How to Gain Followers (Without Losing Your Soul)

Everything I know about promoting your blog and gaining followers can be summed up in two words:

Be kind.

Really. I know that there are tricks and ideas and best practices, and I’ll try to share some of those here. But kindness is where it begins and ends. Get too caught up in getting numbers, and you begin to forget a lot of other things. You start to obsess about stats. You start writing what you think will get you numbers. You forget to write the things you meant to write in the first place. Slowly, you begin to lose your soul and become just another carbon copy of everything else on the Internet.

Listen, I’m all for getting more readers. I work really hard on my blog posts, and I want people to read them! To share them! To come back and buy my book and love it and pass it on to all their friends and family and then to tell me that I’m fantastic!

And yet, most of all, I want to remember that people are people. Not numbers. I want to remember that I’m a person, worthwhile and important regardless of how many people read my blog on a given day or follow me on Facebook or Tweet a link to a post. I want to create meaningful connections — for myself and for others. I want my blog to be about more than just “platform.”

I have no perfect solutions. I still struggle, and there are still days when I judge my self-worth by comments or blog traffic. But there are also some things I’ve learned that seem to help me stay true to the kind of blogger that I really want to be.

Here they are:

get readers 2

1. Make sure your content is valuable to your readers

We’re all allowed a navel-gazing post every now and then, but for the most part, your readers are coming to your blog because they find something valuable there. It might be something tangible like a recipe, tutorial, or list…or it might be something a little more intangible: empathy, community, understanding, hope.

As you write your posts, ask yourself questions like these: What do I want a reader to take away from this post? What am I giving to them? How is the writing I’m doing about more than just myself? How might it connect to others? When what your giving is intangible (as my content mostly is), this can be harder to spot, but I think it has to do with vulnerability. With how much you’re willing to let others into your own heart…and somehow a little deeper into theirs.

2. Resist the temptation to make people into anecdotes

In a world where we often get ahead at one another’s expense, this is easy to do without even realizing you’re doing it.

Assume that the person you’ve written about is going to read it. Because even if you think that there’s no way in the world that they will ever read your blog, they will. They’ll find it. (This happened to me once with a post, and I’m still not totally over it.)

This is not to say that you shouldn’t ever write about anyone else. I don’t think that’s realistic or necessary. Only that as you write and edit, you must do so with great care, remembering that this is a person with feelings and fears and hopes and dreams. Hold their stories carefully; make room for complexity; resist the urge to turn them into a caricature to suit your post or your point.

3. Approach “hot-button issues” cautiously

For my own reasons, I tend to shy away from the major “hot button issues” on the internet. But I also recognize that there’s value you in engaging these issues — questioning the way things are being done, sharing stories, crying out for change.

Sometimes it’s tricky to find the line between being honest and being kind. Sometimes the truth is not kind. And the rotten truth of it is that hateful, mean, or blaming posts will get a lot of traffic because we flock to that sort of stuff. But when we write that way, I think that we lose a piece of our humanity.

Listen: if this is what you have to say, say it! But do so with understanding, honoring the complexity, respecting the person on the other side of the battle line, who is as human and as precious as you are.

A few things to think about as you post about “hot button” issues: Am I being reactionary? Am I being kind? Would I say this to this person if they were sitting across from me at a table?

With A Megaphone By A Wall

4. Make sure your posts are easy to share

Links to social media should be available at the end of every post, and links to connect to you on social media or via email should be easy to spot. I’m partial to having them at the top right of your screen. That’s where I always check first.

My brilliant agent, Rachelle Gardner, often includes potential tweets at the end of her posts, so that if people want to share, they don’t have to spend time coming up with something that communicates the heart of the post while staying inside the character limit. They can just copy and paste what’s already there. Brilliant.

5. Include pin-able images when possible

I’m not great at this, but I’m trying to get better. It’s very easy to modify an image to include a quote from your blog post or the title of your post, using free programs like PicMonkey or (my new favorite) Fotor. Pinterest has become sort of huge, and creating images that give a good idea of what your post is about might help bring some new traffic your way.

