Caring about your community and your ecosystem
Whether you like it or not blogging makes you responsible for a community. It might be small, it might be full of people criticizing yet reading every single one of your posts, it might be changing but it requires you to take care of it.
Knowing and interacting with your community
The first thing you should do is answering people commenting on your blog. Not only did they read what you wrote, but they took the pain to give you feedback. The least you could do is interacting with them. And by the way, don't make registration mandatory. You do need feedback if you want to progress. For instance (well-informed :-) ) people were nice enough to give me plenty of feedback on a post on MySQL. So much that I've decided to incorporate them directly in the original post (orange text).
Don't forget that every time your posting on Digg or Reddit for instance, people do comment.as well. Answer them too if needed. Likewise, if yourself are commenting on somebody else's blog, other readers often answer your comment. Here too you should read and respond.
How do you deal with negative feedback? Well if it's constructive you can choose to answer by commenting yourself (even dedicate an entire page to that) or if the author has left their email, you can start a direct interaction. This is always useful when comments are a bit negative. A few back and forth with commenters tell you a lot about how your post or your blog has been perceived by your readers. Bonus, you will often have an opportunity to meet great people.
Of course you should not always listen but also sometimes do something about it. A few commenters had made this remark that MTG was a bit messy. I decided to organize the main page of blog.milkingthegnu.org (typepad allows you to turn a regular page into the landing page of your blog) so that people could access all of the articles at once and decide what they wanted to read.
Subsequently, a reader complained that he didn't know where to find the latest article: I decided to add a few markers like this gnew and that most read to make it more obvious. I have also decided to increase the font size after people complained that not everybody had a perfect eyesight.
In order to maximize those feedback opportunities, you need to understand your demographics better: this requires a little bit of instrumentation
- Website: You need stats displaying your blog access (Typepad does a very good job here)
- Feed: You need stats for your feeds (what's read, from where etc.). I use Feedburner.
- Post: Who's linking to you? Technorati tells you that much and Google too.
- Opportunistic readers: those who came because a post was advertised through Delicious, Reddit, Digg and other Stumble upon. This category will bring you the largest number of readers. But the goal is really to get them interested enough they will register to your feed. So there is no point putting the word "sex" in the title just to get them click on something they will not read. Although of course, a good provocative title is not always to be frown at. Similarly, I've noticed that humorous posts are doing generally very well.
- Information seekers: those who have landed on your site after a Google search. Here and then you will write a few reference articles. This important. Giving back to the community is worth the pain they are to write :-) People who want to know more about choosing a license or about open source business models often come to MTG through search engine. Never forget to update pages: this is even more important for reference posts. If people trust you for these articles they will distribute them, bookmark them and ultimately be turned into faithful fans. Don't forget: information seekers are often the first to disseminate information!
- Indirect readers: those readers brought to you because you were quoted or cited in somebody else's blog. There are a few things you can do here too. First read the post that brought them here: it might be an opportunity to comment and also to add pointers you have forgotten (in addendum) on your own blog. Nowadays people are less and less using automatic feedback features so explicitly quoting or citing back-linking posts at the end of your article ( like so ) seems to be a good idea.
- Feed users: those who are reading you on a regular basis. This is the category that tells you if your blog is really successful or not. Sure, you're going to have 20 registered bloggers interested in looking at what you've found to comment on it themselves. But what's really important here is to have genuine users reading you on a regular basis. Their number goes up? Everything is fine. It goes down or stagnate? You should reflect on what you have been posting lately. Did you forget to focus? Did you change your tone? Are you buried into a local minimum, ranting about the same subject again and again? Time to do a reality check. Look again at those comments!
Finally make your post attractive to people. The best way is to stick to your ideas and your tone while enjoying writing. Oh, and yes, you can add a few pictures here and there. Actually you can even have posts made entirely of pictures and still make your point.
If you've found this article useful, maybe you could take a few seconds to register to the feed ? :-)