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How to Create Compelling Content Through Reader Interaction

Posted By Darren Rowse 29th of July 2009 Writing Content 0 Comments

This week at ProBlogger I’m writing about principles of creating Compelling Content on a blog. Read principle #1, Being in Tune with Your Readers Needs here.

reader-interaction.jpg

Sometimes what makes a blog post compelling is not so much what the blogger writes but how the post is interacted with by readers.

The real action on many successful blogs happens in a comment section where a post can be taken to the next level and have new layers of depth added to it as readers share their thoughts, ideas and experiences on a topic.

3 Benefits of Reader Interaction on Blogs

The benefits of an interactive blog are many but the main three that I think help to make a blog compelling are:

1. Wisdom of the Crowd

While we as bloggers often like to think of ourselves as experts on our topics the reality is that when you get a group of people with an interest in a topic together that the collective expertise and authority of the group is generally more than any one member. I’ve seen this time and time again on my own blogs.

For example last week I asked readers what makes content compelling to them – the 100+ comments are really very insightful when you take them all together.

Similarly a year or so back on my photography site I posted a reader question that asked the community to share their tips on how to photograph a dying grandmother with dignity. What came out of that post drew our community together and made a real impact upon many. The post itself wasn’t compelling – it was the reaction and wisdom of the community.

2. Social Proof

Visit a blog which has numerous comments on every post and you get a sense that there’s something going on there. There’s an energy, a buzz, a sense of community that seeing reader participation can bring to a blog which in itself can be compelling and make you want to see what’s going on there to create that interaction.

While having reader interaction doesn’t automatically make your blog compelling – it can encourage others to take a second look at it to see what all the fuss is about.

3. Reader Investment

I’ve struggled a little to put a name to this but there’s something about getting a reader to leave a comment on a post that means that they’ve invested something of themselves into your blog. I know when I comment on something that someone else has written that I’m much more likely to return to that post and to that blog because I’ve invested a little time, energy and thought into it – I’ve contributed something to the discussion and as a result it becomes a bit more compelling to me.

The Problem of Lurkers [+ How to Build Reader Interaction]

lurking.jpg

Image by Big Fat Rat

Of course the problem most bloggers face is that most readers simply ‘lurk’ on blogs. Less than 1% of readers regularly comment on blogs – most simply read (or scan) content and then silently leave.

So how do you build reader interaction? I’d love to hear your suggestions and experiences in this below but here are a few suggestions and 4 lessons I’ve learned over the years.

1. Call people to Interact

Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that when you ask people to do something they’re much more likely to do it.

It sounds like a no brainer doesn’t it? However the reality is that many bloggers I hear complaining about no comments don’t actually write in a way that invites people to interact.

Calling people to interact with you can take many forms:

  • Ask people to leave a comment (I’ve done this already in this post – you don’t have to do it just at the end)
  • Ask readers specific questions in your posts –  (I find that some people need some prompting on what type of reactions you want from them rather than just having a generic ‘what do you think?’ type call to comment)
  • Writing posts that are only questions can work well (example)
  • Create space for readers to showcase their expertise or participate in a challenge (for example I recently ran this challenge on DPS which readers loved).

Keep in mind that when you call readers to interact with you that you’ll have more chance of success if you do so in a conversational and natural way. Also worth noting is that sometimes you need to leave space for your readers to have something to say. Some bloggers write in a tone and style that is so comprehensive that there’s really little else to say on a topic.

2. Don’t just focus upon comments

Some people just don’t like comments, perhaps it is their personality, perhaps they’re wary of giving you their contact details, perhaps they feel intimidated, perhaps they don’t know how to do it, or perhaps they just take a while to warm up to that type of interaction.

So don’t just focus upon commenting as the only way for readers to participate. Other options for interaction inlclude:

  • Polls (much more anonymous and easy to use)
  • Quizzes and Surveys
  • Invite readers to email you
  • Forums – some people just seem to be wired more to forums more than blogs as a medium
  • Social Media – get people interacting on their social media platform of choice

Try different methods to see what works best for your blog.