If you’ve had a blog for a while, but have never done this, it’s not too late! Pinterest wasn’t as big (or even existent? I can’t remember) when I started my blog. But I try to go back into the archives once a week or so and change the image on one of my old posts to one that plays nice with Pinterest. Then I pin it to a correlating board. (I’ll post more tips on using Pinterest tomorrow.)

6. Read and comments on lots of blogs — both in your niche and outside of it

This is one of the most important tips I can give you. Read, read, read. Comment, comment, comment.

Some blogs you’ll just visit once or twice, and that’s fine. Others will be ones that you’ll want to keep up on. Comment regularly and cultivate a relationship with bloggers and with other commenters on their sites. Be genuine and kind. Ask questions. Tell them which parts of their blog post was most meaningful to you. Do the work to build these webs of friendships. They will be what sustain your blog, even as your other numbers ebb and flow.

Use a reader like BlogLovin or Feedly to make reading blogs easier. You can also subscribe to most of them via email — though you have to then click into the blog itself to comment. Make sure that when you find posts you like, you Tweet them or post them on Facebook.

The practice of reading lots of blogs will probably ebb and flow for you. Right now, my blog reading is kind of pitiful. I have very limited time as I work toward a deadline for Book 2, and I just can’t read as much online writing as I used to. But once that project is off my plate, you can bet I’ll get back to it.

Ideally, you should spend at least a half hour every day, reading and commenting on other peoples’ blogs. It doesn’t have to all be at once. Do you have five minutes while you’re sitting in the parking lot, waiting to pick up your kid? Read and comment. Show up early for a movie? Read and comment. Chances are you’re reading plenty on the Internet already — now just add the comments. (Again, remember our cardinal rule above: be kind.)

photo credit: Lisa S. (d.delight) via photopin cc
photo credit: Lisa S. (d.delight) via photopin cc

7. Write guest posts

As you begin to read and familiarize yourself with lots of blogs and websites, you’ll get an idea of where your writing might fit. Make a list of those places, and spend a few months familiarizing yourself with those blogs and getting to know the bloggers.

When you’re ready to begin guest posting, don’t send general or form emails. Email each blogger personally. Tell him or her why you like they’re blog and then suggest a couple of post ideas that you could contribute. We can tell if you’ve never read our blog, so don’t pretend you have if you haven’t.

Give the blogger a few weeks to respond, and then it’s okay to send one more little nudge. “Hey there. Just wondering if you’d had a chance to think about this!” I know that my email box gets quickly out of control, and sometimes I need a little reminder to bring that post back to the top of my priority list.

8. Participate in blog link-ups, carnivals or syncroblogs

We already discussed this a bit in yesterday’s sustainability post, but it bears repeating. Keep an eye on what community blogging opportunities that are going on…and take part! Not only does it give you a break from coming up with a topic, but it also helps you connect to other bloggers and connects them to you!

9. Use Social Media Intentionally

Social media is most definitely not my best thing. I know how I’d like to be on social media, but I haven’t come up with a really good way to balance being present online and present in my own life. So, most often, I choose the latter.

Still, there are few shortcuts I’ve learned that I’ve found valuable. I use Buffer almost exclusively to tweet links to my blog posts. Buffer allows you to schedule your tweets and other social media posts ahead of time. I have mine scheduled to send tweets about five times a day, and whenever I publish a new post, I spend about ten minutes in the morning, filling up my Buffer with short variations about that post. That way, I can step away from my computer and still know that my blog is being publicized.

On the days when I don’t have a post going up, I try to fill up my Buffer account, instead, with links to other peoples’ posts. This way I can share the love without spending all day online.

I also have separate personal and public Facebook accounts. I write mostly about spirituality on blog, and I didn’t want to annoy or antagonize my friends, family and colleagues who don’t find that particularly interesting. Every now and then, I’ll post something really important on my personal Facebook page (book publication news, etc.), but for the most part, all of my blog posts go directly to my public Facebook account.

