Creating Passionate Readers 212

The marketer’s daydream is to ‘evangelize’ products and brands — to create customers who are passionate about what the marketers are trying to sell. When it comes to blogs and websites, having a passionate readership is just as valuable.

By evangelizing your blog, you create an audience who is eager to link, comment and vote for your content. You create an audience who will speak about you with respect and admiration. As Seth Godin recently pointed out, how much you talk about yourself will never compare to the power of others talking about you.

Having a passionate audience is incredibly useful (and rewarding). You don’t need to have many readers or subscribers to grow a passionate audience, either: in fact, I’d suggest that a small, passionate audience is more useful to us than a large, disinterested one. Passionate audiences will rave about your content, link, comment and vote for you more often than is usual. In this post, I want to explain how you can create passionate readers.

Give your audience what they need

Both online and in day life, we find ourselves gravitating towards people who give us what we need, as opposed to what we want. To my mind, ‘wants’ are the things we think we need. Needs are the things we actually do need. Likewise, your readership has its ‘wants’, but satisfying a need will always leave a more significant impression.

For your content to be worth evangelizing, it must focus on needs. “Got it,” you’re probably thinking, but one essential question remains: “How do I work out what my readers need?” There are two strategies you can use to answer this question.

1. Think like a reader

If you weren’t you, you’d read your own blog, right? That sentence is horrible, but it gets my meaning across: there’s a very good chance you’re part of your blog’s target audience. What you need may just be what your readers need.

Any unanswered questions or confusions you have could be questions and confusions shared by your readers. Simple tips, tricks and methods that have helped you immensely might just do the same for your audience. A useful brainstorming session could start with the following questions, viewed through the prism of your blog’s niche:

  • What do I need?
  • What have I needed in the past (but have since found)?
  • What don’t I need?

2. Listen to your audience

The world’s greatest comedians will shape their performance depending on audience reactions. If a joke receives rapturous applause, they’ll extend it longer than they’d planned to, or refer to it again later on in the performance. If a line of joking seems to be falling flat, the comedian will quickly transition to new material. If a particular gesture or facial expression seems to be drawing laughs, the comedian will repeat it again and again until the novelty has worn off.

In many ways, creating content for an audience can be a similar experience. We try to do a lot of what works well, and steer away from what doesn’t. Like comedians, we have an audience there to help us out.

When a particular article becomes very popular, we can ask: “How can I expand on this idea more in another post? Can I recreate this formula on another post topic?” When a different article seems to generate very little interest, we make a mental note not to approach the same topic again (or at least, not in the same way). Listening closely to the way your audience reacts will help you become more attuned to what they do and do not like.

You can also listen in a more traditional sense: by reading comments and emails and looking for questions or frequently mentioned topics. When a topic or question comes up again and again, you can bet a significant portion of your readership needs help with it, or wants to hear more about it.

Go the extra mile

Customers won’t become evangelists for a product or brand unless they see it as exceptional — one of a kind. The same principle applies to blogs or websites.

Here are some ideas for how you can go the extra mile for your readers:

  • Write a post offering to answer every question left in the comments section.
  • Share your best ideas.
  • Give a service away for free.
  • Link to reader-submitted tips on a specific topic.
  • Answer every well-meaning email you receive (even if the answer is a polite no).
  • Get to know your readers outside your blog.
  • Leave comments on reader blogs.
  • Vote up articles on reader blogs.
  • Highlight great comments in posts.
  • Answer comments and questions left on your posts.
  • Ask your readers what they think.

Treat your readers with respect

Perhaps the most important step of all is to treat your readers with respect. While speaking kindly to readers is something you’d hope all bloggers would do, there are a few more things you can do to show readers that you respect them.

1. Respond to feedback. If you write something that gets a lot of constructive criticism, it might be a good idea to acknowledge that in your next post. Have you learned something, or are you determined to stick by your guns? Even if you don’t agree with the criticism, you should acknowledge it (particularly because if your readers like you, leaving constructive criticism is a tricky thing for them to go through.)

2. Highlight gaps in your knowledge. Another common mistake bloggers fall into is ‘marketing their knowledge’. The pressure to be seen as an expert can sometimes lead us to come off sounding as if we think we know everything. However, if we never highlight gaps in our knowledge, or ask readers to fill them, readers may start to feel that their input and presence simply isn’t needed.

3. Show gratitude. A fundamental part of showing respect is to show gratitude when a person helps you out. The same applies to readers. Whether you hit a $100 a month blogging income milestone or the front page of Digg, you would not have reached that goal without your readers. Say thank you earnestly, and at regular intervals. You’d be surprised at how much your readers will appreciate it.