Advice for new bloggers: Establishing a readership through networking

As part three of my Essential Advice for New Bloggers series we’re talking about establishing a readership.

When it gets right down to it, blogging is all about the readers.

If that wasn’t true, we’d all be madly journaling in our spiral-bound notebooks. But we’re not, are we?Because we want readers!

Which is why the first question that a new blogger asks is how do I get readers?

Then, after you’ve got a few readers, you start asking, how do I get MORE readers? And the truth is, no matter how many readers you get, you keep asking that question.

There are a few basic strategies for establishing readership. And, since each of them deserves an in-depth look, I’m going to break them into separate posts. Today we’ll talk about networking, and then in my next post I’ll cover basic search engine optimization, and finally I’ll do a post about converting one-time visitors to repeat readers.

Blogging is all about connections
Who you know, who they know, who knows about you, who knows that they know about you… it’s a big web of interconnectedness. The more people you know, the more you get your name out there, the more readers you’ll have. Let’s talk about some basic ways to start building connections.  But first, a couple of important guidelines.

Guidelines for networking success
Commit those guidelines to memory. Print them out and paste them above your computer. Come back and re-read them when you feel you’ve lost your way.

Be sincere
It’s easy to become consumed with the quest for readership, to the extent that you lose your genuine self and start “playing the games.” A word of caution though, most bloggers (especially the more experienced ones) can pick out a disingenuous comment so fast it’ll make your head spin. They know the difference between a sincere email and a form one. And insincerity rarely works, while sincerity can be surprisingly effective.

Be generous
I’m a big believer in the karma of blogging. Do something nice for someone else; link to a post you really like just because you like it; promote a new blogger just because you think they’re worth being promoted. I believe that this type of generosity, without expecting an immediate reciprocation, can take you to great places. And I believe that it becomes increasingly important as your own success grows. Do for others what you wish someone would do for you.

Enjoy yourself
The recommendations that I’m about to make can be A LOT of work. They can take up all of your time if you’re not careful. In my opinion, this blogging thing is too much time and energy unless you’re enjoying it. Hate facebook? Don’t do it. Don’t get Twitter? Stop trying. There are enough options for networking that you can easily focus on the ones that work for you and ignore the rest.

Why networking builds readership
Networking builds readers in a couple of ways. First, it exposes you and your blog to people who might be interested in it. If you connect with someone who likes your blog, WHAM! you’ve got a reader. Secondly, when you make friends with and get exposure to other bloggers, sometimes these other bloggers will help to promote you, either by adding you to their blog roll or by linking to you in their posts. Each time this happens, you have potential to convert a whole bunch of their readers into your readers.

How to network effectively
Now, let’s talk about how to network. Keep in mind those principles (sincerity, generosity, enjoyment)… you haven’t forgotten the principles, have you?

1) Read and comment on other blogs.
This is one of the most basic, but effective, strategies for making connections. Find other blogs that you like and start following them. Leave comments! A comment tells the blogger that you were there. And most bloggers try to visit the blogs of their frequent commenters. If they like yours, you’ve got a new reader!

I’ve found the best commenting strategy is to 1) BE SINCERE and 2) be different. Say something interesting or funny or witty. Pose a new perspective.

Some of the most effective comments that I’ve left have been along the lines of, “Wow, I really love your blog. It’s so funny/real/unique/interesting. I am totally adding you to my blogroll!” Avoid asking for something in return. And (did I mention?) BE SINCERE!

Also you should know that the bigger a blogger becomes, the less likely they are to visit their commenter’s blogs, simply because they don’t have time. In my experience I’ve found that there are some exceptions to this rule, but not many. No, Dooce is not going to come read your blog, no matter how many comments you leave her. I’m just saying.

You’ll likely be much more effective at building relationships with smaller-scale bloggers. When I started blogging, I became friends with some bloggers who had similar traffic to me (around 30 subscribers). Now some of those same bloggers have over 1,000 subscribers. Oh, and we’re still friends.

2) Join and be active on social networking sites.
There are SO MANY of these, and it seems like a new one pops up every day. Some of the best that I’ve found for mommy bloggers include:

Join them all! Give them a try! Then find the one or two that you truly enjoy, and be active there.

Most of these sites provide widgets for automatically publicising each of your posts (see How to import your blog into Facebook and Twitterfeed.)  Install ‘em and forget ‘em. It’s a marvelous thing.

Make sure that any time you post to a forum or send an email that your blog URL is included at the bottom. You want to make it super easy for the people who love you to hop on over to your blog… which they’re sure to love too! (Wham! Reader!)

Here are a couple of good articles with guidelines for getting going in these networks:

3) Find a group of bloggers who share similar interests, and become an active member of that group.
Find groups of people who are interested in the same things that you are. If it’s a local group, go to the meet-ups. Send emails. Communicate with the other members. Help fellow members out. And… that’s right… don’t forget to be sincere!

