When I’m Secret Weapon-ing with clients, I hear the same two thing over and over and over:
1. “Are you following Pumpkin The Raccoon on Instagram?”
2. “How do I build community around my work? How do I network with other people in my field?”
To which I say:
2. “There are lots of different things you can do to create community around your work and writing! And lots of non-gross ways to network with peers! In fact, you can create awesome content that does all the community-building and networking for you!”
7 types of content that network + build community for you!
1. (Selective! awesome!) Guest Posts
Should we accept guest posts from those sneaky, sneaky people who are just trying to embed search terms in our blogs? We should not. Should we accept guest posts that aren’t quite right for our blogs or readers? We should not.
However! Helpful, well-written guest posts are Miracle Grow for your blog and network. When you host a guest post, you’re cross-pollinating your readerships with that of your contributor. Your readers get to know an awesome new person! Hopefully, your contributor shares the guest post with their people and they get to know you!
And while you’re emailing back and forth with your contributor, you get to know each other and (probably) become buddies! Many of the most popular posts on my site – like this one, this one, and this one – have come from contributors.
Also, let’s be real. None of us are experts on everything and there are a limited number of hours in the day. Guest posters can write on topics you don’t know about and fill in your editorial calendar. Win/win!
How to find the right guest posters
There are heaps of ways to find guest posters!
- Write a Facebook or Instagram post. It’s hard to define your needs within Twitter’s character-limit
- At the bottom of a guest post add a P.S. that says “I’m always looking for guest posters who [insert qualification here]. Is that you? Drop me a line at [insert email address here.]”
- Use The Network Of Nice!
- Post about it in a Twitter chat or Facebook group. Are you part of the Being Boss or Biz + Blog BFF groups? They’re both great!
- Create a guest poster-specific page on your site (like I did here), outlining what you’re looking for, how long the posts will be, how you compensate guest posters. Will you link to them? Pay them? Give them free ad space?
How to get great guest posts with minimal fuss + stress
I like to give my guest posters as much structure and guidance as possible. I’ve created a template email for each of my guest post series.
I make sure my guest posters know:
- word count
- who’s responsible for photos
- formatting guidelines
- examples of previous guest posts that were particularly popular
- how to avoid common mistakes I’ve encountered with previous guest posters
This makes it a jillion times easier for both of us and reduces the number of back and forth “Could you edit this down, please?” emails.
Interviewing people works for the same reasons guest posts work – they’re an opportunity to share audiences. But! Interviews are often ‘easier’ for the interviewee and thus more likely to get a ‘yes.’ If you ask a big-time blogger to write a guest post for you, your email will probably go unanswered. But if you send that same blogger a thoughtful, personalized email asking to interview her about the topic you know she’s passionate about, she’ll probably say yes!
And since interviews are so much more personal than guest posts, they’re a great way to build a relationship with the person you’re interviewing! Networking = accomplished!
People + websites that do great interviews
Podcasts Being Boss, Elise Gets Crafty, and 10,000 Hours consistently deliver interesting, helpful, insightful interviews. Cup Of Jo’s Motherhood Around The World interview series is one of the best things on the internet. The Style Like U video interviews are gorgeous and fascinating.
How to make the most of the interviews you post
- Tag your interviewees on social media so they can share the interviews
- Make pretty, social media-friendly images of pull quotes from the interview. Being Boss does a great job with this!
- Create a content upgrade filled with the super helpful insights your interviewee shared. Sarah Jensen did this when she interviewed me on her podcast.
- Link to other things you’ve written or previous interviews that relate to this current one
3. Group challenges
Nothing bonds people like a shared goal, whether that’s drinking more water, improving their Instagram photos, or writing a novel. When you create and lead a challenge, you’re establishing yourself as an expert and building your community. Challenges are also a great way to find your true, hardcore fans … or convert your more ambivalent readers into hardcore fans 😉
What type of challenge should you create?
Something that ties into the products you sell, the services you offer, or the topics you write about. If you’re a stylist, create a challenge that encourages people to wear more of what they already own.
If you’re a food blogger, you could lead a challenge to waste less food or experiment with new ingredients. If you’re photographer, your challenge could focus on using new lenses, shooting different types of subjects, or photographing in challenging situations. You get the idea!
Where should you run your group challenge?
You can write weekly or monthly blog posts about the challenge and ask your readers to share their progress. Create a free email series that sends subscribers a challenge prompt every few days. Create an Instagram hashtag. Make a Facebook group where people can share their progress. Create a free guide or ebook to help your people navigate said challenge.
Examples of great community-building challenges
- The Whole 30. What? Yes. The now-nearly-ubiquitious diet plan started as a blog post in 2009, challenging readers to 30 days of strict eating.
- Fat Mum Slim’s Photo A Day. This incredibly popular challenge eventually led to Chantelle’s best-selling app!
- Kale & Chocolate’s 12 Tiny Changes challenge encourages readers to make one small health-related change every month – drinking more water, getting more sleep, etc. Elise provides tips to make these changes more doable, hosts giveaways of change-making products, and readers hashtag related Instagram photos with #12tinychanges.
- And Then We Saved shares readers’ spending fast stories and tracks how much money her community has saved. As of May 1st, 2016, her readers have saved more than one million dollars!
4. Link roundups
What’s a link roundup? It’s a post that consists of links to clever, useful things you’ve found elsewhere on the internet. It is, essentially, a blog post that just links to lots of other blog posts. Are you rolling your eyes? I know it sounds crazy but my Sunday link round up is some of the easiest, best networking I do! AND I DON’T EVEN HAVE TO WRITE ANYTHING.