3. Use the Data in Reader Interactions

It struck me recently just how much knowledge, wisdom and useful information sits in the comments sections and poll results of most blogs. Many of us as bloggers are just happy to have people interacting – but perhaps what would be more ‘compelling’ is to not only have interaction but to ‘use’ the interactions to create meaning and be more useful to readers.

Let me illustrate with a recent example here at ProBlogger:

Just over a week ago I asked readers – What do you do with your blog over the weekend? The post was simply a weekend discussion starter – while I suggested a few responses to get things started the real action in the post happened in the comments section with over 130 comments left.

I could have left it at that. I had a fantastic response from the question and readers seemed to be enjoying the interactions that they had with one another – it was a successful post.

However it struck me that in the comments section of that post was some useful data. 130+ people had just shared what they did with their blog on the weekend! That’s useful information to know.

So I decided to get the answers collated together and see what they told us – this resulted in a followup post on the topic. Sometimes going to the effort of making sense of how readers are responding can be very worthwhile.

Another example – I also regularly do this by not only posting Polls on my blogs but following them up with ‘results’ posts from the polls which take the information, put them into a nice chart and draw out any meaning that I find interesting in them. For example this recent results post on blog design. The results post itself got 78 comments!

4. Re-purpose Readers Responses (and Make them Famous)

Similarly I also try to showcase or feature individual reader responses and interactions.

Often the wisdom shared in the comments section of a blog is just too good to leave it languishing there where only a few people will see it. In these cases why not promote it to a blog post of it’s own or at least to quote your readers in another post you’re writing.

Readers will notice that I’m doing this in this series on compelling content (for example see yesterdays post where I featured quotes from 9 comments left on this blog that supported what I’ve written).

Doing this not only adds depth to your blog post (making it more compelling) but also gives those readers featured a sense of being noticed and valued as well as showing other readers that you value reader interactions (giving them a little extra motivation to participate too).

Further Reading

There is much more I could write on how to build an interactive blog. In fact I’ve written several posts on the topic including:

Your Homework for Today

OK – so we’ve talked about the theory of reader interaction. Now it’s time to put some of it into action.

Your task for today is to write a post that attempts to be interactive with those who will read it. This could be as simple as tweaking something you’ve already written to include a question or could be a new post that is all about reader interaction (a poll, a reader discussion, a survey etc). Once you’ve written it please share a link to it in comments below so we can all learn from how you approached it.

What You’ve Said on the Topic So Far:

Earlier in the week I asked you for your reflections on what makes content compelling. The responses were rich with wisdom and compelling in themselves (I’ve read them numerous times). Here’s a few of the comments from you that touched on similar themes to what I’ve written above:

  • “Being conversational brings the writer to life and creates a human connection. That’s compelling.” – Jody
  • “Truly compelling content not only sparks my interest, but makes me want to share the insight I’ve gained with others.” – Patrick
  • “Compelling content should cause the reader to ask questions. It needs to persuade or teach the reader in some way. It’s content that’s unique and can’t be found anywhere else. It begins a dicussion amongst other bloggers who comment on your content. Compelling content shows the reader that you, as a blogger, are interested in them.” – Surveys for Money
  • “Seriously, these eighty-five honest and detailed descriptions of what each person thinks is compelling content. If you ask me, it doesn’t get much more compelling than this.” – Debbie
  • “Compelling content elicits a response. It draws me into conversation. It inspires me to react. It is this very post, despite it being nothing more than a question.” – Brad

Have Your Say

Of course this post wouldn’t be complete without an invitation to leave your reactions, experiences and insights on this topic.

  • How have you built reader interaction into your blog?
  • What has worked (and not worked) for you?
  • What posts have you written where you got the most reader interaction (feel free to share a link)?
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, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Comments
  1. Hi DR, Ok I must work on number 4 the most then number 3- sorry I’m making my list here.

    Once again all words of wisdom from our great teacher are of gold to me.

    Thank you & have a super glorious day.

    Tasha
    http://www.theeangels.com

  2. People seem to really like the distraction of silly posts best, like these two…

    http://www.janniefunster.com/2009/06/13/blame-tara-who-meme/

    http://www.janniefunster.com/2009/07/13/why-we-usually-eat-at-home/

    And family photos always get a lot of comments, I think because people are curious about the blog author as a person — part of that whole “reality show” connection of blogging.

