29 June 2009

Blogging Tips : How to Lose Readers And Not Get Depressed

Much has been written on the topic of how to get readers to visit your blog and how to make your blog sticky so that they stick around once they’ve arrived - but I’ve not seen too many written about how to lose readers.

It might seem like a strange topic to write about - but the reality is that all blogs, whether they are successful ones or not, lose readers from time to time.

Usually the readers just silently disappear - you might not have even known that you had them so losing them goes unnoticed - however occasionally you hear about it either with the reader sending you and email or at times quite publicly.

For example - I recently had one previous reader of this blog write a post on his blog (a blog with a shared topic - ie a competitor) write a post telling his readers why they should all unsubscribe from this blog (because my advice was stupid, useless and potentially dangerous).*

The blogger in question obviously had his own agenda with his post which I won’t get into right here - but it serves as an example of how at times the losing of a reader (or readers) can become a public thing.

Losing Readers Sucks

Whether it happens silently or in a public way - losing readers sucks. Not only that - many bloggers take it personally and get quite depressed about it.

As I’ve responded to this blogger (and his readers) over the last few days I’ve been pondering this whole topic of losing readers (as I’ve grappled with the emotions one feels in such situations) and thought I’d jot down a few thoughts on it - as it’s something that impacts us all as bloggers.

A few thoughts on how to lose readers well:

Note: a lot (but not all) of the points that follow relate more to when readers write about leaving your blog in a more public way.

1. Don’t let it Impact your Self Worth

Whether you lose a reader in a public way or a private and silent one - many of us as bloggers feel it’s sting. If you’re anything like me it can actually be a somewhat depressing process.

Losing readers = failure in the eyes of many bloggers.

If this is you can I highly recommend you read this post that I wrote last year that talked about how to sustain yourself as a blogger you need to come up with a new way of thinking about your worth as a person.

Your worth as a blogger and as a person does not come from what you achieve or what others think about you - if you fall for looking at life this way you’re in for a fall at some point or another.

2. Listen to Critique

It is never easy to hear the negative things that others say about you - particularly when what they say is filled with a mixture of half truths, misinformation, a lack of understanding, personal attack and self serving agendas.

However….. also in the mix is sometimes a message that you could do well to listen to - something that could improve your blog.

The key is to attempt to strip back some of the negative stuff and try to take an objective look at the core of what they’re saying. This is far from easy to do, particularly when the person leaving your blog as a reader does so publicly and unfairly- however there have been a couple of times when I’ve learned important lessons from these types of interactions.

3. Develop Strategies for Listening to Readers

One of the things I like to do is to take the critique that I hear from others and hold it up against not only what I think but what my other readers are thinking and saying to me to see if there’s truth in their critique.

Of course to do this you need to have avenues for reader feedback and perhaps even some strategies for getting reader feedback. A few that I use include:

  • monitoring reader comments - if you consistently get negative comments about an aspect of your blog it’s a signal to listen to
  • feedback from Twitter/social media - similar to reader comments but what are people saying about/to you on social media sites
  • monitoring what other bloggers are saying about you - set up vanity alerts to see when and what other bloggers are writing about you
  • reader emails - have a way to be contacted and take on board the suggestions/feedback readers give you
  • reader focus group - I have a small group of about 10 readers on my photography blog that I email every month or two to get feedback from
  • metrics - are your visitor numbers, RSS subscriber numbers, Twitter followers etc on the rise or fall)
  • blog buddies - I have a small group of fellow bloggers that I will occasionally email to ask their opinion on important aspects of my blog - sometimes if I’m being critiqued I ask them for their honest feedback on whether it is fair or not
  • reader surveys - I recently ran a reader survey on DPS in which we gathered a lot of feedback - it was fascinating to see the trends and common threads of feedback we got.

The more tapped into what others are saying, thinking and feeling about your blog the better equipped you’ll be when working out whether the person critiquing your blog has a point or not.

