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Making Yourself Accessible to Readers

be-accessible.pngToday I want to share a powerful principle of successful blogging… that I wish I was better at.

Accessibility.

What I Know

One of the reasons I was attracted to blogging as both a blog reader and as a blogger was the opportunity I saw it opening up for conversation and interaction between people sharing common interests. To be able to discover others to learn from is a wonderful thing – but that learning can be all the richer if it is interactive – where the person sharing their ideas makes themselves contactable.

As I look back on the growth of my own blogs over the past 8 or so years I certainly have benefited by putting myself ‘out there’ for people to contact. At different times I’ve done this by promoting everything from my email address, to my cell phone number, to my instant messaging details, to my social media accounts etc.

The results of being so accessible have been – in the main – very beneficial. It has deepened my relationships with readers, opened the doors for contact from journalists, other bloggers, publishers, potential business partners, event organizers and many others. Many of the opportunities that I’ve taken over the years to expand what I do have arisen simply out of being accessible.

It is well worth working hard on being accessible and interactive with your readers. It’s not easy – but the benefits will well outweigh the costs.

What I don’t Know

The problem with being accessible is of course that it is challenging to scale up as your blog grows. In fact almost every popular blogger that I’ve met have told me that this is amongst their biggest problems. The weight of incoming comments, email and social media messages can become quite overwhelming – some days I personally feel quite overwhelmed by it.

Please don’t hear me as complaining – it’s a challenge but it’s also great – however I’m just not sure how to scale it (or if it really can be).

Each blogger I’ve chatted with about the challenge has dealt with it in different ways.

  • Leo from Zen habits switched off comments and gave up on email (he did this for numerous reasons – he is a minimalist after all).
  • Gary Vaynerchuck has been famous for answering every email he gets (although managed expectations of those who emailed him by auto-responding to emails with a video explaining how many emails he gets and how long it takes to reply – interestingly he’s recently said he’s changing his approach)
  • People like Timothy Ferriss preach about the power of outsourcing and minimizing how much time one spends on things like email.

Other bloggers use a variety of tools to manage their communications, hire a teams of people to assist and use time management and organization philosophies to streamline their workflow.

What I Do

My approach is not perfect – it is something that I need to improve and on many days fail at miserably. Having said that – here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • Limit the points of contact – as mentioned above, I used to put my cell number, IM accounts, email address and more on my contact page. While this had some benefits it also made things disorganized and messy. It also became unmanageable. These days I attempt to funnel people to my contact form and Twitter account as primary places for contact/interaction.
  • Outsourcing – I don’t outsource much but do have some help with comment and forum moderation. I have a number of people help with this. They don’t ever comment in my name but do, when needed, let me know where there is something I need to address and comment on personally.
  • Maximize the impact of personal contact – one of the best things that I do is try to get on Ustream for live video streaming on a semi-regular basis. I find that this type of contact is great because it allows individuals to make contact but because it is in a public setting my answers are heard by many. I find this more productive than one on one communication (email). In a similar way I try to use some of my private email communications as a basis for blog posts (with permission of the person of course).
  • Conferences – the best part of going to live events is that you get to meet people face to face. Getting to Blog World or South by South West (the two US based conferences that I try to get to) has been invaluable to me on this front. Each time I go it allows me to have personal face to face contact with hundreds of people.
  • Boundaries – in the early days of my blogging when I didn’t have much demand for my time I was able to put myself out there fairly liberally and without any real restrictions. As things have grown I’ve found it necessary to pull back. I don’t like this but I’ve found for my own sanity (I’m an introvert and need to watch my energy levels when I’m interacting with people too much) but also my own productivity that I need to set boundaries around when and where I’m contactable.

It is certainly not easy and I’ve not arrived yet. I’ve resisted outsourcing too much of this because I want to retain a personal approach – however every day the unanswered emails and messages that I receive grows and I’m approaching a point where I think I’ll need to get some help on this – after all some contact is better than none (or is it?)

