The Author BLOG: How to Connect With Readers of The Digital Age
by Kristen Lamb
In The Digital Age, human attention spans now rival an over-caffeinated fruit fly with bad a crack habit. This is good news and bad news.
The good news is readers love consuming blogs because they’re short and convenient. Blogs are perfect for capturing an audience, bonding emotionally and inspiring these microreaders to dive into something longer (like our books).
The downside is that we must hook early. Omit needless words. Get to the point. Avoid qualifiers like, “In my opinion.” It’s your blog so the reader already knows it’s your opinion.
Being brief doesn’t necessarily mean shorter blogs. Rather, it is how we condense material and maintain interest. If we can say something in one sentence, don’t use five. Choose powerful words and use active voice.
Since we are namely storytellers the best blogs and the ones most likely to be “sticky” are told in a narrative, engaging voice. Draw the reader into your “blog world” and it’s good practice for drawing them into your “fiction world.”
For instance I blog a lot on life lessons on my author blog. I wanted to make a point about how risk and failure are vital for growth and success. Rather than using a professorial style lecture, I told a story about a bio-dome experiment.
Scientists created a bio-dome where all the plants and trees had the optimal amount of light, water and food and they were completely sheltered from the elements. Over time, though, the scientists noticed the trees stopped growing and that trees in the natural world were far more robust and taller.
When they probed further, they realized that yes, violent storms broke branches, but this forced the tree to become stronger. Droughts could be devastating, but lack of water made the trees grow far deeper roots. Sun could be scarce in a crowd of other trees, so the trees had to grow taller to get the necessary sunlight.
In short, adversity made better trees. This bio-dome anecdote is easily metaphorical for people. Readers remember it and like to share it because it is in the form of a story. It “sticks.”
White space is our friend. I almost never put more than three to four sentences in a paragraph, because short paragraphs are an optical illusion. They make the blog appear shorter, which helps capture then maintain interest (even if our posts have a high word count).
Large blocks of text have the opposite effect. It doesn’t matter how fascinating our content is, no one will read it because it appears tedious. Even a short blog can seem long if it’s all in one chunk.
***TL;DR (too long, didn’t read)
Remember that big chunks of text are harder on the reader’s eyes. These days, many people check out blogs on smartphones. Unlike twenty years ago, today’s audience is more likely to read in short spurts—while commuting by train, on a lunch break, or when stranded in an express line behind a person who doesn’t understand what “20 Items or Less” means.
When it comes to backgrounds? Simple is superior. Dark backgrounds with light text are a nightmare to read on a computer. On a cell phone?
Throwing our readers’ eyes in a digital iron maiden is not the best way to make friends. Make sure you test your blog on multiple devices so you can see what your readers see. It might be awesome on a computer and a formula for blindness on a phone.
Modern humans are deluged with reading material. E-mails, memos, notes, more e-mails. Our brains are tired. Using images can help enhance whatever point your blog is making and also break up those blocks of text.
There are many places we can get fabulous photos without fear of being sued. I started WANA Commons on Flickr and there are thousands of images to choose from. Feel free to contribute! Flickr Creative Commons is another excellent resource. Just make sure to check the licensing.
I like images that simply require attribution and that allow me to modify the picture. We can take a very plain image and make it amazing by using free and simple tools like picmonkey.com (which is essentially Photoshop for Dummies).
I use Pic Monkey to make memes, enhance color, add thought bubbles, make zombies, etc. You can use your own images as well. It’s smart to put your name and website in the corner. If people love the image and pass it around, that’s free advertising that is also “sticky.”
Blogging is a Conversation NOT a Presentation
Many writers get brain-lock when they try to think about what to blog about. This is because we are writers and, aside from flawed advice floating around, we’re rather good at overcomplicating stuff.
Most readers today are information overload. No one wakes up wanting a syllabus of more crap to read. Besides, if you’re a novelist, you don’t need to be an expert, just a great storyteller.
Think about your potential reader. Profile them. What do you have in common? What can you tell stories about?
Readers don’t care about three-act structure unless we mess it up. They care even less about the Oxford Comma Debate, the future of publishing, how to use CreateSpace or what makes a good query letter.
They care more about the time you were so sidetracked with the kids you missed your exit and ended up in the next state. They can relate to your desire to want to burn every pair of skinny jeans on the planet. Write sci-fi? Just talk about Star Wars or Firefly.
If you could live forever, would you? Why? Why not? If so, under what conditions? Here are my thoughts. What about you?
Trust me, we have ALL thought about this stuff and LOVE an opportunity to share what WE think. This is also a great way to get commenters engaging with one another. It generates community because YOUR blog becomes the fun and interesting place to hang out.
Strive to engage the audience and make them an integral part of the blog experience.
We are a Reality-TV Generation. We’re spoiled. We can vote on American Idol or text a code to choose what Buffy wears when she goes to meet The Bachelor. Entertainment today includes the audience. We’re wise to understand that and use it to our advantage.
Kristen is the author of the new best-selling book, Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World in addition to the #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone: The Writer's Guide to Social Media and Are You There Blog? It's Me, Writer. Kristen is the founder of the WANA movement, the CEO of WANA International and creator of WANATribe, the social network for creative professionals. She's a contributing humor blogger for SocialIn, a blog that reaches 2.5 million. She also blogs for The Huffington Post. feel free to follow her on Twitter at @KristenLambTX and on Facebook.