// Internet Duct Tape

Community Starts with Communication: 5 Tips to Building Your Readership

Posted in Building a Community, Technology by engtech on July 31, 2007

Connect with your readers

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.

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

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.

This is something I struggle with daily.

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?


Related Posts

Written as part of the Carnival of Circular Communication

41 Responses

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  1. noah kagan said, on July 31, 2007 at 11:25 am

    great tips. i like emailing people because i appreciate them taking the time to read my boring articles;)

  2. Nita said, on July 31, 2007 at 11:56 am

    I get emails from readers. Invariably its because they want help about some private matter which they cannot put in a public place. I also have a reader who regularly send me forwards!!
    But while I don’t mind receiving emails (after all its on my about page), I would hesitate to be the first one to email anyone. One does not know the person well enough as quite a few of my readers do not have blogs.
    I have emailed commentators thrice only:
    1) to explain why i could not publish their very obvious commercial comment. I got a sweet reply saying sorry.
    2) to warn someone not to write abusive stuff and to get lost. I got no reply but the person vamoosed like I had told him.
    3) to warn someone that I was complaining about him to wordpress. No reply.

  3. Nita said, on July 31, 2007 at 11:58 am

    Oh yes, one more time. That was to warn him about provoking a regular flamer on my blog!
    He was most thankful.

  4. Disemvoweled troll: engtech said, on July 31, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    Tstng dsmvwlng

  5. engtech said, on July 31, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    Hey Nita,

    I just found a pretty cool way to get rid of trolls if you are using WordPress and Firefox.

    – install Greasemonkey
    – install this script: http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/7092
    – modify the script so that it runs on */wp-admin/comment.php?action=editcomment&c=*

    Then you can do things like the comment above when you’re moderating comments. Leave the comment in place, but take all the bite out of it. :)

  6. Owen Cutajar said, on August 01, 2007 at 5:20 am

    Hey Nita,

    Thanks for mentioning my plugin (Comment Email Responder) above. As you don’t use it just yet, I would recommend you give it a try. As you say .. it’s great ;) Seriously, the great thing about WordPress is that you have the flexibility to turn plugins on and off at will, so there’s little risk/cost in playing around with them

    … that is .. if you host your own WordPress build …


  7. charles said, on August 01, 2007 at 6:56 am

    great post, saw your comment on problogger… and guess what… u made it to my bookmarks :)

  8. Bitbot said, on August 01, 2007 at 8:19 am

    Hey great article and suggestion! Will definitely experiment with it soon.

    I don’t think you can use it with Blogger though because Blogger allows people to comment without leaving their e-mail addresses :(.

  9. […] Community Starts with Communication: 5 Tips to Building Your Readership […]

  10. ApOgEE said, on August 01, 2007 at 11:36 am

    Thanks for the tip! hope it’ll works on me… ;D

  11. […] (not Lorelle) engtech blogs regularly at Internet Duct Tape. He’s authored such useful hacks as Akismet Auntie Spam, Technorati Favorite Your Fans and the WordPress MU Tag Cloud Generator.His latest post was 5 Tips to Building Your Readership – Community Starts with Communication […]

  12. Suzie Cheel said, on August 02, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    Thanks for this, found you via your comment on Problogger.
    Like your signature suggestions

  13. Nita said, on August 03, 2007 at 12:20 am

    Thanks for the tip.

  14. pelf said, on August 04, 2007 at 9:25 am

    I send a reply to my readers who leave me comments too as I think it’s a way to personally acknowledge their presence and thank them for visiting and taking some time to leave me a comment. Some of them emailed me back too!

    Similarly, if I leave a couple of comments on somebody’s blog but he/she never acknowledges my presence, I would stop visiting it because it makes me feel “unwelcomed”.

  15. Matt Jones said, on August 05, 2007 at 5:13 am

    Great tips, emailing commentators is a great idea. It sounds like a very time consuming one but it may be worth while in the early stages of a blogs life.

