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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.

reader-interaction.jpg

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]

lurking.jpg

Image by Big Fat Rat

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

Have Your Say

Of course this post wouldn’t be complete without an invitation to leave your reactions, experiences and insights on this topic.

  • How have you built reader interaction into your blog?
  • What has worked (and not worked) for you?
  • What posts have you written where you got the most reader interaction (feel free to share a link)?
About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. I’ve struggled a little to put a name to this but there’s something about accepting a clairvoyant to leave a animadversion on a column that agency that they’ve invested something of themselves into your blog.

  2. The toughest part of blogging is gaining regular readers. Though I am trying to make good content, it looks getting readers will take more time. In fact, everyone comments on popular blogs and very less on new blogs.

    I think, we have to build the popularity of the blog first to attain more readers interaction !

    -Ven

  3. Tumblemoose says:

    Darren,

    Readership interaction is my favorite part of owning a blog.

    As tough as it is sometimes, I still respond to every comment that is left. Sometimes the banter in the comments section ends up being more fun to read than the post itself.

    What I really like is when a conversation starts to take place between the readers. *That* tells me I’ve truly written something compelling.

    George

  4. Half of most search results are blogs that have NO original content. Just posts that were either posted by a bot with the links and author removed or copy/pasted by the blogger. (The reason they get past the dup content ‘rule’, is because 75% of a page is ads which ARE different, hence a duplicate post only makes an auto-post 25% alike, which gets it past the spiders.)

    On Google’s Wave page the top app in development is ‘Bloggy’; an automated program that is one day supposed to be able to re-write an RSS feed and post it to a blog all set up with Adsense and other affiliate links by it’s owner.

    Sometimes, I think humans ought to just all stop blogging for a month. The funny thing is, over half the blogs would still go right on auto-blogging. (That would probably give them the top 10 spots. Lol.)

  5. ITrush says:

    Further reading are very useful.. thanks for sharing them Darren.

  6. I currently have a weight lifting website that focuses on building muscle and burning fat. I’ve been building content for a year or so…all written myself. But I have no way for readers to interact. I’ve been thinking about this, but I want to get everything on the site organized and complete before I start anything with interaction. I still have a lot of work to do. Does it take a lot of time to interact with your readers?

  7. Allyn says:

    I have a video blog and I get more comments when I use foul language! LOL
    I also find that if I “call out” someone for something, more folks will want to either tell me what an arse I am, or agree with me.
    Finally, I try to incorporate an element in each vid that has nothing to do with my main focus. For example, I vid blog about internet marketing, but I always drink beer in my vids and introduce my viewers to a new kind of beer. I often get comments about the beer and hear nothing about the actual post content.
    I like that.
    AL

  8. I have a ton of calls to action and so far nothing is happening. I wonder if artists are too shy to share on my blog.

  9. Daisy says:

    I get more comments on my blog when I post recipes. It’s interesting because I don’t consider myself an expert or a great cook, but just an average cook trying to improve my family’s health through better food. I think the organic and locavore posts gather attention because so many moms are concerned about the quality of the food they buy, but the other recipes? I don’t know why these appeal to readers so much, but I’m glad they do!

  10. It seems that the most reponses that I get is when I ask a question, directly or indirectly.

  11. Joy says:

    Great post and something, as a new blogger with low readership, I’m still working on!

    Here’s what I tried earlier in the year on my blog, asking people to contribute their ideas for healthy meals. Not a lot of takers, as you’ll see….
    http://healthyeatingforhealthylivingtips.com/meal-ideas-breakfast

    This is a different blog post that attracted more comments – so a bit of a controversial post seemed to work
    http://stopthemigrainemadness.com/blog/2009/01/migraine_and_salt/

    Unfortunately what I seem to attract a lot of is a competitor site adding a spurious comment which can take readers away from my site to theirs. Never quite sure how to handle these… what I tend to do is allow one – like this one below:
    http://stopthemigrainemadness.com/blog/2009/06/can-detox-cure-migraines/

    But there is one competitor site that adds a “this is interesting” type comment to almost every post I make. I’d appreciate advice on how to moderate these. I’m tending to delete them, because in one sense they’re NOT spam, but in another they are, because it’s not genuine content.

    Thanks, Joy

  12. Great tips! This post inspired me to take some action!

    I’m going to try to make a question post later on today to get reader interaction. I’ll post a link once I’ve finished!

  13. Isabel says:

    Thanks for sharing this information Darren, and let me tell you, I already applied a little bit of this advice today with the article I posted. I finished it with a question and encouraged readers to make comments. I hope I get some feedback, since I started blogging less than a month ago. I feel really enthusiastic about this and look forward to learn more each day, in order to be a professional blogger.

  14. fas says:

    I have used a few of these points and seen how they affect, surely creating a atmosphere for conversation helps alot.

