12 Keys to Building Your Online Community

By David Siteman Garland 

Published on  January 13, 2021

This question comes up all the time in my email and Facebook. “How do I build an audience?” or “How do I get people to read my blog?” or “How do I create a community?” or “David, how do you get your hair like that?” (Answer: gel)

Anyway…back to the important questions.

Content (blogging, videos, text, photos) is an absolute marketing weapon for entrepreneurs when done correctly. The cost to create, publish and promote is low with the benefits being huge. The opportunity and tools are there. But this isn’t a case of build it and they will come.

How can you the hustling entrepreneur build up your community?

First, of all there is a really big difference between audience and community. An audience is one-way. Not interactive. Not social. An audience passively watches or reads. An audience doesn’t participate. Or share with others.

On the other hand, a community is a two-way conversation. A living, breathing thing. Extremely interactive. Social. Sure, some people just watch or read, but many also participate and share with their friends.

Here the keys that I’ve learned from building up our RISE Community. The community now includes over 100,000 entrepreneurs, business owners, marketers, forward-thinkers, etc. plus a healthy blend of partners.

How to Grow an Online Community

1. Consistency/Content

It all starts with great content. Content that isn’t about you, but about the community. Whether it be bunny lovers, football fans or 16-year-old band geeks. Content that is educational, inspirational and/or entertaining. Your unique spin.

There is a lot of content out there. You have to find a way to stick out and be different. Perhaps nobody in your niche does video. That sounds like an opportunity. Perhaps nobody in your niche interviews people. Sounds like an opportunity. Perhaps everyone does really long text posts. What if you did a tip of the day? Fitting in was never popular, right?

Consistently is also huge. How often are you posting? Do you disappear for weeks on end with no updates and then create the ole “sorry I haven’t posted!” post? Sure, it is OK to go on vacation or something like that (send me a postcard), but why not give a quick heads up?

Think about the traditional media consistency model. TV, radio, print. There are seasons and schedules. We new media types play by our own rules, but consistency never goes out of style.

The really cool thing about new media (blogging, video blogging, online magazine, content creating, whatever you want to call it) is you can use different mediums on your channel. For example, it would be really hard for a TV show to suddenly focus on text the next day…awkward and not really possible.

Starting the first week of January, I went to an everyday posting model. First, I started by doing all tips. Then all interviews. Now it is a mix and numerous mediums as well (like this shiny text post!). The consistency factor is (unless there is notice), I post five days a week. It might be a video. It might be an article. It might a who-knows-what. But, something to help entrepreneurs like you build your business smarter, faster, cheaper will be posted.

A final note on consistency is narrowing your topic to something replicable. Meaning there is plenty of content that can be created and not a finite amount. You don’t want to run out!

2. Designed To Share

The content that gets shared the most online is like peanut butter…easily spreadable. Good content is spread by your community. On Facebook, Twitter, etc. Perhaps posted to their blog or sent to a social bookmarking site.

How do you make it sharable?

For one thing, and I wish it didn’t matter, but headlines matter. Is it complicated? Trying to be too clever? Too boring? There isn’t an exact formula here; however, the shorter and more relevant gets shared. Think of it like one of those tabloid-terrible magazines. “Zombie Baby Eats Britney Spears!” If gets your attention.

The other HUGE component, is adding the right plugins to your blog to enable one (or two maximum) click sharing. If you have to put on a safari coat and go hunt for the button to send it to Facebook, people won’t do it.

Make it easy to send to at the very least the most popular sites.

3. Schmoozing On Social Media

If you are creating online content and looking to build a community, you have to get active on social media in your niche. Sharing the content of others. Sharing your content. Answering questions. Asking questions. Connecting with relevant people. Listening.

It isn’t rocket science, it is human. Your community is made up humans and not Google Robots. The more one-on-one connections you make and offer value to, the better off you will be.

And this doesn’t mean you have to be active on every site. For example, I spend most of my social media time on Twitter and Facebook. Some people spend more time on LinkedIn. Or wherever. The bottom line is you get to choose based on your comfort level, what works and of course where your niche hangs out online.

4. Engaging/Caring

When someone leaves a comment on your site, you have two choices. Respond or not. It is up to you. Some people never respond. Some people respond to every comment no matter what.

Of course, over time, it will be difficult to respond to everything as your community grows. However, I’ve noticed success when you make it a priority. Give every comment a hug. Someone took a bit out of their busy schedule to leave it.

Same goes for social media. Are you a robot or a person? If someone asks you a question do you respond? Now, of course, there are limitations to this. You can’t sit there all day and answer questions or say hi to everyone; however, I bet we can all block out a little time to do so, can’t we? Small talk and caring goes a long way.

And you can’t fake it or outsource it.

5. Enabling Others To Promote Your Work:

You can’t go out this alone. If all you do is talk about yourself and how neat your business is, it will be impossible to gain long term traction (unless you are some sort of magical wizard or something).

The best way to enable others is to give them credit. People like a little love especially if it is genuine and useful.