4) Participate in blog carnivals or memes
Blog carnivals and memes can be a great way to find other bloggers who share your interests and who are actively looking to network. If you’re not familiar with these terms, get an overview here:
What is a meme?
What is a carnival?

Guidelines for carnival participation:
1) Post early. Getting your link up early ensures that it’s available to the majority of people who visit the carnival.
2) Give your link an interesting and descriptive name. Don’t just type in the name of your blog; write something that will compel readers to click and find out more!
3) Read and comment other carnival posts. Taking the time to do this is a great way to reach out and make connections with other bloggers.
4) It’s basic courtesy to provide a link back to the main carnival page, even if there aren’t “rules” stipulating this.

Guidelines for meme participation:
1) Don’t overdo it. Try to limit memes to one or two per week… remember that your readers want to see original content too.
2) “Tag” freely but don’t expect everyone you tag to participate.
3) Keep it interesting. It’s easy to write out something quick that answers the question and post it. But content is key to finding and keeping readers, so approach everything you write with the filter of “is this representative of the quality of my blog for readers who might be coming here for the first time?” If not, don’t post it.

A word of caution: I’ve seen a lot of new bloggers try to start their own carnivals and memes. While this is occasionally successful, more often the results are less than impressive. Generally it’s better to wait to start your own until you have at least a hundred dedicated readers.

Some popular carnivals include:

5) Track where your readers are coming from to learn what’s working
You can set up your blog with analytic reporting for free. The two best sites that I’ve found for this are Google Analytics and Site Meter. Watch where your traffic is coming from. Through Google Analytics I can tell (over time) which social networking sites are sending me traffic and which ones aren’t. This helps me to determine where to spend my time.

It’s also a good idea to set up an account with Technorati. This will enable you to see who is linking to your blog (you can set up an RSS feed so that you get alerted every time someone links to you). Be sure that every time someone links to your blog, you thank them!

Ok, let’s discuss. What other ways have you found effective for networking? Which social networking sites are your favorites?

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  1. I remember reading these way back when and they work! I will never forget when I started blogging and I found your blog very early on. I put you in my blogroll because I liked reading you but I never commented (was too scared). Then all of a sudden one day you commented on my blog and I almost fell over. I sat there wondering how on earth did she know I read her…now I get it, lol!

  2. C’mon, Jen! Surely dooce would want to read me! I’m gloriously witty and amazing. ;)

    I am enjoying this particular series. It came at the exact time I needed it. This week I’ve been focusing on what I can do to gain readership and I was wondering when your next installment was coming. Thanks!

    JILLIANs last blog post..OUCH!

  3. *sigh* I never comment on dooce anyway, her comments are always closed.

    I never knew wordless wednesday was a carnival, I though it was a meme, I didn’t even know what a carnival was until reading this post! thanks for the new information!

    I like twitter, well really I like I’m not sure if its effective in getting new readers, because I dont know where my readers come from, I do use sitemeter to know how many people visit. I’m still trying to make sense of google Analytics.

    I think my most effective way in getting readers right now is just leaving tons of comments regularly.

    Jessica Mommynightowls last blog post..Jib Jab- the lazy persons photoshop

  4. Great article today! I’m off the check out the articles you linked to… Also, I want to figure out the technorati rss feed that will let me when someone links to me.

    Thanks for all the great information.

    Reluctant Housewifes last blog post..Part of the 2%

  5. speaking of the rss feed that lets you know when people link to you …

    i spent quite a few minutes on the technorati site trying to find this. can you give me a hint??? :-)

    the planet of janets last blog post..Weekly Winners: May 3-9

  6. I’m loving these tips. I have trouble with getting new readers because I feel bad about wanting them. Does that make sense? I don’t want people to hear me screaming “please like me! I’m nice, I’m funny, come on over!”

    Because that’s got a lame ring to it, no?

    Again, wonderful tips.

    Sarah @ This Heavenly Lifes last blog post..I’m Feeling The Mother Love

  7. Thanks so much for this series of posts. I found you via a Twitter link & have been looking for an “intro to blogging” series like this. Most of the blog advice sites I find are so bogged down in tech jargon I give up on them, but this I can actually use.

  8. You’re blog, especially your new blogger series is awesome! So much helpful advice! I will probably be back many times before I can get through and apply it all! Thanks

  9. Ha ha I just came across your blog because I’m doing my blog promoting rounds by commenting on other blogs. Thanks for all these tips, I’m looking to take my blog to the next level too. I think I have what it takes, I’m just trying to get my reader base up.

    One thing you forgot was giveaways!! Those rock for getting readers up!!

    I’ll be spending a long time reading through all of this today.