16 January 2013

“show of hands”: creating content engagement on your blog

I ♥ My Blog: A look at blog content "engagement"
If you’ve been blogging for more than a day, you’ve probably been tempted to look up all the articles out there promising to tell you how to get people to engage with your blog. While all of these articles are great, there are a couple of problems with a lot of them. First, in many cases, the focus is on getting comments. Second, too often some readers are left with the idea that if they do “this thing” today, they’ll get “this many” comments tomorrow.

This post is going to work against these two problems with what hopefully are some new ways to think about, and navigate, creating engaging content for your blog.

"What is 'engagement'?"

"Engagement” can mean a number of things. A very basic definition, however, is simply that engagement is a “consumer” (a reader, visitor, buyer, etc.) performing some kind of action in response to a particular “product” (post, tweet, book, etc.) from a particular “seller” (author, host, crafts person, etc.). So, when it comes to a blog, engagement is simply a visitor doing something in response to a post.

Why is that important? Because many times bloggers mistakenly think that “engagement” always and only means “commenting.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing … Comments are, after all, one of the nicest ways a visitor can respond to what we’ve written. It is, however, a potentially damaging, or discouraging, thing when you consider the landscape in which we’re working. It can be discouraging when you’ve written what you think is a very meaningful piece that gets absolutely no comments. It can be damaging when you think that because your blog posts get no comments, you’ve failed as a writer.

So what constitutes “engagement”? Many things. Engagement can be clicks, page views, a social network follow, reading, retweeting or sharing a post, subscribing, spending more than five minutes on your page, downloading or viewing a free sample, answering a poll question, and, yes, commenting. The point is: It’s ALL engagement … While one form may feel better, it doesn’t mean that the others suggest visitors are any less engaged!

"So then … how do I 'engage' my readers?!"

The answer to this question varies based on how you want your readers to engage. Here are two basic breakdowns of how bloggers tend to have (or want to have) engagement happen:

1. I want people to find/view/read my work
If what you’re aiming for is viewership, engagement is simply making sure you get your content out there. Share your posts on your Facebook wall, on Twitter, or other social media sites. Comment on other sites. Participate in forums. When you engage anywhere, make sure folks have a way to find you. Join a community like Triberr and become part of a tribe; with this site, as you share others’ writing, others will share yours. The point is: The more you share, the more easily people will be able to find you.

2. I want visitors to share/subscribe to/“like”/buy/etc. my work
Here’s the thing … It’s easy to get people to see your work. It’s harder to get people to share it. Why? Because while the degree to which your work gets out there is (more or less) in your control, the way readers engage with it is not! Let’s face it: The most we can really do is encourage … subtly. Including a call to action, having tools that allow readers to like or share a post or page, posting polls … those are (some of) the “subtle nudges” we as writers can use to ease readers into more “direct” responses. But while you can put that button there, you can’t make your readers click it. You can ask them to comment, but you can’t force them. The point is: If you build it, they will come … but they might not always let you know they were in the stands all along.

"I want something better than that!"

Okay, here’s my number one tip for creating content engagement for your blog. Are you ready? Here it is … Rethink what it means to engage.

I mean this as an encouragement. If a post on Monday gets 20 page views and a post on Friday gets 40, guess what? You’ve increased your reader’s engagement. If you’ve gone two months with silence and suddenly someone has given your post a “+1” on Google Plus, guess what? You’ve increased your reader’s engagement. Even if from one day to the next you get the same numbers in terms of clicks or views or visits, YOU ARE ENGAGING YOUR READERS … whether they comment or not.

In the same vein, please, please, please don’t think that because This Great Writer gets 200+ comments per blog post per day it means you’re a failure if you get two comments a month. This Great Writer didn’t get there overnight. It took time. It takes years. Take Jeff Goins as an example. If you look at his latest posts, you might find his 100+ comments per post intimidating. But visit his archives. Some of his first posts? Two comments a piece. Joanna Penn has a blog that’s been voted one of the top 10 blogs for writers three years in a row, with thousands of followers. Some of her first posts? Zero comments. One thing both writers have in common is that their blogs are user friendly. They encourage readers to comment (and respond when readers do). They share their links on social media … and share other resources … and engage with followers and fans. They have multiple ways for readers to engage. And they keep going .. slowly … steadily … writerly.

