Building a Community Around Your Blog From Scratch – Ten Steps

I gave a presentation last Wednesday at Social Media Breakfast Chicago entitled,”Building a Community Around Your Blog From Scratch”.

Social Media Breakfast Chicago is an event where moderators lead small-group discussions over breakfast on a series of social media topics. Social Media Breakfast Chicago is hosted by Mike Pilarz.

Here are my ten steps to building my blog community. They might not work for everyone, but they’ve worked for me. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list or all the details. (I’m just a solo girl!) Please let me know if you have any questions or want to dig into a subject further.

1. Start with a clear focus or objective for your blog. Mine is “The Business of the Big 4.” Not the whole industry. Not every fraud or scandal in the accounting world. And not all the arcane technical updates since that’s not my bag and I try to stick to what I know.

2. A narrow focus is ok. I learned that’s called “narrowcasting“. The power of Google and other search tools, which has grown considerably in the five years since I started, means that the more narrow your focus, the more likely it is that everyone – and I mean everyone – who is interested in that topic will find you and keep coming back. That’s assuming you provide good, original content.

3. Post good, original content regularly. You don’t have to do it every day, but pick a schedule and stick to it. Be consistent and predictable. Become a habit for your readers.

4. Use other tools to reinforce your reach and to reach out. I tried Facebook but it didn’t work for me. I started using Twitter almost four years ago, an early adopter compared to other writers, journalists, internal auditors, accountants, and lawyers. I love it. I reach a broader audience than my blog but one that’s interested in me and my work when it happens to interest them.

I was also an early adopter of Linked In. My profile went up in September of 2003. But I’ve been using it more actively in the last 18 months or so to raise awareness of my writing and send out news of my activities to my professional network.

5. Make sure your blog voice is clear. Once it is, give readers what they expect.

6. Due to the vagaries of the internet, especially search, your audience will come from unexpected places. So don’t try to plan it or put limits on it. Let it happen and invite it in when it knocks.

7. Because I’m an accountant at heart, one of the first things I did was set up a measurement tool. I started with, based on the recommendation of a friend who wrote, at that time, a blog about being a New York City nightclub bouncer. (He’s now a published author.) It’s free up to a pretty high volume. I watch the stats daily. I’ve never been as confident of Google Analytics. Measurement tools and statistics provide:

  • Positive reinforcement. Even when only two or three people were visiting each day, I knew who those two or three people were and what they were reading. They were reading my words!
  • Reader intelligence. Most companies, universities, regulators, law firms, accounting firms, and other government agencies still do not mask IP addresses and host names. Knowing which organizations are visiting is very helpful to me. Knowing where readers come from geographically and what they are reading is also very helpful. Knowing what search brought them to my site is my secret weapon. Knowing the search terms used and keywords helps me write more consistently and intelligently about the issues.

8.  If you are a subject matter expert, getting quoted in other publications that link to your blog can be very productive. But don’t beg for links or to be added to a blogroll. That will come as other bloggers see you as credible and see that you’re going to be around. Everyone hates dead links.

9. Building comments participation can be slow and painful. Don’t disdain lurkers, though. They too can spread news of your site by word of mouth. Watch stats and be happy people are reading. My community prefers to be anonymous and is normally reticent about sharing. They are typically afraid of being caught posting on a site that’s critical of their industry and having it end up on their “permanent record.” That’s ok. I get that and I’m not hurt when they email, call, or send me letters in plain manilla envelopes instead.  🙂

But other sites like Going and Green Dot Life promoted forum-like atmospheres. I did not set up formal forums. They just happened. I have posts that still get comments three years later because that’s where people go for new information from their fellow readers about a particular issue. My content is also mostly evergreen, that is, I try to make it permanently useful as a reference not breaking news worthy.

In fact, I made the mistake of cutting off comments once and lived to regret it. I have several posts with ~500 comments. The right topics will general lots of comments if people are reading regularly. In my case it’s the mercenary ones – salaries, layoffs, raises, promotions, and other bread and butter issues. But comments aren’t the only proof you have a community.

  • Establish your community rules, terms of use, and community standards early.  Let everyone know what is and isn’t allowed. I had a big issue almost three years in that forced me to wake up.
  • Moderate, moderate, moderate. Spam filters, especially for WordPress, are really good.  Spam is not a problem for me. Vulgarity and dissing or exposing non-public folks by name sometimes is.  I even have had imposter commenters!
  • Make sure you have share buttons and they work.
  • Don’t use tools that make it hard for folks to comment. If registration and screening for identity is not necessary , don’t put a step between your readers and your blog.

10. Reach out to frequent commenters and thank them. Be part of the dialogue in the comment section if they are talking to you.  If not, leave them be to talk to each other without “mom” or “dad” interfering. I even offered a few a chance to guest post after I verified their identity and agreed to keep them anonymous.

If you manage an online community for a living, I suggest you look into The Community Roundtable. They run a membership-based network of community, social media, and social business managers and executives. Along with providing peer interaction, programming, curated content, and professional concierge services, The Community Roundtable is dedicated to furthering the discipline of community management.

10 replies
  1. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    Very informative post Francine! I’ve been a subscriber of your blog for a while now, although a lot of the content doesn’t quite apply (since I live in Australia) but it’s always good to scan the posts and keep up to date. By the way do you use any other measurement tools besides statcounter? I signed up and used it on one of my sites (back in the days before WordPress) but now it’s just a lot easier to use the default WordPress stats plugin.

  2. Edith Orenstein
    Edith Orenstein says:


    Great post, very helpful, thank you for sharing your hard-earned insights, and congrats on having such a successful blog.

    As I tend to tell some fellow bloggers, although I don’t always share your view, your blog is very informative and while it is controversial, it gets people thinking.

    Your blog is also a very interesting place to go for insights from your commenters from where they sit ‘in the field’ (i.e. practicing auditors or financial accountants), although as you note – having caught some ‘imposter’ commenters – one has to keep the anonymous nature of the commenters (and any potential self-motivation that could impact the veracity of their communications) in mind.

    I also applaud your use of social media and your helpful dialogue on- and off- line with other bloggers.

  3. Francine
    Francine says:

    Hi Edith,

    Thanks for your comment and your retweet this morning. As I always say, you are my guru in all things technical. And you are one of the hardest working women in the blogging biz, a pioneer in blogging for our audience.

    With regard to the anonymous nature of my commenters, they’re often not anonymous to me. They may want to be publicly incognito, but many, many of them over the years have made themselves known to me. So in my case, I know more about why and how the commenters are saying what they are saying. Almost everyone gives me an email and URL even if it can;t be seen by the public. Some of the made-up ones are comical. One social media guru not in or industry told me that they were giving me the info because they wanted me to engage them, send them newsletters, invite them to events. Turns out, an internal auditor friend explained that since most are probably accountants, they were most likely just completing the form and checking all the boxes or else I might not post their comment.

    I will say I have gotten myself in a lather at times with some of them. I remember one guy really had me wrapped around a tree, hopping mad, defending myself, and then I got an email from him. Turns out he was a very young Associate just reading too many textbooks and listening to too many of the “wrong” people. 🙂 Ya never know…

  4. Francine
    Francine says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    Thanks for reading all the way fro Australia! Did you hear me on the radio there on Background Briefing? Could you understand my Chicago accent?

    I don’t use any other stats. I’ve gotten used to Statcounter, I pay for the max data storage, and it meets my needs. I have never looked at the default plugin from WordPress. Will have to check it out.


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