That one weekly post has resulted in tons of online and IRL friendships and five-figure clients. Really!
How do link roundups help you network? Well, I believe that being helpful is the best way to network. And what’s more helpful than sending a bunch of traffic and potential clients in someone’s direction?!
People + sites that have great link roundups
- Foodie Crush’s Friday Faves are great and not limited to food-related things
- Xo Sarah’s Blog Love links are super useful for us online types.
- Today I’m Bobbi’s This And That posts are looooong and filled with wonderful things
- Amy Andrews only shares her link roundups with newsletter subscribers but they’re absolutely worth the subscription!
How to make your link roundups as network-y + community-building as possible
- On social media, tag the people you’re linking to so they know you’re talking about them; you can see how I do it here.
- When you’re assembling your post ask your social media followers what they’ve read and enjoyed lately.
- Share content written by your readers, commentors, clients, and social media followers.
5. Twitter chats
Confession: I have never hosted a Twitter chat or taken part in one. In fact, when I realized that 95% of my traffic comes from Facebook, I gave up on the platform altogether!
That being said, my friend Kayla has built her entire self-employed career on the back of her incredibly popular weekly Twitter chat. She’s made tons of online and IRL friends, found clients, and encountered amazing opportunities. #CreateLounge has become so popular she recently created a website specifically for that community!
Who takes part in Twitter chats?
Anybody who’s on Twitter regularly or cares enough about a given topic to login and take part in the conversation! 63% of Twitter users are based in the U.S. so it might not be the platform for you if you live outside of the states. Alternately, you might want to schedule your Twitter chat to correspond with American times zones, regardless of where you’re based.
Most Twitter users are between the ages of 24-35, so if your audience is significantly older or younger than that, you might want to try a different platform. Facebook audiences skew older and Snapchat audiences skew younger!
How do you start + host your own Twitter chat?
Here are 7 steps to launching your first Twitter chat and here’s a step-by-step guide for hosting or joining one. It’s also a good idea to catalog previous chats somewhere on your site so you (and your followers!) and reference all that helpful information later. You can see how Kayla does it here.
Examples of great Twitter chats
#Storysocial connects writers and covers topics like author platforms, promotion, story development, etc.
#tlap stands for ‘teach like a pirate’ and connects creative, passionate educators. Every Monday at 9 pm EST, they talk about fun strategies to use in the classroom
#girlstravel is a car-razy helpful chat aimed specifically at – you guessed it! – lady travelers. Each week, participants cover topics like safety, favorite destinations, and budgeting.
6. Sales-free video chats or live Q & A sessions
By now we’re all familiar with the sales-pitch-disguised-as-an-‘online-training’. (Not hating! I’ve learned a ton from those free webinars!) But what if you just, you know, talked directly to your readers and followers without an agenda? What if you said “I’m going to be on Google Hangouts/Periscope/Facebook Life at [insert time here] answering your questions about [topic here]”?
When you host these sorts of non-sales events, you’re building trust with your people and giving them an opportunity to interact with you face-to-face without the pressure of closing the sale.
You can even make these chats a reoccurring thing! Maybe every Sunday at 7 pm, you’re on Facebook Live answering questions about health and wellness. Or every Monday at 10 am, you’re on Periscope taking questions about blogging and online business.
Not sure enough people will show up or ask questions? Elicit questions from your blog readers, social media followers, or newsletter subscribers ahead of time. If you’re really in a pinch, answer a question you know your people have.
Here’s how to run a Q & A session on Google Hangouts On Air and here’s how to do it on Facebook.
7. Any content that’s Personal + honest
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time emotionally connecting with listicles and how-tos. (The irony that I’m writing that very sentence as part of a listicle is not lost on me.) It’s hard to build community around dry, personality-less content; I don’t want to network with an Instagram photo of a latte.
You can’t be part of my community if you don’t know who I am and you won’t know who I am if I don’t tell you. Yes, it’s important to use your blog to showcase your expertise. Yes, tutorials are the most popular things on the internet. But layered between all those lists, let’s tuck in a bit of personality and vulnerability.
How you can add more personality to your blog – not matter what you write about
- Write the way you talk – or a slightly cleaned up version of how you talk. Nobody wants to read something that sounds like a robot!
- Open your blog post with a personal anecdote.
- Reference the books/movies/music you love.
- Use your own photos when applicable. If you’re writing about your birthday party, use photos FROM YOUR ACTUAL BIRTHDAY PARTY not that pretty stock photo of a cupcake with sprinkles.
People whose honesty and transparency I (and everyone else) love:
- Nora McInerny Purmort – she says what we’re all thinking, but probably in a smarter, funnier way.
- Pinch Of Yum – yes, she’s one of the biggest food bloggers ever, but we also know she loves her dog, emojis, and struggles with post-vacation blues like the rest of us.
- Bitches Gotta Eat – Samantha is so funny and honest I cannot read her blog in public. Sometimes I have to hold my hand in front of my eyes and read it through my fingers.
- Kristen Kalp – is going to teach you all sorts of helpful things about writing + running your business. She’s also going to tell you how much she loves Harry Potter, dogs, and the ocean. She’s also honest about her depression and how she works through/around it.
But I’d love to hear from you? Which sites/people/brands have communities you really enjoy? How’d they entice you to take part? If you’ve built community around your work, how’d you do it?