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Overheard on #Blogchat: Your Tribe (@KarlaAntelli)

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Do you participate in #blogchat? Every week, this weekly discussion on Twitter focuses on a specific topic and bloggers everywhere are invited to join in. Because I often have more to say than what will fit in 140 characters, every Sunday night (or Monday morning), I post about some of the most interesting #blogchat tweets. Join the conversation by commenting below.

(Still confused? Read more about #blogchat here.)

This week’s theme: creating a strategy for your blog

Because this week’s theme was pretty broad, we talked about a myriad of strategy-related topics during #blogchat, but one came up again and again throughout the night – as a new blogger, how does one gain readers and build a community? For that question, I love the following advice:

@KarlaAntelli: take care of your “apostles”, send them an email, ask about them write on their wall or tweet or just generally pay attention

Unless you’re already well-known in your niche for some reason, when you start blogging, you’re not going to have many readers. You’ll get some traffic from search engines, and you’ll also be able to build your subscriber numbers through social media, guest posts, social bookmarking, etc., but the fact remains that it takes awhile to get some traction.

The first sign that you’re getting somewhere is often that you’ll have a fan or two who is always there for you. They retweet nearly all your links. They comment on all of your posts. They want to write guest posts for you, despite your lack of huge traffic numbers. These are your apostles. Show them some love!

This is a place where I’ve fallen flat in the past, and that’s a mistake I’m trying not to make here at BlogWorld or – more importantly – at my own blog, After Graduation. On one of my past blogs, I had this one fan who was there every single day without fail. She commented over and over again on posts I wrote. Personally…well…it wasn’t that I didn’t like her, but I didn’t care for her blog. Because I wasn’t a fan of her site, I didn’t make an effort to interact with her on mine. She stuck around for a good long while, to her credit, but eventually, she disappeared.

I don’t blame her at all.

You don’t need to read your readers’ blogs. It pays to check them out, because you might find a blog that you love, but most readers aren’t actively trying to become a part of your community because they want you to read their blog posts. Sure, they would love that, but if you don’t, they’ll still be on your blog. They’re there because they like you already, whether you’re a reader of theirs or not. They like learning from you. They like interacting with you. They like telling others about you.

They’re your tribe.

Reward your tribe – your “apostles” – by showing an interest in what they have to say as part of your community. No one’s forcing you to interact with them outside your community if you don’t want to, but if you ignore them in your space, you’re not saying, “I don’t like your blog.” You’re saying, “I don’t care that you read mine.” And that’s a feeling no one wants. Eventually, people will leave.

It’s like inviting everyone to your home for a party and then ignoring half of your guests because you don’t want to go to their party. Giving your tribe some love is not saying that you want to have a sleepover at their house. It’s just saying, “Thank you for being here at mine.”

Overheard on #Blogchat: The Next Level (@tc_geeks)

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Do you participate in #blogchat? Every week, this weekly discussion on Twitter focuses on a specific topic and bloggers everywhere are invited to join in. Because I often have more to say than what will fit in 140 characters, every Sunday night (or Monday morning), I post about some of the most interesting #blogchat tweets. Join the conversation by commenting below.

(Still confused? Read more about #blogchat here.)

This week’s theme: taking your blog to the next level

This week’s #blogchat theme was an interesting one, since “taking your blog to the next level” can mean different things to different people. For some, it means more traffic. For others, it means more subscribers. For others still, it means more money. But whatever your goals, one chatter tonight hit the nail on the head:

tc_geeks: How to take your blog to the next level????? Start coming to #blogchat for starters 😉

Some shameless #blogchat promotion? Perhaps, but also a good lesson. Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in our own blogs that we forget about the rest of the community out there. As a professional blogger, you essentially have two communities:

  1. The community of bloggers, like you’ll find at #blogchat, who can help you learn more about making your blog better
  2. The community of readers, who are highly interested in your nice and want to connect with you outside of just commenting on your blog posts

Spending too much time inside your own blog closes you off to both of these communities, which is definitely a bad thing.

First, if you ignore the blogging community, its hard to grow as a blogger. Sure, you can stumble into building an awesome blog, but bloggers of all experience levels with really awesome ideas are out there…and they want to help you. #Blogchat is a prime example of that. No one pays anyone to show up or answer questions. We just all do – and we all learn something in the process. It’s a beautiful thing. If you’re ignoring that community, it will be infinitely harder to take your blog to the next level.

But secondly, what you can take away from tc_geeks’ tweet is that you need to connect with your community outside of your blog. Find Twitter chats where they participate. Find them on Facebook. Find them on forums. Find them so you can connect and be “one of the people.” On your blog, you’re an expert. Outside of that, you may still be an expert, but you’re also a member of the community. Step down from your blogging throne and understand your readers by being one of them.

