Before I started blogging, I worked as a part-time youth minister at a local church. As part of that role, I occasionally had the honour of conducting weddings and to meet with couples before their big day to talk about their relationship.
As part of getting my celebrants licence, I completed training around pre-marriage counselling which I drew on in many of these conversations. One of the areas of that training that I found helpful in these conversations, and in my own life many times since, was around the topic of communication.
While there’s much to learn about good communication in relationships there are two central skills that a good communicator needs.
- The ability to communicate clearly what they are trying to say
- The ability to accurately hear and interpret what others are communicating
This holds true not only in relationships between partners but also in friendships, working relationships and… to bring it home to the topic at hand here at ProBlogger… online communications.
I discovered this for myself early in my blogging, although not straight away.
When I first started blogging I thought it was largely about me sharing what I knew with the world. I kicked things off by telling my story, sharing the lessons I was learning, sharing what I was observing and hoping that those things would be of interest to other people.
Looking back I realise that the way I started blogging was very much like going to a party and attempting to have conversations by talking non stop without pausing for anyone else to contribute.
We all know that that kind of approach isn’t the way to get a good conversation going, and that if anyone were to try it on us that we’d be unlikely to want to talk to them again.
I quickly discovered it doesn’t work in blogging either and that I was much more effective in my communication if I practiced the art of listening too.
Start By Asking Questions
For me this started fairly simply and entered mainly about asking questions of my readers and interacting with those who responded.
It’s not rocket science, but simply by adding a question at the end of a post instead of ending it in a way that tied up the whole topic and signalled that there was nothing left to say was a lot more attractive to readers.
I also started to slip in blog posts that were nothing but questions – simply writing a post to ask a question and start a discussion seemed to go down very well with my readers.
Asking questions in these ways brought my blog to life in many ways.
Obviously it increased comment numbers (which helps you to attract new readers as a result of ‘social proof‘) but more importantly I quickly discovered that by listening to my readers in this way that it lifted the quality of my content.
For starters, I started to learn more about my topic from the answers my readers gave me.
I still remember the day where I wrote a post about using AdSense and asked my readers what they’d learned about using the ad network, and a reader shared how they’d placed their ads in a new spot and it’d performed 50% better than the way they’d previously done it.
I implemented the suggestion and saw the same result and was then able to write about the topic which helped many readers but also interestingly someone at AdSense read and learned something from too! Without that invitation for readers to share and me taking note of what was said, none of that would have happened.
The other thing that I quickly discovered about the power of listening to readers is that it helps you to understand their needs, questions, problems and challenges a lot better – and of course this is perhaps the most effective way of increasing the quality of your writing. Instead of writing what I thought my readers needed to know, I was suddenly able to write about their actual needs.
Lastly there’s another benefit of listening: your readers feel much much more connected to you when you do it.
I shared back in episode 5 of my podcast how I used to personally email every reader who left a comment on my blog inviting them to come back and keep the conversation going. I know for a fact that some of those first commenters (13 years ago) still read my blogs today – that personal interaction was the start of a long term connection and a loyalty that I could never have imagined at the time.
Other Ways of Listening
Asking your readers questions on your blog and creating space to listen to the responses is powerful, but there are many other ways of building ‘listening’ into your online activities.
A few others that I regularly use:
I’ve been using surveys on my blogs for many years (in fact here’s a post I wrote in 2007 about the benefits of running surveys that still rings true today).
We run a ‘census’ here on ProBlogger every year (you can see last year’s here) but on Digital Photography School we take a different approach and send anyone who subscribes to our newsletter a survey a few months after they sign up.
Either approach can work and both give us real insight into who is reading our blogs and how we can serve them better.
2. ‘Live’ Online Interactions
One of the reasons I’m particularly excited right now about some of the new social networks like Periscope, Facebook Live and Blab is that they give you an incredible opportunity to interact with your readers in a live and quite personal way.
These tools are obviously great for broadcasting and sharing your ideas but the real power of them is that you get instantaneous feedback and in the case of Blab the chance to literally ‘hear’ your readers voice and see their face.
There are numerous other options for these live interactions if you don’t want to jump in front of the camera. Webinars are another (you can do video in them but it’s also easy to use just audio) and so too are Twitter Chats which can be very effective at chatting back and forth with readers.
3. ‘Traditional’ Social Media
I’m not sure ‘traditional’ is the word for it but with some of the new developments in social networks lately some of the older networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are quite established and in internet years are quite old.
Don’t abandon these network just to play in the new ones because they have incredible power as listening posts too.
On Facebook we try to share ‘questions’ or discussion starters for readers to interact with on a regular basis (on the ProBlogger Facebook page it’s almost daily). The same thing can easily be done on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or anywhere else.
Similarly on Facebook I will occasionally put out a call for questions and ask readers to submit any topics or questions they’d like me to write a future post or record a future podcast on.
Other opportunities on some of these networks include:
- starting a ‘group’ (on Facebook or LinkedIn) for your readers where they can share, ask questions etc
- setting Twitter lists of your readers to listen to what they’re sharing on that network
- setting up ‘alerts’ on Twitter to see what people are sharing on your keywords or even what they’re saying about you
4. Other Ways to Listen to your Readers
A couple more things you can do that help you to listen to your readers directly include:
- watching the questions and feedback that you get via email from readers
- setting up a forum or community area on your blog for readers to join
- running challenges and projects for your readers to do together (see below for an example)
Lastly – there are a number of other ways that you can ‘listen’ to your readers in more indirect ways but still learn about them and their needs. These include:
- watching what keywords and phrases people are typing into search engines to arrive on your blog
- watching what keywords and phrases people are using your blog’s search bar to look for
- watching what posts on your blog are being most read, that are most linked to, getting most comments etc
While these last few suggestions are not active and direct listening to your readers you’ll discover a lot by doing some analysis on them and hopefully be better informed about how to serve them better as a result.
Differentiate Yourself by Being a Listener
As bloggers we operate in a very noisy space.
Much has been written on the topic of how to publish better content, to repurpose that content, and to amplify that content so it gets seen by more people.
As a result social media can easily become like a party where everyone attends with megaphones and talks at one another, but nobody listens.
We’ve become prolific at publishing… but in doing so we’ve created a lot of noise.
It strikes me that in this noisy environment that perhaps one of the best ways to differentiate ourselves is to become a prolific listeners.
It struck me as I published the above quote about Listening as a Content Strategy from Marcus Sheridan that maybe we could test the power of becoming a prolific listener’ in some way by having a day dedicated purely to listening.
What if for a whole 24 hours we ceased publishing new content, sharing links, broadcasting our own ideas but spent a whole day listening to our readers and responding to them.
What impact would that have upon our blogs, our future content, the communities that we are building and the future direction of our businesses.
Would you be willing to give it a go?
I’m going to try it in the coming weeks but if you want to join in let me know in the comments and I’ll find a way for us to do it together so we can share how we’re going to approach it and what we find.