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Save the Sanctimony: Make Your Blog Sound Like a Trusted Friend

We all know that rapport is essential to developing lasting relationships with readers. Central to that sense of rapport is how closely you align yourself with your readers. Take a look at your last few blog posts. Do you sound like a trusted friend, or a stuffy (or sanctimonious) authority?

The education system and the media have convinced many of us that, to sound like we have authority, we have to be formal, we have to present a bullet-proof case in a verbal flack jacket, and we must either accept no argument, or if one comes up, shoot it down in flames.

This is far less than ideal; in many cases, I think these perceptions can lead us to sound pompous and self-advancing — even when that’s not at all the kinds of people we are.

Fortunately, breaking those habits isn’t too hard. There are a few basic  steps that I take when I’m preparing a blog post to ensure my content is as  friendly and trustworthy as possible.

1. Respect your audience.

To respect your audience, you have to know who they are and how they use your information. I realise, for example, that readers of the blogs I write for tend to be big content consumers. They’re not just reading my content — they’re sourcing information all the time from a variety of locations. They’ll weigh up what I say against the information they find elsewhere, and will want to use it to build an overall picture on a given topic. They’re also short on time.

This kind of audience insight automatically puts me in a certain frame of mind. I’m competing for my readers’ attention. If I don’t give these guys the goods, they’re going to stop reading pretty quickly, so grandstanding is out. Long-winded hyperbole is no good. I need to speak to these people. Automatically, that affects my tone.

2. Imagine your audience member sitting next to you.

If you’re writing for what you believe to be a faceless mass of people, you can feel distanced, and that can lead you to write more formally. That, in turn, can make it seem like you’re trying to sit ‘above’ your audience, rather than ‘alongside’ them.

If you find your writing tends to sound distant, try this trick: imagine as you’re writing that an audience member is sitting beside you, and you’re explaining your content topic to them. For me, this technique helps keep my language and sentence structure on the level.

3. Stay off your high horse.

Grandstanding, show boating, getting on your high horse — whatever you call it, avoid it! If you want to come across as a trusted friend, you’ll need to present your case reasonably and in an appealing way. Ration and reason are the blogger’s allies here; self-righteous opinion is not.

You’ll also need to be able to back up every claim you make, and every piece of research that has contributed to the argument you’re making. And whatever you do, don’t take the approach of trying to ram an opinion down readers’ throats. Avoid the bombastic; opt for reason and sense.

4. Use personal phrasing.

If you want to be your readers’ friend, sound like one. That means: stay away from jargon, explain things in user-friendly language, and avoid language designed to imply that you’re experienced or skilled — if you are those things, just say so up front.

There are many small tricks you can use to make your content sound friendlier. These are some of the phrases that I use almost unconsciously in my posts to build a sense of friendliness and to put me on the level with readers:

  • I think (not ‘I believe’ or ‘It’s my opinion that’)
  • When I’ve been in this situation or When this has happened to me (not ‘In my experience’)
  • I, me, my (if too many instances of ‘you should’ or ‘you can’ the content sounds like I’m lecturing)
  • you, your (if the post sounds too self-centered)
  • we, our (if I need to align myself or my actions with readers, or to obtain ‘buy-in’ to my argument)
  • Why not…? (not ‘you must’ or ‘it’s imperative that’)

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that casual means sloppy copy. Saying ‘It’s imperative that’ is very different from saying ‘Why not do X?’  One clearly presents a necessity, the other sounds like a suggestion. But the second option gives us very broad scope for putting readers in the picture.

5. Put readers in the picture.

If you think about it, the blogger has limited scope to be the reader’s friend. I can’t come over to your house for coffee on Saturday. I can’t feed your dog while you’re on holiday. All I can do is be your friend through content.

Focusing on readers is the ideal way to show I care. That translates to the kinds of topics I write about, but putting readers in the picture filters right down to the words I use to communicate with you.

For example, I just wrote two paragraphs speaking directly to you and talking very personally about me. And here’s another. I didn’t refer to you as being part of a group of readers — ‘you guys’ or ‘you all’. It’s just you and me, talking about blogs and readers. Isn’t it cosy? I’m enjoying it.

Now let’s look again at ‘It’s imperative that’ as opposed to ‘Why not…?’ The first puts pressure on the reader: it says, ‘you must do this.’ It dictates a course of action. The second sounds like a mere suggestion — but it doesn’t have to be.

By asking a question, you can invite readers into the content, and get them thinking about themselves. You can then back up your “suggestion” with a clear outline of all the reasons why it’s actually imperative. This way, you can allow the reader to draw their own conclusions (and direct them to draw the conclusions you want them to) without telling them what they should think.

When I asked you if you thought the tone of our conversation was cosy a moment ago, I invited you into the content. To cement my point, I told you I was enjoying it. This (should, I hope) help to convince you that this technique is a good thing. Even if you’d thought, ‘No, it’s not cosy, it’s boring’, the fact that I told you I was enjoying it would likely have softened you a little. Why? Because we love to know that the people we’re with — our friends — enjoy being with us. It’s that simple.

