Friday, June 15, 2012

Author Blogging 101: Listening

by Joel Friedlander
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.

Joel Friedlander is a self-published author and book designer who blogs about book design, self-publishing and the indie publishing life at He's also the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, where he helps publishers and authors who decide to publish get to market on time and on budget with books that are both properly constructed and beautiful to read.

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