Our blogs are expressions of us, informed by a community. It’s part of why we write blogs instead of handwritten journals.
Listening in on other conversations before you draft and publish clarifies your thinking and inspires more post ideas. While staying on top of topics you care about might be a more obvious move for a topical blogger than a purely personal one, taking the time to listen gives any blogger a lift.
You’re probably already engaged in the larger community, and you can focus some of that engagement to benefit your blog. It’s time to try some strategic listening. With free tools to simplify it, it’s an easy way to give your blog a big boost.
What is “strategic listening” anyway?
“Strategic Listening” is the first step in a social media plan for organizations starting their online presence. Before jumping into the internet fray, you listen to what’s being said about the topics you care about — and about you.
If I’ve got a non-profit organization combating child hunger in Dallas and I’m about to join Twitter, I’d want to know what people are saying about the other organizations working in that space, what they’re tweeting about, what people think of the policies and programs that exist, and what’s already being said about my organization.
Once I have a sense of that, I can start tweeting (or blogging, or Facebooking) to move the conversation forward. I know who I should follow and who my allies are. I can use Twitter for a purpose other than getting my name out, because I understand the broader context.
How does this apply to bloggers? Listening:
- Keeps you at the leading edge of your subject. Even if your blog is a place for personal musings on mental health, it’s useful to know what others are writing about. No man is an island, bloggers even less so.
- Gives you inspiration for posts. You may be moved to respond to something you find that resonates — or with which you vehemently disagree. Ideas need fertilizer. For a blogger, that fertilizer can come from both your life and the community.
- Lets you know who the players are in your area, so you can follow and connect with them. Becoming part of a larger community has traffic benefits, but also provides everything from a support system to a place to get ideas for what to make for tomorrow’s dinner.
- Helps you avoid the trap of tone-deafness (and the backlash that accompanies it). No one wants to be like Spaghetti-Os: if there’s an important event or conversation happening and you blog on blithely unaware, you can appear callous and risk turning readers off. Listen to ensure your tone and topics are aligned with what’s going on in the world and on the web.
There are some smaller benefits, too. You’ll find great links to share with your Twitter followers or Facebook fans. You’ll learn what hashtags to follow, or get some new reads to add to your blogroll.
At the very least, listening is informative and inspirational. At best, it forges connections that up your traffic, bring you other opportunities, and create meaningful relationships with people all over the world.
Strategic listening in organizations involves dedicated software developed for that purpose (read: fancy and expensive). Luckily, anyone can listen in using a variety of freely available tools. In fact, you probably already do a lot of this as you surf the web each day — this just gives that sometimes random clicking a bit more shape.
- The Reader. You can search for any topic under the sun; use it to find bloggers you’ll love and to keep your finger on the pulse. Now that you can read full posts without leaving the Reader, it’s even easier. (No worries; the blogger still gets credit for the traffic.) Follow the blogs you find most interesting, and leave relevant topics in your Reader sidebar for quick access.
- Blogrolls. Use the blogrolls of sites you already love to find other great blogs that have been pre-vetted for your reading enjoyment.
- Twitter. Follow bloggers you love, and explore their feeds and followers. When you see a hashtag that seems relevant, check it out and join in. Search for key terms that are central to your blogging. Lots of Twitter clients, like Tweetdeck (free), HootSuite (free), and Tweetbot (paid) make searching and following hashtags or topics even easier.
- Facebook. Lots of bloggers and organizations have fan pages; often they’re sites of secondary discussions that aren’t making it to their blogs. Now that Facebook allows hashtags, you’ve also got another way to explore content.
- LinkedIn. LinkedIn has thousands of groups, and they’re not all strictly professional — there are WordPress groups, food blogging groups, mommyblogger groups, photography groups, and more, also housing secondary conversations. The “Pulse” feature also lets you follow channels on topics you care about; it’s under “Interests” in the main navigation menu.
Depending on what you blog about, there may also be other networks you’ll want to use –like Instagram or Pressgram for photographers, or Food52 and Tasty Kitchen for foodies. (If you’ve got a subject-specific community you love, share it in the comments.)
The interweb at large
- Search engines. Google, Bing, and the like are always there, waiting for you with open arms and empty search box. You can filter those searches to focus only on blogs, although keeping an eye on the news never hurts.
- Alerts. The big search engines will let you create alerts for terms that are important to you. When something comes up, it’ll end up in your inbox.
You’re all denizens of the internet, and are already consuming lots of information every day. Spending a little time doing that in a more strategic way can enhance your content and your readership.
How much time should you spend listening? A bit more in the beginning and less later on, although listening isn’t something that ever really stops. Just remember: you’re a blogger first, so make sure listening is in the service of that.
We’d love to hear about the tools you use to help you manage the endless flow of online content (it’s overwhelming for everyone!), and any stories about how your blog is informed by the wider world.