As you can see, being a friend and trusted authority ultimately involves you and me. It’s a matter of finding the right balance between providing information and inviting a response; talking from your perspective and seeking that of your readers. That’s how being friends works, after all.

What techniques do you use to ensure your readers see you as a friendly authority?

About the Author: Georgina has more than ten years’ experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. She now blogs for WebWorkerDaily and SitePoint, and consults on content to a range of other clients.

About Georgina Laidlaw

Georgina Laidlaw is a freelance content developer, and Content manager for problogger.net. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Marlee says:

    Georgina!
    I love what you say about writing as though the person is next to you.

    I think the technique I find most effective in getting readers to see me as friendly is to write as though I’m only writing for one person.

    When you write as though it’s an e-mail to a friend many of those personal elements fall into place naturally.

  2. Josh Garcia says:

    Hey Georgina,

    This is an awesome list you put together. I like to write to my readers as if we were hanging out in a coffee shop and I was chatting with them. You mentioned, “Put readers in the picture” is something that I do a lot. I like to ask questions to my readers.

    Chat with you later…
    Josh

  3. Christina says:

    Darren I especially like the personal phrasing aspect. I find I use the NO terms to sound more intelligent and well versed. Rethinking that all together now, thanks.

  4. A. Tatum says:

    Good advice. When writing on certain topics I try to let my readers no that I’ve been where they are, but where do you think the line is between making the reader comfortable and still letting them no your not just making stuff up and you do know what your talking about?

  5. Hi
    This is awesome post.Creating trust is must and one should always help other if he wants to win people trust.He should provide and must be specific with his blog

    Thanks For Sharing
    -Abhishek

  6. I think it depends on the tone of my post. I try to keep things humorous so while I hope what’s coming across is intelligent, I usually keep my posts in the familiar. Occasionally, I will ask the reader a question. But, putting him or her more within the context of the post makes it more personal. A lot of it for me comes down to the quality of the writing.

  7. Hi Georgina,

    Thanks for sharing the actionable tips!

    I like the “picture being with your reader” advice. By imagining your reader in person you gain a different perspective. Much different than sitting at a laptop and typing away a blog post with a faceless audience in mind.

    Ryan Biddulph

  8. Thanks for this great article, Georgina. Clearly you practice what you preach!

    Another helpful tip to avoid coming across as stuffy or pedantic is to think of your blog not as a podium but as the microphone at the center of a town hall meeting. You aren’t there to deliver a monologue; you’re there to start the conversation. Your job is not to sell; it’s to educate, inform, entertain, excite and provoke thought while leaving room for others to join the discussion.

    For those who would like more advice like this, be sure to check out Fame Foundry’s blogging primer: http://www.famefoundry.com/4224/shut-up-and-blog-already.

    Cheers!

    Beth

  9. Nguyen Trung says:

    Thanks @Georgina for a very useful guide, I think respect for his readers is the best way for every blogger can approach them. Any profession, respect for others is a basic factor to be sociable with people.

  10. I always liked the trick of pretending that you are writing a letter to your grandmother. Although I get a little teacher-like sometimes, I try to offset that by adding in humor and some storytelling.

    No one likes a blog that sounds angry, or that they are being told they’re doing something wrong. If you use self-depricating humor, many times you can get your customers to say “wow, I did that too. It must be ok since I’m not the only one.”

    When you are able to teach as a friend instead of using the attitude of a nasty lecturer, then you can really improve the level of attention that you will get from your customers.

    You want them to feel as though you’re sharing a secret around a campfire instead of lecturing in front of a class of bored students.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  11. I think one of the best ways to respect your readers is to truly love what you write. That way you’re never forcing content on them.

    Imagining your audience sitting next to you is an interesting tactic.

  12. SusieBee says:

    Great post, especially for me as a newbie. I will picture someone sitting here next to me in the kitchen for my posts going forward.
    SusieBee

  13. Noel says:

    It’s really important to keep the individual readers in mind when writing a blog post. Too often do I catch myself writing the blog post only for me, and not even caring if other people might like or get the ideas I’m presenting.

    It’s always important to remember that you’re spreading some sort of message to other people, and not just rambling on through the internet.

    That’s why I very much like the “imagine your audience member sitting next to you” tip. It’s a great way to help keep your focus as you write a new post.

  14. This is really, really good Georgina! Loved your post. I especially liked the tips on phrasing and your advice on putting the readers in the picture. Intellectually I know this… but that’s my problem sometimes. I need to get out of my head and into my feeling, connecting self.

    I always write with the idea I’m talking to a friend. It’s easy to get off course though — especially when writing a “how to” article. It’s hard not to sound all didactic and professorial. A constant challenge for me! These are awesome ideas and I thank you, thank you, thank you!

    ~Theresa

  15. Hi Georgina,

    I completely agree with your 5 points. These will definitely make your blog sound more personable and “human”. This is important because people do business with people..

    thanks for sharing this with us..
    talk soon
    Hector

  16. Undine says:

    I find that my best blog posts are just slighly edited versions of e-mails or discussion board postings. They’re replies to a specific person who had a question or problem. I guess the mechanisms you described explains why those articles are so successful.

