This article, written by LaShaunda C. Hoffman is from the May 2020 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc.  (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership

Building an online community takes time, consistency and knowing it’s not going to happen overnight. Below are some ways I used to build my online community over the years.

Website/blog

Your website is yours, and you can share whatever you want or when you want on your site. Even if you hire an assistant or have someone or some company maintain your site, never let someone else have full control of your access to your readers. You should always have final control over your content as your website is your asset.

When I started building my online community for my magazine, Shades Of Romance Magazine (SORMAG), I started with a website. It wasn’t the most beautiful website, but it did its job to showcase the magazine.

Your website should at the minimum host information about your books and about you. I recommend keeping the readers on your site as much as possible versus sending them to various social media sites to interact with you. You can do this by adding a blog, forum, or membership area to your website.

Give your readers a reason to visit your site daily, weekly or monthly. What you share on your site is what brings the readers back. Here are a few ideas:

  • Share what you share on social media, like what’s going on with you and your writing. Put this also on your site.
  • Share resources such as tools you use to write or podcasts you listen to.
  • Share tips like articles on world building or how to plot your next book.
  • Host workshops on topics that appeal to your audience. If they are aspiring writers, you might offer a workshop on how to write your first book.
  • Host events. Monthly book discussions and interviews with writer friends are popular.
  • Host contests. Readers love to win prizes, so you might want to choose a Reader of the Month or give a prize to the first person to post a review or buy a copy of a new release.

One of the things that hurt my promotion of SORMAG was when I focused more on social media instead of the blog for the magazine. The blog used to have a lot of engagement, but when I focused on social media, the blog slowly started to only have visitors and no comments. Having visitors was good thing, but I know now that the interactions and engagement was what made the blog work for the magazine. I learned the hard way that when you when you move your readers off your website, they usually don’t come back mainly because it’s easier to be on one platform instead of visiting multiple sites.

Social media

Even though I’m a fan of websites, I know many writers choose to use social media as their home base because it’s easier to maintain. It’s also a fun way to build your online community — and you don’t have to leave home to do it! I tell my clients to find the platforms where their readers hang out and go have fun. I recommend starting with one or two platforms.

In this article, I will focus on one platform — Facebook. I’m a fan of Facebook because it lets you create communities with your profile, fan page or group. I call my FB community my FB Fam. Some of the people who follow me I’ve known over 20+ years when I first started online.

There are three main ways to interact with your fans on Facebook:

  1. Profile page – You can build a community with your profile page. However, you are limited to 5,000 followers, so you might have to be picky on who you let follow you.
    • Your profile is more for building relationships, so be careful with doing a lot of selling posts or you could end up in Facebook jail or worse, kicked off Facebook.
    • One of my favorite ways to engage my community is to ask questions. I ask at least three questions a day. This keeps my engagement up and often introduces me to new people.
  2. Fan pages – If you can get the engagement started on your fan pages, this is a good way to build your community. It’s open to everyone to see and you can have unlimited followers.
    • I see this as more of a billboard to showcase who I am and what I do.
    • I invite people to like my pages which helps grow my following.
    • I post at least three times a day. This helps my posts show up in my follower’s feed. I also try to ask questions to get the engagement going.
    • Your fan page is where you promote your book by using boosts or ads. Look at your results to see if you reached your promotion goals for your ads.
  3. Groups – My favorite way to build a community using social media is groups because you can make them private and be selective of who is in your community. I like that I can see who is inside the group and who is engaging or not.
    • I use my groups for learning, networking and sharing content.
    • The downside to groups is that they are time consuming and a commitment you must be ready for. It’s your duty to keep your members engaged.
    • I create promotional campaigns to invite new members to the group.

I’m a huge fan of using social media because it’s a fun way to build relationships with your readers and to make book sales. I use it to get to know my readers by asking questions and sharing things about myself. I’ve learned it is an important part of my promotion plan but it’s not the only thing.

Videos

If you aren’t camera shy, video is another way you can build a community. My favorite form of video is live streaming because I enjoy the live interaction with my fans. They can ask me questions and I can do the same with them.

You can go live on many social media platforms (like Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram) and engage with your community. Each one has time limits so check each platform for specifics.

Another option is to record your videos and post them on your social media platforms and wait for views and comments. It’s helpful to be able to record in batches and create a bunch of videos you can schedule for later.

  • You can use videos to teach workshops, read excerpts from your books, conduct interviews or just share news about your writing.
  • Make sure to add the link to your email list to your videos. You can also put this in the written descriptor and comment section of your video platform, so you can get new subscribers.

I'll be honest, at first I was intimidated by video. I thought I had to be perfect: hair done, face flawless, and my words not tumbling out of my mouth.

But when I started doing it, I learned that I missed one key point. With video that’s not live-streamed, you get a million takes to get it right. Editing is your friend. If you’re like me, don’t be intimidated. Get your hair done, your make up flawless and get in front of the camera and do your thing, then get a good video editor (or become one yourself).

Recognize & reward your community

Who are the people engaging with you?

  • Do you have someone who opens all the emails you send?
  • Do you have someone who engages in all the social media posts?
  • Do you have someone who shares all of your videos?
  • Do you have someone who is highly engaged in your group?

These are the people you offer a thank-you gift to — gift certificates, free books, or book swag. Let them know you appreciate them and their support.

I’ve learned over the years how important your community is. As I grew SORMAG’s community, I saw how loyal the readers were to the magazine. They attended the events and joined the social media community. They enjoyed the SORMAG goodies I sent out. I always wanted them to know they were appreciated. For the last few years, I’ve hosted a free online book festival for readers and writers with workshops, panel discussions, book discussions and prizes. Consider doing a Reader Appreciation Day or event for your readers.

Readers are loyal to writers they enjoy and these readers will stay a part of your community if you treat them like you appreciate them. Make time for them — respond to emails, reply to comments, and answer direct messages. Get to know them and you will see your readership grow.

Now, are you ready to start building your community? Go showcase your wings, social butterflies.

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 LaShaunda C. Hoffman created Shades Of Romance Magazine (SORMAG) and published it for 20 years. In 2015 she wrote a book about book promotion, Building Online Relationships — One Reader At Time, featuring lessons she learned while promoting SORMAG Digital. Join her community and receive a copy of SORMAG’s Literary Directory.

Laura Resnick

Laura Resnick is the author of the popular Esther Diamond urban fantasy series. A monthly columnist for Nink, she is also a past president of Ninc.