Through co-hosting the 2015 New Quilt Bloggers Blog Hop, I have been afforded a unique opportunity as a mentor. One of the main reasons I wanted to co-host the blog hop was because I believe so strongly in the power of community, and I was excited to be able to introduce others to the online quilt blogging community. We are just wrapping up a two week break in the blog hop which has afforded me a bit of time for reflection, and I wanted to share some of my current thoughts regarding community.
I believe that we all choose to blog and read blogs because we are interested in community. Community offers a sense of belonging. When you find a tribe of like-minded people, it feels good to see what they are doing and to get feedback on what you are doing. However, when I first started my blog adventure, it sure felt like I was writing blog posts that no one else knew about and it left me wondering how to interact and find a community.
I was lucky enough to stumble into the 2014 New Quilt Bloggers Blog Hop hosted by Beth @plum and june and I learned a lot about blogging and specifically about the online quilt blogging community through the discussions in the group. I learned about linky parties (and how to join them), I learned about leaving and responding to comments, and I learned that there are definitely others like me looking for connection.
I think that local quilt guilds can be an excellent way to find community. I just happen to live in a pretty small mountain pass town far enough away from major cities with quilt guilds that interest me. I do have a local quilt store that I frequent, but most of the quilters in my area have a much more traditional style and interest than I do. Which is not to say I have nothing to learn from them! They just don’t happen to really formally organize in a way that works for me.
For me, the heart and soul of what makes my online quilting community is the process of leaving and receiving and responding to comments. Just over a year ago, I began an almost daily practice of taking time to leave meaningful comments on other blogs and in turn, responding to the comments that are left on my blog. It has been a work in progress, but today I feel that I have a community of quilters who I count as friends, mentors, and confidants.
I believe that it is not the size of my community that counts; what matters most is the quality of my interaction with my community. Just like learning anything new, learning to leave comments that elicit conversations and interactions takes some time to develop. Because I chose to take the time to cultivate that as a skill, it now takes me much less time when reading blog posts to write a comment. I clearly remember having a blog post up on my screen with a beautiful quilt and wondering how to say something better than, “Wow! Amazing! Beautiful! Congratulations!” (Hint: let the quilter know what you love about the quilt, what detail really catches your eye, ask a question if it is not in the post and you are curious, and it still never hurts to let them know you think their work is awesome!)
I have found that the time and effort I invested into leaving comments has paid off. For all the comments I leave, the occasional one that will spark a back and forth conversation makes it all worthwhile. Some of my favorite blog posts have developed out of email conversations that started as a comment on a blog post. How awesome is that?!
As a quilter and blogger, what is it you want from your community? More followers, friends, comments, free stuff, money? Different goals, different time allocations, and different styles will all result in cultivating community. Just because putting effort into comments and online interaction to promote individual one-on-one conversations works for me does not mean it is the right tactic for you. Below are some thoughts and ideas for you to consider as you explore your own goals and methods.
- Give more than you get. Taking the time to get involved in the established communities can help pay off in the long run. Investigate Facebook Groups (Late Night Quilter’s Club), linky parties, Instagram, and other locations to get a feel for the lay of the land, so to speak.
You’ll have no semblance of community unless you’re an active community member in other spaces. – Mitch Joel
- Answer questions for your audience. Have you noticed something missing from the conversation and find yourself asking a question over and over again when you leave comments? Make sure you include that information when you write your own posts! This is especially fundamental if you have asked your audience a question – make sure you follow up and let them know the results.
- Involve your readers. If you feel like you are struggling to get reader interaction, consider ways to engage and involve your readers. Ask a question for them to answer, put up a poll, or host a giveaway. Pay attention to the posts that to generate your most feedback; that is the way your readers subtly vote and let you know what is working
- Focus on content. Looking back on my older blog posts, I can clearly see an evolution of my writing style, photography, and posts. I love that blogging allow that journal like process to happen and helps you learn what does and does not work. A post does not have to be “perfect” to be published, and what works best today might not in 6 months – that is OK! Just keep focusing on what you are doing and I believe the rest will evolve along with you.
- Reach out. Don’t be afraid to write an email to someone if you have a question you think they can answer. Not all emails will get answered, but I have cultivated friendships and found mentors by taking the bold step of writing a quick email (note: shorter is better for an initial contact!).
- Collaborate. Reach out to another blogger to see if you could guest post (there are some sites that are set up for that kind of work like Sew Mama Sew, Moda Bakeshop, etc.) or collaborate on a project with them.
- Engage with the online industry. Pay attention to what manufacturers are really active on social media and use that to your advantage! Tag them, reference them, promote them, and often they will return the favor!
- Leverage social media. Right now the hot platform for quilters seems to be Instagram, but if you are an avid Facebook or Twitter or Google+ user, research ways and invest some time into utilizing those platforms to cross promote your awesome blogging and quilting work.
- Recognition. Did you get some great advice or input? Make sure you let everyone know and thank the person who helped you out (a link back to them is awesome thanks). Recognizing people who are actively participating with you provides great feedback and is a great way to cultivate community.
- Comment. I said a lot about this earlier in the post, so I will try not to overemphasize this here. Taking the time to comment on blogs that provide you inspiration and whose writing style you admire is worthwhile.
- Reply to comments. Just like making comments, learning to respond to comments is a process. Try to build a conversation if you can. Not all comments lead to a back and forth conversation, but it sure is fun when it does!
- Commit, communicate, and follow through. There are lots of fun options for interacting available: quilt swaps, quilt alongs, mystery quilts, link ups, etc. When you choose to join one of these activities, truly commit yourself to the process. Communicate and engage with the media platform (many mini swaps are held through Instagram right now), and be sure to follow through. Life happens, and we are all forgiving of that when there is open communication. Looking for great opportunities like this? Check out Quilt Along and Half Square Quilts (at the end of every post, Tessa makes a list of all open craft swaps she can find).
- Consider the aesthetic of your blog. Looks are not everything, but make sure your site is easy to navigate and use. Not sure how you stack up? Ask some people to review your site for you!
- Real life. Take advantage of conventions, retreats, classes, and shop hops to get to know some people face to face. Putting a face with a blog helps take the online interactions to the next level – really and truly!
- Be you. Above all else, remember that all of these ideas are just that – ideas. Be yourself and do what works best for your time, effort, and energy.
Have you noticed what makes your community grow? What other options could be added to this list? What makes you feel like part of a whole, and do you have any new ideas for healthy communication and interaction to feed the community?
I typically respond privately to all blog comments, but due to the nature of this kind of discussion post, I will be replying openly to your comments here. I hope you have time to read some of the comments as often one of the great values of the community is the wonderful discussion (and additional suggestions!) that can be found below in the comments.