There are bloggers (thinking of Glennon Melton Doyle, Jen Hatmaker, and my friend Leigh Kramer) who are GREAT at interacting with their readers on Facebook. They say quirky things, post funny pictures, make everybody laugh and like, like, like everything. I still haven’t figured out how to do that. But I aspire to be! I’m also still trying to figure out a way to interact more personally on Twitter. I’m not very good at using it to deepen relationships or to enhance what I’m doing at the blog, and I’d like to get better than that.

I have no idea about Google+. So don’t even ask me.

photo credit: kdonovangaddy via photopin cc
photo credit: kdonovangaddy via photopin cc

10. Avoid looking at your numbers

It is so easy to figure out how many people are reading your blog on a given day, a given week, a given month. It’s easy to check a hundred times a day to see if the number has climbed at all, to see how today’s post measures up to last week’s, how your traffic measures up to someone else’s.

I get it. When I reformatted and changed my blog from How to Talk Evangelical to the lovely new addiezierman site you see before you now, I lost all my Facebook Likes. It seems like a small thing, but there was a minute there when I felt like I lost my bearings. I didn’t realize how much I’d been measuring my success by how many people had “liked” what I had to say. When a few months later, it happened again, and my one single viral post lost it’s hundred thousand likes, it hit me again like a punch in the gut.

What I learned from this experience is that numbers are fickle. They can disappear in an instant, and the things that they measure are not the things that really matter. But when you get too caught up in checking stats and “likes” and “Retweets,” you begin to feel twitchy and nervous and anxious. Let me tell you: it’s toxic.

If you can, reconfigure your blog’s dashboard so that your statistics don’t appear right away, the second you click in. To see mine, I have to scroll way down to the bottom of the page, and believe it or not, having them out of sight helps me keep them a little more out of mind.

Once a month, give yourself permission to check your stats. Are there sites that have been sending traffic your way that you didn’t know about? Thank the writer there. Which posts got the most shares and which got the least? Did your average increase or decrease since last month? Give yourself time to sit down with these numbers, to think about them, to make a plan and goals for this month…and then close it down. Let it go. You can’t control it, so try not to let it control you.

 

What about you? What has been most helpful to you in cultivating readership? And how do you guard your soul?

50 thoughts on “How to Gain Followers (Without Losing Your Soul)

  1. Read and comment on lots of blogs! Absolutely. If you want to lead a community of your own you must participate in it. If you want people to discover your voice, speak up in the venues they probably frequent. Your audience and potential readers are reading Addie and RHE and Sarah Bessey and … and … and. Join in with them. Reply to the commenters (and be nice!) as well as replying to the blog author.

    And in those comments, learn how to discretely and politely hyperlink back to your content. If the blog post is dealing with poverty or forgiveness, for example, provide a doorway for interested readers to drill down deeper into your thoughts.

    Great advice, as usual, Addie.

      1. Copy and save this template replacing URL with the link to the page you want and replacing LINKWORDS with whatever word or phrase you want highlighted as the hyperlink.

        <a href=”URL”>LINKWORDS</a>

        This works with DISQUS and most other blogging platforms but some (like Kathy Escobar’s) are set up to require the blog author to OK its use each time.

  2. I struggled with the soul sucking chores of trying to get noticed in a loud and prolific social blogosphere. I actually quit blogging because of some of the points you made today – I spent too much time worrying about finding good images, writing content that would get shared, checking numbers, spinning my wheels on twitter, fumbling with Google +, and ultimately feeling like a blogging failure. After a short break, I’m going to try again – this time employing as many of your points as possible. I need to focus on staying true to my message – the spiritual journey from brokenness to wholeness – and not worry about how popular it is. I know there are a handful of people I have helped and I have faith there are at least a few more out there. I (want to) want to be soul-satisfied not viral. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your amazingly calm and clear perspective on blogging. I love this series!!

