Community Starts with Communication: 5 Tips to Building Your Readership
When I first started commenting over at okdork.com, Noah Kogan would personally reply to me by email. I thought this was a little strange, even after a year of blogging this was the first time it had happened to me. I thought it was just that he was bored and killing time. It’s only now that I understand the genius of his technique: by going out of his way to contact me he went from “nameless stranger on the interweb” to a person I had one to one conversation with.
I hadn’t thought about it, but there is a different between scrawling messages on a public site and having a one on one conversation. The flame wars that are routine on some sites rarely exist in personal email. People stop being disembodied words and ideas and you remember that there is a person behind all of that typing.
There is another fringe benefit to directly emailing commenters on your blog. I’m absolutely horrible at coming back to re-read posts on other people’s sites where I’ve commented. I know there are tools to help me manage it, but I’m too lazy. I post a comment and forget about it. Direct emails bridge the gap of apathy and form a connection.
Phoning It Home
There are many WordPress plugins that will automatically send an email to all first time commenters. While it is a great low maintenance technique for reaching out to your readers, any automatic communication can be considered spam — always a bad first impression. Automatic plugins like Subscribe to Comments or Comment Relish run the risk of having your email address get caught by spam filters. Hand-crafted responses are the way to go. You want to establish a rapport and a connection, not be another reason to hit the Report Spam button.
If you are on self-hosted WordPress then I recommend the Comment Email Responder plugin (from being on the receiving side of it, I haven’t personally used it). It lets the blog owner easily respond to comments by personal email as well as on the blog. I think that direct emails in respond to comments is one of the best techniques I’ve ever heard of for standing out from the crowd. Here are five tips to help you do it better.
Tip #1: Use a separate email address for blogging only
I highly recommend using web-based Gmail. It is accessible anywhere, and has great search functions and spam filtering. You can even use Google Apps for your domain so that you’re using the Gmail interface, but your address is @domainname instead of @gmail. The best reason to have a separate email address for blogging is because it ensures some level of privacy, and it keeps your regular account from being swamped/interrupted by blogging related messages. Don’t feel like checking up on the blog? Don’t check that email account.
- Web Worker Daily on Gmail productivity tips
Tip #2: Mention your blog in your signature
Your signature should have your blog url and a direct link to subscribing to your blog by RSS or by email. This can help in all correspondence. Try not to go over a three line signature though, or to use something tacky and garish. HTML and images are most likely filtered by the recipients email software, so stick to plain text.
Quick Hacks for Signatures
- Quick guide to email signature etiquette
- Always put your signature below the latest text you’ve typed instead of at the end in Firefox
- Sign emails with your latest blog post
Tip #3: Automatically add correspondents to your address book
If you’re using Gmail this will be done automatically, but it is possible in other mail programs as well. The goal is to build up an address book of your blog readers so that you can automatically friends them on social networking sites like Facebook and StumbleUpon. With any kind of networking, having a large address book filled with useful information can be your best asset.
WordPress Comment Ninja will do this for you.
Tip #4: Include their comment in the message
If they are a first time visitor they might not immediately know who you are without context. By quoting the comment in the message body you remind them of what is being said. There are tons of WordPress plugins for comments, like the ones I mentioned in the beginning of this article.
WordPress Comment Ninja will do this for you.
Tip #5: Have something to say
This is probably the most important tip. Don’t email your commenters unless you have something to say to them. No matter how much you want to email them that photo you just took of your cat being silly, put the keyboard down and just walk away.
Community Starts With Communication
I’ve realized that sometimes I can be pretty anti-social in what is essential a social medium. I think that emailing commenters can be a great way of encouraging discussion and building relationships with your readers, and it’s something I plan to start doing. What do you think?
- WordPress Comment Ninja
- Create a Private Area for Your Regular Readers
- Technorati Favoritism – Trading Favours
- Using Comment Spam to Measure Blog Rank – It’s better than Technorati!
Written as part of the Carnival of Circular Communication