Author Blogging 101: Listening

by | Apr 25, 2012

Let me ask you a question: Do you think bloggers are broadcasters, or conversationalists?

This isn’t a trivial question, it gets right to the heart of your online writing, the blogging style you adapt, and your relations within your own social media universe.

Media has been controlled by just a few large corporations for a long time, and the ability the Internet has brought us to start media assets of our own is still fairly new.

It’s understandable that some people look at blogging as another way to broadcast their message, but broadcasting is the opposite of social media, which is interactive. Whether it’s your blog, Facebook, or your favorite social site, the activity is built around interacting with other people.

Blogging is one form of social media, and the essence of social media, in my eyes, is the conversation.

If there’s no conversation going on, it’s a little hard to call it social media, don’t you think?

This conversation can take lots of forms. It might be:

  • a comment on a blog
  • a discussion on a Facebook fan page
  • a book recommendation on Goodreads

. . . or any number of other ways we signal our interest or concern on these various social media platforms.

More than any other way of connecting, blogging stimulates conversations. And just like in real life, you create a whole different level of connection with the people you spend time talking to.

The Importance of Listening

We all know people who don’t seem to “get” conversation, even in the most ordinary way.

For instance, I knew a woman who needed to talk to people, but it didn’t seem to be important which people she talked to.

If you excused yourself from a “conversation” with her, she would simply keep talking to someone else standing there, without missing a beat.

We would joke, in fact, that she might be satisfied if we taped a photo of someone’s face to the wall, and then she could just talk to that.

But that isn’t conversation, because a good conversation involves a few things missing from this picture:

  • A concern for the other person
  • Something useful, new or entertaining to say
  • The ability to listen

Missing any one of these usually dooms a conversation, and you end up with one-way communication: broadcasting.

Just like ordinary conversations, we can use all these social skills to create a blog that really sticks with people, where your personality shines through and readers keep coming back for more.

Sound good? Let’s look at how this can work.

The Author/Reader Connection

Of the three skills listed above, the ability to listen is the most crucial, and this is true in real life and in blog life, too.

Listening incorporates concern for the person talking, because if you didn’t care about what they have to say, you wouldn’t be listening, would you?

Sometimes you run across blogs that seem to be stuck in the old broadcasting model. Recently an industry bigwig started a brand new blog, with appropriate fanfare, since CEOs who blog are still something of a rarity.

After a few weeks I checked on the blog and found some really nice articles, a few video interviews, and it looked like the blog had readers.

Problem was, these readers kept leaving comments, but the blogger never responded. I looked through every article posted, and I didn’t find one response from the blogger. Not even one.

What message do you think that sends? Yep, it looks like a blog, but it’s really another broadcast medium, isn’t it?

How to Listen

Comments are the first place you can listen to your readers. This is especially important because only a small percentage of your readers will comment on your articles, so you could look at each comment as if it represents a bunch of people rather than just the person who wrote it.

As your blog becomes more popular, you’ll get more comments and responding to them can become time-consuming.

Every blogger has their own way of dealing with comments. Here, I don’t respond to every comment left on the blog, although some bloggers do this as a matter of course.

But you do have to respond at some point. You have to show that you’re interested in what your readers have to say, to acknowledge that in a community all the voices need to be heard and considered.

More Ways for Bloggers to Listen

There are quite a few direct and indirect ways to listen to your audience. Consider using some of these methods in your own niche.

  • Surveys can be a great tool for finding out where your audience is at any particular moment. I use SurveyMonkey which offers both free and paid accounts. Want to know what people are thinking? Ask them.
  • RSS feeds are the easiest way to keep up with blogs you want to follow. Currently I have 104 blogs in Google Reader, which I use to organize and scan all those great posts.
  • Twitter #hashtags provide filtered content in real time, a great way to gauge reaction or solicit opinions on breaking stories.
  • Curated content from sources within your field can help you find the stories that everyone is reading right now. Look for blog carnivals or regular link posts, often on the weekends when bloggers take some time off from writing.
  • Social Search is becoming a bigger niche in itself. Take a look at Trackur, a different type of “listening” device you can employ to find how people are talking about you—or other subjects—throughout social media. Although there’s a cost, if you have a widespread brand, this could be quite helpful.
  • Forum and listserv discussions are invaluable for listening in to conversations people are having in your field. Try to find the top 2 or 3 forums to follow on a regular basis.
  • Google alerts can also be used to track key terms, blog mentions, and discussions going on around core topics in your niche. Free and easy to set up, they are endlessly useful.

Listening, really hearing what people are saying, is what makes someone a good conversationalist. These are the people we’re delighted to see, interested to listen to, and who earn our respect with their attention.

That’s where you want to be, so learn to listen, it will pay you many dividends over time.

