Community Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

This post is probably going to piss a lot of people off.

I considered writing it earlier but have been putting it off until now. This a response to an article written by Alastair McKenzie at Travelllll.com: Why Community is Crucial for Travel Bloggers. Read it now if you haven’t.

I like Alastair and I consider him a friend. I also totally understand where he is coming from. Applauding the benefits of community is like extolling motherhood. Not many people are going to argue with you.

However, I have found the focus on “community” that many bloggers develop is ultimately distracting and counterproductive to what they are trying to do: create a successful blog.

Let me back up a bit.

Last year, immediately after Facebook launched their groups feature I started a group for travel bloggers. The group grew quickly and became the largest group of its kind for the travel blogging community.

Eventually, however, I realized something. I was spending more time on the travel blogger group than I was on my own Facebook page or my own blog.

  • I was getting sucked into arguments that didn’t mean anything.
  • I was letting myself get agitated over things that shouldn’t have mattered.
  • I was answering questions from people who didn’t bother to take 5 seconds to do a Google search to find basic information. They wanted everything handed to them.
  • I didn’t know most of the people in the forum. They were part of the “community” but they weren’t my friends. I’ve never spoken to most of these people nor had they ever introduced themselves to me.

None of this was helping me move the chains forward on my own stuff. (that is a euphemism from American football that means making progress).

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of bloggers who have replaced the “community” with making progress on their own site. The spend more time talking to bloggers, commenting on other blogs and talking about blogging than they do actually building and engaging with their audience.

I know many people who are considered respected travel bloggers who seem to mostly engage only with other bloggers and have never built up an audience outside of that community.

Back in March, without any fanfare, I left the travel blog group I created on Facebook and all other blogging forums.

The amazing thing was, no one noticed. I didn’t get a single comment or question about where I was or what was going on.

I was able to take all that time I spent on the “community” and put it back into my own projects. The result was a net positive for me. I got more work done and didn’t have my blood pressure rise every time someone said something stupid.

It isn’t just forums, however. Professional organizations have been about as unproductive. I’m a member of SATW, NATJA and IFWTWA. Has there been any real benefit to being a member? No.

As a blogger I’m not looking for freelance work. The conferences they put on offer very poor professional development, usually on topics that have nothing to do with what I do. I’ve never been contacted by someone in the industry due to my membership. At best they offer discounts on some services, but that is it. (Why am I a member? Good question.)

I have many friends who are bloggers. I like talking to other bloggers and I enjoy answering questions about blogging. I even have attended conferences like TBEX for the last several years.

However, bloggers are not my business. Too many people use community as a substitute for an audience. They start a new blog, get involved in the community and then get sucked into it. Other bloggers are the low hanging fruit to get traffic and comments, so that is where they start and where they stay.

I’m all for community, but not when it gets in the way of what matters.

You aren’t going to make a successful blog by pandering to the community. You needs to reach out and engage with people who don’t have blogs.

11 Comments

  1. Find a niche, blog the shit out of it, and the good will come. If it doesn’t, find another. Any tactic or scheme other than blogging the shit out of it, is just a talk, speech, or meta to what really matters. It has been and always will be about making interesting content and you have to work your ass off to do it.

  2. I agree with you about travel blogging communities and the travel circle on twitter. Photography communities too. I find it’s all about “look at me” rather than sharing. I’ve dropped out of a few of them, although I do lurk on occasion.

    I do like other kinds of communities, like a few of the tech, foodie, destination, and art communities I participate in. Those are based more on mentoring and sharing information. Even getting a recipe in a foodie group is more than I get from participating in travel blogging communities. It’s one of the reasons I started my own community around things that I wanted to share and mentor.

    So I’m not offended by what you wrote.

  3. Great reminder to focus on what matters. Do you think this is any different for new bloggers? Is there a benefit to networking with other bloggers to attract initial readers and influencers to share your content or let you guest post?

  4. I totally understand your points. Not sure I agree with all of them but it very much depends on what you propose to get out of blogging. Fame, Riches, or Enjoyment?
    Personally, it’s a labour of love, no one is going to pay me credit card referral fees in the same way as you can earn in the US. Hence my time and effort are for the sake of interest and enjoyment. Like many activities, once I stop enjoying it I will stop doing it.

  5. THIS: “I was answering questions from people who didn’t bother to take 5 seconds to do a Google search to find basic information. They wanted everything handed to them.”

    My blood pressure rises anytime someone asks on a Facebook forum, “What’s Domain Authority?” or “What’s EdgeRank?”

    Freaking Google it.

    I should probably follow suit and just stop reading the posts…

  6. I left the “travel blogging” Facebook groups a few months ago and have felt healthier and more productive ever since!

    They are such a distraction and ignoring them has given me more time and energy to devote to things that actually matter.

  7. It depends, I think, on how you’re defining “community.” One element of any blogger’s community is his/her readership – and in that sense, community remains critical. I think what you’re describing is perhaps more accurately termed “cohort” – other people doing what you’re doing. It’s important to connect with colleagues, to share ideas and resources, but – to my mind, anyway – the most important community will always be the one who’s reading your blog.

  8. Brilliant and absolutely true. “Community” can be a tremendous distraction. Much better to focus precious time on having something to say and saying it well.

  9. Those groups really start to rent too much space in my head and disturb my equilibruim so I opted out. I still jump in every now and then just to offer a bit of advice, but I avoid all the bitching arguments.

    With two blogs to run, another to write for, lots of travel, side freelance projects, and two children to raise and care for I don’t really have the time anyway.

    I do like to help as much as I can and I do it a lot. I had a bit of a kick in the teeth this week though when for the first time I asked for a favour back from a few people who I have helped out in so many big ways (like giving personal contacts, recommendations, blog posts to promote their stuff etc) and all I heard was crickets!!

    Certainly given me a little bit of a wake up call and made me think a little more about how I dedicate my time.

  10. I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. I found the “community” really helpful when I was just starting out and many of the other new bloggers of that generation continue to be good friends of mine. Since then I’ve been happy to meet and learn from others.

    In the beginning I immersed myself in learning as much as I could and at the 18 month mark I completely burned out, mostly because my life was consumed with it and it was starting to define me.

    A year later I have gained a bit of perspective. Like you I’m also not looking for freelance work and I have said many times I don’t consider myself a writer by trade and I’ve gone back to my foundation of marketing to run the site.

    I removed myself from all of the Facebook groups as I also found them to be time suckers. I don’t get involved in the bickering and I only attend events that are worthwhile.

    I also have a lot of friends who don’t blog and some of the close ones don’t read my blog or really any blogs. Some of my friends don’t travel and it’s so nice to talk about things other than traveling and blogging.

    But I do continue to read and comment other blogs and I speak to a lot of new bloggers because I remember what it was like when I had no idea what to do and my peers taught me. I also remember sending you an email and you responding right away.

    I don’t regret going to the extreme, I learned a lot. And I’m not so sure people who are new will understand this post. Most people need to push themselves to a limit where they feel comfortable enough finding the middle ground.

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