Your blog isn’t just a place to write down your thoughts and experiences. In fact, your blog, while it might be about you, isn’t really about you. You get what I’m saying?
It’s about the readers. Those wonderful people who show up week after week to eat up your content. Just as you would someone you invite into your physical home, let’s talk about making your readers feel welcome when visiting your home on the web. Actually, let’s take it a step further and discuss how you can turn your blog into a gracious community they can feel a part of. From there we’ll dig even further to talk about how this community can benefit your blog from a mutually rewarding relationship.
Below you’ll find 18 of my top tips for engaging readers in this way, each with a homework assignment you’ll actually want to do.
Before completing this list, I recommend reading my posts on “7 Steps To Starting A Travel Blog (Including Homework You’ll Actually Want To Do!)” and “How To Create A Unique Brand Identity For Your Blog.”
Remember, in order to engage readers you need an idea to engage them around. What gaps can you fill in your niche? What mission are you using to inspire or motivate them? It doesn’t need to be solving world hunger (though that’s always nice!), but it should appeal to a passion.
Recommended Blogging Tools:
- WordPress For Dummies. This is an excellent book for those struggling with the tech side of WordPress. It makes things very clear without all the confusing jargon you find on the web.
- Bluehost. Once you’re ready to take your blog from the free WordPress.com to the more professional WordPress.org, you’ll need to buy a hosting package. Bluehost starts at $3.95 per month including free domain and 24/7 support.
- Sucuri. I’ve tried a number of hacking protection and backup services over the years, and the speed and support Sucuri offers is unparalleled. They protect and monitor your site 24/7 and send regular status reports, and also send daily backups right to my email inbox.
- ProEditors. When I don’t have the time to edit my own video footage I send it over to ProEditors, who craft my raw clips into a beautiful professional video. Get 25% off with code “jessieonajourney”.
- X Theme. While I use the amazing WP-Prosperity Theme for Jessie on a Journey (which the creator Michael Pollock helped me to customize), X Theme is really awesome for those with a very small budget who want to develop their own sites, but don’t have the skills. It’s a drag-and-drop theme builder, so you won’t need to know coding to have a beautiful site. My NYC Tours & Photo Safaris site uses X Theme.
1. Define Your Reader
Before you can begin engaging readers — or community members — it’s important to establish who your readers are. For example, if you want to target the affluent traveler who jet sets and takes luxury vacations, you probably wouldn’t write a post on Colombia’s best budget hostels.
Homework: For a fun way to get inside your readers’ heads, I’ve created this Mad Libs sheet. Print it out and fill in the blanks for a clearer picture of who you’re speaking to — or want to be speaking to — on your website. If you’re thinking “but I’m speaking to so many people!” picture the most prominent type of person who would be visiting your blog.
2. Find Out What Your Reader Wants
It may seem obvious, but it’s something to think about. Remember, you’re not writing content for yourself, you’re writing it for your audience. Every few weeks you should be going through your content to see what’s engaging readers and what’s not. For the content that’s not, is there a reason? Could the content be updated and reposted to be better? Or is it just a matter of bad publishing time, and re-sharing might help?
This is also a good time to point out the importance of staying on brand. If your brand is all about budget backpacking and suddenly you’re covering expensive luxury villas, your audience will get confused.
For an additional resource, QuickSprout offers a number of ways to tell if your audience is bored with your content.
Homework: Survey your readers. One non-annoying way to do this is to add an optional space on your email signup form asking something like “What are you excited to read about?” to gain more insight. You can also use Google Analytics to learn more about the demographics, behaviors and interests of your readers.
Second, regularly analyze what content performs well on your site. Is there a particular column your readers get jazzed about? Do your readers engage more when posts have video or high resolution photography? Give them more of what they’re already showing you they love!
3. Get Active On Social Media
Now, I’m not saying you need to engage on every platform available; but find a few where your readers are active. I personally wouldn’t recommend choosing just one in case this certain channel eventually goes under (like Vine) or gets bought, or even changes the algorithm it uses to show your content to followers and makes it less effective for you. I’ve also found in terms of partnerships that influencers with a variety of strengths become the more well-rounded partner choice.
So, how do you know which channels you should be active on? Once you define your niche, start perusing different channels to see what types of conversations and content are popular on each. For example, Instagram makes a lot of sense for me as I lead photography tours in NYC.
You can also source some demographic info on each channel and compare it to your (prospective) readers. You might even want to survey your community to ask them what they’re favorite social media channels are.
Once you choose your channels, make a posting schedule and content plan for each. Yes, a schedule and content plan, just like with your blog. One tool I’m in love with for this is Edgar, which allows you to upload content and RSS feeds into different category folders (like My Blog Posts, Posts By Others and Promotional), then schedule each category folder for a specific time each day of the week. There’s even a toolbar bookmark that makes saving content on the fly easy.
