Today, I spoke with Mack Collier, who is a social media consultant and author of The Viral Garden, which is a top marketing and new media blog. Mack is one of the people I see out there who truly understands what it takes to build community and readership. In this interview, he shares his strategies for growing a community, choosing a domain name, and rewarding your community. He also explains the direct and indirect benefits he’s had from blogging his brand over the past few years.

Mack, from zero blog subscribers to close to 4,000 now, how were you able to market your blog to grow the subscription base over time?

Well part of it comes from checking my blog feeds analytics through Feedburner. That lets me tell which feed readers are most popular for my blog subscribers and offer buttons for those. And moving the subscriber buttons to the top of the blog helps to encourage people to subscribe as well, because it’s right at the top.

And of course producing interesting and valuable content helps. I’m very lucky to have the subscribers that I do, and I always view my blog through the lens of ‘how is this going to give value to my readers?’

The title of your blog is “The Viral Garden,” yet the URL you use is “” If you could time travel back in time, what would you have done differently and what result do you think it would have had on your personal brand?

Well as far as the name of my blog, I should have named it Now I have so many incoming links and Google PageRank built up that switching could be a hassle. But I’ll probably be moving to WordPress later this year.

I guess it always pay to plan for the future. When I launched The Viral Garden in early 2006, it had no readership, and it was a semi-personal blog. At the time I had no idea that I would be where I am now. But again, planning is always a good thing.

Out of most of the bloggers, you are one of the few that really understands the art of community building. What are your top 3 strategies for driving conversations within blogs?

  1. I have always loved finding ‘hidden gems’ in the blogosphere, and helping new bloggers get some exposure. The Z-List was started as a vehicle for this, to give some smart, new bloggers a jump-start in getting their name out there.
  2. I understand that as a group, my readers will always be smarter than I am. So it pays for me to be doing everything I can to get feedback from my readers. It makes me smarter.
  3. I view my blog as being co-created content between myself and my readers. I write a post, and the readers comment. But we all contribute to something greater. If you value your readers in this way, then you respect them, and hopefully that helps my readers connect with me.

What indirect and direct benefits do you get from blogging? How has it changed your life?

Directly it’s helped me build a social media consultancy, because the blog became a way for me to establish my expertise in social media.

Indirectly, it’s allowed me to connect and become friends with so many people. And not just connections, but real relationships that transfer almost seamlessly to offline. Last year I attended SXSW, which was the first event where I met a great number of people that I had connected with in the blogosphere. I was floored at how these people, who I had technically never met, where coming up and hugging me. It really opened my eyes to how real these online connections are.

You’ve been running a “Top 25 Marketing Blog” recognition post for over 100 weeks. How has this helped build your brand?

Well the whole idea of the Top 25 was to create a resource for my readers (especially those new to blogs) on what the ‘top’ marketing (and later social media) blogs where. I think everyone knew to follow Seth and Guy Kawaski, but after you got past the same 5 names or so, no one knew who the other ‘top’ marketing bloggers were. And this was in early 2006, before the Power 150 or any other ranking, I’m pretty sure this was the first list to rank marketing blogs. I just threw it up one day because I thought it would be interesting to see what the Top 25 marketing blogs were according to Alexa. It was instantly a hit and I decided to do it weekly and have (more or less) ever since.

As for how it’s helped my personal brand, I’m sure that The Viral Garden being on the list has helped it be viewed as more credible. But I never really wanted to do the Top 25 as a way to make my own blog look better, and I think my readers are smart enough to sniff that out if I did. I would hope that my readers view it as a resource, and understand that I like to use the Top 25 as a way to create value for them.

Mack Collier is a social media consultant and author of The Viral Garden, a blog focusing on marketing and social media. He also is a frequent contributor to the website Marketing Profs, as well as the marketing blog Daily Fix. Known for his ‘community-first’ approach to blogging and social media, Mack focuses on teaching companies how they can use social media to excite and engage their customers, as well as better understand and market to them. Mack is a requested speaker and has advised companies of all scopes and sizes on their social media strategies, working with small businesses and startups to companies as large as Dell and Nettwerk Music. His writings have been referenced in several mainstream publications and websites, including The Washington Post,, Ad Age, CNET, and The Boston Globe.