Do Your Best – Some Last Tips

Lets come back to what I know – there are many benefits from being accessible so I would encourage bloggers to find ways to do it. A few quick last tips:

  • Set up a contact form on your blog. This is better than an email address as it keeps your email private from spammers.
  • Set up good expectations with readers – try to communicate on your contact page how you prefer to be contacted and what kind of response people might expect to get. If you can’t answer every email, try to graciously communicate that. If you answer them within 24 hours, let people know that too.
  • Direct people to where you’re most interactive – if you have a variety of social media accounts but are more active on one than others – let people know this. Again it is about setting up good expectations and funneling people to where you are most present and more likely to interact.

What tips would you add on being accessible to readers? How do you approach it?

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. Well, giving people a time frame up front let’s them know what to expect – but whatever that timeframe is it should be kept. When a response can’t be provided in that time, a brief follow up of some sort should let the person know you aren’t ignoring them.

    Also, set a particular time during when you will deal with it, rather allowing emails to continually interrupt your day.

  2. Keith says:

    I hope to have this problem soon! Seriously, every blogger that becomes successful on a certain level will have to think about outsourcing, and I think that is ok.

  3. Guillermo says:

    Contact Form, eMail and Comments are enough for me. No need for any other stuff.

  4. Thank you for all the advice Darren. Your insight is right on.Pierrette & I want to remain not only available but human and transparent also.
    I tell things the way I see it and content is for the readers.Our blog gives us the freedom to express our true emotions and inner feelings.
    I am on twitter and Pierrette takes care of facebook. We are both very passionate about our personal health and well being.Our family is the most important part of our lives and our friendships, like yours, are invaluable.
    Thank you for telling it like it is.
    Pierre & Pierrette
    Thee Quest Perfect Health

  5. Josh Garcia says:

    Hey Darren,

    As my business continues to grow. I’m looking forward to utilizing this list to be able to communicate and interact with my readers.

    This is an inspiration to continue doing what I’m doing so I can say the same thing. :)

    Chat with you later…
    Josh

  6. Some really good tips for making yourself accessible, but not to the point where it prohibits your ability to grow. I totally agree that at some point it is just physically impossible to answer every single e-mail, blog comment, twitter message, etc… However dedicating a specific amount of time each day to responding to loyal readers is I think part of the responsibilities.

    I like how Gary V has openly said that he will respond to every email. It may not be a personalized email, but whether he addressed a question you had in an upcoming blog post, video, articles,…he will respond. I think ultimately this makes the community more involved because they know that someone is listening and will engage with them back.

    In order to scale you need to understand how to maximize your time, be efficient, stick to a schedule, and be passionate about what you do.

  7. Gayle Pescud says:

    Great post and seriously challenging issue. It’s overwhelmed me recently as I try to reply to everyone, but it’s almost a part-time job. I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with it going forward, but it’s important to what I do in terms of answering questions outside the scope of the product we sell (travel guide). Still not sure how to deal with it, but this post is a great help, thank you.

  8. [smile] The price of fame/popularity/success in a public forum.

    What’s always interesting are the variety of perspectives taken by the famous. The spectrum goes from “Everyone wants a piece of me,” to “These are the people I’m trying to reach.” Unsurprisingly, Darren, your post places you at the extreme end of the latter.

    That’s not to say Leo’s ‘minimalist’ approach is in any way disrespectful of his readers and fans. The value of Zen Habits is independent of whether he interacts outside the push of his posts. It’s in the posts themselves, and that’s value enough for me. I suspect his attitude toward his readership is every bit as positive as yours.

    It’s a very personal choice, deciding how much of yourself to give over to your blog and its readers. It’s important to recognise your own limits, and remain within them. Exceeding them may bring short term gains, but you risk burn out and losing not just respect for your readers, but the love for them that makes blogging a joy. Lose that, and that disrespect and loss of love will begin showing up in your posts.

    Great post, Darren.

  9. Blogetize says:

    I run 4 blogs, and sometimes just keeping up-to-date on all of them seems like a full-time job, much less keeping up and replying to everyone I need to reply to. (sometimes I’m up until 2 or 3AM just replying to people and/or doing blog maintenance)

    I’m considering outsourcing 1 or 2 of my blogs, what do you think about that? Maybe an idea for a future post?

  10. Jeff Yablon says:

    Darren, you’re right on the money. In fact, so much so that I’m . . . well, I admire what you did here, sir.