  3. Thanks for this series, Addie. I am working on getting better in all of these areas, so it’s encouraging to know that I’m on the right track!

    Guest posting has definitely been one of the best things I’ve done this year. I love being able to serve other bloggers who have given me so much to think about by writing for them when they are on vacation or when they just need some extra time to step back and, as you said, be present in their own lives. The extra exposure is always nice, too, and it’s always neat to be able to share my writing with a brand-new group of people.

    Heaps of thanks again for writing this series. I know a lot of us are really enjoying it!

  4. Ah, I love everything about this post! The blogging tips are right on. And your thoughts on blogging with grace and integrity resonate with me deeply. That’s a principle I hope to spotlight regularly in my own blogging as time goes one. Thanks so much for this important post!

  5. Wonderful list, Addie. And all stuff I am trying to do. Except the Pinterest bit. I just cannot add one more social media thing to my plate. I already spend way too much time on line as it is! Thanks so much for your thoughtful work on this series, my friend.

  6. great advice, Addie. I think one thing that drew me to your blog was your header photo, it is truly great. It’s not the typical picture you’d see of a blogger, it shows joy.

  7. This truly is the best thing I’ve read on this topic. Such great points, and good reminders that the internet is made up of real people and more often than not, good relationships online are built the same way they are in real life – through authenticity and kindness. Love it!

  8. Sage advice! Also, if you ever want a personable email conversation on G+, I’m your girl. I’d recommend it because its not the time suck of Facebook and it also really can boost people finding you because google likes to reward people who post on G+. (Yes, I just spoke of google like a living creature. I picture a sleek dragon with spectacles.) in any case I think all of this is fabulous advice and a good reminder. Sharing this!

      1. do get a guest post on G+! First, I LOVE the dragon image, second, I have this feeling that if I could just learn about it easily, I’d like G+ more than the other social media thingies.

  9. Such great advice. And timely for me. I have so much to learn regarding blogging, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. — but I have a Facebook tip. People think I spend tons of time on there, but I’ in and out in 5 minutes or less. When you click on a person you are friends with (or a page you like), there’s a pop-up box that will say “Friends.” For select people, I change that to “Close friends.” I have gone through and included the friends and family on FB that I don’t want to miss as well as my favorite bloggers and writers. Whenever these people post, it appears in my notifications. So when I get on FB, I only look at the notifications. If someone commented on my post, I can click on that and go straight there to reply. I can quickly and easily read all posts from the people I care about the most — and I never have to scroll through the news feed (unless I have spare time and want to). But because I can easily reply to everyone who says something to me, it looks like I’m on there a lot. It may not work for everyone, but it’s a system for me that allows me to jump in and out and not get bogged down in all the millions of posts and drama :-).

  10. Addie, I have to say that the fact that you write back to my comments is one of the things I love about your blog. Ok, what I love the most is your writing, but as much as comments let you know we’re reading, it’s so nice that you let us know you read the comments. Even if it’s a quick, “Thanks!”

    I’ve found that on blogs that I comment on if the blogger never bothers to respond, I lose my enthusiasm for commenting. I don’t mean they have to respond to EVERY comment, but every once in a while is nice. Or else I start feeling like my comments aren’t that important to them and I save my commenting time for bloggers I feel like I have really interacted with.

    And if only everyone would heed you and BE KIND! Oh, how lovely it would be.

    1. Even though it sometimes takes me a week to do it??? 😉 Seriously though, I’m so glad that you notice that. I work hard to answer every comment, even when it’s a little less timely than I’d like. Those comments are so important to me, and I want to make sure to acknowledge them!

      1. Yes, even a week later! It’s like a late birthday present. I sort of forgot I wrote a comment, then I get a nice little note from you. 🙂

  11. I think it helps my sanity to find a handful of bloggers to engage with regularly. There’s so much interesting content out there, but if I narrow the field to, say, five bloggers I really like, it makes it easier to cultivate that kind of reader-relationship you’re talking about. Thank you for taking the time to break down the writing/blogging/marketing process. It’s one of the most stressful part of the writing business by far (for me, anyway).

