At Disqus we have the privilege of supporting many of the web’s diverse communities. Today, we wanted to shed some light on one of our personal favorites, The Avocado, and share some insights that are applicable to all publishers.

The Story of The Avocado

For those who may be unfamiliar, The Avocado has a rich history with Disqus. The community started as a group of commenters on the AV Club. As the community grew and their needs expanded beyond what the AV Club could provide through comments on articles, they created The AV Club After Dark channel on Disqus.

The channel became a home for many of the users who originally connected on the AV Club’s site and quickly gained traction on Disqus. The channel allowed the users themselves to create their own discussions and engage on a variety of topics; including Entertainment and Pop Culture but also spanning well beyond the content on the AV Club. With open community threads and even games such as Identify that GIF, the channel provided an engaging experience for users and eventually grew to be the largest, most popular channel on Disqus with almost 300k followers.

Recently, the community took the next step in their growth and created their own site, The Avocado. What started as a group of users on the AV Club evolved into a successful stand-alone site. We are thrilled to have been a part of this evolution and continue to support The Avocado. While the growth of The Avocado is certainly a unqiue case, several of the tactics and strategies that led to their success are broadly applicable to most publishers. Here's what we think publishers can learn from The Avocado.

4 lessons for success from The Avocado:

Community is key

If this was not already obvious from the background story, community was critical to the success of The Avocado and should be a core part of any publisher’s audience strategy. With social platforms exerting increasing influence on engagement and content distribution and the near limitless sources of free online content, retaining audience members can be a challenge. This is why building a community that makes readers feel at home, rewards them for their participation, and keeps them coming back for more is critical. A strong community means more direct traffic, more time on site, and more loyalty; things that all publishers should aspire towards.

If you take a look at The Avocado and read through some of their threads, you’ll see that audience members know one another and come specifically to connect with each other and the broader community of readers. Some cool ways that The Avocado fosters community are daily open threads for community conversations, interactive community games, and even regional in-person meetups.

Comments are content

For some publishers, comments are just an afterthought; an unmaintained add on to the bottom of the page. However, for publishers who invest in their communities, comments can become a key peices for their sites that augment their content, fuel future articles, and keep readers engaged and coming back more often. Since The Avocado was literally born through comments, they are a great example. Their audience members come to their site to read comments posted by other community members and share their own thoughts. In this case, comments really are the core content for the site.

Obviously The Avocado is a unique case compared to, for example, a news publication. Nonetheless, regardless of the type of content you write, investing in comments and community can help you tailor your content to your audience, increase the amount of time readers spend on your site, and give readers another reason to keep coming back. Publishers, take note: Earlier this year we surveyed almost 1000 commenters and the majority of readers wanted to interact more with publishers.

Align expectations with community members

Setting clear and transparent guidelines for how to interact with fellow audience members and outlining the community rules are critical ingredients for healthy communities. All communities are different. What is considered normal discourse in one community may be considered offensive in another, and that’s OK. However, it is critical that a communities’ guidelines be transparent and readily available. This way new members know the rules of the land upfront. And when moderators take action, that action can be linked back to specific guidelines and there is no confusion. Nobody likes being left wondering why their comments were deleted. It’s a poor user experience and a sure fire way to drive audience members away. The Avocado does an especially good job outlining their guidelines and being transparent about the moderation actions that they take.

Reward members and turn them into deeper contributors

Highly engaged users can be extremely valuable contributors to a publisher's success. Not only are they consuming more content, more regularly, they oftentimes are willing to contribute in additional ways. One of our favorite things about The Avocado is how they recruit active community members to become moderators and publishers. For some publishers, moderating active communities can be a burden, but there are often community members who are not only willing to help out, but are also great stewards of their communities.

At Disqus, helping publishers grow is core to what we do. We believe that many of the tactics and strategies that helped this community evolve and graduate into a successful publisher can help other publishers on our network increase reader loyalty and grow their active communities.

What are some other ways that publishers can foster engaged communities?

If you’re a publisher and have good tips, be sure to share them below in the comments. Or if you’re a member of one of the many communities from across the web, what makes your community feel like home? We’re excited to hear your thoughts and feedback. And of course, if you haven’t done so already, we recommend you check out The Avocado!