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Oprah: “Know Your Viewer”


This morning, MSNBC was on the television in the background as I was doing some work, and Oprah was one of the guests on Morning Joe. I wasn’t really paying attention to the interview, but I did catch something that she said that made me want to shout, “YES!” She was talking about why she became so successful and why she has been so successful for so long. I didn’t jot it down word for word, but it essentially boiled down to this:

Oprah is her audience. More so than even her produces or other staff members, she is able to put herself in the shoes of her audience members, so she can give them what they want. Above all, if you want to be successful, you have to know your viewer.

Pretty good advice, right? I would go a step farther and say that you have to be your viewer (or, in the case of bloggers, reader). If you wouldn’t read your content, if you find it boring and repetitive, if you are left with feelings of “meh,” why should anyone else care?

For a long time, one of the mistakes I made as a blogger was that I tried to emulate other successful blogs, even though these were blogs that I didn’t necessarily read for whatever reason. I wrote posts that were certainly informative and sometimes even interesting, but they lacked passion and style – and that showed. I wasn’t interested in being a member of my own community, so others weren’t really interested either.

So I took a good look at my blog and thought, “What would I want to read if I came to this blog?” And I started writing that, even though it was personal and goofy and unlike what a lot of the more successful blogs in my niche were doing, I’ve seen more growth since taking this approach in a month than I had in the six months prior combined. I became a member of my audience, and suddenly, I actually had an audience.

I think this can be difficult to do, since what is most relevant in our own lives is…well…our own lives. Sometimes, bloggers tend to get too personal. This is where I think Oprah reigns it in well where other talk show hosts *cough*Tyra-Banks*cough* fail. Oprah does tell her personal story when relevant, but she doesn’t lose site of the point of her show – to help the viewer and guests. She doesn’t just get up on a stage every day and talk about her herself. If you want to do that, have a hobby blog. But on your tech blog or your political blog or your fashion blog, we don’t need to know that your kid is sick and you’re planning on having tuna for lunch. Otherwise, you may be a member of your own audience, but you’ll be the only member!

Still, it pays to take some time to read your own blog and ask yourself this question: “If I didn’t write this, would I be a regular reader?” It’s a hard question to answer sometimes, because we don’t want to admit that the answer is no. Think about how successful Oprah has become, though. She might not be a blogger, but she certainly understands community and building a following. If her biggest piece of advice for success is “become a member of your own audience,” I’m going to take it!

Photo: Alan Light

Crowdsourcing to Find Interviewees for Your Blog


Crowdsourcing is a term I’m seeing creep up more and more among bloggers. Basically, it means going to your community to solve a problem or complete a task of some sort, making your job easier. It also allows you to do a better job, in many cases, since you’re drawing from the experiences and opinions of an entire group, rather than yourself.

One of the best ways you can crowdsource is to find people to interview for your blog.

Most people love to be interviewed. It’s human nature to want to give your opinion, and by agreeing to be interviewed, you’re getting free promotion for your own blog or projects. Win-win.

But, as a busy blogger, it can be time-consuming to find people to interview. The most popular bloggers in your niche are often too busy to respond to interview requests and although new bloggers typically readily respond to interview requests, you also want to make sure that the person is actually doing something that is interesting to your readers.

This is where crowdsourcing comes into play. The inspiration for this post was something my friend Andy told me was going on at the Matador Network – a call for nominations for their new series, Breaking Free. It’s an awesome opportunity for people who have quit their 9-to-5 jobs to move overseas and do something new and interesting, and there are certainly tons of people in this world who qualify. But rather than spending hundreds or even thousands of hours looking for these people, Matador turned to there community. Not only are they going to get some awesome nominations, but they’re probably going to find people they would otherwise have never found. (Including you? Go apply!)

The point is that by crowdsourcing, you can find tons of interesting people that you would have never found otherwise – and at least one member of your community is already raising his/her hand and saying “I want to see an interview with this person. I would read it and likely promote the post via social media.” As an added bonus, you spent next to no time finding these interesting people for your blog.

