About 10 months ago on a Sunday nite I asked a blogging question on Twitter, and as a bit of an experiment (and to better organize the responses I was hoping to get) I added the #blogchat hashtag to my question. With that, the first #blogchat was born.
Since that time, we’ve had #blogchat every Sunday nite at 8pm Central time, with the exception of Mother’s Day last year. It has gone from a couple of dozen participants leaving 200-300 tweets during the first one, to now every #blogchat attracts well over 100 participants and over 1,000 tweets. Or a new tweet every 5 or 6 seconds.
And I think a lot of what makes #blogchat a hit can also help your company with its community-building efforts. Here’s some examples:
1 – A community forms when people have a sense of ownership in something larger than themselves. This is a key to #blogchat’s success. From the get-go, I’ve made sure that everyone understands that #blogchat isn’t MY chat, it’s OUR chat. In fact, if you’ve participated in #blogchat, you’ve probably noticed that after the first hour or so, I generally stop tweeting. This is because I don’t want to dominate #blogchat, and I’ve learned that it’s best to bring smart people together, give them the stage, then get out of the way. I think this is why people enjoy #blogchat, because they know that they can easily join in and play a role in the conversation that develops. That’s very powerful, and it’s a big reason why #blogchat is so successful.
2 – Consider the type of actions you want to encourage when you create your community site. From the get-go, I wanted everyone to feel like they could join in and participate in #blogchat. As a result, the format of the chat is very loose compared to many other chats. Whereas many chats have structured points/questions that are addressed every 15 mins or so, #blogchat starts with a general topic that everyone runs with. As a result, I think #blogchat has more of a ‘coffee house’ feel to it, where everyone is talking about the same broad topic, but each table is discussing a slight variation on the main theme. So the bar for joining #blogchat has been lowered, and that leads, I think, to more participation and interaction.
3 – Encourage lurkers to participate. I’ll be honest, when a #blogchat really gets rolling, it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed as 20-30 new tweets come in every couple of minutes. I can’t always reply to every #blogchat tweet that I want to, but you better believe that if I see someone tweet that it’s their first #blogchat, they’ll get a reply from me! I will quickly thank them for joining, and encourage them to join in. Also, before every #blogchat, I will tweet a reminder that #blogchat is open to EVERYONE and that we are ALL coming together to learn from each other. This simply plays into the idea that the more smart people you get participating, the better and more valuable the conversations will be. Which increases the value of #blogchat for everyone.
The same applies to your community site, if people are lurking, that means they are somewhat interested, but they don’t have that spark to move from lurking to participating. A great way to encourage this switch is to lower the bar for their participation.
4 – Crowdsource ideas for community improvement from the community. I’ll be honest, often I am so busy with client work that I really can’t spend as much time on developing new topics for each week’s #blogchat as I would like. So what I will often do is reach out to #blogchatters and ask them what topics they want to see covered! This helps me by setting the topic for the chat, but it’s also empowering to participants, because it shows them that they have control over the direction that #blogchat takes.
One week a couple of months ago I was totally swamped with work and didn’t even have time to make #blogchat. But I definitely did NOT want to cancel #blogchat for that week because I was afraid that I would be disappointing a lot of people. So I decided to take a risk, and made that particular #blogchat ‘open mic’, meaning there was no set topic, and everyone could talk about whatever they liked. Somewhat to my surprise, the open mic format was a big hit, and many #blogchatters said they wanted it to be a regular occurance (but not EVERY week, they clarified). So listening to their feedback, I changed the schedule so that the last Sun nite of every month is now open mic. And this ties back to the first point of giving participants a sense of ownership in the community that’s being created!
5 – Know your limitations and work around them. As I started crowdsourcing ideas for #blogchat topics, I ran into a bit of a problem. #blogchat users were asking to discuss some topics that I really wasn’t the best person to lead a discussion on. One example was many #blogchatters wanted to talk about improving your blog’s SEO efforts. So that gave me the idea of bringing in experts to co-host certain #blogchat topics. For example, @leeodden co-hosted the #blogchat about maximizing your blog’s SEO efforts, The Red Cross’ @wharman schooled us on how nonprofits can utilize social media, and @amyafrica told us how you could generate sales for your company via your blog.
Bringing in these experts not only addressed a shortcoming of #blogchat, but in the process it gave these experts the incentive to promote their involvement with #blogchat to their own networks. So the quality of the content created at #blogchat was improved, and the reach of #blogchat was expanded as well! Not a bad way to turn a minus into a plus, eh?
6 – Realize that not everything is perfect. Even though #blogchat is a very popular chat, not everything goes well and some people are critical of the chat. Some people don’t like certain topics. And while some people think it’s thrilling how fast-paced #blogchat can be, it simply overwhelms some people.
But this feedback is valuable, because it lets me know what’s working, and potentially what isn’t working. And you have to dig for that criticism, too. I’ve learned that if someone wants to complain about #blogchat, they are more likely NOT to do it in a reply to me. So I have to constantly monitor the #blogchat stream for that feedback.
And at the same time, I have to weigh that feedback against what everyone is saying. For example, last week the topic of #blogchat was dealing with how social media consultants should use social media themselves. Some people publicly voiced their displeasure that they didn’t think the topic was blog-centric. But at the same time, people were sending me DMs as well as publicly saying that they enjoyed the change of pace and appreciated a broader topic.
So as with all aspects of social media, don’t fear or run from criticism. It’s valuable feedback that can help you improve your efforts!
7 – Be grateful. I am honestly humbled and eternally grateful that people enjoy reading and participating in #blogchat. I make sure that everyone understands that THEY are just as responsible for the success of #blogchat as I am, and this goes back to sharing ownership of a created community. No one creates a community by themselves, and communities usually aren’t driven by people that focus inward instead of outward. Yes, saying ‘Thank You!’ still matters.
So these are some reasons why I think #blogchat is working, and I think that each of these examples can help you improve your own community-building efforts!