Thursday, November 15, 2007

Building an Online Community

So, now that we've looked at some successful corporate blogs and some ideas around building profitability using your blog as the catalyst, let's focus on another great session that I attended at BlogWorldExpo: Building an Online Community. This session was led by the two extraordinary entrepreneurs and bloggers pictured here: Wendy Piersall of, and Dave Nalle of The Republic of Dave. This was yet another outstanding session. I've capsulized some of what I learned from these fine folks in this post.

As direct marketers, we understand the value of effectively targeting your customer base to build loyalty and long-term customers. In the world of Social Media, this happens through the connections that you make online with like-minded people. By building your online community through a company blog, you are encouraging -- if not downright enlisting -- your valuable customers to participate in conversations that you bring up about your company's core competencies. The best thing about this is that you have the ability to get open and honest feedback about your offerings from those who mean the most -- your customers and online community participants.

So, how do you go about building a successful online community? Some of the ideas here have already been presented in the BlogWorldExpo-specific posts this week . . . and once again, it all starts with good quality content that is both thought-provoking and relevant to the community. Here, again, controversial points-of-view will help to drive comments. And comments really drive traffic.

Let's start with a few words about comments . . . did you know that most blogs get an average of 3.2-3.3 comments per post? If you start to get some repeat commentators and they are adding good insight and provoking more comments, you should invite them to become blog contributors. This helps you to bring in a variety of differing opinions and adds a little thought-diversity to your posts. Plus, repeat commentators are oftentimes members of other online communities, and their posts may attract other communities to yours.

When managing comments, try to guide the discussion in a positive way. This way, eventually, the good comments will override the negative ones. Another sure-traffic driver is having a comment snippet side bar on your blog that features recent comments. Both presenters of this session, do an excellent job with this concept on their blogs. Not only do they both feature recent comments, Wendy also features "Top Commentators" on her blog. This rewards top commentators with a widget. Cool stuff!

Dave features a "welcome mat" on a sidebar for new visitors. So, when you visit Dave's blog, you can see a few people who have recently been there, and provides the new visitor with the opportunity to join his community (this really works because I did it!). The sidebar tells a little about the blog and gives contact info in case visitors have any questions. According to Dave, this can also help visitors feel comfortable, and encourages them to comment.

A final word on comments -- 15-20% of people generate all of the comments, so you really want to reward your top commentators, as both Dave and Wendy do on their blogs.

In terms of post content, while controversy does bring people into your community, you need to be careful not to put people off -- or just make a bunch of people angry. Mark Cuban put it best last week in his keynote when he said that your blog posts live forever -- even if you try to delete them. If you put something out there that you come to later regret, you can bet it'll rear it's ugly head at a most inappropriate time somewhere. That's just life.

A definite do is to use humor. Humor engages people and allows them to see part of your personality. This attracts people to your community.

As you are focusing on building your community, make sure that you provide relevant content in your blog-posts. Make sure that your content speaks to your community and that it demonstrates that what you are providing as content is for the benefit of your specific community. There's that value-add that all of us direct marketers are always striving for in our campaigns -- so that our piece or ad or whatever, truly speaks to the prospect or customer. It's the same with online communities. In order for them to take the time to participate in your community, participants need to feel that what you are doing is for them.

When you join with a group of like-bloggers (bloggers with the same or complimentary content), you'll not only build your community but you can all benefit from a larger combined community. If you decide to monetize your blog with well-placed ads (see yesterday's post on this subject), this provides another benefit -- increased profitability.

As a part of this, you can also become a sort of "blog critic." Here, you provide content that points your readers to the other blogs in your bloggers community. Thus, your community starts to spread the word for you. If all of the bloggers in your community do this, you can imagine all of the various mentions that you, your product/service and your blog will receive online. This tactic will boost your placement with the search engines, too -- Google is always on the lookout for how often you are mentioned. And, proper blog etiquette states that you should always throw a good mention out to a person who mentions you!

In tomorrow's post, look for a summation of my learnings from the BlogWorldExpo. I hope you are all enjoying learning from what I've learned. And don't forget, this is all about marketing -- social media is the future of where we are going as direct marketers. Those of us who are embracing this shift are going to be in good shape as we go from Web 2.0 to Web 10.0!

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