  16. Rolling a blog joint « Cuzoogle said, on August 05, 2007 at 11:20 am

    […] Internet Duct Tape has 5 tips to build a better readership. […]

  17. […] has an article on how to build your readership through email communication. He suggests that you could email the people who comment on your blog […]

  18. Glen Allsopp said, on August 05, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    When I contact people I tend to use an email such as blog@URL.com or author@URL.com so it appears more professional

    Great post

  19. […] has an article on how to build your readership through email communication. He suggests that you could email the people who comment on your blog […]

  20. […] has an article on how to build your readership through email communication. He suggests that you could email the people who comment on your blog […]

  21. […] from an article published by Eric at InternetDuctTape, Community Starts with Communication: 5 Tips to Building Your Readership, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts, as a blogger and as a reader, regarding the e-mail […]

  22. […] to be a decent blogosphere citizen. Reading and commenting on other blogs and linking whenever possible helps me feel connected and hopefully inspires other bloggers by […]

  23. engtech said, on August 09, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    @Matt Jones:

    It doesn’t have to be that time consuming. I’m building a Greasemonkey/Firefox script that will automatically post a comment and email the commenter at the same time. :)

  24. engtech said, on August 09, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    @Glen Allsopp:

    Mucho agreement that it’s a good idea to use Google Apps for Your Domain or something like that so that you can have your blog address in your email address. I’m also a strong believer in setting up a Firefox profile for blogging that stores all your settings so that you don’t run into issues with using the wrong email account, etc.

  25. […] presents Community Starts with Communication: 5 Tips to Building Your Readership posted at Internet Duct Tape. Engtech makes a great case for adding some one on one communication […]

  26. mapelba said, on August 29, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Well, I ended up here because you posted on my blog about reading JPod, and since I’m new to the blogosphere, I don’t know half of what everyone here is talking about. But it sounds interesting and useful, so I’ll take the time to read it again. Thanks for writing this post in the first place.

    And thanks for stopping by my wordpress blog. Honestly I’m so new to this, I’m way too pleased.

  27. engtech said, on September 05, 2007 at 12:22 am


    Thanks for checking out my blog back, mapelba.

    Here’s a WordPress Tip you might not know:
    if you go to Dashboard >> Users >> Your Profile

    then you can enter your blog url (under website) so that when you comment on other people’s WordPress.com blogs they’ll be able to click on a link and return to yours.

  28. mapelba said, on September 05, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Thanks for sending on the tip about the url. Eventually I’ll have this stuff figured out. And if I did it right, my url should be in this post. I think.

  29. engtech said, on September 05, 2007 at 4:51 pm


    Yup, it’s working now.

  30. Rose DesRochers said, on September 25, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    You offer some great tips. I try to be a good commenter and I think I spend more time commenting than I do blogging. My problem is that I find the blogosphere to be much like high school full of Cliques and sometimes I’m on the outside looking in. Everyone likes me when they don’t have a lot of friends and are the new one in school, but as soon as they become popular – I’m shunned. The entire thing is pretty silly as this is not High School. But there are cliques and you are either in the in crowd or you’re not.

  31. engtech said, on September 25, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    @Rose DesRochers:

    I think you’ve hit all social interaction on the head.

    I find that cliqueness is epidemic in all group interaction beyond a certain number of people. The way I deal with it is by keeping with my strict “no gossip” policy where I don’t directly or indirectly say something about someone that I wouldn’t say to their face. (I’ll bash companies/products, but not people)

    I find not worrying what other people think about you goes a long way in all aspects of life. I try not to put my expectations on people. I’m a bit of a fairweather friend myself so I try not to demand much.

  32. Josh Hall said, on November 01, 2007 at 10:11 am

    Wait, are we to reply via email or just post a comment here…I’m cornfuzed!

  33. engtech said, on November 08, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    @Josh Hall:

    The idea is that you’ll reply by comment, and then I’ll reply by comment AND email. :)

  34. josh hall said, on November 08, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    ooo, and he delivers! ha. nice.

  35. […] kills a flame war like removing the audience. Quoting myself: “There is a different between scrawling messages on a public site and having a one on one […]

  36. […] been other times where I let comments languish without responding to them even though I know that’s not the way to build a community around your blog. But at least I know how people are reacting… with the explosion of social media / social […]

  37. […] has an article on how to build your readership through email communication. He suggests that you could email the people who comment on your blog […]

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