From Zero to 17’000 – Some Thoughts on Building Community…

One of the most frequent things I get asked is: ‘How did you build your following?’.

It’s a fair question.  A few years ago I started as everybody does, with pretty much zero support and 5 followers (2 of which were my mother who had signed up twice to make sure she didn’t miss anything).  Today I am a 100% audience-supported artist; I have a blog that is read in 170+ countries by a community of almost 18’000 subscribers, and a Twitter following that is sitting somewhere around 88’000 people.

All of which was accomplished from the ground up with zero external media or paid advertising.

How?

Read on, and I’ll tell you…

Human beings crave community, it’s a deep down thing.  A fundamental need which has likely endured unchanging since the first of us crawled up from the darkness of the ocean floor and out into the light.

But what exactly is a community?

A community is a group of people built around something of value and maintained by connection, service, and mutually beneficial exchange.

There are 3 things you should be aware of if you wish to build one:

The first is your motivationWhy do you want to?  Because if you are doing it for glory, fame, or some other kind of personal gain it simply will not work long-term.  A self serving motivation is by definition diametrically opposed to the growth of any kind of group that is fed and nourished by contribution.  If you walk into a garden and suck all the water from the ground nothing can grow.  But if you visit that same garden daily with your watering can in the spirit of service, at some point you will likely be surrounded by a myriad of flourishing blooms.  If you truly wish to build a community the very first step is to shift from thinking of it as something you can gain from to something you can give to.

The second thing to be aware of is that communities come into being and orbit around some kind of value.  Value is the lightning rod, the tiny piece of grit around which the pearl of community can coalesce, given the right conditions.  Value can take many forms and be presented thru many avenues, but both avenue and form are secondary to the true quality of whatever it is that you bring forth.  Say something true, and say it as best you can with all the craft, sweat, blood and tears you can muster; then put it out into the world as a gift for the people who can benefit from it.  Then do it again.  And again.  The response will let you know if you are adding value.  Your answer is in the echo.

The third and final thing to be aware of is that you now have a responsibility to honor any exchange that comes from the giving of value with your best and most genuine self.  This is where you strengthen or weaken the proffered connections that can ultimately become community.  Treat any relationship that arises with the same care and attention as you would a relationship with your beloved, and always remain aware that public communities are fractal, meaning: if you are talking to a single member you are also talking with the whole so, no matter what the provocation, do not be an asshole.

In summation, to build any kind of worthwhile and long-lasting community you must:

Do it for the right reasons.  Be freely adding value to the world.  Honor any exchange that comes from it in the spirit of service to a larger whole.

The really good news?  If you sincerely do these things you will not have to seek out an audience; instead, people will flock to you in droves.

We are social animals, skin hair bone and breath.  Communities are the places we go to connect; to give, to receive, and ultimately to know ourselves.  Built and tended for the right reasons they can genuinely impact and benefit the world.  Personally, I count my relationship with the community of people that has grown up around my work as one of the greatest blessings in my life.

I will continue to do my best to honor it.


If you enjoyed this you may also like: my post about the beauty to be found in darkness, my essay concerning the 3 things you should know before you quit your day job, or  my love letter to the mountains of Scotland.


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285 Replies to “From Zero to 17’000 – Some Thoughts on Building Community…”

  1. Enjoyed that a lot. Very helpful and I feel like you hit the nail on the head. Especially your points about understanding why you want to build a community and the value of saying something truthful. It made me think about precisely why I started my blog to begin with, fearing that there wasn’t one. Surprisingly I realised there was a very genuine reason, that may have been lost along the way with trying to write good ‘content’. So my question now is, knowing the why and the truth you want to share, how do you express that? Is it a case of being as honest, sincere and genuine as possible? I may have already given myself the answer :)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you have, or at least, you have halfway ;-)
      Yes, it is a case of being as honest, sincere and genuine as possible – it is also a case of saying whatever you have to say as well as you can. This means two things, first, pick the right platform (something that suits your natural expression – if you are a writer who enjoys short form stuff, blogging is a perfect fit), the second thing is the level of craft. Always be getting better at what you do. In terms of writing this means: reading, getting your stuff read and reveiewed by others, being brutally honest with yourself etc.
      Hope that helps, really glad that you liked the post, and thanks for dropping by – if there’s anything else I can help with, just let me know.
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like your perspective, James. There are plenty of comments about the downside of social media (trivia posting, time-waster, socially isolating), but as a new blogger, I am feeling support from other bloggers, and learning a lot of valuable things from their blogs, so I find the time to be well-spent.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Why, thankyou very much.
      The blogging community is indeed a very supportive one (or at least, I have found it so).
      I’m glad you connected with the post, and thankyou for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it.
      Feel free to hit me up anytime if there’s anything I can help with,
      Have a good one,
      – J

      Like

      1. So kind of you, James! Thank you. I am slowly making progress, learning one or two important things each day. I always appreciate suggestions and ideas, though, so if you ever have one in response to anything I have posted, feel free to share it with me!

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you, James, for sharing this wonderful post. All of it resonated so strongly with me, perhaps because it is aligned with the intention of my blog. You obviously realize that we must “give” first, and be of service. We are all One, and I thank you for lifting us!

    Liked by 2 people

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