  3. Many people try to be controversial in order to garner more comments, but I usually find it is only those who are genuine in what they write actually achieve this (or they may receive comments to one post but then nobody feels like going back again).

    In the past there have been posts I’ve written that I truly thought would encourage discussion and many comments (even asking people to add their comments) only to find that noone has responded, but others that have been written without thought of response have received many.

    I don’t have any hard and fast answers, but I have found that blog posts written from the heart, that are genuine and personal do seem to result in more comments (especially from women).

  4. Er, to a blog, reader is GOD. Thank you, DR.

  5. Hello Daren ,
    Being a very new blogger .. my readership is too low to have polls or somthing like what you do …
    Now the question would that still work with me you think .. or is it just my reaction or excuse …
    Nice post for sure ..
    Regards
    Sudeep

  6. Thanks for this great post… it will be very useful for blogger .. also for me.

    Shajib
    http://www.ebooksdock.co.cc

  7. I think making readers famous is a good idea. One small way I do this, is when I get a comment, I checkout their blog. If it’s good quality and in my niche, I’ll add it to me growing resources page with a link a description about their blog. Not really making them famous, but giving them a bit of recognition.

  8. I like to end my posts with questions, but I think it will be also a good thing to ask questions in your post.

    Posts with only questions is something I should consider, I think they can be powerfull, it could gather a lot of comments!

    What I do now is answering comments as much as possible, and it is cool to see some response back again after my response, that is real interaction with readers!

    Thanks for the post!

  9. Wow! I guess I just need to be more specific and ask for comments.

    On my blogs, I end many of my posts with a question, for example:
    http://www.asadudethinketh.com/2009/07/15/dont-famous/

    Now I will try to be more specific and ask for comments below.

  10. I think that commenters add a lot of value. I try to always respond to comments. If I see someone becoming a frequent commenter, I might even email them something that might interest them more than the community at large – to strengthen the fact that they are a person, and not just a potentional Adsense clicker.

    The CommentLuv plugin also allows me to see if me commenter had a blog, and I’ll often hop over the their blog and see what they are writing about. After all, turnabout is fair play – and I’ve stumbled across some really nice blogs this way.

    Happily, I’m way above the 1% mark, but always looking to improve this, as well as building interaction in other ways.

  11. Thanks for the post. You’ve outlined every possible way to encourage reader involvement with your posts.

  12. My current blog is pretty new, so there’s not much readership (yet!) but I definitely try a few things to increase discussion:

    1. Ask for and encourage participation. I do this not just in each post, but also in my About page and various other places. I think people like to watch blogs grow and develop, so I really try to portray my blog as a work-in-progress.

    2. I like using “list” type posts (“10 Ways to Get Comments” or something similar) to make responding easier. It’s easier to comment on a post when the information is broken up into digestible chunks.

    3. Another good way to increase participation is to be unusual or controversial. Take a stand for or against a point of view, and you’ll energize your supporters and the opposition. Of course, the key is to not be so radical that it drives people away…

    Just a few things that I try and think about when I blog.

  13. Thanks! This post just gave me a GREAT idea for tomorrow’s blog post. I’ll report back as to results.
    @TomMartin

  14. As my blog is a new blog, there is not much of interaction.

    I do have some comments left, because I wrote 10 tips to a successful landing page, and got a few comments.

    On that post, I asked my readers to fill in what I have left out in a successful landing page.

    I think right now is to condition my readers to be loyal ones and interactive with me on my blog.

  15. Hi Darren,

    This is a great article and now my blog is growing in readership I am in more of a position to ask for reader interaction, and more importantly, receive it!

    You have given me several ideas on what to do with this feedback when I get it and love the way you can repurpose that feedback into even more great content – getting your readers to do the work for you! Genius!

    David

  16. Comments left on your posts are key towards writing better content. The wide range of opinions and thoughts allow the blogger to better understand the reader, and will lead to writing content readers will enjoy. And some quality comments could lead to a topic for a new post.

  17. In past blogging experiences, I have found that people who are somehow connected to me outside of the blogosphere (perhaps through other social media) are more likely to interact on the blog. I also think it helps to avoid general questions like, “What do you think?”