So keep going. Share a post. Provide a resource. Ask a question. Give a poll. Remember: You must engage to be engaged. And don’t be discouraged … If you build it, they will come.

Your Turn

What are your goals for reader engagement? Does this post change the way you think of engagement, or affirm it … or do you think I’m wrong? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below (or don’t … after all I just said about commenting, I kind of deserve it)!

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Check out some of these top writer blogs, paying attention to how reader engagement changes over time:

24 comments:

  1. You've managed to share a couple resources I haven't heard of or haven't used, so once again thanks for that! I hadn't heard of Triber (I clicked through to check it out), and the Google comment reminded me that I have a Google account but it's one venue I don't take advantage of.

    Overall, this post is exactly the kind of reflection I've been doing this month. My numbers have grown significantly in the past year, and I feel good that most visitors click through to view more than one page. A couple things that have worked to encourage this: I added a clearer call to action AND call to engagement at the bottom of each post, I take time to go back through older posts to update links and I've added some navigation widgets in the sidebar to make it easier for readers to find special themes.

    As for commenting: when I increase how often I post, my overall hit-numbers increase -- but the quality of interaction seems to go down, as in: I get more quick visits but less engagement from those who used to drop in and visit with me on each of my rarer posts. Hmmm. Mulling that.

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    1. Thank you, Elissa. You've hit on two really important things. First, yes, that call to act/engage can be so important in helping readers feel comfortable with commenting. It's not a guarantee ... but it lets readers know, "Yes, it's okay for you to respond." Second, that issue of frequency of posting: that can sometimes also have a lot to do with reader engagement, in a really tricky way! (It's something we'll be looking at toward the end of this month, actually!) Thanks for the helpful insight and perspective!

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  2. Oops. All that long post and I left off saying, Thank you Khara, for another fabulous post!

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  3. Khara, I am a huge fan of yours! I love the resources that you share. So many interesting things to see and places to go.

    I know that when I visit blogs that I should comment. Sometimes I just don't know what to say. I may like the writing or post but I don't have anything specific to write as a comment. Also, I think that depending upon your content, you could be drawing in an audience that is not used to commenting. I will sometimes get more feedback on facebook about a post than in the comments section.

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    1. Thank you so much, Carol! I think you've touched on something really important, too: that sense that I think a LOT of site visitors have, that it's not that they don't want to respond ... they just might not have, as you said, "anything specific" to say. Those are the times when it's really helpful to have other ways for readers to engage (e.g. that encouragement to share, tweet, like, etc.)!

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    2. I'm really not very good at commenting, but I try to share posts that I enjoy, hoping that will be beneficial for the blogger. I sure hope people do the same for me.

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    3. Kirra, I believe that the sharing is often just as (and sometimes, could be more) important as the commenting. Thanks so much for commenting ... and the work you do to share the work of others!

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  4. Great piece. The end of your blog entry (asking people to connect and asking a question) is the best example of how to engage people. I usually end my posts with questions but I need to repeat the social media info at the bottom.

    The biggest issue I have is that people engage with the blog topic ON social media but never comment on the page. Is that good or bad? How do I get them to comment on the page? I use Blogger, so it should be easy for them to comment if they are logged into a Google account.

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    1. Thanks, Tara! It's hard, really hard ... Especially when that (comments on social media but not the blog) is the "issue"; it's good that they want to engage, and tricky that they aren't engaging where you want them to! :) One thing I tried in the past was telling folks, "That's a great thought ... Can you share that on the post?" or something along those lines.

      (Another thought with Blogger comments: One really tricky thing is if your comment box comes with a CAPTCHA; it wasn't until I turned mine off that folks started to comment more. But there's tons of pros and cons that go with doing that, too.)

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  5. Fantastic post, Khara, as usual.

    I've done a few things (successfully) that have increased engagement, such as putting a widget at the end of each post that says, "If you like this post, you might like these..." as well as a listing in my sidebar of my "Most Popular Posts". I qualify that as successful, b/c a lot of the traffic sources are from within my own blog (kind of creepy, no? Like those cheesy horror films where the operator tells the teenaged girl the call is coming from within the house!). Anyway, I count that as engagement b/c the reader is browsing, and to me that's one form of engagement.