    Yes, as you grow it becomes increasingly difficult to stay engaged. And when you fake it (think of Steve Jobs and his infamous one-word “customer service” emails of late) you just look worse.

    All of that is just . . . reality. What bothers me is when people claim to be engaged but in reality are nothing of the sort. Gary Vaynerchuk is a good example of that lately. Even Chris Brogan is feeling more and more faux-connected. And those are guys who make their very handsome livings by BEING connected AND PREACHING ABOUT IT.

    The real point is exactly as you stated: have a policy, be open about what it is, and execute it.

    Easy, right?

    Jeff Yablon
    President & CEO
    Answer Guy and Virtual VIP Business Change Coaching and Virtual Assistant Services

    Answer Guy and Virtual VIP on Twitter

  11. This is something that I’ve been struggling with over the last 6 months. My site has grown so much and one of the things I pride myself most on is answering every comment, every email and every piece of contact. However, as things have grown it’s beginning to take away from my time that’s left for creating good content.

    I can see how difficult this can be and only wish I had some advice. The idea of limiting the contact points is brilliant as it just makes the process cleaner and more streamlined.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this difficult to manage topic!

  12. Andy Ptacek says:

    While you were over providing contact info, I was underproviding… I can’t believe I never thought to put a contact form on my blog! We link to our main site for ways to contact, but how much more user-friendly would it be to have a form right there on the blog. Thanks :)

  13. Great post Darren!

    I think it’s important for us as bloggers
    to be accessible. I see a lot of people
    just marketing to their readers, and not
    connecting.

    It’s called ‘Social Media’… so we’re
    supposed to be conversating and not
    just talking.

    I love the points you shared and the
    tips on how to go about them. I always
    enjoy your content Darren….

    It’s stuff that I can put right into action…

    THANK YOU:)

  14. Jim Lochner says:

    I’ve always answered every email, Facebook message, or Tweet that I’ve received. Granted, I don’t have thousands of followers in any of those places so it’s still manageable.

    My experience so far has been that the more I’ve opened up and become available, the better my business has flourished.

    I’m in the middle of running my first contest on my blog to build an email list. I ran the blog for one full year without having one, which was a mistake. I decided within the first few subscriptions to the list, that I would send a personal thank you follow-up to each and every person who subscribed. This happened to me a couple of weeks back with a newsletter I subscribed to, and I was floored that I got a response back. Sure, it wasn’t totally personal (neither are mine), but just something that is sent from my blog’s email is making all the difference.

    The response has been overwhelming. I’ve received countless emails back saying how nice it was to receive that email, that it had never happened before. People have opened up their lives and I’ve already started making a REAL connection in just five days!

    So far that’s 75 emails I’ve sent. Even that can become a bit overwhelming, especially since almost all of them had to have a comment on the site managed as well. But I think it’s worth it.

    I, too, like Darren, am a bit of an introvert. But if this helps my business somewhere down the road and keeps readers visiting my site, it’s a very small price to pay, and ultimately personally rewarding.

  15. Wilson Usman says:

    I think one thing that would work but I haven’t tried it yet, is having a contact form like you said, but specifically dedicating one entire day like a Thursday or Monday to just answering email’s or maybe even two days. Or not all day I guess 2 hours or something and telling your readers to expect a response on those days.

    What do you guys think?

  16. FredInChina says:

    Ahhh, I am glad I don’t have the problem of too many comments and communications to address…

    Hey WAIT – I would like to have that problem to solve!

    Great post Darren, I admire the approach of creating a personal contact with readers & am following this example; I am meeting and training with readers during my travels (I blog about my world wide karate journey) – this is really great.

    I respect Leo Barbauta’s approach, but do not like it at all.

    Fred

  17. I haven’t reached this stage yet. I try to respond to the comments on my blog, but that’s it. I’ve made friends with a few people and have exchanged email addresses with them.

  18. Paul says:

    Personal contact is one of the biggest reason I’m starting to blog. I love the idea of socializing and sharing ideas through new media. Luckily enough I love to write and design as well. Just seems like a perfect fit!

    I like how you point the importance of focusing on your prefered communication method. As I’m creating my new blog there is a real instinct to sign up for EVERYTHING when I know that just isn’t practical. I need to focus on the social medias that I prefer and will best serve my readers!

