I get this type of question a lot, so it must be a good one! First, let's just think about this factoid for a nanosecond: I recently read that there are something like 200 million blogs online today with more and more added every day. Suffice it to say, this is a lot of content being thrown around, right? And we thought the "lifestyle" niche was massive...
Many will see the "bloated" blogger population as an ambition squasher, but I would venture to say the exact opposite. I think this means we all have a much better chance of finding and connecting with "our people" because of the sheer volume of ideas, talents, and experiences being shared and bounced around. We no longer are entirely reliant on watered down and majorly cashed-out mass media (although there's still a relevant place for them. I love my Vogue.)
Instead, we can get the nitty gritty emotions, unexpected styling, fabulous design experiments, recipes, and ideas coming directly from real people. This is what blogging is all about: democratic information sharing. Therefore, the best possible way to build a meaningful and sustainable online community is to give readers something significant to connect with right away. You must...
1. BE YOURSELF.
I know, we bloggers say this all the time. But being authentic is not just some idealist ethical directive. Authentic conent allows readers and potential readers alike to understand you right away – your personality, your ideas, and your ambitions. They will react because they relate. They will want to keep your blog close. They will come back for more. Write and/or design (or have a professional design) the blog that you would want to read and (more importantly) be excited to come back to every day. But what if you don't know how, you ask?
2. WORK HARD. TRY NEW THINGS.
You never really know it all. No blogger is magically good at designing or writing anything (unless they're coming into it really late in the game, and then we just worship at their feet!) It takes a lot of time and equal amounts of practice to produce good work. Good news: the blog platform is functionally designed for earnest experimentation.
If you don't know what you're doing, blog about that. If you're in need of information, do some research and ask questions. If you want to know how to design a killer blog post, invest in yourself! Take a graphic design class at a community college. Hire a tutor. Take some Pugly Pixel workshops. Sign up for BlogShop. Watch tutorials on YouTube or subscribe to Lynda.com. Read some design books – learn about typography, lettering, grids, Swiss design, color theory. And if you're not interested in doing any of that (I don't blame you), pinch your pennies and hire a professional designer.
Without meaning to sound lectureous, I feel it is my duty to say: Never ever ever resort to copying another blogger as a way to deal with your weaknesses. It will only cause you more confusion, potentially ruin any relationship you might have with them, and most significantly – it will take away from your #1 goal (being yourself!) If you ever feel tempted to do this, consider stepping away for a bit. From personal experience, absence and distance can help you remember why you started blogging in the first place (and I'm pretty sure it wasn't to copy someone else.)
3. PAY ATTENTION.
Finally, I think of the blog community building process as one continuous loop. It starts with #1: Being yourself, which leads to #2: working hard to create content that truly reflects you, and finally #3: paying attention by processing what your readers like (or don't like). A good blogger uses past experience to inform future decisions (see handy graphic below). If you're looking at this and going "duh," odds are you're doing something right:
Creating a solid blog and blog community is not the product of a singular action or strategy, it's the culmination of a lot of time, mistakes, ups, downs, and in-betweens. Everyone is still figuring out – all 200 million of us. But isn't that the beauty of it? We're all trying to figure it out together. And don't forget to have fun! Don't forget why you started doing this in the first place. Alright commenters, let it rip...
Next week: Branding 101.