WordPress is a blog platform. But much more important than the blogging feature is the community that comes with WordPress. From a vibrant developer community to an active support community, WordPress is buzzing. From a bustling designer community to a dynamic content producing community, WordPress is alive.
In a recent post, I wrote about building a social network with WordPress as a foundation. In this post, I describe what it takes to build a strong community of readers, stakeholders and contributors. To build a strong community, it takes more than just an invitation to participate. Big websites have people dedicated to cultivating and managing a community. But your small WordPress site can have an equally impressive community if you grow it from the ground up. Here’s how.
Set the stage
Many bloggers are timid about promoting social media or networking sites in order to promote their own. Can you blame them? At first glance, telling all of your readers to head over to your Facebook page is like saying “hey! ignore what you’re into on my website and go visit someone else’s”. But the truth is establishing the right social networking and bookmarking accounts will compliment, not contrast your own efforts.
This post is not about leveraging social media so I won’t digress by describing what this entails. But give full consideration to establishing a Facebook page, Linkedin group and Youtube Channel. Not every option is for everyone so consider the type of media and content you are producing and how it would be best disseminated.
Get the right plugins
In order to create a vibrant community through comment discussions, you should consider building on the WordPress core commenting feature. Disqus is the leader for premium and quasi-premium comment systems. Disqus adds a great deal of functionality including common sign-in, better moderation control, social sharing options, subscription capability and the coolest part: the ability for users to track all of their comments on other websites from your website. This is great because people don’t have to leave to be engaged elsewhere.
If you’re like me, you don’t like managing multiple usernames and passwords. When given the opportunity to log into a website with my Facebook account, I will do so. As long as I can trust the website won’t abuse that privilege. There is a free plugin available called Social Login that will allow your visitors to log in using Facebook, Yahoo, Google, LinkedIn, OpenID or some others. Building a community on your WordPress site is as much about eliminating barriers to participation as it is about the content.
Social marketing people have long suggested a “related content” plugin that displays similar content below or next to each post. This is meant to keep people traveling through your site instead of leaving. But I recommend this feature because it is inherently community-focused. These plugins look at keywords within each post and recommend posts with similar content. If I ever click through someone’s site, it is often through this feature. Keeping people engaged is part of building a community.
Posts can be informational, they can be link bait, they can be junk. But good posts are high quality, original and informative. But one thing is missing: interactive. Posts should include an engagement component in order to build a community. You can do this by:
- Asking your readers questions in your posts
- Including surveys or polls
- Asking them to continue the discussion in the comments
- Creating an opportunity to expand on the post
One of the key parts of this strategy is the follow through. When people email or comment that I missed a resource or should have included something else in my post, I usually include it. Then I follow up with a comment or return email to thank them for the contribution.
Engage with commentators
When people comment on your content, engage with them. It’s as simple as that. If I think nobody is listening, I won’t comment. An active discussion after a post is not only free, original content but it is interesting. Half the time I Google something, I’m fed results from a comment discussion or forum.
Also important: be polite and respectful. Nothing says amateur like a spiraling comment fight. Keep it civil and thank people repeatedly for their discussion. Do not engage with haters.
Giveaways and contests
People like free things. By organizing a giveaway or contest, you not only gain new readers but you reinforce the relationships with the ones you already have. A content shows that the person behind the curtain is there and is attentive. Organize an event that give your readers something they will really be interested in, related to your content focus. Often this can be free as I described in this post about ways to promote your WordPress site. Pingable recently organized a giveaway that was successful not just because we gained new readers and Facebook friends, but people realized we really care about our readers.
Readers will come back if they have a positive experience, but also if they can expect that same quality experience every time they visit. In order to be consistent, establish editorial guidelines and delegate someone to keep your site alive any time you have to step away. Keep the discussion going, don’t respond one day and ignore everything the next.
Conclusion may not be the right word. How about “next steps”. I would really like to hear from you, this post is just the beginning. How have you built a community with your WordPress site? How do you plan on engaging with your readers?