One of the best decisions I’ve made as a blogger was to start participating in #blogchat. It helps me learn about blogging, and my target audience (at least here at BlogWorld) happens to be bloggers, so I’m killing two birds with one stone. Sometimes, getting away from your blog is the very best thing you can do to improve your content and create a better community.

Keeping Your Veterans Happy

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Every community has veteran members – those who have been around since the very beginning. Your veterans are often the backbone of the community. They were there through the rough times, when you were just getting started, and they’ll often be some of your biggest supporters, even when others are disgruntled. A good group of veteran community members can actually be the biggest asset to your community. They’ll answer questions, help newbies, and promote your site.

But sometimes, veteran members lose their sh*t. I’ve seen it happen. You’ve seen it happen. Occasionally, someone blows up out of anger or frustration, and when it’s a veteran member, you’re in a pickle.

“The most challenging situations I deal with are not spammers. They’re not new people. The most challenging situation I deal with is when a veteran member loses it.” – Patrick O’Keefe

At BlogWorld 2010, Patrick O’Keefe, Chris Garrett, Lara Kulpa, and moderator Jeremy Wright presented “Building An Irresistible Private Membership Community,” and one of the topics they discussed was the problem of the veteran member who goes rogue.

There are two things to consider when dealing with this type of situation:

  1. You need to deal with all members equally and fairly.
  2. You don’t want to offend your biggest fans.

The first consideration is extremely important if you want your community to grow. Whether you have a paid membership community or a free community, if you allow certain members to break community rules with no consequences, other members won’t have a lot of faith in the community as a whole. It’s like when we were kids and a sibling got away with doing something bad but we got punished. It makes your community members feel like there’s a top-level clique that they aren’t a part of…and no one likes feeling like they aren’t cool enough to be included in someone’s little circle.

Applying the rules fairly includes ensuring that you are following the rules along with anyone else. Chris said something spot-on, in my opinion, regarding application of rules: “A key thing is to lead from the front.” If you have a no-cursing comment policy, don’t start dropping the f-bomb every two words. If you have a no-self-promotion policy on your forums, don’t create a thread specifically to pimp out your new ebook. The rules of your community apply to everyone, including you.

The second point though? Veteran members feel a sense of entitlement, and although it can get out hand, some of those feelings are justified. At the end of the day, they are the people who helped you build your community. They feel almost as possessive of the community as you do. Often, they’re just trying to protect what they think they have, whether that means rebelling against a new policy/feature or going off on a member they consider to be undesirable. Very rarely does a veteran member do something that is malicious, in my opinion.

So, when dealing with a rogue veteran, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Give them the benefit of the doubt. Allow your members to explain themselves and voice concerns to you privately before some kind of public ban or smack-down.
  • Approach them in an understanding way to avoid them feeling like they need to be on the defense. You want to be on their side!
  • Wait before you reply when the situation is emotional. Write your comment, email, etc. but wait an hour or two before you send it. Sometimes, when we have a moment to calm down, we realize that our emotions were running high. If you send an attacking message because you’re emotional, you may regret it later.
  • Listen! Veteran members aren’t stupid, and if they’re upset about something, there’s a good chance that they represent how others are feeling as well. One vocally upset member doesn’t justify suddenly changing how things are done with your community, but try to listen to your members’ concerns and address them.

When you do have to deal with a situation where a member isn’t following your rules, make sure you document the situation carefully. Take screenshots, save messages, and otherwise ensure that you have proof that someone was breaking your community rules. That way, if comments/posts get edited, deleted, or otherwise changed, you have a back-up of what really happened.

Thanks to Patrick, Chris, Lara, and Jeremy for a great BlogWorld panel!

Your Content is Not Your Reader’s Responsibility

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Earlier this week, Boing Boing picked up a story about The North Country Gazette, a little newspaper from upstate New York. The paper, I suppose upset that local subscription sales were declining, decided to take a really classy approach to making more money: threatening website readers.

Right now, the website is asking for an administrator’s password, so I’m guessing they’re either going offline or making some updates, but prior to this, a notice in red lettering was found on the sidebar of every post:

We allow you to read one article for free – this one that you’re on. Thereafter, to read more or to return later, a subscription is needed. Please don’t abuse the privilege. To subscribe, see the ad to the right. We provide a service to you, we deserve to be paid for it.

Let’s not even talk about the comma splice in the last paragraph. Let’s focus on the actual message they’re sending to readers. It would be like giving someone a book and saying, “But only read the introduction! After that, if you want to keep reading, send us money. We deserve to get paid for it, and we’re counting on you to do the right thing.”

It’s laughable. The content on your website/blog is never the reader’s responsibility. This isn’t a matter of wanting to get paid for your work. I fully support writers who decide they want to only offer their content to premium members who pay for access.

But if that’s the choice you make, you have to set up a premium access section of your website.