Another great example of crowdsourcing? Recently, right here at the BlogWorld blog, our own Deb Ng wrote a post asking for your BlogWorld 2011 speak recommendations. As of right now, there are over 60 comments on that post, most with 5+ recommendations, and I expect we’ll see even more recommendations in the coming weeks. Of course, BlogWorld goes out there to find people who would make great speakers that may have been missed in the comments session, but just look at all those awesome people! There were people not on BlogWorld’s radar, and it also confirms what the community wants for the people who were.

The moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to ask your community for recommendations. Interviews are an awesome addition not matter what your niche, and crowdsourcing is definitely one of the best ways to find new contacts.

How to Be a Fly on the Wall: Three Ways to Find Out What Your Readers Really Think


Given the name of this post, I wanted to have a picture of a fly. But ew, close up pictures of flies are nasty. Butterfly instead!

I think it is part of the human experience to wonder what other people think about us. For bloggers, keeping a finger on the pulse of  your readers is important if you’re trying to make money or increase your readership. If you get few comments, however, it is hard to know what people really think about you. Even if your community is vocal, its often the most violently upset or emotionally moved that comment, so you may only be seeing the extremes.

Figuring out what your readers really think about you and your blog is essential to community management, though. You can only best serve your readers if you know what they like and dislike. Here are some ways that I’ve found you can be a fly on the wall and get a bit of honest information about what your readers are thinking:

1. Set up a Google Alert for your name.

People mention other people all the time, but just because someone talks about you doesn’t mean that they link back to your site. Or, they could link to your homepage, so you don’t get the ping, but they don’t send a ton of traffic your way, so you don’t notice a spike and figure out where it’s coming from either. Google Alerts isn’t a perfect method, but it will help you see where people are mentioning you. Often, if they aren’t talking about you on your site, such as they would in the comments section of a post, they speak more freely about their thoughts about you be prepared for both positive and negative comments!

Also, avoid telling people that you found out something they said because you were googling yourself. It still sounds creepy, even if we all do it.

2. Check out what Twitter lists you’re on.

One of my favorite things to do is to see how other people have me categorized on Twitter. You’ll likely see a ton of people listing you according to your niche (such as on a list called “food bloggers” or “writers”), but you’ll be amazed with just how creative people can get with list names – and those names are telling. Are people calling you a teacher or guru or expert? That’s an awesome sign. Are people constantly listing you as something you’re not? You might be giving off the wrong impression. For example, it would be awesome to be on a list called “blogging authorities” if you blog about blogging. Not so awesome to be on that same list if you talk more about social media than you do about blogging tips. And if lots of people have you listed as someone who blogs about blogging, but your site is mainly about pets or dating or fashion or gardening or whatever? Well, perhaps you should reevaluate the links you’re sharing on Twitter and your tweets, because you might not be reaching the right audience.

As of right now, here are some of my favorite names for lists I’m on: “keepers” (D’awwwww), “too-legit-2-quit” (word.), “geeky-girls-like-me” (sad, but true), “boobbrigade” (love it), “midnight-snack” (no idea…but I’ll take it.)

3. When you comment somewhere, subscribe to follow-ups.

People are often more vocal about your opinions when it isn’t on your site, and if you don’t have a ton of traffic, leaving comments on others’ sites is a great way to get some feedback about your ideas (as long as you’re actually adding to the conversation in a relevant way, not just spamming a popular site because you want attention). But often, we leave passionate comments and forget to actually check if there were any responses! Don’t be afraid to subscribe to follow-up comments on websites if you say something passionate. Worried about getting too many emails? Bookmark the site. I keep a bookmark folder of the last ten places I left comments. When I comment somewhere new, I bump the oldest one so the list always stays manageable, and at the end of the day, I check over these posts to see if I got any responses.

Ok, those are my best three tricks for finding out what people really think of you and your blog so you can better manage your own community – what are your best tricks?

30 Days to a Better Blog: End With a Question


30 Days to a Better Blog: End With a Question

Today’s tip is surprisingly simple. Want to know the best and fastest way to encourage readers to leave a comment and start a dialogue? Ask them a question (or series of questions) at the bottom of the post!

