Fundamentally, every blog post is a bit like throwing a spark onto kindling. Your goal is to spark a fire, to start something that will interest others, grow well beyond your blog and perhaps take on a life of your own.
One of the key components of that fire is the conversation that starts up around your post and your site. That’s where the community around your work starts, it’s one of the key motivations for sharing your work and it’s an important tool in growing your site and your presence online.
However, nurturing this conversation is much more than offering a comment box and a Tweet button on your site, It involves an active effort on your part to stoke the flames and keep the interest alive.
While it might be annoying, especially for bloggers who just want to write and not think about these types of issues, ignoring the social aspect of blogging often leads to one’s site stagnating due to lack of interest and no ability to give potential readers what they want.
So how do you encourage this conversation and, more importantly, not miss it or kill it? To understand that we need to first take a look at how dialog happens on the Web and how this can work both for and against you.
Where the Conversation Takes Place
On the Web, there’s actually three different types of conversations about your work that you need to understand and be familiar with.
- Private Conversations: First, are the conversations you’ll almost never hear about or be able to participate in. These are private conversations that may take place over email, IM or even face-to-face. People talk about your site and your work with friends in non-public places. Of course, some of these conversations may be with you directly, especially if you use a good contact page, but most often they won’t.
- Off-Site Public Conversations: Sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. have made it so that people can converse about your work in public with friends and strangers alike. Though the level of privacy varies, these types of interactions can usually be at least tracked and, in many cases, you can actively participate in any conversation taking place.
- On-Site Conversations: This is basically your site’s comments, forums or any other dialog you encourage on your site itself. This is conversation that you are not only aware of and can participate in, but also in control of.
Though most bloggers would love it to have all of the conversation take place on their site, where they are most aware and in control, the truth is that dialog on the Web takes place in all three spaces and that is actually good news for bloggers.
After all, how can word spread about your work if some of the conversation doesn’t take place away from your site? Without a mixture of all three conversation types, you can’t grow your site beyond its existing audience.
So the question becomes, how do you avoid killing this conversation or, even better, how do you nurture it?
Nurturing the Conversation
The first and most obvious step to encouraging conversation about your work is to post engaging and interesting things that people want to discuss. Good content is virtually irresistible for people to talk about and, with it, the conversation will survive just about any attempts by you to stop it.
That being said, there are a few things you can and should do to encourage the online dialog.
- Make it Easy: Offer email, Twitter, Facebook and other buttons/links on your site so that people can trivially share and talk about what you’re doing. A lot of times people decide what they want to talk about impulsively and these buttons encourage that behavior.
- Ask a Question: Don’t just write a post and close what you have to say, ask a question and invite others to answer it. This makes the reader a part of the post and gives them a reason to respond. Best of all, people find it very hard to resist answering questions when they either know the answer to or have an opinion on.
- Leave a Door Open: Rather than trying to write a definitive piece on a topic, you can leave something out, a place for others to chime in. This may be difficult if you’re trying to be an authority on a topic, but most bloggers can do this easily.
- Ask For It: If a topic is truly important, consider asking others to tweet or like the content directly so that it’s shared and the conversation spreads. While you don’t want to overuse this method, it can be powerful when done right.
However, starting the conversation is just half of the story, once it’s going, you, as the subject, have a role in keeping it going and trying to make sure that it’s as productive as possible.
On that front, there’s a simple mantra that can help you know how to respond to a conversation about your site.
- If You Can, Moderate the Conversation: For conversations on your site, be a good moderator and work to build a constructive place where people can talk and bring new ideas to the conversation.
- If You Can’t Moderate, Participate: If you can’t control the conversation, participate in it. Track Twitter and other other social media mentions of your content and engage with those who share and talk about your work, get involved with the dialog.
- If You Can’t Participate, Observe: If you can’t partake in the conversation but can watch it, do so. See what others are saying and try to learn from it. If truly necessary, you can always respond on-site.
- If You Can’t Observe, Accept: Finally, if you can’t be involved in the conversation in any way, accept the fact that it’s going to take place and is a good thing. Even if it isn’t ideal, it’s a natural part of all human interaction.
In short, the more active you are in the conversation, the better. However, it isn’t always possible and it’s important to not get too caught up in the conversations you can’t join in on.
After all, your time is best spent growing and enjoying the conversations you can be involved in, not worrying about the ones you can’t.
Dealing with conversation online is tough. Give it too much free reign and it becomes like a wildfire that consumes everything it touches, try to control it too much and it’s smothered until it’s extinguished. A properly nurtured and controlled dialog burns bright and spreads constructively.
Like most forces of nature, you don’t really have any control over the conversation and it can turn against you at any time, but you can still use it and benefit from it, if you’re willing to put an effort into it.
In short, the more you learn and do in this area, the better and more productive the dialog around your work will be.