    However, I recently took one giant step away from engagement by adding a humorous tag-line at the end of each post that let readers know I would not be replying to comments. It was just getting to be too much of a time-draw for me to reply to each comment. I do usually write one reply to all comments (generally on the day following the post), but I feel like I'm dissing my readers to not reply individually. I'm hopeful I can find a balance to this (good) problem, b/c it's been a couple months now and it's still not sitting right with me...

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    1. Anne, those are great suggestions you made regarding how you've increased engagement. Having links/widgets/etc. that share other helpful or popular posts is a great way to give readers another way to engage.

      (I'd started a response to the comments you made on commenting but it got really long. If you'd like to discuss it further, though, feel free to shoot me a message!)

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    2. Nooo! Is your message still floating around somewhere? I would love to hear your thoughts. I can do long!

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  6. I'll admit that I do love to get comments. I also pay attention to the numbers. Sometimes, though, when I think no one is even noticing, I'll have someone say, "I always go to your blog when I need to know what to read."

    The other side to this is that I can't expect lots of comments if I never leave any on anyone else's blog. Right? I'm enjoying the dialogue you're establishing here.

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    1. Nancy, you're so right ... Commenting elsewhere is a great way to keep the engagement going. Not only does it make the original author aware of you, but it also gives that author's readers a glimpse of someone else, too. (And what a wonderful feeling, that unexpected yet ever appreciated note of recognition from someone you didn't even know was watching!)

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  7. "Rethink what it means to engage." This is a great quote. The first year of my blog I thought of #'s (subscribers/page views)and didn't have much fun.I was blogging 3-4x a week and the numbers went up little by little.

    The second year I redid the look of the blog, narrowed my focus, rethought content: # of page views tripled, comments increased,had more tweets.

    This is all pretty good (especially since I decreased blogging to 2x a week) but I had minimum increase in subscribers (although I must confess that I don't know how many people subscribe via email).

    Most importantly, I started to have more fun writing and engaging with readers. My goal for the third year is to keep on writing,keep the numbers up, engage with others, and continue to have a good time writing.

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    1. This is a really great story you shared, Monica, and really helpful in terms of how we can benefit from looking at what we're doing (what our focus, purpose, and goals are) with our blogs! Best of luck in your third year!

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  8. Great post Khara. I didn't know anything about triber. I'll check it out. I'm actually amazed and how fast people have found my blog. It's been three years in the making but the first year I ignored it and the second year I put up something like 12 posts. It's in the third year I really took to blogging and am loving it. I suppose it all takes time. Now I'm trying to figure out the fun stuff like blog hops and the linky tool. Time, time, time. I wish I could meet someone who would act as a mentor and say, "here you go, these are the next steps."

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    1. Thank you, Veronica. It's fun when you get to the point of settling into things that work and figuring out what comes next! Best of luck as you figure out what's next for you and your site!

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  9. Khara:

    Much food for thought in this post. Thank you for your thoughtful comments and ideas. You are so right. I have to rethink my strategies and figure out what kind of engagement would make me happy. It does sadden and frustrate me when I take so much time out of my schedule to comment on the blog posts of others but I hardly receive any response, comments, or forwarding of my links in return. It almost doesn't seem fair.

    When I get depressed, though, I quickly remember that this is all a social media game anyway andthat my real life and love is with my family, not with online people who do not care about me or my writing. Probably not the wisest viewpoint to have, but it protects me from relying on social media as the end-all, be-all that everyone seems to think it is.

    I will continue growing my own author platform slowly, and that is the way I prefer it. In the meantime, I'm off to tend to my many writing projects. I'll keep popping by as time permits :)

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    1. Thanks, Amanda. I think it's a great idea to contextualize the world of our sites. I was just reading another article recently about the importance of knowing our audiences; they aren't the people who aren't reading or don't like what we do ... they're the people who want, or like, or need (or whatever) what we're writing and doing.

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  10. i'm assuming you'll be the next jeff goins or robert brewer and i can say i made a comment when... :)

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  11. I'm working on engagement now, after neglecting my blog for so long. This was helpful.

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Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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