In this post (a continuation of my Principles of Successful Blogs) series I explore the topic of being relational with readers.
Back in 2002 when I stumbled upon my first ever blog I was immediately inspired to start my own blog based on two things that I witnessed in that first blog.
- It gave the blogger a voice and amplified that voice around the world
- It gave the blogger the ability to build a community around what he was exploring and enabled him to have personal (yet public) interactions with many people to further explore his topics.
The community and relational aspect of that first blog was a big part of why I decided to start my own first blog. I’d not seen anything on the web that allowed a person to grow a community around their ideas before and wanted to experience it for myself.
So I started my first blog – a personal blog about life, spirituality and culture – and began to experiment with my voice but also with engaging with those who read what I was writing each day.
I quickly discovered the power of building a blog that not only had interesting content but which drew readers into a conversation.
In those early days I spent at least as much time building relationships with readers as I did writing posts (I’ll share some of what I did early in my blog below).
As I look back on the early days of my own blogging I’d attribute a significant part of the early growth of my blogs to this type of relational activity. Content might be King but community was its Queen for me.
Things have Changed…. But….
Of course the blogosphere and wider web has changed somewhat since those days in 2002.
- Twitter and Facebook have emerged to take over some of the community interactions that blogs once had
- Social media is also a space where much of the sharing of links we once did on blogs happens
- Blogging has become quite competitive and bloggers in niches don’t always work together
Things have changed – however…. a relational approach and community are still one central aspect of many successful blogs.
Note: I’m not just talking about building your blog into a community (we discussed community earlier in our series) – instead what I’m talking about in this post is being relational with your readers – the blogger/reader relationship and not necessarily relationships between your readers.
So how does a blogger grow relationships with their readers? I’d actually like to tackle this question by making some suggestions for newer/smaller blogs and then for more established blogs where the challenge of scaling a relational approach is a challenge.
How to Be a Relational Blogger – For New Blogs
When starting out with a new blog there are many tasks that will confront you. Creating great content is of course your primary concern, getting your blog looking attractive and inviting is also important, thinking about branding, networking with other blogs in your niche, setting up with some good SEO…. the list of things you could fill your time with goes on.
However putting some concerted effort into building relationship with those who do come to your blog is something well worth putting time into. If you can build a loyal group of regular readers in your early days you’re well on the way to growing a blog that is read by many. Each loyal reader you have has their own network that they can spread word of you to.
Following are some of the things I spent a lot of time doing in the early days of my own first blogs:
- Reading and responding to every comment left – particularly any with questions
- Visiting the blogs of those who were leaving comments and interacting with those bloggers on their own blogs
- Engaging on other blogs that were linking to mine
- Emailing new readers to thank them for commenting
- Linking to other blogs in my niche – promoting those who were reading my blog
- Responding to email queries
These types of activities are very basic yet they have an impact and will draw those who read your blog in the early days to take a second look and come back again.
Tips for Established Blogs Trying to Scale Rationality
The above basics for newer blogs do work – but when your blog starts to grow the challenge for bloggers is to how to stay relational in their approach without burning themselves out. You see responding to every comment left on your blog becomes incredibly challenging when you have hundreds of comments left each day. Personal and in depth responses to every email from a reader takes over your whole day when you have tens of thousands of readers…. Scaling relationally is definitely a challenge.
So what’s a blogger to do?
I actually grapple with this one on a daily basis and would love to hear how other bloggers approach the challenge however thought I’d jot down some starting points (it should also be noted that much of this can be put into practice by new blogs too):
1. Write in a Relational Voice
One of the things that can help is to simply write in a relational or conversational style. Tell your own story, share your experiences, write about your failures, be personal. While you might not be able to respond to every reader personally all of these things make you more relatable.
2. Invite Participation
One part of writing in a relational style is to invite interaction with readers. Asking questions of readers and giving spaces in posts for discussion and interaction may not be fully relational if you yourself don’t participate – but it at least opens up opportunities for readers to interact with one another and get a feeling of being heard and valued as a reader.