People love to talk about themselves, so by giving them an open invitation to write, they’ll probably do it. As long as the question is personable and easy to answer. Sample questions include:

  • Have you ever had this experience?
  • Do you have any other tips?
  • Do you share the same opinion?
  • Did you try the steps above, and how did it work out?
  • Do you have a story to share?
  • Have you … read the book? tried the recipe? worn this style?

As always, I’ll remind you to respond to your comments and thank them for writing!

What kind of questions do you ask your readers?

Image Source: SXC

Controlling the Chatter: Why Moderation is Okay with Me


If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times: “You can’t please everyone.” Most blog have a wide range of readers, and that advice becomes especially pertinent when handing out some kind of blogging award, writing an emotionally-charged post, or responding to a comment or blog post with an opposite opinion. Soon, the community starts to do what I call “chattering.” Some people bicker, most people are respectful, and a lot of great discussion happens.

Chatter is awesome. It’s more than just comments. It’s conversation. When your readers start responding to one another, sharing ideas, and checking back to reply to new comments, that’s chatter. You’ve engaged your audience to the point where they’ve not only felt the need to leave a comment, but they want to have a discussion about it. When this happens, people start to take more possession in the post and tend to tweet it or spread it through other means. Like I said, chatter is awesome.

But that chatter needs to be controlled.

I know that some bloggers take the approach that any comment, as long as it isn’t spam, will get published on their site. I respect that approach to blogging, but it’s one that I don’t always use on my own blog. I definitely depends on your niche and on your readers, but no matter what, I think that this approach on a blog can get out of hand in a hurry.

I’ve seen it happen before. One time, I read a post that was highlighting a major problem in the writing industry. The author called out a particular company that hires a lot of freelancers, and of course workers who were fans of that company flocked to the blog post to defend it. On the other side of things, people who felt they had been wronged in some way by this company, as the author had, were leaving comments that were just as emotional. The chatter slowly took a turn for the worst, and what was productive conversation devolved into name-calling and snark.

Even before that point, though, I believe that the conversation needed some control.

See, the people weren’t really saying anything new anymore. It was just this exchange of “yah huh!” and “nuh uh!” back and forth, which led to the more belligerent comments. By the time I read the post for the first time, there were over 50 comments, and while the first several made good points, I had to force myself to keep reading after a point. As a reader, it got boring to me.

And that’s lesson number one. You can’t control what people say, but you can stop the conversation from getting boring. When people start to say the same things over and over again, jump in there! Ask questions via replies, encouraging the comments to take a new spin and evolve, rather than plateauing. I think Jade Craven is doing a fabulous job at this on her 40 Bloggers to Watch in 2011 post – she’s jumping into the comments and responding to people to encourage the conversation to evolve beyond “your post is awesome” or “your post is crap.”

In the particular comments section that I mentioned, the comments got mean. At that point, the blogger chose to close the comments, which I’m not sure was the right decision. People still wanted to discuss. There were just a few bad apples who forgot how to act like like adults. Before she closed the comments, I did have something to say, but I was too intimidated because I saw others being attacked, and the blogger just let it happen.

That’s lesson number two. Don’t let members of your community get attacked! I don’t just mean people who comment often or follow you on Twitter or something. Every reader, even the lurker, is a member of your community, and when they leave a comment, even one that disagrees with you, they deserve respect. And that’s your job – to ensure that they get it.

Something that we forget: Freedom of speech does not mean that you have to allow anyone to leave a comment on your site. I actual advocate having a comment policy and then editing any comment that does not adhere to your policy. For example, you could say in your policy, “Disagreeing is encouraged, but name-calling is not.” Then, simply edit the bad comment to have “This comment was removed due to its language. Check out our comment policy and feel free to leave a second comment that adheres to these community rules! -Editor”

A message like that tells me that the blogger cares about me and wants everyone to feel comfortable leaving a comment on the post.

