How to Build an Online Community

Last week, we looked at designing pages to promote an individual book or a series. One of the most effective ways to promote a series, and the author, is by building an onlne community around the series, the author or the subject area.

Community Building Enhancements

Like any other business, writers, particularly series or genre writers, are creating a relationship with their customers (their readers). An online community is the best way to enhance that relationship, not only between yourself and your audience but among the audience members themselves. But like any relationship, it requires some kind of commitment.If you are extremely busy, you might be able to draft a supportive family member or friend to help in the maintenance.

A community also requires interaction. It is not a one-way street.

Chat Rooms, Bulletins or Messages Boards, Email Lists

The Internet is essentially a communications media and people love to communicate, hence the success and popularity of chats, boards and lists. But with the growing use comes saturation, abuse and banality.The more unique the focus of the board and more closely tied to an author’s identity or series theme, the better. In addition, public postings must be monitored regularly and you must decide how much control you plan to place on postings. Chats, boards and list consume a great deal of time to be effective (which is why I haven’t put one on this site — yet!), but they are key in building an online community. Just be sure you are willing to support the relationship between you and your community.

Blogs, Weblogs, News, Op-Ed, Rumor or Gossip

According to Blogger (, the mothership of blogs, a blog (or weblog) is a web page made up of usually short, frequently updated posts that are arranged chronologically — like a what’s new page or a journal. Weblogs like the Open Source stalwart Slashdot, post information and news and then allow site visitors to add their comments and discuss the issue.

There are communities built around opinion, rumor and gossip sites on specific topics such as Apple Computer Co., car designs, and celebrities. The difference between a community-building information page and a standard information (or opinion, rumor and gossip page) is the ability for the community to interact and provide visible feedback. Otherwise, what you’ve got is a following, instead of a community.

And yes, Elements will be adding community-building features very soon. In the meantime, please feel free to contact us with your questions, comments or suggestions.

This was longer than I expected and we’ve only scratched the surface. Look for more features on each of these points down road. Next week, we’re look at using your web site for “Promoting a Writer’s Work to Publishers & Agents.”