3. Set Up Opportunities for Intentional Interaction
Another strategy that I find a win/win for bloggers and their readers is to set up specific times and places for interaction between blogger and reader. Put aside time for this intentional community time, publicise them with readers and then make yourself available to interact.
For me one of the ways that I try to do this every now and again is by doing a live Ustreaming video session where I simply do Q&A with readers. I’m amazed at the response from readers who join these chats – while I do feel a little ‘odd’ sitting there talking to my laptop answering basic questions about blogging readers really do seem to value the times and feel much more involved.
Note: Another way that I try to give readers another avenue for interaction is by promoting Twitter as a place for conversation. The key is to name where and when you’re going to interact and then make sure you do.
4. Answer Reader Questions with Posts
A further technique I try to do is to try to answer questions from readers with posts rather than just in comments or via email. When I get a reader asking a question I could respond with an email or comment and help that particular reader – but to maximise the benefits across the full community I try to take some questions and turn my responses into a more public answer in a post – thereby answering the person but also hopefully sharing some solutions with others who might have the same question. I find that the added bonus of this is that you highlight a reader interaction publicly which shows that while I might not respond to everyone that you are attempting to be interactive.
5. Manage Expectations
Without going over the top and becoming boastful or arrogant – try to communicate with your readership what they can expect from you as a blogger. Readers all come with their own expectations of what they should and shouldn’t be able to expect from you as a blogger. The emails I get from readers at times illustrate that some readers come with pretty good expectations while others come with unrealistic ones.
Side Note: interestingly these unrealistic expectations can swing both ways. For example today I had one email from a reader demanding I answer a list of 20 questions for them while another reader emailed saying that they didn’t really expect I’d even read their email and didn’t expect any kind of acknowledgment of their problem. The reality is somewhere between the two emails – I can’t give readers hours of my attention each – but I do read emails and try to respond to as many as I can.
One way to manage expectations is to have a system in place around your contact form. Communicating what you’re able to help with, whether you are able to respond personally etc on a contact form helps readers to gauge what sort of response (if any) they’ll get. Some bloggers also put systems in place to send auto response emails back when contact is made to help with this.
6. Build Community
Another way to help readers get help from your blog is to set up systems and areas on your blog where people can help one another. This is one of the reasons that both ProBlogger and Digital Photography School have community areas. The hope is that while I can’t possibly respond to every reader that there is always someone in the wider community that does have the expertise and resources to help. I also find that in time as a blog grows that this reader interaction between readers extends naturally into a comments section – a larger blog tends to have readers who love to help one another.
7. Get Help – Outsource
One of the hardest things I’ve done in the last couple of years is to get help to manage this aspect of my blogging. Outsourcing community is not something I ever wanted to do but getting help from someone to assist in the moderation of comments was actually something that helped me to be more responsive to readers. If you do end up hiring someone to help with moderation try to get them to alert you to threads of conversations that need your attention rather than just hiring someone to delete spam.
How do You Do It?
As I say above – I’m no expert in being a relational blogger. It’s one aspect of what I do that I do grapple with and have good days and bad days with. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you approach being a relational blogger and what impact it’s had on your blogging.
PS: One last bonus tip – Stay True to Yourself and Your Personality
I say this because as people we all have different styles and personalities that will leave us able to interact with readers differently. I’ve been critiqued a few times over the years about not being interactive enough with readers but in the last 12 months or so have also come to realise that my approach in this area is not just about being too busy to interact but that it is partly about who I am as a person.
As a pretty extreme introvert I do enjoy personal interaction but also find that I’m not able to sustain as much of it as some others who are more extroverted and get energy from such interactions.
Those of you who’ve met me will know that I’m actually someone who tends to sit at the edge of groups watching and listening more than those who might enjoy being the life of the party. While I do enjoy conversation I’m someone who is a little slower paced and more laid back and who enjoys chiming in from time to time with my insights and thoughts – but who also enjoys listening.
On the flip side of this I know that one impact of being this type of person is that I can come across as being a little uninterested in those around me – it’s something I do have to work on (I could quite easily retreat to my introverts cave and never come out for weeks at a time). So for me it’s about being true to myself and not forcing myself to be the extrovert but also knowing that my introversion can also be an excuse and something that limits me.