    Great article!

  19. Well, I don’t get much comments on my blog. But I do respond to the ones I get. But I get a lot comments on some youtube videos :).

    As usual very nice and helpful post.

    Regards,
    Raja
    http://www.cellophanegiftbags.blogspot.com/

  20. I love communicating with my readers. I don’t have a problem with emails as I usually don’t get more than 5 a day from my blog. I guess I can’t say “I know how it feels” to you, Darren. :p

    Responding to comments on my blog, that can get overwhelming for me. But I really encourage any form of contact between my readers and myself. I put my Skype name and MSN name in my email signature, and even let them know that if they want my cell # to ask.

    @Wilson That sounds like a decent idea, but from my experience with responding to emails – reply in 1-2 days. If they email you about guest posts, or want to work with you as a client, you would definitely need to make an exception and get back to them ASAP.

  21. Robby G says:

    I find contact forms the best, and if you develop a good relationship with the person then add them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter and maybe even IM. I personally don’t prefer having my readers on IM, by that’s just me. I like this advice since it’s beyond the realm of blogging for beginners. Cheers.

  22. I shut the comments off on my blog, I would rather interact on Facebook and Twitter. My “YouTube” channel is popular but I’ve switched the comments off to direct people to the website instead.

    I can still handle the emails but it’s becoming more difficult. I guess you can be a victim of your own success but that’s when doors should open to visit the big events in the US and launch a product for sale etc…

    Thanks D!

  23. Darren, I applaud you for pre-empting our problems which you also give solutions to. I, too, will be taking action by implementing the contact form. Thanks.

  24. Joshua Noerr says:

    Do you find that your income potential, and actual income, vary or fluctuate at all with increased or decreased accessibility to your readership?

  25. Tim Brownson says:

    Jeez, there’s a hell of a lot of ‘needs’ in there no wonder you feel under so much pressure man.

    What do you actually want to do?

  26. I really like this topic of accessibility, Darren, especially because you’ve opened this up as a public discussion.

    Reading the perspective of you and other bloggers is helpful for me — great food for thought.

    I really had not purposely thought it through in this way before.

    However, now I see that I may need to be a bit more purposeful … for instance:

    I agree that having too many ways for folks to contact you can end up becoming “messy” and can be confusing for them.

    I also agree that it’s important to give them a general time frame to expect your reply and to be consistent in sticking with that.

    For me, I have “defaulted” to relying on comment forms, instead of a dedicated contact form, along with my social media widgets for twitter and Facebook.

    However, I definitely plan to be more purposeful and make some much needed changes in this area.

    Again, thanks to you all!

  27. In the early days it’s great to be able to correspond with every reader and it’s important too. They have much to teach us. But I can see as time goes on it will get harder or impossible. We can’t spread ourselves too thinly so when you reach a certain mass you need to use webstreaming or conferences to keep up. Hope to catch you at Blow World one day:)

  28. Jenny says:

    I really needed this post. The traffic to my site has more than doubled in the last two months. What’s more is that I used to reach an audience that was fairly well-educated in my niche, but now I’m reaching people who have an interest in it but are not familiar with its fundamental aspects – which means a lot more questions. I’m not able to go full-time yet, and I can’t respond to every comment, though I still try to respond to every email and FB message.I recently had a new read post a long diatribe to facebook detailing “how she was a real person” and why haven’t I responded to her comments – I can’t! But this gives me some ideas as to how I can work around these issues.

    I also have the same question as Joshua: is there any correlation between income and interaction?

  29. Joi says:

    Great and much-needed post. I have 14 sites/blogs, so you can imagine how much e-mail I have daily! It’s my favorite way to communicate with my reader friends, though.

    I’ve never given my phone number out, simply because (being from the South), I’m pretty long-winded and would never get any work done.

    On my dream analysis blog (Dream Prophesy), I was getting so many dream requests that I had to scale back a little. Instead of personal responses, I now simply use the questions (with permission granted) on the site as posts – including, of course, my dream interpretation.

    It gives me content and cuts back on the number of e-mails I have to personally answer.

