To me, engaging an audience in a give-and-take exchange is much like the game of Tug of War. For those who have never played the game, Tug of War involves two opposing teams in a test of strength. Using a rope, each team tries to pull the other over a center line marked on the ground in chalk.
I know what you’re probably thinking: conversations aren’t meant to be competitive. Nobody’s trying to take the other side down. And you’re right. But I’m a competitive athlete. I’m actually editing this post on a plane as I head to Lisbon to take part in a half marathon. I enjoy competition, even if it’s only against my own best time. Competition gets my creative juices flowing and helps me set goals. And I like my analogies to have a little muscle on them, so hang in there with me as I try to find commonality between civilized conversation and dragging each other through the mud.
In Tug of War, once you get into the game, the momentum becomes so powerful that you find yourself doing your all to help the cause. Everyone is focused on the task at hand, ready to pull and to give every ounce of their energy. The rope is the common bond among all players. Everyone is in physical contact with the rope, taking information from it and responding to that information in real time. Each change of pressure on the rope elicits a response from each and every player. They react by digging in their heels, leaning back, refreshing their grip on the rope, or by groaning or laughing. It’s a conversation of sorts, even though no words are being used. Or at least no words longer than four letters. Nevertheless, the teams are “talking” to each other, engaging through the common bond of the rope.
This brings us to our discussion of unconventional posts. Much like the rope in a game of Tug-of-War, an unconventional post coaxes interaction. So far all the posts we’ve looked at generated information for readers. But the three posts we’re looking at today exist to create immediate engagement and conversation. Key to using these posts successfully is to wait until you’ve grown a small following and you feel confident moderating.
If you’re having a hard time coming up with ideas, or if you have so many ideas but don’t know which ones would interest your readers most, consider a questions post. Select a subject in your niche that you’d like to explore further and ask your readers to post their most burning questions about it. It’s a great way to find out what your readers need, and it guarantees that you’ll be spending your time writing something your readers care about! You can also use questions to involve your readers in a live event that you’re attending but they’re not, such as a conference or a seminar. As an expert in your field, you have access to other professionals, and you can help open up that access to your readers by gathering their questions and asking on their behalf. Here’s a great example from the U-T San Diego that gathered reader questions for a mayoral candidate debate on education. They chose to collect questions by email, but you can ask readers to leave their questions in the comment section. (We’ll talk more about comments and how to manage them soon.)
Surveys, polls, and quizzes are a fun and easy way to get to know your audience. Unlike a questions post that requires your taking time to answer, surveys, polls, and quizzes can give you and your readers quick insight on a certain topic. Do a survey or a poll if you want to gather information on a topic from many people and then publish or comment on the results. Opt for a quiz to help your readers learn something about themselves or test their understanding of a particular topic. Check out this useful quiz designed to help readers decide if they should start a blog.
One quick poll I recently ran on another blog was to help me select the logo for that business. Why not let your readers or clients participate in some of the more fun decisions that go into running your business? They’ll be happy to help and it will make them feel more invested in what you’re doing.
Surveys can go deeper than the simple poll described above. They might include more questions and use a variety of tools, such as ratings on a scale of one to ten, drop-down menus, or text fields where people can respond in their own words. A great tool for running surveys is Surveymonkey.com. The basic survey is free, but is limited to 10 questions and 100 responses.
The Contest Post
Just like a game of Tug of War, contests provide a playful way to connect with your audience. The key to running a good contest is to offer a good prize. The prize doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does need to provide value to your audience. For example, you might want to offer the winner a copy of your book if you’ve written one, or a free consultation or other equally valuable perk. Be sure to spell out the details, deadline, and entry rules of your contest. Make it as simple as possible for people to enter. Entries can be via a comment on your blog, or through an email, or the social networks. Here’s an excellent contest post by Darren Rowse of ProBlogger. The prize? A five-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Australia!
Next week we’ll finish our roundup of blog post types by taking a look at how you can use audio, video, presentations, and slideshares to enhance your blog.