4. Open a Conversation But Don’t Get Into Mud Slinging

One of the hardest things to decide when someone else writes anything negative about you is whether to engage with them in conversation - and whether to do it publicly or privately.

My approach is to try to engage with the person writing about me - but to only do it to a point that is constructive. If the person is not willing to engage or has their own agendas behind it and is not willing to be constructive I don’t engage them any further.

On whether to do it privately or publicly - again it comes down to whether it is going to be constructive. For example if the person has said untruths about you or has said things that can be cleared up with some clarification - I generally try to reply with a comment that politely clears up the errors in what they’ve said so that others coming across the post have a chance to get the full story.

However after this I try to not get into much of an ongoing debate unless it’s a healthy and constructive conversation. If it’s not healthy - say your piece and leave. If more needs to be said try to do it via email.

Try not to let your responses get personal - it’s not easy and I’ve messed up on this on occasion - but when things get personal nobody wins and all you’re doing is publicly having an interaction that could be detracting from your reputation.

5. Acknowledge a Reader Life Cycle

One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned over the last 7 years of blogging is that it is rare to have a reader stay with you forever. Readers move on for a variety of reasons and many of them have nothing to do with you or your blog:

  • Some readers leave because they no longer have an interest in your topic
  • Some readers leave because they don’t have time to read any more
  • Some readers leave because their level of knowledge on a topic has grown

The list goes on - readers will come and go.

It is important to know also that some of your readers will not fully realize why they don’t find your blog as useful any more. For example - recently on my photography blog I had a reader email me to say that my blog wasn’t as good as it used to be. They said that my posts used to be more advanced and were now becoming too beginner oriented.

We had a conversation via email over the next day or two where I unpacked their feedback. What we found is that through the 2 years that they’d been reading my blog they’d progressed from a beginner themselves to someone who was an intermediate (and approaching advanced) photographer. We found that it wasn’t my blog that had changed but them - and that the blog itself was part of the reason for their progression.

The ‘advanced’ posts that they said we used to write were actually beginner posts.

The lesson I guess I’ve learned is that readers come and go and that in many cases it’s got less to do with your own performance as a blogger and more to do with the reader and their circumstances changing. While it’s important to be aware of any issues readers are facing it is important also to be aware of the life cycle of your readers and be willing to release them when the time comes for them to go.

6. Watch for Opportunities to Grow Your Blog by Creating Spaces for Dissatisfied Readers

One might read my last paragraph and think that I’m resigned to losing intermediate readers from my photography blog. This is not the case. Once I identified that readers progressing past the beginner stage were not always satisfied by my blog I decided to create a space for them on my site - our photography forum was born.

This is a part of the site where users of all levels gather - but where there are sections that allow those a bit more advanced to interact with each other and even share what they know with beginners.

So now every time I’m given feedback that the site is too basic - I just point people to some of the conversations happening in our forum.

Another quick tip on keeping more advanced readers is to invite them to participate in sharing what they know with others. There have been a couple of these readers who have become semi-regular guest posters on my blogs over the years and a couple of others who have become moderators of the forum mentioned above. In creating ways for these readers to not just consume but share their knowledge and expertise they’ve not only kept using the site - they’re now helping to make it better.

7. A lesson from a Bhuddist monk

Two years back I wrote about a lesson I’d learned from a Bhuddist monk. In short it is:

“When someone attacks you with anger and hatred say to them:

“thank you for your ‘gift’ - but I think you can keep it for yourself.”

It is easy to take on the anger of other people and to wear it as a burden of your own but it is usually unhealthy to do so. “

Life is too short to get drawn into the anger and bitterness of others. While not every reader who leaves your blog will fit into the angry category there are times where you just need to release them and the emotion that they have about your and your blog.

* A note on the post mentioned above - The irony was that the blogger had been previously republishing my posts on his blog without acknowledgment of the source (he had his own name on the posts) and explained the oversight by saying he’d outsourced his writing to someone else who stole my content. Whether he actually did outsource it or not - he obviously found my content to be good enough to share with his readers and made a stupid mistake in using it.

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