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7 Steps to Building a Genuine Relationship With Your Readers

Posted By Darren Rowse 2nd of August 2009 Build Community 0 Comments

This is a guest post from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, and author of the best-selling book The Power of Less. Leo has just released a free report for bloggers called How I Got 100,000 Subscribers in Two Years: Lessons from Zen Habits.

One of the things I’m proudest of at Zen Habits is not that I’ve grown a large readership for my blog, but that I’ve developed a very rewarding relationship with many of my readers.

It’s nothing you might call inappropriate (or illegal), mind you, but it’s vastly rewarding.

Because of this relationship, writing for Zen Habits is an amazingly positive experience, because my readers are so encouraging. Even more importantly, they contribute to my blog with their thoughtful comments, their criticism, their experiences, in ways I never could have imagined. They make my blog what it is.

And from a blogger’s perspective, there’s no better thing. Having such a genuine, engaging relationship with my readers means that they want to help me, in any way they can — they’re willing to buy and read my books, they want to follow my updates on Twitter, they want to talk to me and ask me questions, and that leads to all kinds of interesting things. I never planned for this to happen, but now that it has, I recommend it to all bloggers.

I think it can be consciously cultivated, just like any relationship. I did it less-than-consciously, just because I enjoyed conversing with my readers and trying to be of use, and I’m a naturally positive person. But you can do it consciously if you like, and I believe if you do it genuinely, it’ll be a genuine relationship.

That’s an important point to remember: you can’t fake this stuff. If you are just pretending to care about your readers, if you don’t really want to talk to them, they’ll feel that. They’re smarter than many people give them credit for.

Here are my suggestions for building a genuine relationship with your readers, based on my experiences:

1. A genuine relationship starts with you — you have to take responsibility for it. You can’t expect your readers to automatically be encouraging, supportive, kind, positive, loyal, helpful, and generous … just because you’re the awesome person you are. So start with a positive mindset, and be willing to work on the relationship, be open to what emerges.

2. Make your posts as helpful and useful as you can. Your posts shouldn’t just be about you, and how great you are (as true as that may be), but about your readers and their problems, and how you can help them solve them. Really try to help your readers in some way in every post. They will appreciate it.

3. Be helpful and positive in all interactions. In every comment you respond to, in every email with a reader, in every interaction on forums and Twitter and other social networks, you should try to be positive, try to be helpful, and try to build your relationship in some way. It’s the same when you build a friendship or working relationship with a co-worker, isn’t it? Being online doesn’t change how relationships are built — if you are always critical, defensive, offensive, attacking, sarcastic … well, that’s the kind of relationship you’ll have. If you’re just trying to sell stuff to people all the time, it won’t be a genuine relationship.

4. Encourage discussion in comments. You aren’t the only person who has good ideas or knowledge, so ask your readers to contribute their thoughts, to share their experiences, to add tips of their own. I like to do that at the end of a post, but even if I don’t, readers understand that I want this stuff by now. When readers give comments, thank them, respond to their questions and thoughts, interact. Sometimes, it’s good to get discussions going by asking reader questions in an “Ask the Readers” post — just pose a question and ask them to respond in the comments.

5. Accept criticism with grace. Bloggers have to have a thick skin, because inevitably we will be criticized. It’s the nature of the Internet, or any discussion of ideas actually — there is always criticism, and sometimes it’s harsh. And it can hurt. You get angry, or defensive, and when you respond to criticism in this way it’s not a good thing: 1) you look immature and defensive; 2) it discourages an open and frank discussion; and 3) you harm your relationship with your readers. Instead, thank your readers for their criticism, respond positively, and sometimes, acknowledge that they may be right. Because a lot of the time, they are, but our egos are too wounded for us to admit it to ourselves. Read more: How to accept criticism with grace and appreciation.

6. Build relationships in other channels. Having discussions in blog comments is great, but there are other ways to build relationships — through email, on Twitter, on Facebook, in forums (maybe even your own forums). While I can’t possibly respond to all the email I get now, I certainly did when my blog first started out, even when I had 10K subscribers — I tried to answer every question or thank them for every kind email. I miss that level of personal interaction, but I still try to connect with readers on Twitter and in comments. It’s a great way to take the relationship to another level.