Unfortunately Edgar doesn’t have Instagram scheduling, at least not yet, which is why I set an alarm each day to upload my own Instagram posts. Note: There are Instagram scheduling tools out there like CoSchedule and Planoly. I use the free Planoly plan via their app to upload my Instagram posts onto a board to get a sense of what my “online magazine” (aka Instagram grid feed) will look like.
In terms of creating a schedule, check out HubSpot’s guide to the best times to post on social media. This and the similar guides out there give data-backed rules of thumb, though to better understand your audience specifically it helps to look at your own analytics for each platform. For example, if you go to your Facebook fan page and click on Insights -> Posts, you can see how well shares do on specific days of the week and times.
While each platform has different practices, I’ve found one rule of thumb across all: be human and don’t be overly promotional. There’s a way to straight market at people, and there’s a way to converse with them and draw them into a narrative. See my Instagram example below.
Homework: Create your social media content plan. While each platform has its own best practices in terms of media sizing, content style, times to share and goals, my general advice is to jot down a few lists including:
- What you’re ultimately trying to get people to do (sign up for your mailing list, buy your book, etc)
- What words you’d like people to associate with your brand
- What types of content will leave readers craving more and clicking over to your website. I’m currently taking Hilary Rushford’s online Instagram with Intention Class, and she makes a great recommendation with Instagram. The tip is to group your content in one or more of the following four types: education, inspiration, community and behind-the-scenes. I think this is a good guideline for most channels, as the thought helps you to create content that is less about you and more about your audience.
4. Ask Readers Questions
This can be on social media or within the posts. For example, if you write a post about romantic hotels in Tahiti, end by asking readers to contribute their favorite French Polynesian stays in the comments.
Always ask questions on social media to engage readers. For instance, instead of simply posting a link to a post on delicious meals in NYC, let the reader know your inspiration for the post, tease them a bit with a dish and then ask them if they’ve ever had an epic dinner in New York or elsewhere. Make it easy to have a conversation by starting one.
Homework: Setup the What Would Seth Godin Do? plugin on your blog. This plugin allows you to add an automatic message at the top of your posts asking readers to share if they enjoy. You’ll be surprised how many people are more likely to do something if prompted.18 #blogging tips for engaging readers & reaching a wider audience. Check them out! Click To Tweet
5. Engage With Your Readers One-On-One
Adding on to the previous statement, it’s very important to not just share, but to listen and answer. Monitor your social media accounts to see who is sharing what, and reward them by taking actions like sharing their content, responding to their comments and questions, or even asking them to guest post if it’s one of your more active followers.
This is also an opportunity to engage with potential future readers by starting conversations with new online friends. Your homework will touch on this.
You may want to hire someone to monitor your channels if you don’t have the time. There are also tools out there that can help with this, like SproutSocial.com. You can use Google Alerts for free to see who has mentioned your blog, and thank them.
Homework: Give yourself a challenge and vow to interact with 15 new people each day on the social media platform of your choice. If you’re feeling really ambitious, make it 100!
6. Make Readers Feel Like They’re A Part Of Your Brand
You may also want to get creative with collaborative-type content. One example is by my friends at The Culture-ist, who once created a Universe Conspires Wall and asked readers to contribute. They also do a great job of making readers feel a part of what they’re doing in the terminology they use. In their menu heading, instead of using verbs like “Travel,” “Change” and “Wellness” they use nouns including “Traveler,” “Changemaker” and “Wellness Warrior” to put the reader in a position to identify with certain types of content.
On my online magazine, Epicure & Culture, I do something similar. On my top menu heading I start on the left with the text “I want to…,” with options like “Explore Ethically” and “Eat Local” following. In this way, I’m asking the reader a question and having a sort of conversation with them immediately. The image below shows this visually.
Homework: Start with your About Page, either writing one fresh or revamping one you already have, using this worksheet for help.
Instead of making the page about you, think about how you can make it about your readers. Ask them questions, let them know what they’ll get out of reading your blog and draw them in with interesting anecdotes. For instance, on my Jessie on a Journey About Page I placed a bold heading near the top that explicitly asks “How Can I Help You Live (And Travel!) Your Best Life?,” using graphics to visually show readers the answer.
If you’re design savvy, get creative with the design. A good example of this is the Dean Street Society About Page, which has a beautiful magazine format.
7. Converse With Readers By Name
On social media it gives a nice touch to converse with a follower by name or handle. I also find in newsletter correspondence it’s helpful to use merge tags that greet the reader by name. For example, instead of saying “Dear Reader” in your newsletter, it should say “Dear Joe Smith.” Keep the message conversational instead of adding tons of graphics and pizzazz, and your readers will feel like it’s a personal email just for them.
