I recently picked up Adrian Segar’s, Conferences That Work: Creating Events that People Love and was fascinated by the concept of peer conferencing. It turns out that peer conferencing uses an attendee-centered model that largely leaves the content of the conference up to attendees.
There still needs to be some organizational framework that guides the attendees but aside from that, organizers are more like facilitators then authority figures that control the speakers and content. This largely user generated content (sound familiar) has a lot of similarities to what bloggers should try and build on-line.
Application to Blogging
What got me thinking about peer conferencing and blogging (aside from Adrian’s book) was how groups of people come together, discuss topics (via blog posts), comment on that discussion and influence the discussion. I realized that blogging is the virtual peer conference that centers around an organizer (blogger) who puts topics out there and the attendees (readers) discuss (via comments, retweets and reposts) the topics (post) and the community guilds the discussion.
The beauty of the blogger as peer conference facilitator is that blogging is naturally a bottoms up approach. You can’t dictate what your readers will comment on or if they will repost your stuff. Clearly the blogger has control of the initial content but will soon perish if the community gets bored.
The Basics of Peer Conferencing
There are a lot of lessons that peer conferencing can teach us about building a better blog. Think about it. People spend money to attend a conference where they have direct influence over the content. Sounds a lot like what we want our blogs to be — a place where people come, enjoy the content, help craft it and if so moved, reward us with purchasing what we have to sell.
There are a lot of mechanics that go into a proper peer conference (Adrian’s book goes over them in great detail) which is beyond the scope of this post. What is relevant is the high level concepts that make a peer conference successful. If you apply this to your blog, it will make it better. Some of these concepts are (summarized from chapter 4 of Conference That Work):
- Connection With Others: Humans are social animals and we want to feel part of a group. Blogging is a natural way to connect with others as long as the blogger fosters that by allowing comments and being open to debate.
- Open to Possibilities: Be open to discussing different topics. This will encourage your readers to interact more because it shows that you value different perspectives.
- De-emphasizing Status: We have all seen how experts tend to monopolize meetings and in some cases even blog comments. Acknowledging and accepting that your readership has a wide range of experiences will make your community better. Everyone has something to contribute, even the novice.
- Increasing Transparency: Openness is a strength. People like it when any conflicts or selfish interests are “on the table” and they feel that their moderator is a straightforward person.
- Ensuring Timeliness and Relevance: Relevant and topical posts are what drive traffic. It also shows your readers that you care enough to stay on top of your topic. It also makes you the go to person when new developments break.
- Publish-Then-Filter: The beauty of the Internet is that there is a vast array of opinions that accumulate into a tribal knowledge database. Don’t be afraid to post your content even if someone (or many people) have posted it before. The community will filter it appropriately and the feedback (or lack there of) will make your next post even better.
There are a couple of great examples of blogs/sites that seem to be a continuous virtual peer conference. Some, admittedly, are not really blogs but the interactions and dialog capture the spirt of a peer group getting together to make themselves and the community thrive. Some to check out are:
- Zen Habits: Just read the comments section and you will figure out that this is a thriving community that wants to help each other. Leo does an excellent job of crafting his posts to be relevant and based on direct feedback from his readers.
- Answers OnStartUps: I must admit, I am addicted to this site. This approaches the ideal in terms of a virtual peer conference since the users ask the questions and the discussion starts. Questions and answers can be voted up and the result is a wonderful knowledge base of user generated content.
- Copyblogger: Their rich content draws in a wide range of participates. They have strong commenting and great interaction with their readers. A lot of the posts are generated by reader questions and the relevant trends of the day.
- Quicksprout: Neil is probably the most engaged facilitator I have ever seen. He tries (or maybe demands of himself) to respond to every comment. This attitude breaks down barriers by showing that no matter who you are, Neil values your opinion. His content is also relevant and the transparency is shocking (in a good way).
- Personal MBA: Josh takes a novel approach to education. His approach is about charting your own educational course and the community he has build is a wonderful venue for self improvement.
The peer conferencing model is a great way to take your blog to the next level. Sure, you many not be able to do everything right away but it’s a good model to aspire too. Treat your readers like peers. Ask them what they want to talk about. Include them in the content generation. Respond to comments respectfully. Doing these things will make your blog feel like a virtual peer conference, where attendees have a vested interest in its success.
About the Author
Jarie is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He is presently working on breakthrough technology that will reduce medical errors. Jarie also blogs about innovation, management and entrepreneurship at http://www.thedailymba.com and has recently published his first book, Frustration Free Technical Management. You can also follow him on Twitter @thedailymba