7. Give back on other blogs. Many times, readers and commenters on your site will be fellow bloggers — which is actually how blogs emerged when they went beyond a log of interesting web links: they became a way to have a larger discussion on the web, as bloggers linked to each other and commented on each other’s posts. And so as other bloggers comment on and link to your posts, do the same for them. Go to their blogs, comment on their posts, link to them now and then if it’ll be useful to your readers. Write guest posts for them and invite them to do the same. Share their posts on Twitter if you like them. Building relationships with other bloggers is a great way to become immersed in the wonderful community of bloggers, and to build a relationship with some of your most active readers.

Read more from Leo Babauta at Zen Habits, and check out his free report for bloggers called How I Got 100,000 Subscribers in Two Years: Lessons from Zen Habits.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Giving back is the best way.
    Yesterday, I just put some names in my tweet for FollowFriday, and later that day, when I tweeted a post of mine, those people were the people who retweeted the post. Giving back (in advance or not) is definitly a good way to build a relationship.

    What you say, how you enjoy the comments, that is exactly the same to me. Now my blog is a couple of months old, I get more and more comments and feedback, and I really love it. It is great to see people adding things to what you wrote, to know that people are going to implement what you have just told them!

    Great post Leo, I also love your podcasts for so far! Keep on going!

  2. This is great. What I see special in this post is that it it contains 7 valuable points that are normally discussed separately.
    I would like to add another point here. That is ‘Being You’ without being someone else (As Darren has also mentioned some times). It helps to build genuine relationships a lot

  3. Great post I think in my stage of blogging there are no subscribers. If I might get a wordpress blog. I think it is very important to build a fruitful relationship with the subscribers. With this blog I am not too much worried about subscribers. Thanks for sharing.

  4. “Bloggers have to have a thick skin, because inevitably we will be criticized.” ~ Leo

    You know Leo, this is sort of a sweet spot for me. Even though my blog is only marginally successful right now, I do get the odd comment that is critical – sometimes it’s difficult to not take it personally.

    I’ve learned to realize that these comments have more to do with that other person than they do with me. It’s not always easy to see it that way, but it does help.

    In the end what you’re saying is true. I think that the attention and criticism is a natural part of the growing process of any blog. If we can identify with another point of view without being offended then it only helps us…. to gain greater insight and makes us better bloggers.

  5. Thanks for this post Leo. I would love to find out “How you Got 100,000 Subscribers in Two Years” So will be subscribing to your report :).

  6. I agree that you need to accept criticism with grace but there a lot of people who just want to hurt your reputation by writing hurtful comments.

  7. This is a great post, and great insight. I sometimes don’t respond to comments on all posts, only the ones I may be most interested in myself when I wrote it. I should get better at that– I surely see the difference it can make.

    These are great tips, and great advice for all bloggers.

  8. yes… i agree with you.
    Thanks for the post.


  9. I am in full agreement with your approach to relationships with your readers. In starting my new blog I decided to respond to each and every person who left a comment. Also, on Twitter (@ZaneGood) I decided not to follow others unless I could contribute to their success. So, I follow much fewer than are following me.

    Just starting out with this type of blog, but teaching others how as well.

    Zane Good

  10. Nice post Darren. Number 5 “Accept criticism with grace” is a must I feel. You’re providing for your reader, so it’s their opinions and criticism that matters and that will make them come back.

  11. As a beginning blogger that is still balancing writing about what I care about, verses what I think is most marketable, the reminder that you can’t fake this is very important. I think if I follow my heart that my content will be of higher quality and readership will grow. Kind of, do what you love and the rest will take care of itself.

  12. Giving back on others blogs can be very powerful in growing your own blog. If you develop a good relationship with another blogger, he may even ask you to do a guest post on his blog.

  13. Great article. I often try to do most of the following over in my health blog Salad Sticks, and I’ve found that asking a question works the best when encouraging comments.

    Thanks for the tips!