Homework: Sign up for an email newsletter client and create a newsletter template that has personalized merge tags for future correspondence. Example below.
8. Craft Collaborative Posts
Collaborative posts are blog posts that don’t just feature your expertise, but that of others, too. For example, you can compile a post on the best tours in NYC (shameless plug: the answer is my private NYC photo tours!). Instead of typing out your personal favorite tours, you’d ask numerous people in your community to each share a blurb.
This not only involves your followers in your blog, but can also increase engagement. Once your collaborative posts goes live, create a graphic and email it along with the post link to all who contributed, asking them to share on their own channels. You’ll get your content in front of new eyes. Note: I also do this when I write a non-collaborative post, letting brands and bloggers know they’ve been mentioned in my blog post so they’re moved to share.
Homework: Come up with a collaborative blog post topic, then reach out to 10 different bloggers, readers and experts to add their two cents.
9. Use Video
While words and images have power, video has the ability to truly engage readers by making them feel like they’re part of your world, whether you’re touring a hotel, taking a cooking class in France, packing for a backpacking trip or talking about your craziest Brazilian bus experience. Make your online conversations feel more like in real life conversations.
Homework: Create and post a video, even if it’s simply you talking about a travel topic. If you’ve got trip clips, even better. I’m a big fan of ProEditors, as you simply send them your footage, give them any directional notes and have them do the work. Use code “jessieonajourney” for 25% off your first video. Videos start at $100 for a professional completed project.
This video is used on my About Page to give readers a more immersive idea of what’s to come. While I took the footage, it was edited by ProEditors.
10. Give Them Something For Free
Giving away free stuff might sound counter intuitive to building a profitable blogging business, but offering a complimentary gift has a number of benefits. First of all, it rewards readers for being loyal and makes them feel appreciated by you. Moreover, they now have something beyond the blog to think of you by, whether that be an educational webinar packed full of awesome content, an e-book, access to an exclusive community or a file of inspiring photographs.
Lastly, it gives them a teaser. You don’t want to give away all your secrets in your free gift, but give them a taste of what makes you someone to follow, to trust, to listen to, to buy from. For me, I offer a free “Ultimate Guide To Solo Travel” e-book and a professional blogging worksheet bundle to new subscribers. Inside I include prompts to special offers, my products and services, and affiliate links to partners I work with on commissions.
Homework: Create a free offer to give your readers when they sign up for the newsletter. You may also want to link to this offer on your other social profiles. You can see an example in my Instagram profile below.
11. Offer A Class
This keeps your readers invested in your cause, and keeps them coming back for more. Once complete, they’ll also be more invested in your website as you’ve given them key tools to enhance their own knowledge or wellbeing.
In my case, I offer How To Start A Blog and How To Turn Your Blog Into A Business classes through Writers.com. While the classes aren’t hosted on my blog, I reference my content often, and every student is given my blog before they sign up. I chose this route because Writers.com is better equipped than me in terms of online teaching software.
You can also use a platform like Thinkific to create your own professional-looking class complete with video and content hosting, navigation, student support, affiliate programs, payment processing, landing pages and more.
What’s really great about this is you can create a forum or private Facebook group for attendees to ask each other questions and collaborate.
Homework: Start brainstorming your class. If you’re unsure of what the topic should be, go through emails from readers and note what people are asking you. Once you’ve narrowed down a topic, create a mindmap to brainstorm what each section will cover. A mindmap (shown below) is essentially an idea with lots of branches forming off of it to further develop the idea.
12. Create A Membership Service
Instead of offering a traditional online class, Lightroom and photography expert Cole of Cole’s Classroom does this in a different way. Along with video courses, he lets his community subscribe to his Cole’s Clique for $1, with the price going up after that to $24-$49 per month.
There is a benefit to this over offering a one-time class. As Cole puts it “Cole’s Clique isn’t a single course or program. It’s a constantly growing catalog of professionally produced training courses, combined with an interactive & engaging new way to learn photography while being surrounded by a loyal and motivated community of other photographers.”
Members get perks like access to a private Facebook group, themed photo challenges, access to one-on-one sessions with Cole, access to video classes and webinars, and more.
Homework: This option won’t be for everyone; however, if you think it’s for you start brainstorming your membership site topic and logistics. Is it as simple as a private Facebook group with perks added, or do you need to use additional software? I’ve heard good things about the s2Members plugin.
13. Create A Club
Again, think about what readers would be interested in, while also considering what’s already out there and what makes you unique. One example is Nomadic Matt’s Book Club, where he doesn’t just have his followers read books. To make the club worthwhile, he lists out six reasons to join right on the membership page, from “you won’t have to wonder if a book is good or not” to “you’ll get ideas for future trips.” From there, he also offers members access to literary giveaways, gifts and Amazon gift cards.
