The Bloggers Guide to Courting A Long-Term Readership

After some reflection about long-term relationships I felt a post about the subject was in order. One of the biggest mistakes I see bloggers make is trying to "build an audience." Stay with me because that doesn't mean what you probably think it means.

Have you ever thought about all the ways you refer to the people in your life? Just as the term "relative" can hold a more generic connotation than the words "son" or "daughter", so can referring to someone as your "vendor" carry a different weight than a "partner." Bear with me here because this goes beyond mere semantics.

Think about it. "Life-time customers". "Raving fans". "Ad Man"... For most people these are all just surface level descriptions that make it a little bit easier to categorize the world. Yet, how we refer to someone might say nothing about the road they took to get there. "Husband" and "wife" may be just terms but there's a whole lot that went into creating that relationship, isn't there? The labels that we use are an indication of what we hold dear about that person or what that person represents to us within a given context.

Most of us don't go around looking for just customers, audience members, rss feed subscribers. True, there will always be people who remain just numbers in our phone or just subscribers to our blog. That role is self-inflicted, but that doesn't mean you should forget about their basic humanity. Remember that each member of your audience holds the potential to open doors, present you with a critical insight, buy a product and even become a lifelong friend. The point is this: sometimes we inadvertently strip away meaning from the relationship by using the wrong labels to describe them. 

Now that we understand that the labels we use are imbued with specific properties we can psychologically trick ourselves into thinking about our blog "audience" as whole people.

Ever play pretend as a child? I did, a lot. Try a little thought exercise with me. From here on out, I want you pretend that every last blog reader is your next potential boyfriend or girlfriend. If you're married or happily committed, they are your next "best friend."

Let me ask you something. Knowing what you stand to gain, how much further would you go to endear the people you once regarded as "hits" on your website or "subscribers" to your feed to you? Would you ignore their remarks? Would you pick fights and get into pointless arguments over minutiae? Would you stay bland and predictable? Or would you do everything in your power to create a positive vibe and hereby take your audience "off the market" forever?

As a blogger, if you're merely out to get an "audience", then that's exactly what you'll get. The remainder of this article is about going back to the basics of courting people into your life. While the labels we use have been modernized and dressed up to fit life in the 21st century, the process of cultivating long-term relationships hasn't gone through any significant changes since man first said "Hello."

1. Know your type. 

Ignore this first step at your own peril. Trying to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing–to anyone. Whether you refer to them as your "prospect profile", your "ideal client", your "target audience", your "match" or your "mark", the situational reference point has no bearing on your ability to sort what you want from what you don't want. Successful people in business and in life know their "types" – intimately. Only after you know who you're looking for, can you take the steps necessary to meet their demands, wants and needs. On the flip side of the coin, self-awareness is critical to a blog writer because it enables you to determine what you want, and what you are willing to give, in order for your blogging efforts to pay off.

2. Work your existing relationships

Reaching out to family, friends, alumni from your college or university and readers, will provide you all the marketing clout you need to reach your "type". The same applies online when you're trying to attract people to your blog. Ask your acquaintances for introductions. Go where they go. Use time-tested networking principals to find them. If it helps you feel better about relying on your acquaintances this much, think of them as a screen that filters out the relationships you don't want to get involved with. From your subject matter to your writing style, the importance of other perspectives cannot be overstated.

3. Always be closing

A phone number. An email. A commitment to meet at a future date. That's what you do when you hit it off with someone who might be long-term-relationship material. Why wouldn't you afford your future blog readers the same sincere effort? The principal holds equally true for people in any profession. After all, when you hit it off with someone you’re networking with, asking for a business card is just like asking for a number. When you hear an opinion that you connect with, that truly resonates with you, don't you want to get that much closer to the person who said it? Why not reach out to your blog commenters? Who knows what might come of it. Perhaps you can exchange guest blogging opportunities. Just like your next job, you have no idea where your next best reader might come from.