It’s not difficult. Frankly, if your webmaster can’t do it fairly easily, he or she should be fired. Requiring your readers to work on the honor system is just silly though. Actually, it’s downright rude.

Worse still is the subscription message following the previous message:

Subscription Required

Posted on Monday, 18 October, 2010 at 6:59 am

A subscription is required at North Country Gazette. We allow only one free read per visitor. We are currently gathering IPs and computer info on persistent intruders who refuse to buy subscription and areengaging in a theft of services. We have engaged an attorney who will be doing a bulk subpoena demand on each ISP involved, particularly Verizon Droids, Frontier and Road Runner, and will then pursue individual legal actions.

Again with the grammatical errors!

This message clearly tells me that either 1) they in no way hired a lawyer and are lying to readers or 2) they have possibly the worst lawyer in the history of lawyers. Their argument basically boils down to:

“Judge! We put information on the Internet and people read it! We warned them not to read our site, but they still did! WE DESERVE MONEY!”

What a joke.

I mean, let me get this straight. Rather than spending a hundred bucks or so, tops, to set up a private membership site, they’re going to hire a lawyer to collect IP address information via a court order to ISPs and then individually sue all those people for…what? A $30 subscription fee to their newspaper?

I think there’s an important lesson for bloggers here in that we can’t expect content we provide for free to earn money for us. You can put up ads, encourage readers to make affiliate purchases, or even create your own products for sale, but at the end of the day, if you’re making information available for free, as most of us are, you need to be at peace with the fact that some people simply want the free content. You don’t deserve to get paid for it. You’re only entitled to money when you make something available as premium content. Anything else you earn is a happy bonus, so remember to say thank you to your readers.

If this newspaper had an sort of community before, it likely doesn’t anymore. This is a problem I’m seeing with many print publications and businesses in general – not understanding how publishing online, social media, and community building works. The world is changing. It’s no longer about talking at a reader. There needs to be a conversation.

I’m hoping that the current take-down of the North Country Gazette website means that they’ve hired a community manager or someone else with online public relations experience to help them update their policies and understand the Internet community. It’s something every business should consider.

(Hat top to Amber Avines for tweeting about this story, which brought it to my attention!)

Acting as Your Community’s Referee

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No matter what your niche, you’re always going to have community members who don’t agree with one another. Sometimes, it can get personal and nasty. I see this most often in forums, but if you don’t have forums on your website, you may see disputes popping up in your comments section, or even on social networking sites. Too often, bloggers are asked to serve as a community referee.

The trick is that you want to make all readers feel welcome and able to express their opinions while still diffusing a volatile situation. When two members (or groups) of a community are hashing it out, other members, especially new people who are coming to your site for the first time, may feel like outsiders. They don’t comment because they don’t want to be attacked or take sides in any way. Being a community ref is essential to building readership. Otherwise, you’re fostering a really negative atmosphere on your blog.

At the same time, too much moderation can also be a problem. If you delete comments or forum posts from your more vocal members, you run the risk of killing your community fairly quickly. No one wants to be part of a website where they can’t speak their mind. That’s part of what blogging is all about – interaction and opinion.

Keeping all of that in mind, here are a few tips you can use to successfully ref your community:

  • Have a clear comment/forum policy. Readers should be aware if you’re going to delete or edit their comments because they’re inappropriate. Your policy could include things like “no name calling” and “no using the f-word.” Make sure your policy fits in the spirit of the site.
  • Talk to community members before a ban. Banning someone from commenting or posting in the forums might be for the best if they’re disrupting the entire community. Before you do so, however, reach out to that individual with your concerns. Make sure you explain what they’re doing that you don’t like (for example, calling another member an idiot), and ask them to clean up their act. Give them a chance to do so.
  • Close comments if the debate gets too heated. Sometimes, two sides just talk in circles, which just wastes everyone’s time. Consider closing comments if things start to get nasty, but make sure you update your post with a note about why you’ve done so. This should be a last resort!
  • Invite the two members to a debate. When the whole Thesis vs. WordPress crap was going on a few months ago, the leaders of both sides were invited to a one-on-one debate. It definitely diffused the situation a little and allowed both sides to give clear statements on their opinions without name-calling.
  • Avoid taking sides. It’s your blog, so you should make your opinion known, but avoid taking sides in an us-vs-them type of way. Make every effort so understand and acknowledge the other person’s point of view, even if you don’t agree. Don’t lose readers because you get caught up in the drama of having to be right.
  • Be consistent with your policies. If you’re going to delete/edit comments, posts, etc. or go as far as to ban people, make sure you’re doing it to everyone who breaks the rules. Be fair, not playing favorites because you agree with someone’s position or they are a long-time reader.

Luckily, most communities are pretty self-regulated. In the vast majority of niches, you don’t often have to act as a ref simply because communities won’t engage sometime who is antagonizing everyone else. If you need to, though, don’t back own. You’ll build a strong community by serving as a ref, not by ignoring the problem.

