Most blogs consist of one person commenting on the world, and a whole bunch of people passing by, spending five minutes to skim several posts, and perhaps making a comment or two. These people move on to never return, and they are replaced by more people who in turn do the same.
While blogs are typically considered more communal than typical websites, they may in fact be less so. Other websites have forums which receive hundreds of posts per day from established and respected members. That is a community. Blogs have comments. If you’re lucky (like with this blog), they are threaded with email notifications. This has the potential for community building, as people may make comments, reply to other comments, and return to reply again. However, it generally does not create community. Most people still visit once and only once.
Some bloggers try adding a forum. I did this, and the sad reality is that you will get no participation. For every 100 people that visit your website, one person will make a comment. And for every 100 people who comment on your blog, one person will sign up and post on your forum. Even if you put a widget in your sidebar with the latest forum topics, you’ll still get little to no participation. The forum is basically a separate website, one that will receive no benefit from the fame of your blog. Unless your blog is so popular that you’ve turned off comments, forums are a waste of time. You must chose: forums or comments. One or the other. Not both. On a popular blog, you may be better off disabling comments and creating a forum requiring registration. It cuts out the noise.
Bloggers used to require registration to comment, but fortunately no one does this anymore. It is so stupid and pointless now that spam filtering is so good. There are only three purposes for registration: to track people for marketing, to allow for user profiles that other members can read, and to track comments. WordPress allows none of these. BuddyPress does, and there are plugins, but no one is using those. Registration doesn’t create a feeling of community. It creates a feeling of annoyance.
RSS feeds get people to come back for more, but most people who use RSS feeds are lurkers. You won’t get a comment from them. You may get thousands of pageviews over a period of months, but you won’t get comments and you won’t get community participants.
Responding to comments helps build community, but don’t respond to everything. Simple comments like “your work is great” do not deserve a thank you. That is boring and unneeded. I no longer reply to such comments. My time is better spent writing new blog posts.
Most comments will be people looking for help, and they will be in response to problem-solving posts that didn’t solve their problems. A third of the comments on this blog have been on my Tweet This plugin (most are archived), and they have not been thank-yous so much as requests for help. These are not people wanting to participate in a blog community: these are people who want their problems solved so they can move on with their lives. No community content there.
WordPress MU does not build communities. Many people try and many people fail. All the blogs are separate—all the blog posts are stored in separate database tables. There’s no way to even aggregate them effectively without creating a mirror of them in a unified table, and this is complicated to set up. It is also unwieldy and wasteful. There is no linking blogs together in WordPress MU. They are islands. When you host a WordPress MU site, you are not a community leader. You are a web host.
As a blogger, you are a publisher, not a community leader. Don’t think of your blog as a round-table. Think of it as a newspaper. Yes you may feature letters to the editor, but remember who is in control and who leads the discussion. If you aren’t producing new blog posts every week, whatever “community” you have (which is really just visitors) will disappear immediately. It did when I left this blog for six months. It will for you too. No big deal. It can be quickly rebuilt. Communities take a long time to build, and if you alienate your loyal readers your site goes down the tubes. Blogs aren’t communities, so if you alienate some people (and you will), new people will replace them. Don’t expect anyone to write your posts for you or come up with ideas for you. It’s all on YOU. YOU must do it all YOURSELF. No one will help you. When you accept that you have no community to back you, you accept complete responsibility for the success of your blog. That is power.