  14. Yep, just like anything in the world, you gotta give to get.

    Great read Leo. I’m a big fan of your blog!

  15. We appreciate your warm generous and caring heart. As you write, who you are comes right through – and that is the greatest gift you provide your readers – and then the content! We look forward to knowing more about who you are – and what all you do!
    Judith & Jim
    Judith Shervec, PhD and Jim Sniechowski, PhD

  16. Denise says: 08/02/2009 at 3:02 am

    This is another excellent post Leo! Each and every point you made here was to the point and from the heart – NO FLUFF!! I enjoy reading and learning from your writings. This particular post I find to be not only encouraging but I was debating over having a comment section. Not always, but so often I see little or no responding from the site owner. Because of what you’ve written and the valid points you make for it, I think I am no longer on the fence with that decision. Thanks to you both, Leo and Darren.

  17. Leo- once again you’ve been a tremendous help to me and countless others trying to get a blog off the ground. It really is true that you get back what you send out. Your success only confirms this!

  18. All of these are great tips coming from someone who knows. My focus is on content with value, and connecting with my readers. I be sure to respond to every comment or email personally as well.

    Thanks for the post Leo, you are the one that inspired me to start my own blog and I look forward to watching your journey continue.

    Thanks! :)

  19. Great post Leo! Awesome advice.

  20. The hardest part for me to master is how to respond to criticism. I can deal with differences in ideas, or points of view. What’s hard to deal with with are criticisms that are verging on personal attacks. And some are very adept at putting you down, writing in mellifluous words – very polite and seemingly solicitous and yet dripping with sarcasm. They are very rare, but when these it takes a lot of will not to strike back with equal or even greater sarcasm.

    So far, I’m successful at containing my own inner snark. One thing that keeps me from losing is that I know I’m under the microscope too as much as the other guy. How I handle even so-called severe criticism will have a direct bearing on how even my own loyal reader perceives me.

    Most of the time though I have no problem being cool and humble. And as Darren said, it will show up the poster with troll-like behavior to be petty and small if he or she continues attacking when you do your best to be accommodating and reasonable.

  21. These are great tips, especially #1. Often times, when bloggers start to grow, they forget — a relationship is one-on-one and takes action on their part, you can’t be on a high horse and expect your audience to do all the work :-)

  22. Thanks for this Darren,

    Getting involved is the key.Great advice…

  23. I’ve just finished reading your other post about cutting off email as well, and you said twitter is the key. This, among many other ways:) is still daunting to me on how to really connect. there are just sooo many people to talk to, to get to know. I think it’s essential for open communication, but figuring out the right way to do it is so hard.

    I’m actually taking all your advice one step at a time, and I have to say, I’m super nervous about the ask the reader. Sometimes you feel like no one is going to respond and then it looks worse than without having that post?

  24. Great post. Let me add the 8 point. Some heritage methods of communication like letter post, phone call can also be done for enhancing relationship.

  25. thanks again, Darren for these interesting tips

  26. And use the word “you” many times more than the word “I” in your writings.

  27. Hi Leo,

    This post on building genuine relationships with your readers is really great.

    All seven points are key and relevant.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  28. This was a great article. I’m going to print it out and post it on my wall!

  29. Thanks for these great suggestions. My blog is very new, I’m just starting to put Giving Back into the mix. But I’m already delighting in the sense of connection.

    On one hand I know I want to build more relationships, but I also know I’ll miss the level of responsiveness I can manage. It reminds me of my first months on Twitter with just a hundred or so followers. I’ve got more now, love the expanded possibilities. but there was something sweet about those early days.

    I hope I’ll be able to both build genuine relationships AND grow.

    I’ll keep your insights in mind. Thanks.

  30. I agree with jan, the hardest thing is to respond to criticism. I guess this is where your ability to be positive and accept it publicly.

    I guess this is where your experience or lack of it in blogging may show off.

    And it probably just comes with practice.

  31. Great post, thank you! You have covered some key points with genuine, practical suggestions that are easy to employ. My favourite, “Accept Criticism with Grace”. It’s so easy to react to others rather than to respond. Excellent reminder!