For example, you could do a post titled, “35 Unique Entrepreneurs That Are Changing The Business World.”  Many who you would mention would be likely to share it or even link back to it!

6. Interviews

After conducting 100+ interviews in three years, I can conclusively say that it is an incredible way to build your brand. It is sort of the perfect storm. You are creating valuable content for your community, promoting someone else and making a new connection (the person you interview). As long as the content of the interview is useful and amazing, you can create your own interview machine.

7. Promoting Others & Telling Them About It

When you mention someone or something in a post, freaking tell them about it! This doesn’t mean stalk them with multiple emails and Twitter direct messages. It means, send a quick note to them to let them know.

The Nametag Guy Scott Ginsberg taught me this one. A quick note with the link and thanking them for the inspiration.

Don’t ask them to Tweet it.
Don’t ask them to put it on Facebook.
Don’t ask for anything.

Just thank and be genuine.

And guess what? Good things will happen. Karma is a good thing. It will end up getting shared one way or another.

8. Guest Posts/Videos/Articles

Finding sites in your niche that allow guest posting is an incredible way to build community and bring in new folks.

Being a good writer or creator of any medium can qualify you to do guest posts. The key here is to be specific and take your same philosophy to other people’s sites. Meaning being a trusted resource and not a product pusher.

I contribute about six weeks to Small Biz Trends plus have done guest videos for Hubspot and Personal Branding Blog to name a few of many.

9. PR:

Making yourself an available expert for other new media sources (and traditional) is a huge key to bringing new people to your site. The more good content you create and share, the more leverage you will have when reaching out to someone.

Media loves experts. What are you an expert in? And I’m not talking about a guru on top of a mountain. I’m talking about what knowledge or unique perspective do you bring to the table?

For example, I love functional technology. Stuff that is easy to use and doesn’t take Einstein to figure out. So, I offered up to a local morning program to be their business and technology expert. For a time,  I appeared on the show every six weeks to talk about unique topics. It was really fun and marketed me and The Rise To The Top.

Now, imagine if I went to them from the non-expert perspective and said “Hi guys, can I come on your show and promote my resource for forward-thinkers called The Rise To The Top? It is really great and amazing. You will love it!” Nope. Wouldn’t work. Fail.

10. Live Events/Speaking

Much of building a community online involves offline connections. While a virtual handshake is amazing, nothing quite replaces a real life one.

How can you bring people together in your niche? It can be something really simple like a Tweet Up. Or maybe some kind of unique book club (who knows). But, if you can get people away from their computers, it will only do good things. This was the idea behind our event series. I wanted to bring together amazing people. Entrepreneurs, innovators, forward-thinkers, etc. to munch on some food, mingle, and learn. How can you bring people together in your niche?

Plus in this social web era, photos, videos, etc. from the event can be positioned online and continue to build the community. You now have more people to connect with.

Another benefit of becoming a trusted resource and community builder, is your content can be turned into speeches, discussions, round tables, whatever. If you position yourself as a speaker, not only will you be educating and inspiring the audience, but you will be introducing people to a slice of you. If they want another slice, they can check out your website later.

You might want to speak for free (content resulting in sales). Or eventually become a paid speaker. The world is hungry for more passionate, interesting speakers. I bet you could be one of them.

11. Create An Unfair Advantage:

I’m sure you have some kind of major advantage you can jump on. Don’t be embarrassed by it, USE it. Go with it.

Something (ANYTHING) that separates you from the pack.

Perhaps you are really ridiculously good looking like Derek Zoolander.
Or super smart and others ogle over your brain.
Or you are really outgoing.
Or you have a lot of connections.

Whatever it is, use it your advantage. My unfair advantage (besides hair gel), was TV. I created something unique on television which kickstarted RISE. We started as a local TV show in St. Louis. First on “My Network TV” and then on ABC on Sunday mornings after George Stephanopoulos and late night after Jimmy Kimmel Live (fun fact: We are doing another season on ABC this fall).

TV was a massive credibility builder and separated from the pack. How can you leave the pack in your dust?

12. Time

You can now build by being smarter, faster, cheaper (as opposed to dumber, slower, expensive). But don’t confuse “faster” with “instantaneous.” At the end of the day, it takes time. Nobody watched Wine Library TV for 8 months when Gary Vaynerchuk launched it. My first blogs posts got about 9 views. Jason Cohen, from A Smart Bear, told me that he started blogging, and blogging, and blogging…a lot of time passed…and then it became popular.

But, if you follow 1-11 in your unique way and stick with it, good things will happen. Who knows? You might be the next rising start we talk about on RISE.

Wrapping it up:

We are currently in the midst of an incredible era of entrepreneurship and online content. People are building brands that are going to be the examples we use ten years from now. While some folks are focusing on products, others are building communities (or as Seth Godin says) Tribes. Leadership and vision is one thing and I hope these keys will help get the eyeballs onto your content…and keep them there.

What did I forget? I’m sure there are more keys. What would you add?


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