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August 09, 2006

Building Blog Community by Setting Homework For Readers

Posted in: Miscellaneous Blog Tips

HomeworkA month back I finished a post on how to increase your blog’s page views with the tip of ‘give your readers a homework assignment’.

I included it as a tip based on what I’d been experimenting with for just one week - it was really an unproven tip based largely upon a hunch.

I thought it was time to expand the tip as I’ve continued to set homework for readers, especially on my digital photography school blog and in the last couple of weeks have been quite amazed by the results. Below I outline the benefits of setting homework for readers.

Firstly here’s how I’ve been doing it:

  • Each of my assignments is based upon a ‘tips post’ I’ve written on DPS.
  • At the end of each tip I point to an assignment thread over at the DPS Flickr Group.
  • The Assignment thread links back to the tips post that the idea for the assignment came from.
  • Assignments are simply an invitation for readers to take the concepts in the post and practice them - sharing the results of their photos in the Flickr group (it’s not rocket science).

Benefits of Reader Assignments:

  • Reader’s Improving Technique - I’m getting a lot of emails back from readers thanking me for the assignment threads and asking for more. They are telling me that having a practical space to do what I’m teaching and to see how others are using the information is helping them to improve their technique.
  • Participation levels are on the rise - the DPS Flickr group is increasing in numbers of members (just under 1000) but also in the participation rate of members. The latest assignments have hundreds of responses and users are beginning to start their own threads of discussion in the group (a new thing). Of course when you get your readers to take a step towards doing something with what you write you’re a step closer to a loyal reader. A community of users is slowly developing around assignments.
  • Assignments are Driving Traffic to the blog - I’ve started to notice that the discussion forum is actually starting to drive traffic back to the blog via the links in the introduction to each forum. Other Flickr forums are linking to our assignments which draws new Flickr users to our forum and then the blog and weekly newsletter.
  • Users are creating content - In the last week a number of the Flickr group members have been posting content to the forums that would be suitable to be used as blog posts. With their permission I’ll begin to use this on the main blog - once again interlinking the forum and the blog to drive traffic in both directions.

All in all I’m feeling like I’m onto a winner with Assignments.

One word of caution
Assignments do take a little work. First you need to write in such a way that engages with and motivates people to participate, secondly you need to come up with quality assignments and thirdly you do need to monitor/moderate the results as well as be prepared to engage with those who submit things. Unless you’re willing to do these things the results won’t be quite live up to their potential.

Lastly - a word about why I’m using Flickr Groups
To be perfectly honest I initially set it up because it was easy and I had limited time to throw at it. My ideal at the time would have been to set up a forum using forum software.

However since setting it up I’ve realized that one of the reasons it’s had the success that it has is because Flickr is a natural gathering point for photographers and the ease of use factor has come into play. As part of their normal Flickr rhythm many are participating in the discussions and assignments.

Having said that, I’m not completely happy with it. Flickr Groups give you little control over look, feel and format for discussions. You also have restrictions on what you can and can’t promote in the forums (you’re not supposed to do anything for financial gain). Once I’ve got a little more time and if the membership will go with me I’d eventually like to transition to a forum over on my own domain (unless Flickr add some features that keep me with them).


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