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Conversation as a Competitive Advantage

What have bloggers got as an advantage that other webmasters do not? I would argue “conversation”.

Have a think about which sites you feel a part of, or where you feel a connection to the site and its owners. What are the common elements?

Liz has turned blog conversation into an art form and a key differentiator. As someone once remarked, Liz’s blog is more event than website. It’s 2/3 audience and 1/3 Liz. How many blogs can you think of like that? Few I imagine.

Last night I was talking to Kathryn from the Budget Fashionista. Now, as you can see from my photographs, what I know about fashion could be fit on the head of a pin, but I do really like Kathryn’s blog. Unlike some areas of fashion, that site is not snobby or harsh. What sets it apart from others in the niche is a warm, welcoming, community feel.

Community brings stickiness. When you connect with a blogger you are less likely to abandon the site. This is what I mean by competitive advantage.

Doesn’t this apply to forums? Yes, of course. I would say it applies equally well to my Authority Blogger forum. The combination of blog and forum though is more than the sum of its parts. You have blogger-initiated conversation and user-initiated conversation. There are conversations inter-blog also.

Why is conversation so important? Conversation is engagement.

Never underestimate how significant engagement can be, especially if you are in business. Engagement and interaction brings a feeling of being part of something and a level of investment. The more invested people feel the more committed they become to helping something work. There are powerful psychological factors at play, from reciprocity to simple friendship.

I can’t find the research now but I once read that when giving a presentation, rather than lecture you should speak as if you were having a conversation. This keeps your audience alert as their brain has to keep coming up with their side of the discussion. I believe blogs are the same, if you treat it as a conversation your readers will be more engaged. Would you say that is true?

It has to be the right sort of conversation to really work:

  • Welcoming – The first factor is very important. You need to know as a visitor that it is ok to comment. You will see I nearly always ask people to share their thoughts. This gives people “permission” to answer. Imagine arriving late to a party where everyone is in small groups, how nice does it feel when someone calls you over and involves you rather than leaving you hovering around the perimeter?
  • Inclusive – As a community grows there are often trends towards in-jokes and private shorthand. You must do what you can to make your conversations inclusive rather that cliquey.
  • Authentic – While some people can get short term success by creating controversy, in time the appeal fades and you have to become more and more outrageous. If you are authentic in your opinions you will attract like-minded people and your community will grow more slowly but deeper.
  • Sharing – Of course it is not a great idea to expect people to divulge their inner most secrets, but try to encourage some sharing, interests, geography, likes, dislikes, hobbies, as this helps create connections.
  • Easy – Remove any barriers to joining in. Do not expect people to jump through hoops. I actually do not find registration too much of a barrier. While it does stop a lot of people from commenting, in fact you will find those people who do register are more invested than those who do not. Don’t go overboard though and expect a full profile, avatar, signature, etc etc before being allowed to join in.
  • Sticky – In order to prevent drive-by comments you need to pull people back. This has to be done both in the nature of the conversation, so people come back to see where the discussion went after they left, and through technology, such as emailing replies.
  • Responsive – It is vital that the discussion flows, if you see comments arriving on your blog moderate them quickly. Some times I do not get back to my blog soon enough and I can see a great conversation start then sputter to a halt. It amazes me how Liz can handle her events so well.

How would this help a business?

Think of all the positive brand associations that come from identifying with a community. Have you seen how people react when rather than being a product owner their product becomes part of their identity? I am not suggesting your plumbing supplies store might create “fanboys” but you can still bring in elements of community, conversation and mutual assistance.

The brand that succeeds to engage will have both a deeper connection with their audience and a strong barrier to protect from competition.

For any blogger, conversation is a key component in growing your blogs value. Brilliant content combined with a strong community can set you apart. The first step is starting the conversation.

Which blogs and sites do conversation well? Do you know any companies that have managed to develop a community feel? Please do share in the comments (see what I did? :) )

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Comments

  1. I agree. Though, in a business context the number of people who want to engage in a conversation largely depends upon the type of business.

    I may want a conversation with my website designer but not be overly interested in a conversation with my paper clip supplier.

  2. I agree. Though, in a business context the number of people who want to engage in a conversation largely depends upon the type of business.

    I may want a conversation with my website designer but not be overly interested in a conversation with my paper clip supplier.