Clubs like this are great for engaging readers, and also give you the chance to monetize your site. For example, in the case of a book club you may use affiliate links when sending out each month’s book suggestions, meaning you’ll make a small commission if a book is purchased through these links. Or you can work with paying partners to host exclusive giveaways for members, meaning the brand giving the prize away may pay you for the access to your audience (and your audience gets awesome stuff!).
Homework: Again, the club option may not be for everyone; however, if it’s for you start brainstorming the topic and logistics of how you’d get it off the ground. Facebook groups and newsletters are two easy ways to get information out to club members.
14. Host Giveaways
Another way to reward and engage readers is also hosting giveaways with great prizes. And this is the key. There is a lot of noise online nowadays, so offering a passport protector or glass water bottle likely won’t get super high engagement, though it is a nice gesture. The more exciting the prize — hotel stays, action cameras, Priority Pass subscriptions — the better.
Once you post your giveaway, readers get more excited about your brand. And this helps you in another way, too. Depending on the terms of your giveaway, it can lead to more subscribers, social media followers or shares, or actions that further promote your brand (such as sending a specific Tweet or sharing a blog post). Moreover, if you have a strong following the brand sponsoring the giveaway may pay you for the ability to be highlighted on your channels.
Homework: Now would be a good time to start thinking about the logistics of the giveaway, including who might donate a prize, whether you’re ready to charge brands for the opportunity, and what the terms of the competition will be. I recommend using Gleam (they have a free version), which has tons of different giveaway templates with features like interactive widgets, winner choosing and 3rd party integration that make running a competition easy and professional.
15. Create An Affiliate Program
For the bloggers out there who sell products and services, having an affiliate program can create a community of ambassadors around your brand. An affiliate program works by offering your readers the chance to earn a percentage of your income based on referrals they generate. So say you sell a $10 ebook on starting your own online business. You can provide readers interested in promoting the book a special link that, when clicked on to generate a purchase, gives the affiliate associated with that link a percentage of the profit.
Homework: If you sell products and services and want to test the waters of running an affiliate program, try the free Affiliates WP plugin. You can upgrade to their Pro version for more features. There are other options, too, which you can check out here.
16. Have A Branded Hashtag
One way to get everyone talking about your brand is having a hashtag to tie it all together. For example, for my NYC photo tour company I use the hashtag #NYCInAFlash. I encourage my guests to use the hashtag when posting photos from my tours, allowing other guests to check out what past tours might have been like and even interact with past guests. It also allows me to easily find and continue conversing with them online.
You don’t need to be a traditional company to have a hashtag. Bloggers can use hashtags to rally their followers around their content’s mission, whether that be offering advice on Asia travel or ethical volunteering around the world.
Homework: Come up with a hashtag for your blog. The trick is to make it short and sweet, and make sure it isn’t being used. Something general like #WorldTravel won’t work, as it’s been used myriad times already and isn’t brand specific. Instead, choose a name that people will immediately associate with you and your community specifically. Because my tagline is “Taking You Beyond The Guidebook,” I’ve started using #BeyondTheGuidebook as a hashtag. People realize right away what the narrative is about, making it easy for them to join in.
17. Plan Meetups
While technology has taken over the world, nothing beats good ole’ face-to-face communication. This can really help cement a relationship with your readers that goes beyond them simply reading a few of your blog posts. And how awesome is it to meet the people who support your work to thank them in person?
Homework: Depending on where you’re at on your blogging journey, you have a few choices. If you’re established and based in a city where your readers can easily travel to, plan and host a meetup at a local bar, coffee shop, park or other venue. Feel free to get creative and brand specific, such as planning a yoga meetup if you write about wellness travel. If you’re not sure whether you have enough of a sizable audience to warrant your own meetup, you can collaborate with other local bloggers to plan a joint meetup, or reach out to local readers one-on-one and invite them for coffee.Engage your readers & grow your social media community with these creative #blogging tips! Click To Tweet
18. Talk With Them (vs At Them)
The tone you use on your blog will depend on your niche and the brand you’re going for. Personally, I find that most people like being spoken to in a conversational tone vs an overly formal or market-y tone. Make them feel like you’re someone they’d be friends with — and trust — in real life. If you want to tell a joke, tell a joke. If you’re the type to use profanity and don’t mind putting that out there, use it. If you’re obsessed with bad puns, sprinkle those in there. Be yourself and be human, and people who resonate with your unique voice will gravitate toward your writing.
Homework: Practice writing a conversational blog post. You can either write a new post or revamp an old one. As you write, keep these best practices from CopyBlogger in mind.
What tips for engaging readers would you add to this list? Please share in the comments below!
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