25 August 2009

Blogging Tips : How to Create Compelling Content Through Reader Interaction

This week at ProBlogger I’m writing about principles of creating Compelling Content on a blog. Read principle #1, Being in Tune with Your Readers Needs here.

Sometimes what makes a blog post compelling is not so much what the blogger writes but how the post is interacted with by readers.

The real action on many successful blogs happens in a comment section where a post can be taken to the next level and have new layers of depth added to it as readers share their thoughts, ideas and experiences on a topic.

3 Benefits of Reader Interaction on Blogs

The benefits of an interactive blog are many but the main three that I think help to make a blog compelling are:

1. Wisdom of the Crowd

While we as bloggers often like to think of ourselves as experts on our topics the reality is that when you get a group of people with an interest in a topic together that the collective expertise and authority of the group is generally more than any one member. I’ve seen this time and time again on my own blogs.

For example last week I asked readers what makes content compelling to them - the 100+ comments are really very insightful when you take them all together.

Similarly a year or so back on my photography site I posted a reader question that asked the community to share their tips on how to photograph a dying grandmother with dignity. What came out of that post drew our community together and made a real impact upon many. The post itself wasn’t compelling - it was the reaction and wisdom of the community.

2. Social Proof

Visit a blog which has numerous comments on every post and you get a sense that there’s something going on there. There’s an energy, a buzz, a sense of community that seeing reader participation can bring to a blog which in itself can be compelling and make you want to see what’s going on there to create that interaction.

While having reader interaction doesn’t automatically make your blog compelling - it can encourage others to take a second look at it to see what all the fuss is about.

3. Reader Investment

I’ve struggled a little to put a name to this but there’s something about getting a reader to leave a comment on a post that means that they’ve invested something of themselves into your blog. I know when I comment on something that someone else has written that I’m much more likely to return to that post and to that blog because I’ve invested a little time, energy and thought into it - I’ve contributed something to the discussion and as a result it becomes a bit more compelling to me.

The Problem of Lurkers [+ How to Build Reader Interaction]

Of course the problem most bloggers face is that most readers simply ‘lurk’ on blogs. Less than 1% of readers regularly comment on blogs - most simply read (or scan) content and then silently leave.

So how do you build reader interaction? I’d love to hear your suggestions and experiences in this below but here are a few suggestions and 4 lessons I’ve learned over the years.

1. Call people to Interact

Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that when you ask people to do something they’re much more likely to do it.

It sounds like a no brainer doesn’t it? However the reality is that many bloggers I hear complaining about no comments don’t actually write in a way that invites people to interact.

Calling people to interact with you can take many forms:

  • Ask people to leave a comment (I’ve done this already in this post - you don’t have to do it just at the end)
  • Ask readers specific questions in your posts - (I find that some people need some prompting on what type of reactions you want from them rather than just having a generic ‘what do you think?’ type call to comment)
  • Writing posts that are only questions can work well (example)
  • Create space for readers to showcase their expertise or participate in a challenge (for example I recently ran this challenge on DPS which readers loved).

Keep in mind that when you call readers to interact with you that you’ll have more chance of success if you do so in a conversational and natural way. Also worth noting is that sometimes you need to leave space for your readers to have something to say. Some bloggers write in a tone and style that is so comprehensive that there’s really little else to say on a topic.

2. Don’t just focus upon comments

Some people just don’t like comments, perhaps it is their personality, perhaps they’re wary of giving you their contact details, perhaps they feel intimidated, perhaps they don’t know how to do it, or perhaps they just take a while to warm up to that type of interaction.

So don’t just focus upon commenting as the only way for readers to participate. Other options for interaction inlclude:

  • Polls (much more anonymous and easy to use)
  • Quizzes and Surveys
  • Invite readers to email you
  • Forums - some people just seem to be wired more to forums more than blogs as a medium
  • Social Media - get people interacting on their social media platform of choice

Try different methods to see what works best for your blog.

3. Use the Data in Reader Interactions

It struck me recently just how much knowledge, wisdom and useful information sits in the comments sections and poll results of most blogs. Many of us as bloggers are just happy to have people interacting - but perhaps what would be more ‘compelling’ is to not only have interaction but to ‘use’ the interactions to create meaning and be more useful to readers.

Let me illustrate with a recent example here at ProBlogger:

Just over a week ago I asked readers - What do you do with your blog over the weekend? The post was simply a weekend discussion starter - while I suggested a few responses to get things started the real action in the post happened in the comments section with over 130 comments left.

I could have left it at that. I had a fantastic response from the question and readers seemed to be enjoying the interactions that they had with one another - it was a successful post.

However it struck me that in the comments section of that post was some useful data. 130+ people had just shared what they did with their blog on the weekend! That’s useful information to know.

So I decided to get the answers collated together and see what they told us - this resulted in a followup post on the topic. Sometimes going to the effort of making sense of how readers are responding can be very worthwhile.

Another example - I also regularly do this by not only posting Polls on my blogs but following them up with ‘results’ posts from the polls which take the information, put them into a nice chart and draw out any meaning that I find interesting in them. For example this recent results post on blog design. The results post itself got 78 comments!

4. Re-purpose Readers Responses (and Make them Famous)

Similarly I also try to showcase or feature individual reader responses and interactions.

Often the wisdom shared in the comments section of a blog is just too good to leave it languishing there where only a few people will see it. In these cases why not promote it to a blog post of it’s own or at least to quote your readers in another post you’re writing.

Readers will notice that I’m doing this in this series on compelling content (for example see yesterdays post where I featured quotes from 9 comments left on this blog that supported what I’ve written).

Doing this not only adds depth to your blog post (making it more compelling) but also gives those readers featured a sense of being noticed and valued as well as showing other readers that you value reader interactions (giving them a little extra motivation to participate too).

Further Reading

There is much more I could write on how to build an interactive blog. In fact I’ve written several posts on the topic including:

Your Homework for Today

OK - so we’ve talked about the theory of reader interaction. Now it’s time to put some of it into action.

Your task for today is to write a post that attempts to be interactive with those who will read it. This could be as simple as tweaking something you’ve already written to include a question or could be a new post that is all about reader interaction (a poll, a reader discussion, a survey etc). Once you’ve written it please share a link to it in comments below so we can all learn from how you approached it.

What You’ve Said on the Topic So Far:

Earlier in the week I asked you for your reflections on what makes content compelling. The responses were rich with wisdom and compelling in themselves (I’ve read them numerous times). Here’s a few of the comments from you that touched on similar themes to what I’ve written above:

  • “Being conversational brings the writer to life and creates a human connection. That’s compelling.” - Jody
  • “Truly compelling content not only sparks my interest, but makes me want to share the insight I’ve gained with others.” - Patrick
  • “Compelling content should cause the reader to ask questions. It needs to persuade or teach the reader in some way. It’s content that’s unique and can’t be found anywhere else. It begins a dicussion amongst other bloggers who comment on your content. Compelling content shows the reader that you, as a blogger, are interested in them.” - Surveys for Money
  • “Seriously, these eighty-five honest and detailed descriptions of what each person thinks is compelling content. If you ask me, it doesn’t get much more compelling than this.” - Debbie
  • “Compelling content elicits a response. It draws me into conversation. It inspires me to react. It is this very post, despite it being nothing more than a question.” - Brad

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