Lately there have been a number of posts (#1, #2, #3) floating around in the twenty something blogger community about the awards and nominations the community offers in the past few weeks. The posts have revolved around how the awards are very important, how the voting is weird, how the community actually isn’t a community any more at all because it’s too big, and even about how the people who tend to win the awards are kind of boring and inane.

I wrote a post in the spring when this debate was ‘hot’ gently urging people to get more involved if they want to see results on their community involvement, and because I still stand by that sentiment I’ve been slow to respond to the swell of commentary on the community this time around. But the reality is, these comments really bother me. They seem to miss the point. So I though that maybe I should be more detailed when I talk about ‘community building’ and using 20SB as a jumping off point.

Just so we’re clear, my feelings on 20SB and the awards process are as follows:

The idea that 20SB is an exclusive, cliquey place is largely the construct of people calling it those things. The people who are perceived as being inside an ‘in’ group don’t all talk on the phone gossiping and braid each others hair until the wee hours of the morning. These people have jobs, families, debt, relationships and sick relatives. They are dealing with life when they’re not online. You don’t actually know what’s in their e-mail accounts or in their hearts. Focus on yours. If you would like to have more open, fun online friendships focus on that. You can control that.

– The idea that 20SB is a vast, sprawling, unknowable place teeming with amazing blogs just waiting to be discovered is (in my opinion) also a construct of the people who are saying those things. There are a ton of profiles on twenty something bloggers, but I would guess that there are very few who are active in the community. Fewer still who care about this debate. I can’t count the number of blogs I’ve stopped following because they’ve randomly dropped off the face of the earth, never to be heard from again. I can’t count the number of blogs I’ve ended up moving away from because they only talk about that person’s day to day existence and never make the leap to self reflection or narrative. We all have different tastes in what we like to read, but the reality is that finding blogs of any style that have authors who will keep writing beyond the next year, or even who will respond to e-mail is really hard a lot of the time. This isn’t a conspiracy of the elite, it’s just that we’re all in different places.

– The idea that being named blogger of the month or winning an award will ramp your blog traffic through the roof is something that people who want to win these internal awards believe. There are certainly people who will add you to their blogroll, but your subscriber numbers really won’t go through the roof in a way that they wouldn’t if you just kept writing well on a consistent basis. They provide a nice bump, but that’s all.

That’s great but how can I make 20SB, you know, do stuff for me?

– Look at your blog before you look at 20SB. Does the design really convey who you are? If you receive all of your comments during the work day is your design one that can be looked at on a work computer without it screaming “I’m not working!”? What do you think you’re writing about, and what are you actually writing about? Go back to the last month of your blog and write out the general idea of each post you wrote- does this reflect your life? What you want your blog to be about? If you’re a growing blog most people have just found you, so making sure you’re reflecting who you are with your posts is important.

– Check out your 20SB profile. If you’re using 20SB as a way to get people to make the leap to your blog, does your profile look anything like your blog? Is your bio up to date? Do you provide visible links to your blog and other social media?

– Narrowcast yourself. Only 105 people nominated others in the bootlegger awards in a community of nearly 10k. Do those numbers shock you? You should be relieved. This means that spending hours on the community, commenting on endless random profiles, and sinking an incredible amount of time into something that’s not blogging won’t help you to efficiently find engaged readers. You just need to find the super users and befriend them. Isn’t that more manageable? You can 20SB super users a number of ways, three of which are:

1. By going to the monthly nominations threads and clicking through to all of the people’s blogs who are interested enough in the community to vouch for someone.

2. You can look for people who are routinely starting and answering forum threads.

3. You can look at people who are on the community admin team.

When you’re looking for blogs to not just read, but to be engaged with, you want to find someone who will take action- someone who will find out who you are, visit your blog, and maybe even strike up a conversation. Targeting people who are already engaged in a participatory action is a way to target your efforts.

– Make friends, don’t wait for friends. Send one e-mail a week to someone whose blog you like. Find a blog you really enjoy and check out who else likes that blog- again, this targets people who are engaged. Read blogrolls, people tend to list their friends and they can help you to ‘see’ social groups. Only comment on as many blogs as you can thoughtfully respond to.

– Practice radical caring. Has a community member gone through something really hard and needs support? Draw attention to it in the 20SB forums or on your blog. Stop skimming posts. Unsubscribe from the blogs you aren’t invested in, and really put time in with people you enjoy. Respond to people- if someone new comments on your blog send them a one line e-mail, @reply people on twitter, and if someone makes you think, make the jump from commenting to e-mailing. Then take a break from putting energy out and in a few weeks, start up again. Very few people do these things. By really listening, and really responding you will stand out.

– Realize this is only one tool. If you’re in your twenties, 20SB is a great jumping off point for finding people who are in your demographic and who might be interested in what you’re doing. A better tool is putting your time into people who make you roar with laughter, cry when their hearts break, and cheer their successes. For me 20SB is one way of many to find those people.

I want to be really clear that I don’t feel targeted by any of the posts that have been written, and my feelings have not been hurt by any of you. I truly understand how it can feel like everyone is included but you. In the face of that I really wanted to put something practical and hands on out there about this stuff. These are some things that have worked for me, but I think about these things without meaning to and doing them is just natural. What works for you might be totally different.

I’m just terribly fond of this little (big) community and have had a great experience in it, so I hope that spelling out how I’ve made that happen might help others wanting a more engaged experience in their blogs and in their community.

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