Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

On Growing Your Audience

jongibbs made an interesting post a couple of days ago on the subject of "fans" vs "friends". It was inspired by a question from one of his friends on how to create an online fanbase.

The question was a little offensive, especially when it was followed up with “I want a blog not a chat room,” he said. "Besides, I’m too busy writing to waste time making ‘internet’ friends.” Like jongibbs, I regard y'all as my friends, not my fans, and it seems silly, even insulting, to do the opposite. The term "fan", rooted as it is in "fanatic", seems somewhat condescending when applied to other people, even if I'm happy enough to apply it to myself in many cases.

But as I was mulling the entry over, it occured to me that I do actually have some ideas on how to gain an online audience that goes beyond one's circle of friends -- on using LiveJournal or any blog to reach more people than you have the time to cultivate a friendship with. So I left this long comment on his entry, and Jon Gibbs responded with 'why don't you make this an entry?' Oh yeah.

The notes below use the generic second-person, so I want to clarify right here that I don't mean you, specifically, should do any, much less all, of them. So:

Some Things to Do If You Want to Reach a Larger Audience

1) Produce something of considerable interest and/or entertainment to your audience. OK, this should go without saying, but it is the most important step. It doesn't need to be profound; has gone a long way based on "funny".

1a) If you're really intent on growing an audience that you regard as fans and not friends, you probably want to refrain from social-media type posts: "The omelet I had for breakfast was delicious! :9" Note: I'm not saying you should never write about the everyday events of your life, because the everyday events of your life could make great reading. sandratayler writes one of my favorite blogs, and she usually focuses on the things that are important to her life: raising her children, crisis management, writing, self-publishing, running a two-person business, etc. I love her blog because she writes about these things in compelling, candid way. I may not be raising kids, or self-publishing, or running a business, or managing crises -- but at the heart of so much of her writing are lessons on how to live, which is something I do every day. In a similar-but-different way, ursulav writes great posts on whatever happens to be on her mind, using wit and humor to make them entertaining. Some writers have a talent for making anything interesting: Isaac Asimov could've written a fascinating essay on dandruff (and possibly did, who knows? It is one of the tragedies of our times that Asimov did not live in the blogging era.) If that's what you want to be established as, go for it. Just keep your audience in mind; your shopping list or the list of names of the people you met at a party last night are probably not of interest to them.

2) Post regularly and/or frequently. Depending on the service you use, this may be more or less important, but it never hurts to keep your blog current. Posting on a schedule is nice (M-W-F at midnight), but if you post every day or two I don't think a schedule is that important. If you're only going to post once a week, you probably want it to be at a specific time so that the people who don't have you on an RSS feed know when to check back. If you post less than once a week, it's harder to build an audience at all.

3) Advertise on sites that have the kind of audience you want, where possible. This works well for webcomics, which often advertise on each other's sites. Blogs don't have the same tradition of advertising, and even with ones that have ads, the ads may be served by the blogging service, and therefore you can't target your ads to just the blogs that have the kind of readership you're after. Even so, you can promote your blog by commenting on widely-read blogs. And when I say "promote" I mean, "leave a comment that's interesting, relevant to the post, and includes a link back to your own blog". Not "come read my blog! It is teh awesome!" If you write interesting comments, the blog's other readers may follow your link back to you. I started reading mharreff's journal after seeing his comments on sythyry's; I daresay I started reading many of you by seeing what you wrote in the comments section of my other friends' entries.

4) Guest-blog on a successful blog. This is even better than writing good comments, because many readers don't click through to the comments, but almost everyone will read the main page -- and if what you write as a guest blogger is good, some of those readers will take a look at your own blog. Similarly, posting on a well-trafficked forum or a community can drive traffic back to your post. As with (3) above, your post needs to be interesting in its own right; you want to advertise by demonstrating that you have something readers want to read, not by telling them "Read my blog!"

5) Own your URL. For some reason that I do not fathom, many people think that "" is more professional and therefore somehow higher quality than "". In an ideal world, you probably want to use something like WordPress to publish simultaneously to several different outlets, so people can find your latest posts on,,, etc.

6) Have an RSS feed. Lots of people like those.

7) Make it easy for your readers. This goes along with (5) and (6), which are really just ways of saying "be easy to find and easy to follow". In the same vein, you want to put as few barriers to readers as possible. Don't make them through cut-tags (or make your feed customizable so that they have the option of having or not having cut-tags). Have a comments section that threads well. Choose a color scheme that's easy to read. Etc.

8) Have other people to link to you. This one's somewhat out of your control, obviously, but it doesn't hurt to ask your readers to tell their friends. And of course, if you write something interesting, people are going to link to it naturally: "read this, it's cool!"

All this said, I'll note that I do almost none of this myself. This is mostly because I'm not looking to build an audience for my blog. I keep a journal partly for myself, partly to keep in touch with my friends, partly to make new friends, and a little bit to entertain passerbys. I'm happy see new faces and to write things of interest to a wider audience, but it's not my primary focus in my journal. Perhaps someday it will be and then I'll have to take some of my own advice (and see if it works!) And this is one reason why I mentioned earlier that "I'm not saying any of you, specifically, should do this". Because there are plenty of good reasons to blog that have nothing to do with reaching a large audience.

But I am curious -- what advice would you have for growing an audience? What sorts of things have made you decide to follow the blog of someone who wasn't a friend?
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