There's a dark truth behind blogging that 99% of bloggers won't admit to . . . Sometimes, your readers drive you crazy. Sometimes they ask too many questions, completely miss the point of your article, ask for a favor they shouldn't really be asking for, use you as an opportunity to rant, write negative/hateful comments, etc. Having an audience isn't all sunshine and rainbows. But the reason we started all this was to HELP those people. You're trying to reach people, so you have to be in a place where you're able to interact with them and care for them.
And around here, we do business with honesty and sincerity, so we're not going to fake it.
So how do you get to that place where you can truly love your readers for who they are? How can we reach a point where their stories move us again? Where we have a desire to go above and beyond to help them without judging their shortcomings or struggles?
First, let's be clear. When it comes down to it, it's really about just being a good person to other human beings.
So don't expect some hack for how you can put on a likable front that gets people to buy into your brand.
Faking your personality or pretending to care is building your house on sand.
Instead, let's try being genuinely good people that can make a difference in people's lives, yes?
Remember the journey.
Our blog topics should be viewed as beginner-to-expert journeys. Whether it's becoming an expert in baking cakes, budgeting, parenting, art, blogging, or whatever else you write about, this mentality guides those of us who blog to teach.
Here's the problem - the further you progress on your own journey, the harder it will be to remember those early stages. And the harder it will be to relate to your readers who are still at those early stages.
Let's imagine a personal finance blogger. She starts blogging about money while she's starting a budget and trying to get out of debt. A couple years later, she's out of debt, making good money, and is starting to invest. Her site's content is now geared towards investing and retirement. A reader challengers her and asks how they could ever think about investing when they can just never get ahead with their money.
There are a couple ways she could handle this. Worst case scenario, she's irritated. They're making excuses, trying to tell her she got lucky with her own finances, and they're the kind of person that'll never succeed because they're blaming the world for their problems. (Harsh, right? But these are the kinds of thoughts our minds have, and you know it!) She either responds impersonally, inappropriately, or not at all.
Or. She stops for a second, closes her eyes, and remembers what it was like to be in debt, struggling to make it to the next paycheck. She remembers the feeling of hopelessness, chaos, and uncertainty. And now she can reply with encouraging words, directing the reader to the resources that can truly help while inspiring them to have hope again.
I don't know about you, but I think the second option builds a much better foundation for your relationship with your readers.
If your memory sucks like mine, start journaling about your own journey. Write out what it feels like, what thoughts run through your mind, and what questions you have. You don't have to make this a daily practice. Just set a reminder for every few months to go back and pour out a couple thoughtful paragraphs about your blog topic in Evernote - or anywhere else where you'll be able to find it.
Then, when someone else is at that point, you can look back and remember what it was like to be where they are. And you can respond in kind.
Congratulations, you learned a lesson in empathy today.
Ask more questions.
This doesn't just have to involve interacting with a negative reader - I think we should be asking our readers more questions in all forms of communication. Your calls-to-action (CTAs) at the end of your posts and emails should ask thought-provoking, conversation-inspiring questions. Your responses to emails from subscribers should ask more questions to keep the conversation going, give them a chance to share more about themselves, and give you a chance to remember them by better getting to know them.
Because here's the deal: the more you get to know someone's story, the easier it is to truly care.
So don't reply just to end the conversation!
When someone comments on your social media, respond! Respond as if you were responding to a friend.
If someone asks a question in a post comment, get involved. Ask more questions to help them get to the root of their issue. Be helpful.
When a subscriber emails you in response to one of your emails you send out, don't end it at "Thanks for reaching out!" Start asking questions! Do you blog about blogging? Ask them what they blog about. Do you blog about food? Ask them their favorite kinds of recipes! Do you blog about family life? Ask them about theirs!
Not only is this a genuine way to get to know them, but it's a great way to do some market research for your future content.
Sure, all this involves a greater time investment. But interacting with your readers is a pretty heavy part of blogging, is it not? This is in the job description.
Plus, as you get to know your readers more, the conversations you have with them will start to become your favorite part of blogging - trust me on this one.
Take time before you reply.
This one is for those comments that really get your goat.
It seems obvious, but I have seen again, and again, and again how online influencers screw this up. Especially on social media, where it's so easy to quickly toss back a defensive reply.