  18. Hey Darren, thanks for this post, interaction is certainly the key to any successful blog.

    In addition to your suggestions to promote interaction, bloggers can also offer prizes for the “best comment.” It can be something as simple as giving away the latest business book you just finished, or a pass to a local conference.

    Even the slightest motivation to leave comments can spur lot’s of interaction. Thanks for all the great ideas!

  19. That is interesting post, from one to one in this series is very hepful to all beginner blogger as to me.

    Love and interact our readers, we are going to be successful.

    Thank so much!

  20. After reading this post, I went directly to my blog and implemented two of your suggests. I added a poll to my sidebar as well as directly asking my readers their opinion in the body of my post.

    I have struggled with encouraging readers to comment and I hope this is the solution to my problem.

    Thanks as always.

    http://simplyyummygoodness.blogspot.com

  21. Up until now, I hadn’t really asked for reader comments or do a poll, ect, because as a new blogger, I just assumed no one would want to, but ok, I gave it a shot! We’ll see how it goes!

  22. I often ask readers for their questions on my blog’s focus, strategies to use your brain in ways to your benefit at work and beyond. These questions help me to keep extending the conversation and bring even more substance to the topic.

  23. Getting comments on my blog has been a problem. I needed this post.

    I like the idea of creating a sense of community. Now to get out there and actually do something about it rather than simply fret about it.

  24. I love interacting with people on blogs, both reading comments on mine and posting comments on others.

    I wish I had more people visiting my site, not for the fact they are reading my content (well, partly that) but for the fact that they may leave a comment :D I reply to all the comments on my blog (except those that really aren’t replyable)

    I’ve found (from my own experience commenting on other blogs – my site doesn’t get much traffic) that threaded comments are much better for interaction, not only between the commenter and author, but also between commenters.

    On an unrelated note, I saw your ads on College humour today (2 on one page, nice :D) and I think they look great.

  25. We write for them. So we should LISTEN to them.

  26. This is a very timely post. I was able to create two new posts from one comment question left on a published post. This is creating reader interaction and encouraging better comments as well as providing me with a spring board of ideas

  27. We should interact with readers through comment section and questions.
    If we write the content for readers we have to listen them.

  28. I actually find that one of the best ways to engage with your readers is just to pose a question at the end of the article and ask for their feedback. Readers are used to, well, just reading and sometimes when you actively ask for their input or advice, you can draw them out and get great feedback.

  29. It can be hard initially to build a steady stream of reader interaction. I’ve worked with many bloggers, some who have a regular fanbase and some who barely get comments on their blog. A great recommendation I heard was to listen to the readers on your blog, on the social networks, at the shows, and ask directly what they’re looking for. Following up on their question goes a long way!

  30. Thats what Im doing right now, focusing on building a good content rather than shoot and run post. This helps.Thanks!

  31. I like the post, thanks
    http://teratips.com

  32. This is by far the most challenging aspect of blogging to me. I really want to interact with my readers. I love it when they give ideas to change recipes or substitute ingredients and I comment back to them. I’ve tried all the above ideas for getting people to leave comments, but I’ve had very limited success. I’ve decided that it’s just going to take persistance. I’ll keep doing all those things and hope that it takes off one of these days.

  33. I used to sort of know this theory well a few years ago as when most of my blog posts where the result of comments on my blog posts as well as my comments on other blogs.

    Now, I seemed to have lost the touch. Hopefully, after reading this and trying out the homework, it may come back to me again.

  34. Reader interation mainly refers to commenting for blogs and this mean only spamming in present time for getting more better search engine result page ranking of their own blogs.

  35. I seem to get the most interaction (ie comments) when I share something quite personal, ie usually a hair pulling parenting moment. I guess my readers relate to this because many of them are parents also and I get more advice from them (if that’s what I seek) than I do from most of my own friends. An example, this post http://semanticallydriven.com/2009/06/mother_from_hell.html.

    I haven’t used polls on my blog but could see some merit with this, although my readership isn’t huge so it could be a waste of time.

    One last observation. When I’ve tried to get some bloggy interaction, ie here http://semanticallydriven.com/blogging_quest, it hasn’t really worked.