    Thank you!

  17. I do like writing my blog as though I’m only writing to one person. But also, I do like writing it in such a way that generates questions and reader-response. Great way to get the reader involved and coming back for more.

  18. Georgina, great post, thank you!

    This is what I really needed to hear right now. I have a personal finance website and blog. It is taking long to build a steady readership for this, which is unlike my other blogs.

    This made me start looking for the reasons why. With a background in economic and work experience in corporate finance – which is what I did before I started online businesses – I realised that my blog comments were dry and too formal. I will certainly use some of the tips you’ve provided to make sure that my blog posts sound like a trusted friend, and to help me “connect” with my readers.

  19. Hi there, thats really helpful and cool tips. These ideas can promote a good harmony between the blog author and its readers. Thanks for the great post.

  20. Hi Georgina,

    My site has hit the 2 year mark!… I have taken on board the advice from the other day and I’ve limited the posts to one every Friday.

    This advice is awesome as well and I’m going to start engaging more, with illustrations & photographs and thinking about the posts more.

    Have a great weekend pro-bloggers!…

    David Edwards

    :]

  21. Carl Natale says:

    You’re so right on all these counts. But focusing on an individual reader is probably the best point. Imagine you’re writing an e-mail to someone you know.

    Also I’m trying to change my point of view. Instead of pitching myself as an expert, I’m trying to be a tour guide. It means that I approach the blog with a “Look at what I learned today” attitude. I hope this gives me a more accessible style.

    It’s a work in progress so I can’t say that I’m totally successful. But I like the approach.

    Thanks for the tips. And have a good day.

  22. Hi Georgina,
    What a nice name you have!
    Pierrette & I have always believed that less is more. Sitting at my computer I always try to keep it simple. I try to never assume that you(my reader) understand just because I do.
    I love for people to listen and hear the message. In order to do that I create a two way channel inviting my friend into the conversation. Try it, it always works, if you can read your own mind.
    Thanks for the valuable info. I can see why Darren loves your stuff.
    Pierre
    Thee Quest For Perfect health

  23. “Sanctimony” scared me away from a bookselling blog yesterday. I make most of my income from online bookselling and the rest from other online ventures, but this bookseller with five fewer years experience than I wrote his posts as if he was absolutely correct and had long experience in the field.

    I didn’t subscribe, and I won’t even bother to promote him by mentioning the name of the blog.

    I hope my tone on my blog is a bit friendlier.

    Gip

  24. You are definitely right about treating readers like friends. The last thing that you want to do is to drive off people with a dismissing or arrogant attitude.

  25. Kathy Condon says:

    I struggled with the tone of my blog for a long time. After winning an award for my book where I had used my preferred style, I decided to adopt the same tone for my website.

    Now I have much more fun writing my blog….Agree with your points. The blog is a place where I can be lighter and truly me while getting my stories across to make points about improving communication.

    http://www.kathycondons.blogspot.com

  26. Ngozi Nwoke says:

    Hi Georgina

    Great post! I like what you said about Imagining your audience member sitting next to you. It will help one to be more friendly and realistic. It will help me to choose the right words for a post.

    Thanks.

  27. Simon says:

    Whenever I write I aways make my posts as personal as possible – I write once – never really edit – just put down on my keyboard what comes into my mind.

    I find it gives my posts a more natural feel and not as though I am writing an “instruction manual”.

  28. Kate says:

    Thanks for the tips on phrasing things so that readers don’t feel looked down upon. Very useful!

  29. Sandra Lee says:

    Georgina,

    I appreciate all the points in this post, but the section on phrasing was especially helpful to me. It’s sometimes hard to find the fine line between being personable and being preachy. These tips help. Thank you so much.

  30. Steve says:

    It’s helpful to picture a friend sitting with you while you try to write friendly posts. When I’m struggling to get the tone right, I wont just imagine a friend, I will have a real one sit with me and bounce different forms off them and see what gets the response I like. Make sure you pick a friend that will give you an honest answer tho, some are just too kind!

  31. Moneywise says:

    I agree with you because we bloggers post content that our readers find hard to understand. We must avoid the the use of jargons and share our ideas in a simplifies and easy to understand manner. Insightful tips

  32. bendedspoon says:

    Hi Georgina. Thanks for this one!
    My blog is more about making friends
    and how do i make one? By being one!
    Do you want your friends to come over
    to your house everyday?
    Or just call you everyday?
    As much as you love them,
    you have other things to do
    so a once or twice a week ‘How are you?’ will do.
    That ‘How are you?’ represents your post/entry.
    Don’t overload. Just light is right.
    Hope you will visit me this week.
    thanks!
    :)

  33. Its really important to keep the individual readers when you write a blog. Too often get to actually write a blog just for me, and even treated, if other people can maintain or get they present.

  34. Mike Smith says:

    Some excellent tips I always advocate “imagine you are talking directly to a person” Not just for blogging also for your web site.

  35. Mike Kirkeberg says:

    On the money. When I am reading, I get turned off by authoritarian language. Authoritative, authentic, and casuual is much more palatable.

  36. I am continuously looking online for tips that can benefit me. Thanks!