Leveraging Community on the Web

We all want community on our websites.

  • Readers to comment on articles.
  • Your industry to participate in webcasts.
  • Experts to become bloggers.
  • Forums that are overflowing with new posts.
  • Submissions of videos, images and other media.

And yet, it is often ellusive. Even when you do create such community, it is difficult to sustain. So perhaps this is the moral:

You can’t create community.

At least not in the form that many people hope for. EG: a group of random people gathering around your article, your forum, your website and consistently giving of themselves. Sure, this happens, but not as often as you may think. So what can you do?

You can leverage existing communities.

Let’s take some RBI blogs for example. Three examples of leveraging a community:

  • Annoyed Librarian.
    This is Library Journal’s newest blog – one that was already a successful on its own, who they recruited to join LJ. The Annoyed Librarian has been able to engage a very active community around her blog – often receiving over 100 comments on a single post. While the blog can be controversial, it is the source of some very good conversations on the biggest issues in the library field. Instead of recreating the wheel, Library Journal simply recruited a star, and recruited an existing community.
  • Betsy Bird
    School Library Journal has pursued a strategy like this for a long time now – recruiting existing bloggers with an established audience. Their biggest star, Betsy Bird, was already huge when they brought her on board. She blogs about children’s literature – or KidLit as she calls it. How did her blog get so big? Partially because she aggregated the best of the best of all the other KidLit blogs (there are many of them) and did it with a sense of personality and flair than none could match. She then extended beyond this, to be more than just an aggregator; she reviews a ton of books, organizes in person events, attends many others, and is constantly pushing her blog further. And this is all in addition to her day job as a librarian.
  • Barbara Vey
    When Publishers Weekly recruited Barbara, she was not a blogger, not an industry insider, and had no real credentials for either. But she has a passion for books and for making connections. Her focus is romance fiction, which has a thriving online community of readers and authors. Barbara simply saw this community and began making as many connections as possible – and like Betsy – created a blog with such personality and flair that it got her noticed. She is entrepreneurial in how she expands her readership – every event, every author, every new person she meets – is an opportunity to make a new friend. I have been on the subway in New York with her and she starts up a conversation with the woman sitting next to her, ending it by giving the woman her card and telling her about the blog. Barbara does this every day. The community is already out there, she just helps push them together a little closer.

Thinking about these examples, each blogger’s strategy was simple:

Get in front of the parade.

Community is not just a bunch of unconnected people commenting on the same article. Community is based on existing real-world connections. Paying attention to them gives you the opportunity to help steer them your way.

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