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.