This guest post is by Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing.
How much time do you spend reading blogs? A few hours per week? Maybe even a few hours per day?
I spend at least an hour per day, and sometimes more. You have to, if you want to keep up with the happenings in an online community.
Now let’s do some math.
Let’s say that you spend 90 minutes per day reading blogs. Weekdays only, so that works out to seven and a half hours per week. Thirty hours per month.
Three hundred and sixty hours per year. Yes, that’s right—three hundred and sixty hours per year. That’s fifteen straight days of blog reading.
If you’re spending that much time, shouldn’t you be sure that it isn’t going to waste?The first thing we need to do is figure out why we even read blogs. Putting entertainment value aside (yes, I know it can be fun, but we’re professionals, right?), I think there are two main reasons we do it: to learn, and to build relationships.
Other than entertainment, these are the two reasons that we read blogs. Either we’re trying to learn something, or we’re trying to build a relationship with the blogger or their community. Ideally, we’re trying to do both.
Well, if we’re going to spend this much time trying to learn and connect, maybe we should think about how these processes really work!
How learning works
Learning is one of those things that we all do all the time, but never stop to really think about. There are a few steps to a learning process:
- You’re exposed to new ideas and information.
- You filter out the information that isn’t relevant to you (this is something like 95% of what’s going on around you at any given time!).
- You encode that information in long-term memory, so that you can remember it later.
- You integrate that information with your understandings and worldview, so that you can apply it in appropriate situations.
- You remember it at the right time, and adapt your behavior based on the new learning.
Reading the blog posts is just Step 1—exposing yourself to new ideas and information.
To really learn something, and get as much as you can out of what you’re reading, you still have to make sure you don’t filter out anything important, encode it in a meaningful way so that you can access it later, learn to apply it in your life, and actually do so.
Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.
Repetition, association, processing, and meta-cognition
There are a few principles that you can harness to your advantage when you’re trying to learn new things; repetition, association, processing, and meta-cognition:
- Repetition. This is what it sounds like—the greater the number of times you hear something, the more likely you are to remember it. I’ll say it again: the greater the number of times you hear something, the more likely you are to remember it. This is how we all learned our multiplication tables as kids.
- Association. We learn and remember by drawing associations between the new concepts that we’re trying to learn, and older concepts that we’re already understand. This could mean thinking about how the new idea is like an old idea, or how it’s different, or how it is connected. For example, in what way is Peter Pan like an entrepreneur?
- Processing. The more you think about something, the more likely you are to remember it; by turning an idea over and over in your head, you get to know it that much better. Thinking through scenarios and applications of the things you read about is a good way to improve the learning.
- Meta-Cognition. Meta-cognition means thinking about thinking. In other words, paying attention to your thinking processes—things like your assumptions and your feelings as you explore the new ideas that you are reading about.
Okay, okay, obviously you aren’t going to spend three hours on every blog post—and you don’t have to. There are simple tricks that you can use to apply these principles, and I’ll share them with you in a little while.
But first, let’s talk about how relationships work.
How relationships work
Relationships… connections… community… These are some of the hottest buzz-words of social media. But do we ever stop to think about how they really work? How do you build a relationship with someone?
I think there are four important things that are required:
- Show that you know them. Relationships depend on familiarity and understanding—you have to feel that someone really knows you in order to have a relationship with them. That’s the difficulty in connecting through blog comments—you’re just one in a hundred, and the comments all start blurring together.
- Show that you think and care about them. When a relationship is genuine, we care enough about someone to occasionally think about them when they’re not around. By the same token, we like to see that someone else has been thinking about you—that’s why we get such a kick out of a simple @mention on Twitter.
- Show that you’re making an effort. Real relationships take effort, because before we emotionally invest, we want to see that someone is in it for the long haul. This means that a single blog comment is not enough to build a connection, and even a dozen might not do the job. It just takes more.
- Actually being helpful. As well as we know someone, as much as they care about us, and as hard as they may try, we will quickly get tired of someone who wastes our time without ever being useful (or fun to be around). We may tolerate this sort of thing with family (because we have to), but we won’t do it in the blogosphere.
And now for the 64-million-dollar question: how do we do all these things while reading blog posts, without having to turn it into a full-time job?
Funny you should ask…
How to improve learning and relationships
Now it’s time for the fun part, where I outline the strategies that you can actually use to improve your learning and build relationships while you do your regular blog reading.
I won’t lie and say that this takes no extra time, because it does take some.
Honestly, though, it doesn’t take much more, and it multiplies the benefits that you get from the reading. Try them for a week and see for yourself!
- After reading a post, take a moment to think about who might benefit from it, and send it to that person. You’ll remember more, because you took the time to think about how the content was relevant to someone, and you’ll build relationships by showing someone that you thought of them. You can get extra credit by sending it to them on Twitter and @-mentioning the blogger, too.
- After reading a post that you like, explain the gist of it to someone else. You can do this via email, over the phone, or in person, and you don’t have to do it right away—you can even do it with your family over dinner. Whoever you talk to will appreciate your sharing, and you will remember much, much more of the post.
- Leave a comment explaining how the post was insightful for you, when you’ve seen an example of whatever is being described, and how it relates to your life. You can even write a whole response post. The blogger will appreciate the well-thought-out comment, and you will remember a lot more of the post for having drawn these associations.
- Bookmark the best posts that you read. Once every week or two, spend 30-60 minutes re-reading the best posts, and really savor them (I try to do this every other weekend, when I write our Best of the Web posts).
- Keep a journal of good ideas that you come across. Just write them down, but don’t rush to implement them. That way you avoid shiny object syndrome, but still have the repetition that helps you remember. For extra credit, you can review the journal every few months and pick out two or three of the best ideas to implement.
- Whenever you finish reading a post and take an action based on what you’ve read, take a moment to think about why. What did the blogger do to get you to take an action? What worked for them, and how could you apply it in your own work and writing?
These strategies, when taken together, only add a small amount of reading time to your day, but they will help you learn dramatically more, and build more and better relationships—which is what it’s really all about.
Over to you: if you had to pick just one of these strategies to implement for a week, which one would it be? Do you have a good tip for learning and building relationships while reading? If you do, share it with us in the comments!
Danny Iny is an author, strategist, serial entrepreneur, and proud co-founder of Firepole Marketing, the definitive marketing training program for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and non-marketers. Visit his site today for a free cheat sheet about Why Guru Strategies for Blog Growth DON’T WORK… and What Does!, or follow him on Twitter @DannyIny.