We often hear the word “authority” mentioned in blogging circles, particularly in discussions around building a loyal following.
At its most basic, authority is about knowing what you’re talking about, and who you’re talking to. If you think about it, this is a key to rich exchanges in the real world. Why wouldn’t it be the same online?
Looking at some of the leading bloggers in some specific niches today, though, it’s clear that they have more than authority and a way with words or images.
They’re also great leaders. They show their followers how to overcome challenges successfully. They keep their tribe abreast of industry developments and warn them of pitfalls. They help audiences avoid making the mistakes they themselves have made.
That’s how they build readership: by being the best leader within their blogging niche. Let’s look at how this pans out in practice.
Lead through knowledge
To lead a group, you usually need to know more about the topic, overall, than anyone else in the group.
This doesn’t mean you have to know everything—none of us can claim that. But you need to have unique, first-hand knowledge of the topic, gained over time, through your own personal experience.
As a blogger, you need to know your niche better than anyone. This is your first point of value in attracting readers. It may also be a crucial element in your unique selling proposition.
An example is Jules Clancy from The Stone Soup. Jules is a food technologist-turned food blogger. She’s got a thorough knowledge of food at a very detailed level. And now she’s leveraging that knowledge at a high level, to blog about food and offer classes and courses to her loyal and growing readership.
Similarly, Nomadic Matt Kepnes has more than six years’ experience of having a fantastic time travelling the globe on a shoestring budget. Few of his competitors can claim that level of knowledge of the same niche, and his rising reader levels reflect how important that is in this complicated niche.
Lead through innovation
One thing we can say about leaders in pretty much all industries or niches is that they innovate. You don’t stay ahead of the pack for long unless you find new ways to operate. And by sharing the results of that innovation, you can gain a loyal following that values your bleeding-edge insights.
Leaders share their experiments so that they can save their readers time and trouble. Whether they’re experimenting to find ways to do things faster and better, or to get better outcomes for their efforts, leaders are always trying new things.
Gretchen Rubin, of The Happiness Project, is constantly researching happiness and conducting her own personal experiments in her own life, so that she can find what works for her (and what doesn’t) and help readers by sharing that experience.
Leo Babauta is another die-hard experimenter who’s made a blog—and a lifestyle, and a living!—through experimentation and innovation within his mindfulness niche.
Lead through empowerment
Good leaders empower the people in their tribe. Think about a good leader in an organization—they’re usually someone who’s great at perceiving the needs of their team members, and then supporting those people in any way they can, to achieve the organization’s goals. And of course everyone wants to work on their team!
Similarly, if you empower readers of your blog, they’ll share their successes and experiences with others, which will help grow your readership in a very organic and personal way.
How can we do that? There are plenty of ways, but one is to launch initiatives that directly and personally involve your readers, and build community around your blog. This has the twin benefit of growing readers’ experience and skill level, and connecting them with others who can help them make the most of what they’ve learned.
Danny Iny did this with his blogging business survey—he involved readers by asking them to participate in the survey. Then, he gave them full access to the survey results.
Gretchen took a similar approach with her year-long Happiness Challenge in 2011, which she worked through alongside her readers, supporting and empowering them at each step. Today she still helps new fans connect through her Happiness Groups.
Lead through connection
Creating connections is an important part of the leader’s job. By putting your audience in touch with others who can help them, you further empower them, creating a stronger bond between yourself and those readers. Whether you’re connecting them with other professionals, or with each other, that connection can act as a platform for learning, and lets participants share their own knowledge and skills.
Helping your audience to be their best is exactly the kind of thing they’ll naturally want to talk about with others. It’s also a key motivator to keep them coming back to your blog.
On Digital Photography School, we try to facilitate this through submit-your-shots posts like the Weekly Photography Challenge, where readers send in their photos to share with others. Like guest posts, this technique helps to draw readers’ attention to others who are doing good things in the same space.
You can also help to connect readers with authorities in your niche through an ongoing philosophy of sharing those leaders’ work and ideas. Social media, “industry roundup” posts, and promotions for the work of others in your niche are good ways to lead by connecting readers with other leaders—and grow your value within your target audience.
A blog that’s based almost entirely on this concept is BrainPickings, where Maria Popova curates “the best” ideas and concepts within the creativity and culture niche. Her blog effectively acts as a goldmine for readers who want to be “put onto” cool stuff. While they may pursue her links and tips to do their own further investigation into ideas, people, or things they like the sound of, they keep coming back to her blog as the ultimate source of great creative inspiration.
Leaders attract readers
In blogging, good leaders really do attract readers. Importantly, they’re not just good at attracting new readers—they’re also able to continually fulfil the needs of current readers, which keeps them off the new-reader treadmill and has let them establish a loyal and growing readership over time.
Are you using leadership qualities to build your blog’s readership? How? Share your thoughts and tips with us.