    1. Agreed. That’s so true. You can’t be Blogging Besties with everyone, any more than you can be close with every single person in your real life. Good insight.

  12. I couldn’t agree more about commenting. I’ve continuously been amazed at the traffic that’s come in from comments. My only struggled tends to be figuring out what precisely to say if I don’t have a question. I feel obnoxious if all I ever say is, “Great post!” Or “Really liked this”. But sometimes there’s nothing else to add. Either way, Great post! Really liked this. 😉

    1. Ha! Love it! Sometimes as I’m reading, I just highlight a line that’s particularly struck me… then copy it into the comment box and say a thing or two about why I love it. Seems to give me a place to start.

  13. Thank you so much for this post, Addie! I’m sure I’ve probably seen these suggestions before, but they didn’t ring as true until I read them here, the way you wrote them. It’s so important to remember that building a blog and a blogging community takes a lot of time and effort – it’s not as instant as so much in our lives, and it requires that you put a lot into it. This is a great reminder of that!

  14. love these tips and thank you again! (this is me, practicing commenting…after reading your post today I regretted that I have been a dedicated reader of yours for nearly a year but have never commented before. so I’m starting now. 🙂 I did write you an email, once upon a time, but I’m not sure if you ever received it and it was most likely terribly naive anyway. and I never re-sent it so there’s also that.)

    I am especially looking forward to the tips tomorrow about Pinterest. I stink at understanding (not to mention using) that site. Thanks again for sharing your insight and wisdom.

    1. There are lots of great Pinterest tutorials out there. I’m still trying to figure that one out myself. Social media. It’s a zoo. (Also, SORRY AGAIN about the super late reply to that email. Terrible.)

  15. Thanks for this, Addie! I’m following your advice and getting back on the comment bandwagon 🙂 I used to try to comment at least once a day, but then I faded into just reading blogs and not commenting. And I wonder why I’m not always getting many comments on my posts even though they’re being shared—probably because I have readers like me!

    This post is really encouraging to me as a blogger because it’s so practical for bloggers, but at the same time has a lot of heart and honesty behind it—something that’s missing from so many posts about building your audience. So all that said, thanks again 🙂 It doesn’t go unnoticed.

    PS: Reading your book right now and am on a trip down evangelical youth culture memory lane 😉

    1. Thanks so much Lacy! I find commenting hard too. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy for that one extra step. But knowing how much it means to me to get a comment helps me remember to at least try.

  16. I love this post! Your ideas really made me think about how much I am connecting with potential readers (not much!) and how to write in a way that can be more engaging. Truly, I think most people blog because they want to have a genuine connection with others. Great job!

  17. Addie, this is the idea that’s going to “stick” with me – –

    “As you write your posts, ask yourself questions like these: What do I want a reader to take away from this post? What am I giving to them?”

    Thank-you for sharing this!

  18. Totally agree – kindness always. Even when others aren’t so kind. I see so many posts that don’t even have kind titles. Maybe people can get a little arrogant and preachy which isn’t a good thing to be. Delivery is all important. Lovely post – thanks – glad I found it.

  19. A very good and realistic article for blogging with integrity while still working on one’s platform.

  20. Thank you SO much for this. I’m in the process of getting my first book published and am taking content from my blog to form it. I’ve been blogging for almost a year at http://www.beanxiousaboutnothing.wordpress.com

    Checking my stats and worrying about the numbers is a trap I fall into too often. Thank you for the reminder that I need to remember why I started blogging in the first place and let the Lord lead me in what He wants me to say. 🙂

  21. Some very good tips here! I am working to re-energize my blog…I started it years ago, but have never dedicated time or effort to it as I should. I finish my B.A. in HR & Org Leadership in a few months and I want to get back to my passion for writing. I am forcing myself to write leading up to
    Valentine’s so I can try to get my groove back! LOL!

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