  3. I agree with you… and I would add this point: that those of us who don’t yet have an active blog going, are still engaged in a conversation with visitors, two ways.

    One is the way the website is written in the first place. If one understands about empathy and knows how to write well, one’s writing can create a real sense of connection with a reader- they can feel witnessed and seen, even if they haven’t said word one to the person. I get comments quite often from folks who read my website and say “I finally feel seen! Like someone ‘gets’ me!” My clients have the same results from their visitors.

    Then, the second way is when I send out my email newsletters, and readers email me back. This initiates a conversation- sometimes emailing back and forth several times. And, it has a big difference- it’s a private conversation. Sometimes readers don’t want to air their questions/issues in public- sometimes they have sensitive questions regarding their business or spiritual life.

    A blog would be inappropriate for some of these conversations. If all we’re dealing with are conversations that are suitable for public consumption, then we’re going to miss out on a depth of honesty and authenticity with our readers/clients- the kind of depth that can help create raving fans and clients very quickly.

    Obviously, blogs do that, too- but I just couldn’t let you get away with: “What have bloggers got as an advantage that other webmasters do not? I would argue “conversation”.” Because I have witnessed many websites that engage in great conversation with readers, and I’ve seen blogs who don’t.

  4. I agree with you… and I would add this point: that those of us who don’t yet have an active blog going, are still engaged in a conversation with visitors, two ways.

    One is the way the website is written in the first place. If one understands about empathy and knows how to write well, one’s writing can create a real sense of connection with a reader- they can feel witnessed and seen, even if they haven’t said word one to the person. I get comments quite often from folks who read my website and say “I finally feel seen! Like someone ‘gets’ me!” My clients have the same results from their visitors.

    Then, the second way is when I send out my email newsletters, and readers email me back. This initiates a conversation- sometimes emailing back and forth several times. And, it has a big difference- it’s a private conversation. Sometimes readers don’t want to air their questions/issues in public- sometimes they have sensitive questions regarding their business or spiritual life.

    A blog would be inappropriate for some of these conversations. If all we’re dealing with are conversations that are suitable for public consumption, then we’re going to miss out on a depth of honesty and authenticity with our readers/clients- the kind of depth that can help create raving fans and clients very quickly.

    Obviously, blogs do that, too- but I just couldn’t let you get away with: “What have bloggers got as an advantage that other webmasters do not? I would argue “conversation”.” Because I have witnessed many websites that engage in great conversation with readers, and I’ve seen blogs who don’t.

  5. Great post today. I feel like I fit in so much better as a FT blogger than I did as a FT freelancer (of other projects) cause I am so chatty. I like to write like I talk; have conversations. The more formal I’m forced into the less successful I feel a piece is.

    Although, I appreciate your point about inclusiveness. I always feel so connected to my blogs that I forget that others don’t. While I have a community of readers who “get” my insider stuff I know I need to make everyone feel welcome (ok, I know but I forget) thanks for the reminder. Blogs only work when they’re accessible to everyone not simply my niche pals.

  6. Great post today. I feel like I fit in so much better as a FT blogger than I did as a FT freelancer (of other projects) cause I am so chatty. I like to write like I talk; have conversations. The more formal I’m forced into the less successful I feel a piece is.

    Although, I appreciate your point about inclusiveness. I always feel so connected to my blogs that I forget that others don’t. While I have a community of readers who “get” my insider stuff I know I need to make everyone feel welcome (ok, I know but I forget) thanks for the reminder. Blogs only work when they’re accessible to everyone not simply my niche pals.

  7. @Jack – perhaps, but if you found an office supplies company that you really felt was staffed with human beings that cared about customers wouldn’t you rather give them your paperclip business?

    @Mark – Great point, I wrote a piece today at Invesp.com about how while the new social media are all the rage, old school techniques based on good personal customer service are still effective

    @Jennifer – Insider stuff works if it doesn’t exclude people, sounds illogical but every niche has insider speak common to that niche. In blogging and tech for example we can reference LOLCats which is funny for those who know but makes for confusion until you get the humor. Just has to be done delicately and in a friendly rather than “not in the gang” way :)

  8. @Jack – perhaps, but if you found an office supplies company that you really felt was staffed with human beings that cared about customers wouldn’t you rather give them your paperclip business?