Overheard on #Blogchat: The Squeaky Wheel (@BillBoorman)

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Yep, I’m a day late with Overheard on #Blogchat this week. I was at an 80s-themed bachelorette party, so I had a good reason!

Do you participate in #blogchat? Every week, this weekly discussion on Twitter focuses on a specific topic and bloggers everywhere are invited to join in. Because I often have more to say than what will fit in 140 characters, every Sunday night, I post about some of the most interesting #blogchat tweets. Join the conversation by commenting below.

(Still confused? Read more about #blogchat here.)

This week’s theme: Open mic!

Mama Boyer has a saying: ” The squeaky wheel gets the grease!” She usually says this in regards to complaining about something. If you don’t speak up, no one will fix your problem. My mom is someone you can count on tell you if service is bad.

Reading over the #blogchat transcript, since I wasn’t able to attend last night, this stood out to me, making my think of my mom’s saying:

@BillBoorman: 95% of your audience will never interact. Dont be swayed by only the noisy ones

Not every reader on your blog is going to be a squeaky wheel. Usually, people are outspoken when they’re feeling an emotional extreme – like anger from disagreeing with what you have to say. Of course, emotions can be positive as well, but every time you write a blog post, only a small percentage of people will actually comment.

That doesn’t mean you should listen to them, necessarily. You want to help your readers as much as possible, but at the same time, it is important to keep in mind that the readers giving you feedback only make up a small percentage of all the readers visiting your blog. If you want to create the best blog with the most active community possible, you have to consider the needs of all of your readers.

That’s the tricky part. If someone isn’t a squeaky wheel, how can you give them the grease?

  1. Consider polling your readers. Often, people aren’t enticed enough to leave a comment, but they will click on a poll choice to help make their voice heard.
  2. Check out what pages are most visited. Don’t just look at entry pages, since the top pages on this list are likely optimized for search engines well or were linked by people to drive traffic. Instead, look at which other posts people are visiting an how long they’re spending on these specific posts.
  3. Run some tests. See if your traffic numbers spike or dip with a new theme, for example. Even though readers aren’t talking, they’re voting with their visits.

The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but a blogger knows that all of the wheels on the cart deserve some attention. Don’t ignore the huge number of readers you have who are lurking in the shadows.

Tag You're It! – Why Tagging Your Content Is Important

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Tag You're It

If I have said it once I have said it a thousand times, “We live in a Google world.”  It is true, we don’t order Chinese food, find directions to the store, or stalk old girlfriends without using Google.  Being findable in this world is important if you are trying to be found.  Businesses especially must pay attention to how their customers can find them.  Keywords and key phrases are how that is accomplished through the use of meta tags or just tags.

Tags are a keyword associated with content attached to it.  If you want people to read your latest blog post on how to wash a cat, you have to determine how they would look for that content and attach that key word or phrase to it.

The same rule applies to your content as a publisher whether it be a blog, a podcast, video or even your photos.  We often put pictures into our posts that we find which we feel are relevant to our content, the title or completely off the wall for that matter.  We find those pictures at places like flickr, istockphoto, and yes, Google image search.  We enter a keyword into the search function of those sites to find a picture for the content.

In addition to being searchable or findable, it also has the effect of increasing traffic to your content and makes the content watched, seen and readable.  One of the things that I do on a regular basis is to search out and find anyone that mentions BlogWorld & New Media Expo.  You can imagine all the different variations of that and the number of tags used to describe our event.  This is also why we like people that use a common tag.  The most used tag last year was of course “BWE09” and this year we are urging everyone to use “BWE10”.  This allows us a quick reference to your blog post, your picture on your photo sharing site, your podcast and your YouTube (owned of course by Google) or other videos. A YouTube search with “blog world” returns 234,000 results.  We all know it may be difficult for me to look at that many videos.  Using a tag like BWE10 focuses the searcher into your content. A similar search with BWE09 allows me the benefit of watching less that 150 videos.

If your content is well done and is something we need to share with our community, we find and share it.  This in turn increases the readers, listeners, or viewers of your content.  We are still pouring over the content generated as a result of the 2009 event in October, I am finding new content daily and still trying to read all of it.  As we grow and get bigger and have more content generated it is going to be tougher to find your content and thereby making it even more important for you to tag appropriately.

For the upcoming show in 2010 we are asking everyone to tag your content “BWE10”  If you Tweet that hashtag, put that in your post, attach it to your videos, photos and podcasts, I’ll be there to say hello.  If it is something that needs to be shared with the thousands of people in our community, we’ll do so and increase your traffic and readership.  If I miss something because I couldn’t find it, your content may never get discovered and broadcast further.  We are listening and we are paying attention to what is being said. Tag your content!

Photo Via SD_Kirk

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