I wrote a letter to my wife once listing 100 reasons why I loved her, and I had my audience pegged. Sweet, right? I had known her for eight years by then, and I knew the buttons to pound.
I succeeded marvelously. This was not a farse, toying with her emotions, because I meant every word on the pages. The letter is an example of a message targeted to a specific reader by a caring writer. My kids get a big kick out of it now.
My favorite item, looking back 10 years now, is "98. You apologize to pillow when you are mean to him." Let me just say that I have an unusual attachment to my pillow, though not severe enough to put me on a reality show.
The statement exemplifies a moment of intimate connection between reader and writer, with a unique message: powerfully silly. The communication was effective.
The problem when you turn to blogging is that you lack intimacy. Far from writing to your wife, you are writing to strangers oftentimes. You write daily or weekly, but how often do you really know the person you are communicating with? Not only are you unfamiliar with the people you write to, but even worse: sometimes you don't even think about it.
The problem is obvious. How do you persuade and engage an audience you are unfamiliar with? The image demonstrates the complex interaction between the writer, reader, topic, and context.
The two most significant elements are writer and reader, a person you don't know and who does not know you. As a writer you must be a mind-reader to understand what your audience's values, beliefs, and interests. The context surrounds the entire frame, and influences every word. Change any element in the diagram, and you change the written message.
You have to learn as much as you can about the group that you write to, filling in the gaps with your charasma and powerful prose. This is a difficult proposition to take on, but one thing that will help is to take on the role of journalist investigating your audience (no stalking necessary).
In other words you investigate your audience using journalistic questions and other strategies. Here's an activity you might try with your target audience. Google Analytics can provide a surprising amount of information on these questions. Also, pay close attention to comments, emails, and social media:
- Who? Who is reading my posts? Are they the people I need or want to read my posts? What is their education level? Do they have families and children? Are they older with grandchildren? Are they teenagers? Where are they from? What languages do they speak?
- What? What might they come to your site looking for? If they were to type something into the Google box to find a site like yours, what would the keywords be? What do they need answers to? What questions to they have that really need to be answered? (Google Keywords tool can help with this).
- When? When do they access your page the most? What are the best times to launch and share your posts? When should you write about a certain topic? What order should you write them in? When are they responding with comments the most? When do they not respond at all?
- Where? Where are your visitors arriving from? Where do they exit? (Google Analytics). How does where they are from affect the messages you will deliver? What browsers are they using?
- Why? Why should people visit your site? What do you offer them that they can't get anywhere else? Why should they choose your site above others in a similar category? Why should they bother reading?
- How? How can you gear your writing style and content toward your audience now that you know them a bit better? How can you answer their questions and provide the content they are looking for? How can you engage them more through comments and social media? How can you use a tone of voice that will appeal to them? How will you make them feel safe and welcome on your site? How will you keep visitors there once they arrive?
A lot of investigative and guessing work, I know. However, I guarantee that you will be in a better position to connect intimately with your audience if you force yourself through these questions. Of course it will be nothing like the experience with my wife, but as you make friends of your visitors, you will find a growing, close relationship.
Try one more exercise with me. I know you didn't expect to work here, but the process will give you a keen insight.
- Take out a sheet of paper, and for a moment contemplate how your day has been thus far, good and bad.
- Now, for 5 minutes begin a letter to your very best friend in the world describing what you thought about. Address the letter the way you would an email to him or her and use your usual tone. You won't have time to finish the letter.
- Next, for 5 minutes, begin a more formal email to a colleague or co-worker, who is not your best friend. Keep the same topic. Tell him or her how your day has been thus far.
- Finally, for 5 minutes, begin a very formal email to the President of the United States about how your day has gone thus far (for some reason he is interested in knowing).
What did you notice in writing the three different emails? What did you notice about your tone and choice of words? Did the details you included change? Did the way you characterized events change?
If all went according to plan, you should have written three distinct emails because we changed one of the elements of the triangle. We simply changed the reader which changed the context and your view toward the topic. The writing result was completely different.
Now, as you write your blog posts, remember that you are doing the same thing. You are changing your tone and writing to direct it toward the group of readers you know a little better now, but not to your best friend or the President.
I hope these methods help because if you can connect with those readers, your writing will succeed. Let me know how your writing exercises turned out.
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Before you go, did you find this exercise useful? Please share your ideas with us.