    I also use (with complete anonymity) many of the general questions and topics that I get through my self help and brain fitness blogs. I still give personal responses for these, but I figure that if 1 person is dealing with a particular subject – a lot of others are as well.

  30. Glen says:

    Great Post! Unfortunately I have not reached this level yet but I think I will cut back with the amount of inlets I give out so when/if it does get really congested I will be able to control it very quickly.

  31. i-Blogger says:

    I think your right, putting an IM, email, cell-phone #, fax #, comments, Twitter, Facebook, myspace, ect.. is just way to unmanageable. You would be spending all of your time just trying to keep up with those ways of communication. I would just stick with one or two means for contact.

    Thanks, Brian M. Connole
    http://www.i-blogger.info

  32. sandra says:

    boy am I glad you brought this up. Recently I made a comment on one of those outstanding blogs and everyone in this particular thread was responded to except for me. Not even a thank you for your comment. And my take is whatever a blogger does they should be consistent as much as possible with all their readers. If you’re going to comment on the threads then be consistent. By the way my comment was not a troll like response but a specific way something could be done. Their is a level of blog snobbery that shows when bloggers choose to ignore people. Thanks for providing a place where I can bring this up. I hope bloggers will take note.

  33. Sharel says:

    I Loved the problem definition, kind of stress free community cultivation:
    “What I don’t Know

    The problem with being accessible is of course that it is challenging to scale up as your blog grows. In fact almost every popular blogger that I’ve met have told me that this is amongst their biggest problems. The weight of incoming comments, email and social media messages can become quite overwhelming – some days I personally feel quite overwhelmed by it.”

    Amazing!!!

  34. Steven says:

    If blogger can Making Yourself Accessible to Readers so them can get success but this is a problem with every blogger , it’s never easy .

  35. Darren – I definitely have the problem of checking them too much. I’m like a little excited kid. Always want to jump in and have more conversations, respond to comments, tweets, Facebook, etc.

    And I love it. Some days I spend doing it for hours. But then it becomes hard to shut off say when I go on a trip.

  36. Jenny says:

    Sandra –
    You need to understand that, especially on popular sites, most bloggers simply don’t have the time or resources to reply to every single person who comments. To chalk it up to “blog snobbery” is foolish and self-serving.

  37. sandra says:

    Jenny
    Too me as a customer (reader) it looks like blog snobbery. I resent it being called “foolish”. All I’m saying is if there are 7 responses and the blogger responds to all “6″ and leaves you out, as a reader and customer that is rude. They can at least say thankyou to all that posted in one post. Perception is the reality for your customers. That’s all. But I do have the right to perceive it as such. You are entitled to your opinion but I will not reach so low as to call your comment foolish.

  38. @Sandra:

    As a blog reader, I hope you will take note that there is a bit of behind-the-scenes detail for replying to reader comments which may not be readily evident.

    Sometimes there may be tech challenges, scheduling challenges, or family/children/primary job interruptions right before they finish going through all of the comments, and on and on.

    We have to remember that pro-bloggers have jobs, families and real lives, too. I feel that one of the dangers of social media is that, as blog readers, we may become a bit insensitive due to the impersonal method that we’re using to connect with others. Just a thought.

    I hope that blog readers will be willing to give the listening bloggers the benefit of the doubt that we won’t refuse to reply simply out of snobbery. (Although I am sure there is some snobbery at times, too.)

    8)

  39. sandra says:

    Thank you Donna. I understand there are time restraints for everything and I appreciate what you are saying about “perceptions”. And I also know that readers need to be shown respect too and don’t always have to sit and wonder about the schedule of the blogger. When you are in business I think there must be a win/win for the blogger and the reader(who also could be a business person–something to think about). So I propose “compromise” : on some blogs people will do one post and say thankyou to all that posted on this issue and some list the names and some do not. But to dismiss the issue as one where the reader has to be the one to “understand” doesn’t seem right to me. It may be that as with some bloggers they comment to a few people or none, or privately. But as in life we all need to figure out a way to make win/win for all, especially if you are pushing products for someone to buy. Thanks for your thoughts.

  40. Oh, yes, also… the point Darren brought up about providing a comment form also applies to Sandra’s comments.

    If you feel that you’re not receiving a proper reply, then the comment form is certainly the way to go so that you’ll get a more direct reply.

