Two Hour Blogger

On Marketing and Writing

10 Ways to Engage Readers

image of four schoolboys hoverinfg around a book

“Why talk about what we want? That is childish. Absurd. Of course, you are interested in what you want. You are eternally interested in it. But no one else is. The rest of us are just like you: we are interested in what we want.” – Dale Carnegie

You can forget everything I’ve taught. If you learn to engage your reader, you won’t need anything else. Once people are interested in what you have to say, your work is done, you can cash in.

If Carnegie is right and we must engage, how can we go about it? Your audience is different from mine, and engagement doesn’t offer a concrete formula. Don’t try all of these at once, but here’s everything I know about engagement.

1. Get Passionate!

Even if you’re a naturally timid writer, you’ll be surprisingly eloquent if you’re passionate. Words flow when emotions are high. Remember what happened to John McEnroe and how he reacted? That’s engagement. We can’t get enough of that talk.

Before you write, emotionally involve yourself with your subject.

2. Give ‘Em What They’re Looking For

What EXACTLY are your readers looking for? Find out – it’s not hard. With email, Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus, it’s inexcusably easy. In my last email I asked my dedicated readers what they wanted to read. The feedback was invaluable.

An objection I often hear is, “But I thought we were supposed to be innovative. Didn’t Henry Ford say, ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses’?” Actually Henry never said that, but it applies to products and business, not blog posts. I dare you show me an article written over its readers’ intelligence that went viral. Such prose disappears in a hussel of confusion.

3. Tell A Story About Yourself (You Can’t Be the Hero)

I’m still laughing about Robert’s restaurant story. The whole thing is about himself, but he’s positioned himself in such a way that we feel superior. He’s the antiquated, bearded raconteur with a legal pad and pen, surrounded in a room of 23-year-olds sipping Latino Americas behind their MacBook Airs. That’s hilarious even without the bathroom incident.

Or take Adam Baker, who launched his first product and failed miserably. His WordPress dashboard crashed at the last minute, leaving an empty, useless landing page. Massive traffic from blogs like Zen Habits hit the page only the bounce immediately. Baker lost literally weeks of preparation and momentum, and after 72 hours of sleepless finalizing, he broke down in tears.

That was my favorite blog post for 2010.

Write about yourself, and put the reader on top. If the story is interesting, don’t hold it back. You don’t have to live like James Bond. If you’re a good writer like Bruce, readers are engaged with just a trip to town.

4. Be Outrageous!

Try being outrageous, just for the sake of being annoying. – Seth Godin, Purple Cow, pg 121

Go ahead, look it up. He really wrote that. Of course, you have to be careful, but it’s an exhilarating lifestyle. Don’t confuse it with libel, but some writers have successfully built their entire blogs on the outrageous. The fundamental premise of my free eBook is centered on this concept.

5. Reveal the Overlooked

As Ecclesiastes states so well, “There is no new thing under the sun.” It’s impossible to say something novel (unless you’re a news station, but even “news” starts repeating itself). So don’t even try.

Yeah, nothing’s new, but some things are repeated more than others. Your job is to repeat what is seldom repeated. Of course, this is hard, which is why my article here is a few days late. ;)

6. Write with Style

Style will make you an unforgettable writer. Style ain’t easy, and few have it. Take heart, for with style you can stand out in a saturated niche. As one generous reader wrote, “Somehow, you say the same thing that others do, but you’re able to do it in style.”

Style will open doors that no other key can turn.

7. Be Dogmatic, Even if You’re Unsure

Better to burn in a blaze of glory than eek a mediocre blog. Never allow yourself to submerge into “I think” or “I hope” or “probably” or “perhaps” or “more than likely.” No reader was ever engaged with sketchy prose. Be decisive. Stick.

8. Admit You Were Wrong

“Why should you get excited about iCloud? After all, this is the same company that brought you Mobile Me.” When former CEO Steve Jobs uttered those self-criticizing words at his final Keynote, the audience roared with laughter. He was openly stating that Mobile Me was a mistake. This was Jobs’ finest hour: by admitting his shortcoming, he immediately connected with his skeptical audience.

I ain’t much baby – but I’m all I got. – Jess Lair

9. Write from Your Perspective

If you have already have a dedicated audience (here’s how) you can write about commonly-discussed topics with your point of view as the focus.

When Robert Scoble vented his opinion of Google Plus, the audience went crazy. Scoble wasn’t cold journaling, just sharing the facts. He was pouring fizz, and the audience burped. It works.

10. Host a Giveaway Challenge

How would you like to break 2,000 pageviews in a single day, attract 100 subscribers, and persuade Seth Godin to contribute to a free eBook with 79 additional authors? That’s what happened when I hosted a writing challenge on Copyblogger for a free blog tweak. Here’s the story and a link to the eBook.

Challenges engage, hands down.

So, What About You?

You know your audience best. Some of this will work for you, some of it won’t. That’s the fun of blogging – we play with our sandboxes, learning as we go.

How are you engaging?

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13 Replies

  1. Great list here! I love #4 and #6. Style is so important, especially when writing in such a saturated niche.

  2. I think #8 is very important. You want to be an expert in your area, but readers also want to know that you are a real person and make mistakes like everyone else. So, an occasional post or story that keeps it real is something readers usually enjoy and can relate to.

    I have also found that readers like to help and they enjoy it when you need their knowledge. People like to give their thoughts and opinions. So, give them the chance. I often turn a question that a reader has emailed me into an ask the reader type post. I get emailed a lot of questions and often do not have the time to respond or it is not something that I know. By asking my readers for help it lets them share their knowledge and it helps engage the readers and makes them feel like they are important. And not only that it helps me manage my time better and provides valuable information on my site that I might not share otherwise.

    1. Lynn, I agree. I find it very appealing when writers show their “human” side. Admit when you’re wrong and ask readers their opinion or even advice and it helps build rapport.

  3. I enjoy all of your posts, but (I took out the “I think” here) this one is above average, especially point 7. If you are going to write a blog you should be sure about what you are saying and even if not say it with confidence. That’s why I ‘m still reading Martyn’s, and haven’t started mine yet….

    1. Martyn Chamberlin

      Thanks Peter! Every now and then I like to push the boundaries of what’s expected around here. And I love how you’ve taken the “think” from that sentiment. ;)

  4. Martyn, this is a really lovely post. Many bloggers shy away from using #3, that is tell a story about themselves. Although they should realize there is nothing more inspiring than a story where you pretty much mess up everything and live to tell the tale. We all root for the underdog, we all love a good rags-to-riches story but even if you never got expected success from it, the lessons you learn from failures can never be learnt from successes.
    I also appreciate having a perspective, offering your own point of view and writing with style. That’s why we follow a blogger right? Cheers :)

  5. What’s up with this lame Facebook button thing not working? That’s got to be annoying for you…

    1. Martyn Chamberlin

      Tell me about it! Suddenly I’m inclined to take our client’s problem a little more seriously. This is literally killing my traffic. ;(

  6. Give ‘Em What They’re Looking For – Is what I believe got me some good results. I’ve been doing some Google analytic and also doing some simple surveys to understand what my readers want. I could see a spike in visits as well as comments when I write about what they want. Awesome post Martyn.

  7. I think above all, be true to yourself.

    Thanks, Martyn!

  8. this one rocks love your post can’t get enough of you post no wonder this blog attract lots of comments

  9. Thanks, dude – honored to be one of your favorite posts of yester-year. ;) Great list!