Lastly, keep in mind that you can reach out to commenters via email. I do this when one of the long-term members of my community leaves a comment that is emotionally charged or gets attacked by other commenters. I don’t want one post where we disagree or another commenter to mean that the person stops coming to my blog. Reaching out shows that person that you’ve noticed them and that you care about their opinion. Individual attention is awesome!

12 Days of Blogging 2010


Here at BlogWorld, we value the community above all else. Without you coming to the event every year, there would be no event. The hard work everyone on the BlogWorld staff puts into making the event a success would be for nothing if no one showed up! Whether you’re a sponsor, speaker, attendee, or BlogWorld blog reader hoping to make it to the event someday, you’re important to this event.

As a way to say thank you, and give you as much value as possible in the weeks leading up to the end of the year, I’m introducing something new here on the BlogWorld blog – and hey, maybe it will even become our little family tradition! I’m calling it the 12 Days of Blogging, and every day, you’ll get a post filled to the brim with links to tips from some of the best bloggers around the world. Some of these names you may recognize. Others will probably be brand new to you. Either way, there will be are over 75 100 bloggers featured as part of this series!

What do you have to look forward to?

12 Writers Writing
11 Tweeters Tweeting
10 Guests a-Posting
9 SEOers Optimizing
8 Affiliates Selling
7 Facebook Users Updating
6 Launchers Launching
5 Golden Rules
4 Podcasting Hosts
3 Ebook Tips
2 Ethics Debates
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree (FREE EBOOK)

And here’s the key thing to remember: I want you to leave comments on ALL of these posts with links to your own blogs. Try as I might, I can’t know about all the cool stuff going on across the ‘net, so I’m relying on you all to help me out! Every day, you’re invited to leave links to any post you have that is relevant to the topic of the day – and I’m hoping you’ll take full advantage of this opportunity to promote your own work!

Whether you get involved or not, I hope you find this series helpful. Thanks for spending even a small part of this holiday season with me here at the BlogWorld blog!

Happy Holidays from me and G, my attention whore cat who insisted in being in this picture. 🙂

Overheard on #Blogchat: Customer Need (@BeckyMcCray)


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: how small businesses can use blogs with co-host @BeckyMcCray

Though tonight’s co-host, the fabulous Beck McCray (who I met at BlogWorld for a hot minute), had a bunch of awesome tips for bloggers, one in particular that I wanted to highlight is this:

@BeckyMcCray: Huge key for small biz blogs: Focus on what customers want to know, not what you want to tell them about your business.

This is so important, and not just for small business blogs. It’s important for all of us as bloggers to ask ourselves, “What does the reader want?”

Blogs can be a great promotional tool, but where I see so many go wrong is in being too much about the writer and not enough about the reader. Being a bit self-indulgent is fine, but if you have twenty posts in a row about events your company has held, chances are that your reader is going to start to get a bit board. We get it. Your business is awesome and likes to support causes and organizations in the community. We don’t need yet another post about your Relay for Life team or the Girl Scout troop camping trip you’re sponsoring.

Instead, what problems can you fix for your readers (who are your customers – or at least have that potential to be your customers)? If you run a hair salon, could you teach me ten tips for de-frizzing my hair? If you run a bakery could you teach me a new recipe I can use at home? If you run a retail store, could you teach me which television best fits my family’s needs?

Remember, this isn’t just for the small business. Go a step further and actually ask your readers what they want. Maybe they don’t need tips on de-frizzing hair. Maybe they’re more interested in prom updo trends for next season. You can poll your readers, respond to comments you receive, or even add an “ask a question” function on your blog. Just because you like to write about a certain topic doesn’t mean that’s what your readers want to read from you.

At least…not every day. It is still your blog, so it makes sense to write when you feel passionate about a topic. If your blog is a business of its own or you’re using a blog to help promote your business, though, remember that your readers/customers need to have a little possession in your blog’s content. Otherwise, they’ll never truly be a part of your community.

Overheard on #Blogchat: Your Tribe (@KarlaAntelli)


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)


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


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!

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