  15. Alright, as I said earlier, I put up a post asking readers what kind of milk they drink on a regular basis in my blog page on Salad Sticks.

    http://www.saladsticks.com/2009/07/what-kind-of-milk-do-you-drink.html

    Anyone from ProBlogger is welcome to give it a look, vote, and comment as to why you prefer this type of milk. Feel free to say anything else about the subject in your comments.

    I’m going to take quotes from readers who’ve commented for my next week’s post on the benefits and disadvantages of each type of milk. Each quote will link back to the author’s blog page.

    I look forward to hearing some of your opinions!

  16. Mike says:

    Ironically (given that your advice seems to be generally sound!) the post that I’ve written so far as a newbie which has got the most comments is the one where I’ve gathered together some of the worst blogging advice I’ve seen!

    Only problem being that a few of the people who have read it have missed the point and taken it seriously! (Or possibly I didn’t make the satirical element clear enough…)

  17. My blog is only a few months old and getting some comments, that makes me happy.

    I went back to the comments section to see which posts recieved the most comments.

    The most successful were:
    http://blog.kitchentherapy.us/2009/06/gluten-free-fathers-day-dinner/
    and
    http://blog.kitchentherapy.us/2009/07/quinoa-cocoa-waffles/

    What was working here?
    I like to think all my posts are written in a conversational and personal style, with questions.

    Half of the comments are from me, responding to others comments.

    Looking back I notice that both posts were submitted to blogging events, ensuring more targeted readership.

    Both posts had pictures accepted by the food photo sites.

    Also, I sometimes post to professional listserves, including notification of a few blog posts. Often collleagues will comment.

    In the beginning of my blog, I got more emails than blog comments. I responded to their questions by email. And asked if they felt comfortbale, would they please also leave a comment on the blog for all to benefit.

    Some just had never read a blog before, or left a comment and needed to be shown how.

    And people love chocolate (and cocoa) .

  18. CypherHackz says:

    When you write an article, make sure you also think about the readers. Don’t just write whatever you want although it is your blog. Thanks for the tips!

  19. Focus upon commenting as the only way for readers to participate and I like using polls!

  20. Razib Ahmed says:

    I have noticed that current buzz topics related entries usually get more comments.

  21. I’m at my wits end trying to get my readers to comment! I’ve done polls and asked questions at the end of each post. I think I’m focusing on drawing attention to my blog from circles that aren’t as into my niche’ as I am (gadgets). I try to keep the tone of my site casual, friendly and a little bit silly… Fun, but somewhat educational. I recently changed my format from “all over the place” to technology from a woman’s perspective. Maybe I’ll draw a different crowd that will feel free to interact than before.

    Check out my latest post about BlackBerry smartphone cases and feel free to show me where I went wrong, http://bit.ly/Fwb9L. :-|

    Thanks,

    LaKeela
    http://HerTechKnowledgy.com

  22. Dan says:

    10 Top Ways to Find New Blog Topics:
    http://www.sefermpost.com/sefermpost/2009/07/10-top-ways-to-find-new-blog-topics.html

    Do something different.
    Create a post using only pictures. Hold a contest. Give something away to the “nth” person who comments. Invite your readers to ask you a question. Participate in a blog meme. Write a pros and cons list on a topic that is relevant for your audience. Write a post in your “alter ego” voice, contradicting a stance you would usually take. Create a poll. Write about a blog post that you had a strong reaction to…

  23. BloggerDaily says:

    Yeah. This is the biggest mistake that I’d ever done. Writing without considering about the reader.

    I realized my mistake and started to change the style and apply the techniques. And it works!

    Thanks for the tips!

  24. I was amused to come across this post, because I had just posted this call for comments on my blog:

    3 Months: How Are We Doing? (And, How You Can Help)

    It has gotten a few lurkers to come out of the woodwork.

  25. Tommy says:

    Many people try to be controversial in order to garner more comments, but I usually find it is only those who are genuine in what they write actually achieve this (or they may receive comments to one post but then nobody feels like going back again)

  26. I really like your approach, I hope someday you’ll make me famous too.
    :)

  27. Grisel says:

    This is my first visit to Problogger and I found out through a friend that knows my passion for writing. I truly believe there are many things that make content compelling. Some content can draw you into a thought never visited. Some can evoke a feeling that’s old and can spark a reaction that can turn into an action as a result. Some content can be spiritual in nature and help open up new horizons while other can confirm our steadfast opinion. I believe the most compelling content is the one that causes one to think and feel deeper. We are moved not only to act, but also are moved to open our minds, hearts and souls to inspiration and change. That content will have the most long-term compelling reaction to the reader.

  28. dvd says:

    Each of these four points comes down to one simple concept: getting personal with your reader. Interaction means that you have to step out and be a real person to connect with your readers as real people. Through video or through commenting, it’s all part of becoming part of the crowd and not just standing aside leading the group.

    Another strategy? Asking people to give their advice and opinion on something you struggle with. They’re thrilled to be the expert telling the pro what to do!