16 July 2009

Blogging Tips : Run a Town Hall Meeting on Your Blog and Increase Reader Engagement

Town_Hall.jpgHere’s a quick tip that I think a lot of bloggers could learn from - run a ‘town hall’ meeting on your blog.

The inspiration from this comes from Digg who are periodically run a ‘Town Hall’ webcast for their members.

The idea is simple - Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson from Digg periodically do a webcast for their members that gives information on the latest news at Digg as well as answering questions from their members. They’ve been running these on a quarterly basis at Digg for over a year now - you can see them all here.

OK - so what’s this got to do with your blog?

Here’s the thing - while Digg are obviously a lot bigger than your average blog and they have more resources to throw at creating these types of Town Hall webcasts - I think bloggers can learn from the idea.

While I’ve never used the term ‘town hall’ meeting on my blogs I have periodically done similar types of things for readers where I product updates on how the blogs are going, talk about new directions and take questions.

Benefits of Town Hall Type Meetings with Blog Readers

What I’ve found is that when you communicate these types of things it can have a real impact upon your reader community in a variety of ways:

  • Reader Morale - every time I do this type of exercise I see signs of reader morale lifting.
  • Reader Involvement - perhaps tied to the morale of your readers is that when you communicate with them about how you’re blog is going I’ve noticed that they often will get more involved with it.
  • Gives Your Blog a ‘Face’ - one of the main benefits that I’ve noticed about these sorts of sessions when I’ve done them on video using Ustream is that it gives your blog a more personal edge. Readers get to see and hear what you’re like and come away feeling a different kind of connection than they get just reading your content.
  • >Clearing up Misconceptions - giving readers a chance to tell you what they think of your blog and to listen to your response can help clear up misconceptions that they might have about you or your site.
  • Reader Involvement - getting readers involved in your blog in any way (even if it’s just asking a question or watching a video/web cast) means that they’re investing something of themselves into your blog. What comes out of these interactions can be all kinds of great ideas that they can give you - not to mention the things you might ask them to DO in promoting your community to their own network.
  • Readers Using Your Blog Better - these sorts of ‘town hall’ meetings give you an opportunity to point out features of your blog that readers might not be aware of to help them to use it better. For example, pointing out the social media bookmarking buttons on your blog, explaining how to subscribe via RSS, showing off a newsletter you produce - all of these things can deepen reader engagement/satisfaction and help you grow your blog.

While not all of your readers will be interested on the behind the scenes goings on of your blog - some will.

How do you run a TownHall meeting?

There will be many variations on doing this type of thing and I encourage bloggers to find a medium and method that works best for them. Some that come straight to mind include:

  • Live Video Web Cast - a live video streaming session like the guys at Digg do. They have a pretty professional set up that will be beyond most of us but it’s pretty easy to set up a video streaming session with a site like Ustream - then all you need to do is publicize it.
  • Recorded Video Session - feeling nervous about a live call? Why not ask readers to submit questions ahead of time and then record your answers on video at your own time. Edit it up and put the video on YouTube (or your favorite video hosting site) and embed it on your blog.
  • Live or Recorded Audio Sessions - the same two things can be done via audio. This is perhaps a little more accessible for your audience if they don’t have bandwidth for video - or is good for those who don’t like to see themselves on camera.
  • Q&A Posts - a simpler option is to call for questions in a blog post and then to write another one with your answers.
  • Chat Sessions - I know a few bloggers who have weekly times that they tell their readers they’ll be in a chat room attached to their blog. These sessions are for general chat but often have a Q&A section where readers ask about the topic of the blog as well as questions about the site.

Have you ever run a town hall type meeting for the readers of your blog? How did you do it? What were the challenges and benefits?

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