I believe that the audience is an integral part of any artist′s performance. In the case of a writer (or specifically, the blogger), the readers play this role. Any blogger who says that they don’t care about readers, has to be lying. If you didn’t care, you’d write in a private diary, not on a website visible to the whole connected world! So you can see why a blogger needs to establish a tangible connection with his/her readers. A good blogger ensures that his/her content is fresh, top-quality and recent. A great blogger goes the extra mile by thinking about how to make the blog, a real experience for the reader.
The tricky thing about being a blogger is that you can never completely know your audience. Not only can you not read their minds (ask anyone who has spent hours labouring over a post and received no comments while the next post shot off in ten minutes, gets favorited, shared, liked and commented around like the next penicillin!)… you can’t even tell exactly who is reading you! Lurkers lurk for a number of reasons.
Anonymity/privacy concerns leave you not much to do and you’ll just have to respect that some people just will prefer to stay in the shadows, no matter how interested they are. On the other hand, you can always make an effort to assuage any other issues your readers may have. Tech issues could be preventing your readers from commenting. Keep your communication channels open by allowing your visitors several ways to contact you and let you know. I almost always learn about my blogs’ downtime or errors from readers who tweet, email, DM or Facebook message me.
One of the landmark steps in getting readers to delurk is the ‘Like’ feature popularized by Facebook. Often, it may not be about security concerns or even tech issues. But typing out a comment, hitting ‘Publish’ and waiting for it to show up on the site may just be too much to expect from a reader who is inundated with thousands of media inputs. There may not even be much for a person to say, that justifies that effort. The ‘Like’ button makes it as easy as one click for a person to say “I read, I agreed, I liked” . (More on this feature here).
Some other de-lurking devices that you could offer your readers are multiple-choice polls and rating mechanisms. All of these work on the same principle that it is easy to click. Once a reader has clicked (a rating, a ‘Like’ or any of the others), they are a little more involved. They’ll probably want to know how many other people and who else thought the same thing. It’s likely they’ll check back to the post, which increases your site visits. And perhaps they’ll be tempted to leave an actual comment too.
I used to be a touch-me-not (read unsociable) blogger when I began. I never mentioned my name or location, I refused to answer comments and I ignored overtures to correspond, even within the relative privacy of email. Over time, that attitude has changed and I’ve come over completely to the other side. I realised that there were real people out there, who were giving me the honour of their time and attention, even though they had no obligation to do so. They were sharing their opinions, their appreciation and on occasion, even their private thoughts. It would be poor form to not respond.
Now, I think it is polite to respond to comments as soon as one is able to (just as with email). Your schedule may not allow you to reply within a few minutes but if you are a blogger, try and ensure you check your comments every day and reply where necessary. In a lot of cases, it may just be saying ‘Thank you for coming to my blog and reading’. Do it anyway. Wouldn’t you be encouraged to strike up a conversation with someone who returned your smile immediately?
If you have enabled the comments moderation feature, you’ll need to be extra mindful of timing. As a predominant lurker, when I do come out of the shadows to comment, I like to see it up on the site immediately. If it gets held for moderation, I might still be willing to wait a day to see it come up. But any longer and I’ll just think the blogger doesn’t really care about his/her blog all that much if they can’t even clear their comments queue daily. Worse, I’ll lose interest in that blog, or at very least, in commenting on that blog.
You might want to ‘reward’ your more special commenters. WordPress has a widget that lets you display your Top Commenters in a cloud, with the highest comment-count reader showing in largest font. It’s like an honour roll for your blog’s community.
Nofollow is a feature that delinks from the URLs that people leave on your blog, under the premise that these are motivations for your site traffic to leave your blog. But I think this is not a very sociable thing for a blog to do. If a reader is taking the effort to visit your site, read through your post and leave a comment, it’s rude to not let them leave their calling card. A good spam blocker will weed out the undesirables in any case. Let the genuine ones share in your traffic, they’ll send some your way too.
Recently, I’ve been seeing a number of blogs offering giveaways. The format is the similar. They ask you to write about the blog (either promoting the giveaway or couched in a contest of some sort), sign up for the Facebook page, follow them on Twitter and leave your contact details with them. A prize is given away to chosen participant of this giveaway contest. A contest of this nature should boost the blog’s visibility on account of the linkbacks from posts, the Facebook community size and the Twitter following. But I think, more importantly, it prompts readers to de-lurk and make themselves known to the blogger. If you can afford it, go for it. (And let me know, I love participating in these even though I never win anything! :-))
Feeds give you an option of displaying the entire or only a portion of your content. You may have enabled partial feeds to ‘force’ your readers to visit your page. But think about how many readers you’re probably losing because it’s too much effort for them to click through versus any benefits you get out of them visiting your site. Personally, I think it is better to engage and keep engaged your reader so full feeds are the way to go.
Normally, a feed displays the blogger’s content. Beyond that, a reader has to click through to the site to leave a comment. There is a WordPress plug-in that lets one comment even on the feed.
Every now and then, you could make a special effort to reach out to your readers. Try and keep track of the email addresses left behind by your readers. If you have a WordPress account, you’ll also have subscriber email addresses. When shifting URLs or feeds or even if you have a new feature, write to them telling them about it. Of note, be sure to put everyone on BCC. Readers share their email address with you, believing that you’ll respect that information. Don’t make it publicly visible and don’t spam them.
I wish you many interested readers and several interesting conversations and I’ll see you around the blogosphere!