I once came across a Facebook ad for a blogging program someone was promoting. She had a really well-done video and some pretty convincing copy to get me to sign up for her upcoming webinar. I was into it, and ready to sign up, when I decided to take a look at the comments - Facebook ads for bloggers don't usually have a ton of comments, so I was curious.
Oh, boy. Someone had said something mildly rude about how it couldn't be possible to make a full-time income blogging (remember that sensitivity to your reader's journey we were talking about? This guy was a complete stranger to the concept. Can't really be blamed).
The proper response would have been to acknowledge his disbelief, and encourage him to give you a shot. "I understand that it seems impossible, but I've already helped dozens of people do it! I have real testimonials I can provide you, but I'll also be going in depth about how it's possible in the webinar. It won't cost you a thing to sign up if you'd like to learn more!" Easy.
Instead, this girl wrecked the entire interaction. She responded with sass, he responded in kind, and she continued to offer sarcastic replies that communicated, "I don't care what you think, I'll do what I want" instead of "I understand you, and I can help you." Why? She was probably new to promoting on such a large platform to people who were likely unfamiliar with her brand and her topic. She wasn't mentally prepared for opposition, and she merely reacted to the situation (different from responding to it).
Regardless, I didn't sign up and ignored the rest of her ads until Facebook stopped showing them to me. I completely lost interest.
If your first read of a comment or an email doesn't sit right with you, let yourself dwell on it. Have a system in place so you don't forget to go back to it, but give yourself a few hours, or maybe even a day, to let their words sink in. This isn't to say to let it get to you. Rather, try to understand where they're coming from (using the first two methods of this post helps!). Let yourself cool off.
Don't just react to your readers. Respond to them. (This means thought, not emotion.)
*Side note: Sometimes, it's okay to just ignore the bad comments/emails. I've done it. This'll be up to your judgment, but sometimes, people are just trying to be difficult and it's not worth the time to defend yourself. Make a decision about whether or not this lead or relationship is worth nurturing, and then choose your words wisely.
Think beyond the screen.
Here's another empathy exercise: I call it, the Existential Crisis Exercise.
Sound fun? It totally is. Take a moment to think through this with me. (And get ready for some sap.)
Think about yourself. Think about where you're currently sitting. Looking at your computer or your phone. This is just a moment in your life.
What all has brought you here? Where were you at yesterday? Where were you 5 years ago? 10? 20?
Think about everything that has happened in your life. All the thoughts that have run through your head, all the feelings you've experienced, the moments you've had with loved ones. From the many times you've sat down to eat dinner to those pivotal moments that changed who you are. You have to admit, there's a lot packed into the person who is currently sitting and reading this paragraph.
And think about the people, the strangers, around you. The people in the building you're in, or the neighbors across the street. They have no idea. They don't know about the times someone made you cry. Or that day you had with your best friend where the whole world felt a little brighter. They don't know your dreams for the future. Heck, they don't know what you're having for dinner. (Though, you may not know that either.)
A single life is huge, isn't it?
Next time you're driving down the street, think about the cars you're passing. Or the people around you in the grocery store. Or the families living in the houses around you.
Every single one of those people has a tremendous, immeasurable life like yours. Thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears, tragedies, hopes, memories, loves. There is so much life happening around us every day, and we hardly ever stop to consider the magnitude of that.
Because it makes us feel small.
This perspective is even easier to overlook on the internet. That's why cyber-bullying is such a problem - it's easy to forget that you're dealing with another human being.
But when you can remember this, you'll feel the weight of the life behind that reader. It may make you feel small, but you know what else you'll feel?
This life, with all of their experiences and feelings and thoughts, has taken a moment - a fraction of this vast life that they're living - to read your content and connect with you. With you.
If you've achieved some degree of humility in your life, that fact should make you feel honored.
Don't forget how much they matter!
When it all comes down to it, if none of the sappy stuff above works for you, look at it this way: your readers are a necessity. Connecting with them is the entire business model of a blogger.
What's a blog without readers? If you can't connect with them, get them to stick around, and get them to care about your brand, you'll have nothing. Every click to your site, every freebie signup, every open email, every clicked affiliate link, and every purchased product is a form of support for your business.
So be a little grateful for that, mmk?
I'd love to know, what's your favorite way to interact with your audience?
Personally, I loooooove emailing one-on-one with my subscribers when they reach out to me! (Psst, if you click here, you can become one of those subscribers and get an awesome bookkeeping guide to help you jumpstart your financial management system - for free. #shamelessplug)
Until next time!
- Katie Scott