    @Mark – Great point, I wrote a piece today at Invesp.com about how while the new social media are all the rage, old school techniques based on good personal customer service are still effective

    @Jennifer – Insider stuff works if it doesn’t exclude people, sounds illogical but every niche has insider speak common to that niche. In blogging and tech for example we can reference LOLCats which is funny for those who know but makes for confusion until you get the humor. Just has to be done delicately and in a friendly rather than “not in the gang” way :)

  9. Conversation is definitely the thing that sets blogs apart. Blogs provoke and inspire discussion; and it’s this I believe that has led to their ubiquity and dominance. I think this post also emphasises the importance of the blog author being truly involved in the discussion. Personally, I’m more likely to leave a comment, if I know that the author will respond, or at least acknowledge my comment.

    It’s particularly interesting what you say about being inclusive and responsive. Every topic has its own peculiar vocabulary, and although we needn’t shy away from using it, it is important at times to define some of those terms–not only is this ‘inclusive’, but it’s educational.

    And, as you mention, when the author is actively involved, s/he can put a little spark back into a dying conversation, or even pose another related question, or reference additional resources. That way, the comments are more than an appendage–they become part of the blog, the content.

    Excellent post.

  10. Conversation is definitely the thing that sets blogs apart. Blogs provoke and inspire discussion; and it’s this I believe that has led to their ubiquity and dominance. I think this post also emphasises the importance of the blog author being truly involved in the discussion. Personally, I’m more likely to leave a comment, if I know that the author will respond, or at least acknowledge my comment.

    It’s particularly interesting what you say about being inclusive and responsive. Every topic has its own peculiar vocabulary, and although we needn’t shy away from using it, it is important at times to define some of those terms–not only is this ‘inclusive’, but it’s educational.

    And, as you mention, when the author is actively involved, s/he can put a little spark back into a dying conversation, or even pose another related question, or reference additional resources. That way, the comments are more than an appendage–they become part of the blog, the content.

    Excellent post.

  11. Good points. Wonder if you could share some tips that worked well for you as ‘conversation starters’.

    Apart from inviting feedback/discussion, or leaving a hanging question to be answered in a future post, what else would you advocate doing?

    And I’ve incorporated a forum into my WordPress blog using the XDforum plugin. Would it be appropriate/desirable to link to it from each blog post? How would you word such a link?

    Thanks, Chris

    All success
    Dr.Mani

  12. Good points. Wonder if you could share some tips that worked well for you as ‘conversation starters’.

    Apart from inviting feedback/discussion, or leaving a hanging question to be answered in a future post, what else would you advocate doing?

    And I’ve incorporated a forum into my WordPress blog using the XDforum plugin. Would it be appropriate/desirable to link to it from each blog post? How would you word such a link?

    Thanks, Chris

    All success
    Dr.Mani

  13. Hi Chris, I really enjoyed this, thank you. Welcoming and inclusive would certainly be two attributes high at the top of my list.

    On how it’s good for business – it’s not just business to client, conversations can lead to collaboration, joint venture, new business proposals, who knows what… so esp good for freelancers (like me)

    Joanna

    PS Two other tips I learned from Liz – 1, leave your writing a little unfinished, if it’s too perfect people won’t comment just because you ask ‘what do you think?’ at the end 2. ‘I’ll go first’ – have you ever known anyone else thoughtful enough to answer their own questions to give us permission, show us it’s okay to say something or other, it doesn’t have to be brilliant, to break the ice in the comment box…

  14. Hi Chris, I really enjoyed this, thank you. Welcoming and inclusive would certainly be two attributes high at the top of my list.

    On how it’s good for business – it’s not just business to client, conversations can lead to collaboration, joint venture, new business proposals, who knows what… so esp good for freelancers (like me)

    Joanna

    PS Two other tips I learned from Liz – 1, leave your writing a little unfinished, if it’s too perfect people won’t comment just because you ask ‘what do you think?’ at the end 2. ‘I’ll go first’ – have you ever known anyone else thoughtful enough to answer their own questions to give us permission, show us it’s okay to say something or other, it doesn’t have to be brilliant, to break the ice in the comment box…

  15. Hello Chris:

    thanks for a great article. Of course, your blog is an excellent example of an engaging blog. 2 other favorites of mine are http://www.brainbasedbusiness.com and allthingsworkplace.com. I also agree with Mark Silver’s point about different levels of engagement, of which conversation is an important part.

