Engagement. That’s what every blogger seeks—or should seek. If your blog readers comment on your posts, it means they not only read but get involved in what you write—involved enough to actually have a conversation with you. The blog stops being a one way broadcast, like a printed book, and becomes a conversation. Most bloggers would say that’s a true blog, one that engages the reader to do more than simply read what you wrote.
As a book blogger, you also want your readers to comment. Your blog represents a test marketed version of your book. Every time you publish a post, the comments your readers leave offer you valuable feedback you can use to improve your manuscript and make it more readable and marketable. Your blog readers serve as the best critique group you could ever find because they are the actual people who will buy your book. You want to engage them.
Assuming you have blog readers, how do you do you get them to comment? I asked Liz Strauss, the Queen of Comments, that question at BlogWorld & New Media Expo in November 2011. At that time, Liz, who is a strategist, CEO and founder of SOBCon, and keynote speaker, had over 94,000 comments on her three blogs. Wow. Wow. Liz, the author of The Secret to Writing a Successful and Outstanding Blog: An Insider’s Guide to How Conversation Is Changing the Way that Business Works, has been named among the The Top Influencers Alive: 10 Breakout Influencers of 2011, and was on Forbes list of Top 10 Women Social Media Influencers in the same week. She writes her popular Successful Blog as well as what she calls her “writing blog” and the Liz Strauss blog.
If you don’t know Liz, she also was named Top 100 Social Media & Internet Marketing Bloggers, Top 100 Most Influential Marketers of 2008 and 2009, 50 of the Most Powerful and Influential Women of Social Media, NxE’s Fifty Most Influential ‘Female’ Bloggers and her blog is listed on Alltop Social Media and Alltop Twitterati. Liz is a social web strategist and community builder who works with businesses, universities, and individuals to help them understand how text, words, and images work in the culture of the social web. Learn more about Liz here.
As I said in my last post, Liz knows more than a thing or two both about blogging and publishing. And she knows a lot about how to get readers engaged on a blog. We have differing opinions about how comments can or should be used when blogging a book (as noted in my last post), but if anyone knows how to get readers engaged, it’s Liz. Here’s what she had to say when I asked her about getting readers to comment on blog posts.
You have 4,300+ posts on your Successful Blog and 600+ on your writing blog and several hundred on the Liz Strauss blog. Even more impressive to me, you have 94,000 comments on your blogs. How do you get that kind of engagement from your readers?
Blogging experience. Blogging experience. Information is all over the internet, but your experience of the information is not. A great example of that is movie critics. If every movie critic only blogged the information about a movie, we’d only need one movie critic. That’s critical. Don’t try to tie everything up in a bow. A blog is about conversation, not presentation.
What I just did [here at BWE] was presentation, so I’m quite happy with the idea that maybe nobody had any Q&A because it was about me presenting information. But I’ve actually gone back in and undone pieces of blog posts because I’ve tied it up too completely. Don’t tie everything up like you did with your essays. It doesn’t leave me as a reader anything to say but “great blog post.”
In other words, leave people with something to think about?
I call it, “Be complete but not thorough.” Don’t put the finishing touches on the painting, so to speak. It actually makes the post easier to write.
Along that same line, if you go reaching for a list of “how many things,” make a bulleted list without a number in mind. You can put the ordered list down, and let it number itself. Don’t go for seven or ten, just go for however many you think of. Then, after that write, “That’s how many I thought of,” because if you go reaching to fill out to ten, once again, you’re not leaving me any room. Stop and just say, “I thought of five. I bet you can think of more.” First of all, that’s truthful. Second of all, you leave me room to add something.
And that’s when you get the comments?
Right. Conversation is about me having an idea, and then it’s your turn to talk. A blog post, a true blog post, is really about one idea.
The most important parts of a blog post are the title and the question at the end. People write, “So, what do you think?” and that’s the right thing to do. “What do I think about the Vietnam War?” Ask a question that you or they can answer. And actually consider how someone might answer the question.
Sometimes I actually model the answer. I have a series of blog posts that are just questions, called “Questions to Get Closer to You.” Literally, they are just questions, like “What are three words that describe you and your business?” and then to help you out, I’ll answer the first one. I went into the comment box when I published it and wrote my answer, because sometimes people don’t want to comment because they don’t know what to write.
If you’re constantly thinking about your readers and their experience of what you’re doing, you might think, “Oh, I might be afraid to answer this because I wouldn’t know what kind of answer people are looking for. I’m such a weird thinker that I’ll end up being the one who’s way off in left field.”
What are the kinds of questions you ask readers at the end of posts?
Often the question I ask at the end becomes the title of the blog post. There’s one I’m working on right now that I know the question at the end is going to become the title of the blog post, and I haven’t even written it yet. It’s called “Are You Using Your Time Promiscuously?” I know where I’m going, but I haven’t gotten there yet. So, they’re pretty straightforward.
I wrote a blog post about CFD, a syndrome I named called “Can’t Follow Directions,” and it was called, “Has a CFD experience harmed your business?” That’s the question at the end. I explain how I did this thing where I invited people to give me five bits of information, and eighty percent of the two-hundred-some people who sent in the information couldn’t give me all five bits of information. This is the reason why CFD can really hurt your business, and it can hurt your business whether you’re the one who’s not following directions or someone else you’re working with can’t follow directions.
I offer a lot of information on my blogs and don’t get a lot of responses. I guess don’t always ask good questions at the end of my posts.
You have to be thinking about “What would I say back to myself after I read this?”
When I first began blogging, I learned that if I was about to put a sub-head in, I would cut the blog post and move that to Tuesday. What actually happened for a while was the blog post that I thought on Monday was going to be one blog post would end up running all week. Tuesday I would start writing the post with that sub-head, and I would end up breaking that up again and again.
I find two things: If you’re trying too hard to make a sentence, that’s may be trying to be a good writer or maybe the sentence doesn’t belong there. If the blog post is getting long, you probably have two blog posts there. You want to hit it with a nice, killer bump at the end. We’re all reluctant readers. With lots of sub-heads, you’re going to have lots of type and turn people off.
Many writers who are blogging books or promoting their books approach their topics as experts. They offer information. I see and read many blogs like this as well. These bloggers don’t tend to get as many reader comments. Can you discuss the different types of blogs and role comments play on these blogs?
What makes a blog a blog is that people are commenting on the posts. Obviously I’m being a purist here. Do you want to talk about the kind of blogs that The New York Times does, and The Harvard Business Review? If so, then you’re talking about a magazine with comments, and that’s not what I’m talking about. On these, basically people are just saying, “Yeah, I really like what you wrote,” or “Good job.”
I have a blog post from probably 2007, “Humility,” where the conversation goes on for about a hundred and three comments, where through that conversation I had ideas change; I found out why I do not like the sentence, “your humble servant.” I always knew I didn’t like it, but I found out why. Somebody had said something like, “You have to accept thing. Humility is about accepting anything,” and in the conversation ideas were actually changing, thoughts were changing. A conversation and discussion was actually happening.
I’ve had it happen more than once that I put a blog post out there and I thought I know what it was about and someone took it in a totally different direction. It’s like when you’re sitting in a bar with four friends, and you put an idea out there and they take the conversation in an entirely different direction than you ever expected. That’s what the genre is about, and that’s why people call it “the conversation.”
With Liz’s last words in mind, let me ask you, my blog readers, a question: What have you done to garner comments on your blogs or blogged books? What has worked best to engage your readers?