Your blog doesn’t belong to you.
OK, well, it does in the narrowest definition, but really, if you’re doing it right and for the right reasons, your blog belongs to the community of people who share the culture you’re creating.
What do I mean by culture?
“Culture has been defined in a number of ways, but most simply, as the learned and shared behavior of a community of interacting human beings” (p. 169). Useem, J., & Useem, R. (1963). Human Organizations, 22(3).
Darren Rowse is responsible for this idea because of the keynote address he gave at the 2014 Authority Intensive here in Denver. He said, “I recently had the realisation that much of what I’ve done in the last 12 years as a blogger has had to do with building community and cultures on my blogs. The success and failures in that time have largely been the result of the health of those communities.”
It’s a powerful metaphor. The blog is no longer about a single post, or series, or how many likes, or how much traffic — it’s about the people we serve. When we think of building our blogs as a culture, as a community of likeminded individuals, suddenly a lot of the “problems” of blogging fall away.
It’s no longer about whether the post is good for SEO — because communities don’t care about SEO. It’s no longer about whether or not the post will convert to customers or likes or opt-ins or followers, because when you’re building a community, that community will naturally support one another (and you, by default). We no longer have to worry about what to write about, because our community will provide us with endless inspiration.
But how do you create a culture around your blog?
Darren Rowse often advises people, “Be the community you want to have,” because readers tend to take the lead of the blogger when it comes to engagement. Want more engagement? Be more engaged.
As with everything in life, if you want extraordinary results, you have to put in extraordinary effort. Lead the discussion. Ask the tough questions. Respond to every question you receive.
One thing I have done since I started my food blog is that I ask a simple question in the automatic reply when people sign up for my list: “What are you struggling with most right now?” Not everyone responds, but when people take the time to answer the question, I take the time to email them back, personally, and make suggestions of where they can find resources to help. Sometimes those resources are on my site, and sometimes they’re not.
People are genuinely surprised and pleased to get my response, and that tugs at my heart strings every time. They send off truly personal email messages into the void not expecting a response. And so they are touched when there’s a real human being at the other end of the digital line. That’s one way I try to be a leader of my blog communities.
In an anthropological sense, cultures have a rhythm that might include holidays, festivals, work times and play times, etc. Your community has a similar rhythm that you need to get to know and understand.
That rhythm is going to be largely dictated by who your readers are. Busy moms are going to have a different rhythm to their lives than CEOs of fortune 500 companies, who are going to have a different rhythm from solopreneurs, who are different from students, and so on. And those specific rhythms will dictate when you send out Tweets or newsletters, how often you ask for a sale, how quickly people expect you to respond to comments and emails, and so on.
There are plenty of tools available for figuring out your culture’s rhythms. A few of my favorites are:
These are good places to start, but some of this will be intuitive on your part. If you know, for example, that your readers are parents, and it’s back to school time, you’re going to want to share quick, easily digestible tips to help them with that rhythm of their life.
This is one of the biggest keys to building a true community, but the only way to do it is to actually share your experiences.
I’ve talked before about the importance of your brand story and how key it is to tell stories in general, and this is the ultimate reason why: people identify with stories. More importantly, they identify with the person behind the story, namely, you.
Ask yourself this, which is more powerful: 4 Ways to Live Your Life to the Fullest or 4 Life Lessons I Learned from My Alcoholic Father?
I’m betting it’s the second one.
It’s that element of story that makes it compelling. This blogger could have made the exact same points in a more distant, removed way, and it never would have had the same impact. Because even if I don’t have an alcoholic father, I know someone who has a problem with addiction, or someone who never lived up to their potential for another reason. And everyone has a father (whether they know him or not). There’s a lot there to relate to.
And, just as a side note, this post continues to garner the author positive comments and opt-ins months after it was published, which is a testament to its power.
I’ve talked about knowing and understanding the journey you hope to take your reader/customer on through your blog, and that’s another strong element of having a thriving culture around your blog.
Because you’re taking them on a journey, encouraging positive change, as you grow you will have people in your culture at all the different stages of that journey. And just like in a real culture, those with more experience will step up to help those just starting out.
And that, my friend, is where real engagement starts. When your readers and followers start having meaningful conversations without you, you know you’ve built a real community of value.
One of my favorite clients is health coach Jen Wittman of Thyroid Loving Care. Jen has an amazing story of transformation in which she healed her thyroid disease naturally, and without medication. It’s a powerful story of hope for those suffering from the many myriad symptoms of thyroid and autoimmune disease, but what makes it even more powerful is that Jen can replicate that transformation for her clients.
Over and over again in her Facebook group, in comments on her blog, and in her testimonials, her clients repeat their own version of her amazing transformation story, and the power of that story grows and grows — and so does her community of people who want and already have the same thing.
For most of my ideal readers, that strong, powerful community — of which your blog is only the gathering place, the conduit — is the ultimate goal of blogging. I can’t tell you how many times I hear my customers say that they want to build a strong community with their blogs, and understanding their blog culture is the fastest path to that goal.
Do you agree? Find this idea intriguing? If so, I’d love it if you would share this post with your community and get the conversation going.