Note from the editor: These next few days, we will be re-publishing note-worthy content from the Wisdump archive. This particular article was originally posted by Paul Scrivens on August 2nd, 2005.
Developing traffic for your site is one thing, but developing a community is an even harder task. With traffic you can follow a formula that will eventually get you results, but building a community around your site (non-forums) can be a difficult challenge. Here is what I have learned about community from the sites I have had the pleasure of running.
After you have started to develop some traffic to your site I am sure many people think that it requires luck to get some people to comment. A lot of sites receive traffic yet no one takes the time to comment on the entries. I know I don’t comment on every entry I read, but what makes me stop to take the time to comment on some entries? There are a couple of factors that will be touched upon in this article.
The first and most important rule in helping to foster a sense of community on your site is:
Nothing is worse than going to a site and taking the time to leave an insightful comment to only have it go unanswered. If someone asks a question on your site you should try to be the first person to answer that question. If nothing else make sure that a comment doesn’t go unresponded if it is a good comment. People are willing to discuss topics online just as much as they are in person if someone is willing to listen to them.
At Business Logs we actively try to be the last persons to comment in an entry. We don’t try to kill an entry, but we do like to make sure that everyone gets a response. Of course some comments don’t warrant a response, but every little bit counts.
Develop Thick Skin
There will be many times in which you won’t agree with what people are saying, but that doesn’t mean they should shutup. The best discussions are the ones where all sides of the issue are brought to the table so everyone can see them. If the discussion is restricted so that it is only one-sided then there will be no discussion at all.
A prime example can be found with our very own Mark Fusco. Many times him and I don’t see eye-to-eye on an issue, but that doesn’t prevent us from trying to understand the other person’s point of view. Admittedly there are times where I grow frustrated and simply wish to end the conversation, but that only goes to show everyone else that I am not willing to discuss differing opinions with them.
This sort of goes along with developing thick skin. Some sites and bloggers have a policy of deleting any comment that they do not agree with. There are times where people need to be banned from a site and their comments deleted and there are other times where you need to let things slide because they are not hurting the site as much as they are just hurting your feelings.
At the CSS Vault when I first opened up the comments I envisioned that the discussions would entail designers coming together and discussing the merits of the design displayed. Unfortunately, the comments were simple &ldqup;Great site!!!!” type of comments which did not help to further the discussion. I had to strictly moderate the comments and keep only the ones that added some meaning to the discussion. However, I did not delete the comments that were useless, but replaced the text. I did this because I needed the visitors to see that moderation was happening. If I had simply deleted the comments nobody would know what was going on and the comments would persist.
People Like Controversy
But that doesn’t mean you should try to write something controversial every single time you publish an entry, simply that a controversial entry helps to bring in people (if done correctly) and can spark great discussions. These types of entries must be moderated closely and you must be careful and make sure that their is justification behind your entry and that you are not just looking for your 15 seconds of fame.
Comment On Other Sites
If you go leave a comment on someone else’s site that interests them, then they are likely to visit your site and explore some of the entries. Hopefully the find something they like which will encourage them to comment as well. If they do comment make sure to respond to that comment as quickly as possible. Maybe even email the person with your response so that your site stays fresh on their mind.
I can’t count how many sites I have visited and commented on only to forget that the conversation ever occurred. There are too many sites out there with great discussions for you to think you can sit around idle and magic will just happen.
Give Your Entries Time
Compare Forever Geek to Wisdump and you will see two different sites with completely different results. FG has 3x as many entries as Whitespace yet 1/4 the amount of comments. Why? Time.
If your visitors see that you constantly update then they are less likely to take the time to comment on that entry because they are already reading another one and the discussion is going to fall off the homepage anyways. When I go a couple of days between entries here the discussions usually grow larger than the ones that are quickly replaced a day later by another entry. Sometimes though you get lucky and find just the right topic (note the # of comments) and a great discussion and community within a community evolves.
Write an Entry That Warrants a Discussion
Not every single entry I write is a goldmine for comments. Some of them are either not well received or just don’t need to be commented on. Entries that ask questions and leave them unanswered are good ones for developing discussions, but also ones that require the reader to think a bit. If you can get someone to think about what you wrote for longer than 10 seconds there is a good chance they will leave a comment.
This is probably the second most important rule and the hardest to achieve. The topic of an entry isn’t the only thing that warrants a discussion, but also your reputation and the voice of the writing. Obviously these are parts of the formula that cannot be gained immediately, but take some time to work out.
Not every discussion that occurs on your site will be great, but it’s always a nice feeling to see people taking the time out of their day to respond to your thoughts. Developing a community is not something that can happen overnight. It takes a lot of time and some effort on your part to help it grow, but as you can see there are steps you can take to help foster that growth.