4. Leverage your assets

Play to your strengths. Whether it be your incalculable wit, your intellectual content, your deep reservoir of experiences, don't be afraid to let your uniqueness take center stage. For speakers and expert presenters, it's that rare energy you bring to a room. For bloggers like myself, it's our content, our unique outlook which resonates with our "type". Once you strip away the suits and gloss, it's who you are being that clicks with people. Sometimes your hook can be something as seemingly innocuous as picking the right domain name. If that's an asset, don't just sit on it! The force of attraction is just as powerful in the world of blogging as in the dating scene as in any other realm of human experience.

5. Break the ice

When two people meet for the first time, before any words are exchange, someone has to take the initiative. Might as well be you. Of course, taking the initiative always comes with the uncomfortable risk of putting ourselves out on a limb and getting shot down. But since we're talking about meeting people online, behind a veil of pseudo-anonymity, you really have no excuse not to make the first move! Your ‘About Us’ page should take no prisoners highlighting your value and articulating why your blog is a must-read. There's always more room for more personal disclosures as well. If you can't physically make the first move (someone stumbled upon your website through a search engine), invite them to make the first move with specific instructions on how they can start their relationship with you. There should be easy invitations to connect with you everywhere readers are to be found on your blog.

6. Don't send mixed signals.

The signal to noise ratio is bad enough as it is on the web. The last thing you want is to come across to your prospect as another "me too" self-promoter who sings their own praises to high heaven, when the reality "they've got nothin'." Whatever it is that constitutes your unique voice should cut through the clutter like a hot laser through butter. All of your content and posts should organize around a key idea, core message, or platform of ideas. Gaining a visitor, a subscriber, a customer or a friend, requires that you don't sidetrack them with irrelevancies. Inconsistency + frequency = one recipe you don't want to learn.  As a blogger, it’s crucial to be consistent with your tone. No one wants to be with someone who’s inconsistent in life. No one wants to give their time of day to a blogger who is inconsistent either. If you want to gain a subscriber or a regular visitor, don’t be erratic in your updates. Stay on-point with your blog posts and in your comments and, most of all, be sincere. 

7. Show confidence

You gotta be, uh, smooth with your, umm… pick up lines, you know. Using filler words in your writing makes you seem distracted and unprepared. When you’re confident about your subject matter, it will help you build trust with your readers. Talk like you mean it. Write like you mean it. Don't ever parse words for the grammar nazis and feel free to unabashedly tell it like it is. 

8. Don't talk smack about your 'Ex'. 

Pretty much nobody wants to hear about how you royally failed in your past relationships. Period. Although it might seem like it would make great content for your blog, it usually doesn't. A rare exception can be made for "lesson's learned" but generally those stories aren't going to focus on just what you did wrong but on where you've endeavored to accomplish something and failed. No one wants to be around a serial whiner and you put yourself in the awkward position of appearing that way after one too many whines. By the same token, no one needs to know your reasons for playing the proverbial field in your career. Keep it positive.

9. Don't be a runaway bride or groom. 

Do not commit to blogging until you're absolutely sure it's something you want to do. Don't make promises to your audience you can't keep. It should go without saying you should give your blog's content and subject matter some serious forethought before you start making promises to your readership. Just like two people entering into a marital promise, this takes copious planning. Be absolutely sure you know what you're committing to in advance to avoid backing out or abandoning the blog three months later, burned, drained and full of regret. Anything less is a disservice yourself and your readers.

10. Build a life together

The simpatico that arises when people put their heads together is no less real in the realm of blogging, than it is in the affairs of people. The blogger-audience dynamic, like any relationship, is a two-way street. Both sides must give to get. Can you imagine how long you'll keep at it without some sort of response from other people? So you can understand why it's super important to invite feedback and advice from your readers. Deep down, you need their input to motivate you, inform your subject matter and validate your identity as a blogger. To discourage feedback from your audience is to squander the efforts you've already made.

Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
— Rick, in the film "Casablanca" (1942)

You tell me – Will this post get me to second base?

By now, you've probably noticed that this advice has parallels in any act of relationship-building. A blog post. An ad. A keynote presentation. All marketing relies on the same basic building blocks to start your relationships off on the right track. Because at the center of marketing is a commitment to serve. Stick to these things and I promise a beautiful friendship is bound to develop between you and your blog readers.