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The challenge of our time is to find a journey worthy of your heart + your soul. — Seth Godin
A friend of mine was asking what she should do with her email list. Since I’m still learning about that myself, I’m not exactly the authority on this topic.
But from the gist of her conversation, and my own experience as a blogger, I could sense one change that she immediately needed to make.
“You have to stop thinking in terms of what you can get from them,” I said, “how you can get them to serve you and your business. You have to think about what you can give them, the value you can create. Think of your email list as another way of helping them get what they want.”
I could practically hear the click of the lightbulb inside her head as she reframed. We started talking about how she could use an email newsletter to help her subscribers in their quest for health and wellness.
An important milestone in the evolution of a blogger: when she stops asking How can I get more traffic? and starts asking something like, How can I create the kind of value that will serve the right audience and maybe inspire a community to form around my stuff?
(In his book THE IMPACT EQUATION, Chris Brogan distinguishes between an audience — “Some number of people who have opted in to receiving information from you”– and a community — “those people who work to maintain an ongoing interaction with you”.
He adds, “Never mistake an audience for a community.”)
It’s a simple mindshift, but a big one. As Sarah Robinson puts it in her book FIERCE LOYALTY, it eliminates the idea of “us and them” and “creates a culture of ‘we’.”
When this happens, you stop referring to “my fans” or “my community”, as if you’re a lord and they’re your fiefdom. It becomes our community, and a matter of how you can serve it.
This forces you to think about the meaning of what you’re trying to accomplish, to move beyond “buy my stuff” and reach for something higher. You’re all in this together, but what are you in it for?
Sarah Robinson writes:
“I see lots of business try to create a community for this sole purpose: a free marketing department, if you will….I’ve never seen this strategy end well.”
The more successful strategy, she points out, is to create a singular focus for people to rally around your organization or blog.
I like to think of it as the question you put out there for the community to investigate. The quest that you’ve embarked on together. What does it mean to be a ‘good man’ in today’s society? (GOOD MEN PROJECT). How can creative people stop being so flaky and actually get shit done? (99u, although they probably don’t phrase it like that). How can you live life on your own terms, a non-conformist in a conformist world? (THE ART OF NON-CONFORMITY). How can you merge spiritual principles with business principles? (DANIELLE LAPORTE).
Keep in mind, this purpose of yours needs to be authentic. It needs to tap into some deep, driving need of your own; it needs to come from your core.
You don’t just walk your talk, you embody it.
You have to represent.
Or people will sniff you out as a fake and click themselves away.
“But you’re still trying to sell something,” a woman pointed out to me in a workshop, “you’re just pretending not to be selling it in order to sell it.”
Which is why you have to go beyond pretend and find the real. One way to do this is to ask yourself why you do what you do in the first place: what compelled you to start up this business, write this novel, paint these paintings. Since the community you want to invoke needs to have some relevance to your work – in order to attract the people who will take an interest in your work – it’s worth the struggle to get clear on the meaning, the themes, behind your work.
After all, it’s your Why that fuels you.
It’s also your Why that connects with people on an emotional level, stirs and inspires them, creates loyalty to your business, your art, your brand. You.
So find your Why.
And then, as Simon Sinek advises, start with Why.
Create a question around your Why that genuinely intrigues you. As you explore the different aspects of it, you put out content that (hopefully) entertains and enlightens your right readers, draws them in, invites them along on the journey with you. You teach to reach, but teaching goes both ways. The community learns from you, and you learn from the community.
The best way to learn something is to teach it. Or as a friend of mine likes to point out, “We teach what we most need to learn.”
So what is it that you want – or need — to learn?