image by Jeff Bauche
Yesterday I wrote about being a ruthless blogger and named a number of areas that I find helpful to have more harsh boundaries in with the hope of it helping me become more productive and focused as a blogger (and as a result provide a better resource for readers).
There is a problem with ruthlessness though. It arises when you become so ruthless and focused that you end up becoming inaccessible and stop engaging with readers. Put up too many boundaries and you could end up alienating readers.
This is a problem that I hear many medium to larger sized blogs face. The bigger they grow the greater the demands on the time of bloggers and the harder it becomes to stay accessible.
Today I want to share a few tips on how to remain accessible to readers even when your blog is growing and the demands on your time become greater. By no means am I an expert in this – but here are a few things I’ve learned.
1. Set aside time to interact
Perhaps one of the best tips that I can give is to be proactive in setting aside time to be accessible to readers. Almost everything else that I mention in this post will not work at all unless you DECIDE to be an accessible and engaging blogger and then put your money where your mouth is and actually set aside the time to BE accessible and engaging.
I personally find that I can have all the great intentions in the world to interact with people but that unless I block out time to do it that other ‘urgent’ things crowd out this time. Diarize time for some of the activities that I mention below – or you may never do them.
Clock Image by Mike9Alive
2. Give Readers an Appropriate Way to Contact You
The fastest way to cut off the interaction that you might have with readers is to fail to provide them with any way to get in touch with you. Conversely – the more obvious a way you have for people to contact you the more likely they are to use it.
You’ll notice in the title of this section that I included the word ‘Appropriate’. This is important. Why you ask?
In the early days of this blog my contact page contained so many ways to contact me that it actually became a bit of a nightmare to manage. I had email address, a contact form, my cell phone number (later changed to a SkypedIn number), 4 instant messaging options, profile pages on numerous social media sites… and more. The problem is that I had so many people getting in touch with so many mediums that I spent half my day switching from one medium to another to check if people had been in touch and to respond. It totally destroyed my productivity and ended up being frustrating to those trying to get in touch.
These days my contact page attempts to funnel people into the direction of email via my contact form. It gives people the ability to connect with me via Mail and Social Media sites but makes it obvious that the contact form is the most effective method of getting in touch.
3. Interact in Comments
I don’t believe that you need to reply to every comment on your blog (I personally try to develop blogs where the community helps each other) but I think it’s important to have a presence in your own comments section. This is not easy when you have hundreds of posts and thousands of comments a month – but it is one way to keep yourself accessible to readers.
4. Reply to Emails
Readers leaving a comment on your blog is one way that they reach out to you, but when they email you they are taking an extra step towards interaction with you and wherever possible I’d encourage you to respond to these readers as a priority. Again – it’s not easy, but if you have an effective email system like I described yesterday you can drastically improve your response rate. I personally have room to improve in my comments section but am finally getting on top of replying to emails and have noticed a real impact as a result.
5. Get help to manage your communications
If the above two points are too hard for you (ie replying to comments and emails) then you might need to get some help. In the last few months I’ve had Lara helping me with my own comment moderation here at ProBlogger and have found this really helpful. She’s able to answer some comment concerns herself (particularly while I’m asleep or away) and emails me important comments that I need to be aware of that she moderates. Some bloggers also have people help them with emails (something I don’t do at this point). In a sense outsourcing in these areas or hiring a virtual assistant is all about ‘triage’ – ie filtering comments and email that you don’t need to see/be aware of (for example comments that say ‘great post’ or emails that are FAQs and that can be answered with a quick link) and pulling out those that are more important.
I’d be very wary of completely outsourcing this area of your blogging as it’s important to be aware of what’s going on in your comments section and emails – however it can take some of the load off and help you become more effective.
One of the most effective things that I’ve done in the last year in terms of becoming more accessible to readers is to do more video and to do the occasional streaming video chat session. Video adds something very powerful to a blog. It gives you a voice and personality in a way that text cannot. While it’s a strange feeling at first I’m coming to love the video component of ProBlogger. Streaming chats are particularly good as they are live, fully interactive, give you a sense of what is on the mind of readers and is much more conversational than writing a post and then interacting in comments as it’s real time.
7. Write Conversationally
The way that you write has a massive impact upon the way that you’re perceived. Some bloggers write in a very closed and ‘distant’ voice while others are incredibly engaging and conversational. Some of this is difficult to define but a few tips on becoming more conversational in your writing include:
- asking questions of your readers – invite them to interact
- asking questions of yourself – asking a question in your post and then proceeding to answer it
- sharing experiences – tell your readers how you apply what you write about
- sharing mistakes – showing you are human and fail makes you relatable
- share questions that readers ask – this beds your posts down in reality but also shows that you interact with readers
One of the things I love about Twitter is that it has opened up a whole new arena for me to interact with readers. Many ProBlogger readers now follow me on Twitter and have reflected back to me that they enjoy our interactions there. Part of the reason that I love Twitter is that it’s so concise. Interactions are 140 characters long so people don’t expect too much of you but the interactions can be very conversational, personal and effective.
9. Other Social Media
Not into Twitter? Have readers that don’t get into it? That’s ok, what about another social media site that is more suited to you and your niche? I was a amazed a few months back how many of the members of Digital Photography School’s Forum use Facebook. It shouldn’t have surprised me really but Facebook is a much more accessible place for non Web 2.0 savvy readers to connect with you. Why not start a group for your blog there?
Not every blogger will have the profile to be interviewed by others but if you get the chance it can be very worthwhile. For starters it’s a good way to find new readers but it is also good at putting you in front of your current readers in a new setting where they see a different side of you. For example, you wouldn’t believe the response that I’ve had over the last few months from doing this interview on work life balance and being a Dad. The interview touches on blogging but its really on a topic that I don’t regularly write on and it opened up a different side of me that for some reason people found very engaging.
I wish I could do more conferences and meetups than I do because it is perhaps the most effective way of engaging with readers. It is amazing way of growing relationships with readers and other bloggers in your niche.
The face to face networking interactions that you have are priceless and the opportunities that you might be able to take to speak or participate in panels or workshops put you in front of people and add to the perception that you’re ‘out there’ and interacting in your niche.
Image by Tris
12. Vanity Watch
One last tip that can help you have the appearance of being much more interactive on other blogs than you actually are. Set up a vanity watchlist to monitor what people are saying about you and your blog. In this way you can be notified when someone else mentions you and can drop by their post and leave a comment either thanking them for the link, responding to a criticism or answering a question that they might have. Leaving this type of comment shows other bloggers that you care about how they view you, that you’re willing to interact not only on your own blog but theirs and it can help you sort out misconceptions or other problems that could potentially hurt your brand.