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? 🙂 )