  41. Brian says:

    This is my first comment, EVER. I am beginning my journey into the crazy world of blogging…

    This post is obviously targeted at more experienced and more popular bloggers. I like the advice to become accessible for a new blogger like me! Hey, having to figure out what to do with all my comments and followers will be a blessing!

    Thanks D.

    P.S. i’m looking for any guidance for a beginner anyone might want to share. For now, I’ll continue to take Darrens advice. You can reach me at [email protected]

    Brian

  42. Nunzio Bruno says:

    I hope to be like Gary Vaynerchuck. I know it’s a lot to ask and right now in the growing phase that I’m in I am keeping on top of it. I like the idea of outsourcing but as long as when people reach out that it could be any member of a trusted team. I try to acknowledge my readership as much as possible because I really do appreciate everyone that takes the time to help make the community I’m trying to create a meaningful one. That’s my two cents anyway :)

  43. Kat Eden says:

    My feeling is that it’s good to be as accessible as possible in the ‘building’ days of a blog. I’m at 1,000 readers (ish :)) now – finally – and I believe that part of what got me there is that I do answer every email within 24 hours, even if it involves giving away what is almost a consult for free to answer people’s questions.

    I don’t put my mobile number out there, but I do let people connect on Facebook and have even met up with some of my reader’s in real life which has been cool.

    Where I was a bit unsure was when I recently released my e-book. I ended up deciding to include a promise to answer every email on questions about it rather than worry about it being unmanageable. But I can definitely see that once I get into really big blogging numbers this kind of thing just won’t be possible. As much as I can’t wait to hit my next blogging goals, it’s also kinda nice to be at a place where I can take the time to connect 1:1 with my readers.

  44. Kristina says:

    Hi Darren,

    Super advice. It is important to connect with readers when the blog is new. I’ve also been responding to each Twitter follower I get. A personal touch goes a long way. Eventually, if my blog gets big I will just activate comments on some blogs or create an email address for the occasion, and I’ll note the date I intend to deactivate the account. Thanks for the advice!

    Sincerely,
    Kristina
    GirlStartsMarketingCareer.tumblr.com

  45. Dorothy Ray says:

    Something (else) to think about as I get started in this blog business. You’re to be commended for putting yourself out there so much, Darren, but it seems too much to share one’s personal numbers with the world.Facebook and Twitter are enough with blog comments, I think.

    I’m most comfortable “speaking” to blog owners at the end of an article that I especially like, and think sending an email to a busy blogger is a little invasive. But then, I’ve still got a lot to learn.

    Some bloggers respond right next to a comment, some write a general response to several commenters and others simply don’t respond at all. That’s okay if I realize that’s their style. I almost never go back to see if my comment has been answered, anyway.

    Reading what other readers say is fun. Often their comments are enlightening. To me, that’s a good reason to allow comments to be made on any blog. I just hope I’ll have some interested readers who will want to write comments.

    Darren, thank you for all your good advice and kind heart.

  46. ppc tips says:

    Outsourcing can work, and work well. If you are spending hours maintaining your blogs, you are going to burn out!

  47. Paul Andrew says:

    I’ve found that commenting on comments, and answering the questions in them has been received a very positive response.

  48. I think that when it comes to social media, being accessible is one of the most important things that a blogger can do. I think that readers respond to you when you are ‘hands on’ and communicate back and forth with your audience. I’m glad you’re making this point because it’s very important that bloggers especially grasp this concept.

    Thanks for sharing!

  49. Ann Skinner says:

    Im investigating use of workplace blogs for a university assignment, but also get the impression that there is a large time committment necessary to maintain them, which could possibly be difficult to continue long term. From an organisational or business perspective perhaps outsourcing would be a more suitable option as your core business tasks need consideration too, Has anyone successfully managed the time committments of blogging within a business and how have you done this?

  50. MAKE THEM SIMPLE is the best way to make your blog successful. There’s a lot of blogs that are too complicated and readers will not have time to browse the whole blog to read what they want to. Making it simple means it’s very conducive and easy for the readers to be attached to the blog especially if the topic and always new and interesting.