Towards the end of December, we hosted a webinar with Adrian Lurssen, one which I’d sat in on previously. But this time, Adrian said something that really stuck with me – he said that you can’t just build a blog. You also need to build an audience. 

That got me thinking about how many people start a blog, start writing content (even great content), and then sit back and wait for the magic to happen – a la Field of Dreams, if you build it, will they come? 

The short answer is no – and I’m not the only one thinking about this. For the why, you need to take a look over at Jayne Navarre’s latest post "2014 Reboot: In case you’ve forgotten, law Blogs are (still) ‘social’ media" and Kevin O’Keefe’s follow-up "Do not confuse writing an article with blogging.

 

Jayne says: 

A blogger without social connection is simply a writer with a public, online article database/archive."

"What’s so bad about that?" I can hear you asking. If you’ve spent any time here at Zen, you know I talk a lot about influencers and amplifiers – those people who are not clients or potential clients, but will take your work, share it and get you in front of the audiences you really want. And if you have only an archive, not only will potential clients and clients never see it (how would they even know to look for it?), but those influencers and amplifiers who help to spread your message will never see it either. 

It’s as if you’ve published one copy of a book, which you keep on the shelf in your office. Even book authors do book tours and promotions, so why would you sit back after writing a blog post and not follow up? 

The difference is, as Kevin says: 

Blogging is a conversation where by listening to relevant discussion you engage those in the conversation."

So, how do you have these conversations? How do you build your audience? There are two important areas to focus on – within your blog and posts, and within social media. 

Within Your Blog

Jayne sums these all up perfectly – you’ve got to be offering the readers something within your blog to make it worth their while. Make sure you’ve read her post to get her tips – she is spot on. 

To add to that, I want to discuss how you make a blog post into an actual conversation – it’s something that Kevin does all the time if you read his posts regularly. It starts with listening to the conversation. Follow bloggers you like and respect, even news outlets on subjects you care about. This is where the fodder for your posts will come from – someone will say something that strikes a chord with you, and you feel the need to respond with your own thoughts. In some cases, you’ll comment on their post directly, and in others, you’ll take that comment and craft your own blog post around it. 

And here’s the key – when you do that, make sure you quote the article or post that inspired you, and link back to the author and their content. That kicks off the dialogue. Once you publish your post, share the link with them with a note saying that their work led to your post, in which you’ve cited them. If you have a relationship with them already, they’ll be flattered and are more likely to share your post with their followers on social media (perhaps helping to get you in front of an audience that’s new to your work).

If you don’t have a relationship with them, it’s an opportunity to make a new connection, engage in further discussions, and yes, they’ll likely be inclined to share your post as well. 

The key here is authenticity (yes, the most hated buzzword, even if it’s accurate). You want to be natural about this – write your posts because you honestly have something to say, and because someone else’s work got you thinking – not for the purpose of having someone to push your content out. If you’re genuine, people will sense that and it will help the conversational part of blogging come naturally. 

Within Social Media

Social media is the other area that’s ripe with opportunity for audience-building. Again, you want to make sure you’re authentic. If you start using Twitter just so you can share your blog posts and other self-serving content, you’ll spend months wondering where all of your followers are, and why no one responds to your tweets (and you’ll tell everyone you know that "that Twitter thing just doesn’t work").

But, if you use Twitter (and LinkedIn, and Facebook, and Google+ and yes, even Pinterest) as a place to have conversations first, and become a repository of all substantive content (your own and others), people will gravitate towards that. It’s like any face-to-face interaction – you want to ask questions of people, really listen to their answers and stories, and then only share your own when it’s relevant and useful. 

Let’s be very clear here – having strong social networks and real blogging conversations does not automatically translate to huge numbers of blog views and thousands of followers. And it shouldn’t. Quality is FAR more important than quantity here – if you have 6,000 followers on Twitter, and 90% of those are spammers, that’s not going to do you any good when you have an excellent piece of content that would be valuable to potential clients. 

In contrast, if you have 100 followers, and every single one of them is a journalist in your specialty area, a client or potential client, or an amplifier or influencer, how much more powerful is your audience going to be? 

The way you build that powerful audience is through conversation – it happens slowly, but over time, you’ll see big results. If you build your blog, make sure you build your audience – then, they will come.