  16. Hello Chris:

    thanks for a great article. Of course, your blog is an excellent example of an engaging blog. 2 other favorites of mine are http://www.brainbasedbusiness.com and allthingsworkplace.com. I also agree with Mark Silver’s point about different levels of engagement, of which conversation is an important part.

  17. I absolutely agree that interaction with readers is important. These are some really good tips, especially the one about being genuine. People really respond to that in the long term, more so than controversy.

  18. I absolutely agree that interaction with readers is important. These are some really good tips, especially the one about being genuine. People really respond to that in the long term, more so than controversy.

  19. I’m still trying to get the traffic to my blog so I can have a conversation with someone, but I’m pretty new.

  20. I’m still trying to get the traffic to my blog so I can have a conversation with someone, but I’m pretty new.

  21. I definitely agree with leaving your writing a litte unfinished.

    Maki from DoshDosh is a good example of writing a complete, self-contained article that does not promote much addons from the comments.

    That said, I really like his articles as the breath of information he provides is really wide.

  22. I definitely agree with leaving your writing a litte unfinished.

    Maki from DoshDosh is a good example of writing a complete, self-contained article that does not promote much addons from the comments.

    That said, I really like his articles as the breath of information he provides is really wide.

  23. I totally agree Chris. Interaction with others bloggers as well as with readers is one of the most satisfying parts of being a blogger.

  24. I totally agree Chris. Interaction with others bloggers as well as with readers is one of the most satisfying parts of being a blogger.

  25. Wow! no comment from Liz.

    Conversation is far from my blog it is mostly technical and informative. Conversation seems to be a cool style for a blog and life in general. Kinda like sharing.

    My good friends sister is crazyauntpurl.com pretty down to earth out side your blog and hers I tend to lean on blogs for more technical and resourced based info. Liz seems to have a pretty cool thing going on too. The SOB thing gave me a chuckle.

    It is a new chapter in blog life for me with all this hype about conversation, I will have to start reading more conversation based blogs.

  26. Wow! no comment from Liz.

    Conversation is far from my blog it is mostly technical and informative. Conversation seems to be a cool style for a blog and life in general. Kinda like sharing.

    My good friends sister is crazyauntpurl.com pretty down to earth out side your blog and hers I tend to lean on blogs for more technical and resourced based info. Liz seems to have a pretty cool thing going on too. The SOB thing gave me a chuckle.

    It is a new chapter in blog life for me with all this hype about conversation, I will have to start reading more conversation based blogs.

  27. Hi everyone! Hi Chris! Especially HI Colbs!
    It’s now almost midnight in the UK and I’ve finally found my way to a computer and Internet access . . . here’s my comment!!

    [grin]

    Thank you.

    Conversation is engagement and engagement is powerful . . . just exactly as Chris says with more patience than I ever could.

    Bring your head, heart, and real meaning to a conversation. Then listen. Think about the last time someone gave you their undivided attention in the 3-D world. Think about how powerful it is when someone is truly interested in an opinion you have to give. Be that someone and people will tell you how to serve them well.

    So many companies and bloggers try to “think like their customers/readers” when their customers would be more than willing to tell them what they think.

    Thank you, Chris. You are a brilliant conversationalist yourself and I can’t wait to see you on Saturday!
    Liz

    PS Liz (No Relation) I’d love to meet you. :)

  28. Hi everyone! Hi Chris! Especially HI Colbs!
    It’s now almost midnight in the UK and I’ve finally found my way to a computer and Internet access . . . here’s my comment!!

    [grin]

    Thank you.

    Conversation is engagement and engagement is powerful . . . just exactly as Chris says with more patience than I ever could.

    Bring your head, heart, and real meaning to a conversation. Then listen. Think about the last time someone gave you their undivided attention in the 3-D world. Think about how powerful it is when someone is truly interested in an opinion you have to give. Be that someone and people will tell you how to serve them well.

    So many companies and bloggers try to “think like their customers/readers” when their customers would be more than willing to tell them what they think.

    Thank you, Chris. You are a brilliant conversationalist yourself and I can’t wait to see you on Saturday!
    Liz

    PS Liz (No Relation) I’d love to meet you. :)