follow up and extend the conversation. Respond to the comment on your blog, but also try and find the reader’s blog so you can reciprocate. You may be able to find them on Twitter or find that you’re in a Facebook group together. Very few readers will become strong community participants on their own. Meet them halfway and always show your appreciation.
I personally dislike Facebook and Twitter posts that fish for engagement. I find it insulting when a Facebook page posts a picture and asks a generic question, or asks people to like a picture for a reason other than because they like the post. Most long term community members aren’t interested in Facebook fishing. If you want to get my attention, try liking some of my posts or proposing a collaborative effort.
Here are some marketing tactics that turn off most social network contacts:
- Adding users to a Facebook group before asking them.
- Sending an excessive amount of app invites.
- Tagging other users in irrelevant photos just to get more engagement.
- Asking users to like your Fan Page unless you know them well.
- Sending Auto Twitter DMs when someone Follows you.
With the rise in influence metrics such as Klout and PeerIndex, brands have started trying to attract the most influential people into their community. This can be a great way to jumpstart community discussion, but the more influential a user is, the harder it will be to recruit them as a community member. I’ve found that when a visible member of the overall social media community writes a guest post or joins in our discussions, engagement rates skyrocket. Ever since Amberr’s guest post last week I’ve started to focus on collaboration with visible community members once again, and you should too if you want to get the most bang for your buck.
Here are some tips on how to get the attention of niche influencers:
- Share some of their content before approaching them.
- Become active in their communities.
- Make messages as short and concise as possible.
- Pay them. Most thought leaders sell services, and give special treatment to clients.
- Create value for them by offering access to your own audience as incentive.
- Involve their closest industry friends in your projects.
- Have a mutual friend introduce you.
- Meet in person. If this isn’t possible, try to arrange a Skype chat or phone call. E-mails are too impersonal most of the time, and they’re easy to ignore.
- Don’t aggravate them. If they’re interested, they’ll get back to you. Constantly checking in will only create tension and suggest that you think they aren’t timely.
Shortly after your blog starts attracting readers, people will start commenting on your posts. At first they’re likely to be complimentary platitudes from friends and family. Once your readership grows past your aunt and sister in-law, people will start leaving more thoughtful comments. Some will be in agreement with your posts, but some will be in opposition.
Even though social channels are spreading the conversation away from your site, the comment section has the distinction of being the only place where people that read the article will see the opinions of others. It’s the last frontier where the world still revolves around you, and your actions are chiseled into stone to be judged by future readers. Getting those readers is easier than you think, as long as you can keep from chasing them away.
You Build a House One Brick at a Time
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is an online community. Since you are always going to need a brick while you’re building your house, concentrate on each guest as they arrive. Until they’re part of your community’s structure they’re a free agent. It’s your job to meet their online community needs, put your best foot forward, and lay that brick!
A major problem that many community managers face is the division of their community into factions. This is one of the most common problems, but also one of the easiest to address. It’s the end result of too many leaders being asked to take subordinate roles in a group. Group dynamics work the same offline and even in the animal kingdom. Some people always want to be the alpha personality, while others are happy (or in this case don’t have the experience) to hold a quieter role in the group.
The key is to offer several tiers of engagement where natural born leaders and experienced members can move into a role that fits their personality. At Social Media Sun we do this by letting more experienced members give advice and coach less experienced members. If I think that someone needs a ‘promotion’, I’ll reach out to them and decide where they want to be, and what we can do to get them there. In this dynamic we are always in need of new beginner members to fill the roles of the members that have grown within the group. By giving experienced members leadership roles in the group and proactively pruning members that represent a potential problem, you can avoid factions and keep your community cohesive.
Responding to Negative Blog Comments
The most important responses you’ll make are to those that call out a portion of your own article. You don’t need to back off your stance just because someone disagrees. There is a really simple rule for handling disagreements.
If the opposing party is totally correct in their statement and you later find that you aren’t, thank them and do not try to justify your inaccurate statements. If They are stating an opinion that is technically correct, but is open for debate, thank them for posting and gently share your line of thought. If they are commenting on subject material in which you’re an expert and you know that you’re right, it’s perfectly fine to disagree and share sources or provide additional supporting evidence backing your case. It’s still a good idea to thank them for their input, but you’re doing everyone a disservice if you don’t stand up to misconceptions and false information.
When it comes to comments, the age old adage of “Never talk about Religion or Politics” is good advice to follow. Some visitors will want to take the discussion off topic, which is the source of many more community problems than it should be. Every community has its own tolerance for discourse, and it’s not healthy for every single comment to be an agreeable platitude (that leads serious people to question your commitment and intentions). In almost every community however, excessive discourse is an unfavorable side effect of growth that often stops community growth in it’s tracks. Be nice, lose the ego, and value everyone’s opinion.
You don’t want to ignore comments no matter what the sentiment is. Respond to negative comments as quickly as possible. Just the same as Facebook comments, it’s never good PR to try to ignore users that states their opinions in a civil manner, and you’ll often be able to convert those users into your biggest proponents if you listen to what they have to say and respond thoughtfully. If they’ve taken the time to let you know about a shortcoming, they’ll take the time to let their friends know how well you handled their inquiry.
Responding to Disagreements in the Community
Your primary goal needs to be community development, and not proving that you’re always right. People get enough vitriol in real life, and don’t come online to argue. A lot of user will want to have discussions and debates however. Your job is to feel out comments and intervene if someone crosses a line. The only problem is that online you don’t have the luxury of judging body language or detecting the mood of each user.
It’s up to you to get to know your regular users, as well as prominent members of the larger niche community, and gauge their personalities before a snap judgement on community intervention needs to be made. Most of the time a good community manager can predict crises before it occurs. There will be times when things get less than civil. That comes with the territory. If your blog ever becomes popular (which is one of the goals right?) you’re also going to receive negative comments directed at you. A thick skin and rehearsed response will help you move past trolls. Sometimes it’s best to keep a dispute public, but sometimes you’re better off taking it to e-mail.
You may feel the need to weigh in favor of a longtime supporter, but that could be the worst mistake of all. New users and beginners are the lifeblood of any blog, and if there is an atmosphere of prejudice, they’ll move on to a more inviting community.
This is one area where every situation calls for a different answer. Your intuition and experience will make for better advice than any blogger could ever give. If there isn’t a clear decision to be made in regards to a dispute, ask for a compromise and speak to all parties privately.
I can’t teach you how to be loved – in fact, I would do better myself to shut up more often and keep some opinions to myself. I can think of a dozen web properties that although popular, have severely limited their growth because of the personality traits of their managers. I can also think of a dozen small online communities that have created a substantial amount of reach by obeying the golden rule and maintaining a killer PR campaign.
How do you run your community? Are there any areas that you think are hurting your growth?