How do you listen to your readers? Got any tips to share?

Photo by eknathgomphotherium

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


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  3. jane ayres

    This was such a thought provoking post with so much valuable information and advice. It got me reflecting on my own (bad) habits as a relative newcomer to blogging and social networking. As a result of reading this I have already changed my whole approach and I’m listening and communicating more – and enjoying it, too – thank you!

  4. Caleb J. Ross

    Great post. The interactivity of social media, especially with authors, cannot be understated. Authors, when you think about it, write books that are basically just extended conversations. Though each person (reader and author) participate independently, the communication channel still exists. I write a bit more about this social media for authors concept in a recent post, if anyone is interested:

  5. Doreen Pendgracs

    Hi Joel: Great post.

    I have always considered blogging to be a way of conversing. I don’t like blogs that done’t engage with readers. They may as well be called websites then, because to me, a blog is a form for open conversation — between the author and readers, and sometimes, between the readers themselves. I love that aspect of blogging!

    I’ve worked really hard over the past 3 years to create a true sense of community on my writer’s blog and slowly, I have achieved that.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Yes, it does take time, doesn’t it? You’re building a real asset Doreen, and it will only grow in value over time.

  6. carol brill

    “only a small percentage of your readers will comment on your articles,”

    We started our blog, last September. People stop me in the halls at work or in my neighborhood and mention reading it, and I get emails from readers, yet almost no one comments. It does feel at times like no one is listening. It is good to be reminded that is normal

      • carol brill

        Thanks Joel. I will stay the course . After reading the 101 link the first time, I learned to end most of my blogs with a question. Now I will try your other suggestions.

  7. Barbara

    I wholeheartedly agree with you Joel. Some of the most successful blogs, like The Pioneer Woman, to my knowledge don’t respond to comments and still succeed but she’s been doing it for years…long before commenting was looked at as an important factor. The Sales Lion, Marcus Sheridan, is a completely different story. He has created the most devoted loyal blog community I think I’ve ever seen and he answers EVERY comment. Even when there are over 100!

    I answer all comments on my blog. As it has grown that sometimes takes more time but I’ll take the time and cut somewhere else if need be. When someone cares enough about what you have to say to engage you in conversation it’s a true compliment.

    Great post! Thanks

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Barbara. I answered all comments on my blog for the first year or so, but here’s what a lot of readers never see: every day there are hundreds of visitors sent to articles in my archives, and those readers often ask questions (since I offer to answer them) and never make it to the home page. At some point it just becomes impractical, and I think readers understand that. My point here is to stay tuned into your readers and acknowledge the contributions of smart, savvy commenters like you.

  8. James

    “Let me ask you a question: Do you think bloggers are broadcasters, or conversationalists?”

    Joel, it’s a great question. I think the blog form began as a personal, “broadcast” format. Then, it caught hold and “conversations” began. Today? I think it’s whatever you want it to be. And the border of what makes a “blog” has been gone for a awhile, I think–to me, blog is a piece of software. There is not canonical description of “blog” anymore, and hasn’t been for several years.

    Some of the popular “blogs” I like best are what you’d probably describe as “broadcast”. John Gruber at Daring Fireball, for example, doesn’t use his blog to converse with readers. He has hundreds of thousands of readers. And really, for the kind of “platform” orientation that you discuss on, a blog is just one piece of a marketing puzzle–you can have the “conversation” in other ways (Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, etc.).

    Last, I’m seeing a snowballing trend to turn off comments on blogs, even on big blogs with thousands of followers. I often like that, depending on the topic.

    • Joel Friedlander

      James, one of the best examples is Seth Godin’s blog, where he hasn’t had comments for a long time. Unlike most of us, Godin has one of the biggest “author platforms” online and his needs are substantially different from the author starting out and just getting involved with social media and blogging.

      So it really depends on what you’re trying to do. In this series, I assume that readers are pretty much just starting out and their main concerns are learning who their readers are and building community.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      • James

        Joel, I meant to add–despite my comment, one of the things I like about your blog is the comments *you* post. I’m often casting a jaundiced eye on some topics, but I’ve always liked how you get into the comments section and attempt to add something to the topic.

  9. Turndog Millionaire

    Engagement for me is the key to modern day, and indeed future, marketing. Whether you’re a Blogger, business, writer, or whatever, being part of regular conversations is key

    And you hit the nail on the head. Listening is such a huge part of this.

    People who talk at you aren’t part of a dialogue they’re part of a monologue. That’s the past, it’s out of here. We all want to interaction, engagement, and to be inspired each and very day

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Matt. The broadcasting style is alive and well, it’s the interactive style that’s on the rise, from what I can see. Each has its place, the important thing is knowing when to use them.



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