  36. Hello Daren ,
    I like the post, and I agree, To be very truthful.

  37. I give dating advice and I really enjoy it when people comment in my post telling me that I did an excellent job or that it has inspired them.

    Like it’s mentioned earlier, readers want something that effects in one way or the other. When it does, they’re more than likely to spend 2 minutes to put a comment saying how much they enjoyed it!

    I just like getting comments, period. I like talking to those that read my musings!

  38. What if you close comments on a blog? I have my comments closed, but my goal is to leave my readers with intriguing writing so that they can take away something memorable. Is the interaction only possible when comments are open to a post?
    As always, thank you for great and thoughtful posts, Darren.

  39. Really good post!

    This encourages me to structure my posts a bit differently. I do write from the heart but need a more concerted effort toward calling readers to action. Perhaps I’ll get more comments and interaction.

  40. Asking questions has been very useful for me in getting comments, but you have to ask the right questions and the topic has to be interesting to people.

    Some questions have received no answers, but in other cases, posts that don’t ask a question at all gain lots of input from readers. In previous cases, this is often as a result of me commenting on things other blogs have touched on, hence there is interaction outside my blog and interaction between blogs.

  41. This was interesting to read! It had occurred to me that maybe I say too much and leave too little for people to interject, but seeing it here makes me think once again, that may be so!

    I don’t think I’ve tried asking for comments within a post, but I have tried the list of questions at the end and always entreat people to comment, but to little avail!

    I know part of it is that in the Caribbean, we tend to guard what we say publicly so that may also be affecting me. But this post encourages me to mix it up a bit and see what happens.

    I have once included info from emails – some of my readers definitely prefer to email me their comments, so I will look into making that a more official option too.

  42. It’s something I struggle with. Food for thought.

  43. I struggle with this because I am new to blogging and trying to figure out what content people want is difficult. Most of what I put in the blog are questions I get from SCORE (www.sfscore.org) clients and my daily management life. All have the common thread that either multiple people have asked me or I personally had to deal with the situation.

    I do like your idea about asking questions to see what people are thinking about. Check out: http://blog.venturecooker.com/2009/07/28/what-one-management-skill-do-you-want-to-improve/ for my first question.

  44. I have been blogging for two months and at times I am apprehensive about my writing … as to the content, my style of writing. I keep blogging anyway. I found your info on twitter from Lethia Owens, of live your brand. I am glad I stopped by your blog – the information will be extremely helpful. I am going to utilize many of your suggestions for my next post.

  45. The readers comments is quite important to make the blog going, it’s worth taking the time to make your comments section as user-friendly and as attractive as the rest of your site. Posts with questions is a brilliant idea!

  46. Hello Darren,

    I really like your idea of putting the call to action not at the end of your post but in the beginning of a very important content of your post. Great idea indeed!

  47. I find it really hard to get people to comment on my posts on my main blog. Do you think it would be a good idea to post some controversial comments on my posts to get a discussion started – if the article is not really controversial?

  48. Yeap me too i am struggling with this also! but i’ll get it done no matter what ;)

  49. This post came into my RSS at just the right time, I am learning so much from your blog, thank you!

  50. I’ve been spending a bit of time going through the archives here and it would seem that all the training is already there. I now seem to be one step ahead of you Darren.

    My posts are now written a week in advance, with each one closing with either a direct request for responses or usually asking a particular question.

    Low and behold, what was once a very lonely blog has quickly sprouted wings and begun to fly.

    I spent today writing up a couple of posts for next week but decided to alter the queue and get one of my better, more controversial posts into the queue for Friday.

    I have taken a big leap forward with this one and actually given the readers a some homework to do and due to the very controversial nature of the post, I can’t wait to see what the reactions will be (if any) and I’m looking forward to seeing how this approach might change the dynamics of the blog in general.

    I know you requested that people include a link to their posts once they have taken the steps that you have suggested, but again due to the nature of this particular post I won’t post the link here. I think it clashes with you own personal values and I prefer to respect that rather than get a couple of extra clicks.

    Having said that, take a look at any of the posts from my front page to see how I have begun to foster more interaction into all of my posts, and feel free to check out my blog on Friday (Thursday for the US) to see the post that I am talking about.

    Cheers

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