Today I want to share a powerful principle of successful blogging… that I wish I was better at.
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?