  32. Im not one for commenting on blogs i like to just enjoy reading them but i couldn’t resist i simply love this post.

    i spend a lot of time mentoring internet marketers and the main point i always bring across is so provide relevant content just like you explain with point two above.

    there are million of blogs out there that just ramble on without offering any practical advice it is like they have written the post in the middle of the night.

    keep up the great work!


  33. Great Leo.

    One more that I would add that you demonstrate consistently well is QUICK RESPONSE. If people write comments to your blog posts that add value to your readers, you honour them, not only by responding, but by responding quickly.

    This adds to the genuine nature of the relationships you build. A phoney relationship would make them wait – or not respond at all.

    Best wishes, Robin

  34. During what I call ‘My blog crash 2009’ I was fortunate to be able to lean on my readers because I had built some really great relationships with some of them, not all of them.

    I was a good feeling to email some of them for help and they actually responded with valuable ideas, answers and support.

  35. Personal interaction is the best way through but it is difficult to manage in large scale so we should start discussion/support forums on our blog section to respond directly to blog readers.
    With this we can get more exposure to our blog and can get more subscribers to blog and discussion forums.
    New business can develop with blogging.
    I mean help=double money

  36. You obviously put a lot of work into that post and its very interesting to see the thought process that you went through to come up with those conclusion. Thanks for sharing your deep thoughts. I must admit that I think you nailed it on this one.

  37. Excellent post Darren, I have been having trouble really connecting with my readers since I have a time constraint. I really like your tip to use other media such as twitter or email this is why I follow everyone back that follows me. Anyway good post I will put some of these to work and try to connect more with my readers.


  38. Great tips. Well done with this ! I like your blog.

  39. Thanks for the great article. I have recently really been looking to increase my readership on my printing blog and hope I can do so by adding value to my clients as well as building a subscriber base based on that value. I also really want to teach my clients the importance of blogging and reading great articles like this one will inspire me to be a better “blogger” and teach my clients the same.
    Thanks for the great info and insights!

  40. I agree with you completely. Particularly when you said to engage in useful discussion with your readers and accepting their criticism with grace. Well I agree. We require people to come again and again to read what we offer and take part in the discussion.
    I never felt these things would help me. I am very thankful to you for listing this points for me.

  41. This is advice i can relate too. I hope to build a thick relationship with my readers the coming months. Well- Hope I’ll get some coz I just started in july :D Thanks again!

  42. Very interested! I just downloaded Leo’s book, I’m addicted instantly. I think the idea of building relationships is critical. I wonder though, how you do that once your blog reaches the point of Darren’s or Leo’s, although I think Darren you are already doing that very well, it must be a challenge. The other reason I think this is an interesting article is because all of these things require very little except your time. They might not have instant rewards out of them but they cost nothing.

  43. Bingo! No wonder ZH is one of the most popular personal development blogs around.

  44. Great article. I love these tips for building a relationship with our readers. I think in the midst of building content, promoting, etc. many bloggers can lose focus of the “point” of the whole thing. To provide the reader with information or solutions that they can “use” and trust you to come back for more!

  45. While I admit it’s not easy to command readers’ attention and loyalty, nothing is impossible. One thing to note is that I hate it when somebody uses sales pitch in an article, so for me, I would avoid doing the same to others.

  46. Now I know why I love to read your blog so much!

    Thanks for the tips but I believe everybody needs appropriate time to get a good result.

  47. This was really helpful. I just got my own blog started, and have been reading a lot of posts on how to bring a lot of “value” to those reading my posts. Thanks :-)

  48. This is good advice.

    Relating well to your readers makes it all worthwhile.

  49. Hi Leo,

    Yup. It’s all true. I’ve grown organically and I work very hard at making my blog a welcoming place. Although it’s really not that hard – I treat visitors well and they reciprocate.



  50. Hi Leo / Darren,

    That’s an interesting set of tips – the kind of quality content I expect to find here.

    I think number 5 is one that many new bloggers struggle with, dealing with criticism correctly.


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