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November 7, 2007

Creating Conversations with Your Readers

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Last session of the day features Alex Hillman and Jake McKee. Welcome, fellas.

Alex and Jake are going to interview each other and let us watch. Oh wonderful. This is going to be tons of fun to blog.

Let the fireside chat begin!

Alex asks Jake what kinds of blogs he reads.

Jake responds that a big part of the answer is the pre-work of that question. How much time do I have in a typical day? I have about 500 sites in my feed reader. Jake is a big believer in trying to get influence and input from as many mindsets as possible. He tries to include a lot of things that aren’t necessarily part of his core task. His feeds are categorized into groups. For sure he reads the Huffington Post, Commoncrap.com, and Socialcustomer.com every day.

Alex answers his own question, saying that since he’s from a fairly tech background, he reads a lot of design-based blogs. He namedrops 37 Signals. They don’t isolate the non-technical people, while still being able to excite the technical people.

Jake calls blogs great conversation tools because they give you the illusion of an individual conversation. Bloggers may not respond to every comment, but there’s this idea that if Mark Cuban responds to one comment, then everyone is part of a larger community. Readers think to themselves, hey, if Mark Cuban came into his blog and read that one comment, then he must have read mine too, right? Well, maybe, maybe not, but that’s the perception.

The best types of blog comment moderation are the ones where the only stuff that doesn’t make it through is the duplicates. You don’t want to moderate dissent. Pass as many comments through as you can and then try to engage the audience. If you have a good comment thread going on, it encourages people to keep visiting that post in order to see what’s being said.

Alex quizzes Jake on the idea of communities. He says we’ve talked a lot about different types of blogs and motivations for blogging. He thinks the one common thread is the concept of community. Alex asks what kinds of parallels Jake sees between what people try to do on their blogs and real world community building?

Jake says that good conversation is typically built on a good relationship. It requires a certain level of understanding or connection to a shared interest that you have to determine first. I think that any of these social media tools come down to how you build the relationships themselves. The "how you do it" part is actually much simpler than we think. A lot of clients don’t understand that we’re just building relationships. At the end of the day, just because we’re using one tool or another, doesn’t mean that offline relationships are any different from online relationships. Every relationship has its own different context.

In terms of building a community, Alex says you can test the waters with your audience and see what your readership responds to and what they won’t tolerate. It’s about eliciting the intended response and getting to know your audience.

Jake agrees and says it’s the getting of the intended response that’s crucial. Yes, you may write about things that are of interest only to you, but writing for yourself probably isn’t the purpose of your blog. Most people are looking for positive interaction with their audience. You have to find the balance where the readers are getting something out of it, but you’re also getting something out of as the blogger. You want everyone to go home happy.

Jake asks Alex more about the Coworking concept he mentioned last session.

Alex says that when they set out to do it, it makes more sense to do it than not. They have a lot of independent workers, so putting them all in the same place made sense. They set the foundation of how people will interact with each other.

Jake: How does the offline component come into play? We all have an offline presence, as well. How do we make that work together?

Alex answers that it’s about work/life balance. There’s only so much you can do online. Real face to face conversation is not the same as reading an emoticon. In a day to day interaction you have the ability to perceive things. You can only judge the quality of someone’s work based on track record. What better way to perceive their track record than by looking at their work history? It sounds good, but all of that can be forged. Instead, with coworking when you’re working side-by-side, you can watch others work and see how they interact. You can see if that’s someone you want to work with or not. Working with others helps you to understand real human interactions, which in turn allows you to be more success interacting online because it increases your ability to perceive things. If the majority of what you’re doing online you’re going to be less likely to perceive things online.

[My brain is now mush.]

Jake mentions how Engadget has its meetups and an interesting phenomenon that seems to occur. He says that if you read their blog comments the week after the meetup, the whole tone changes. There’s not as much snipping, people are talking to one another and engaging. Aw, how sweet. People acting like grown ups.

Why do people go to conferences? Because they want to check up on what their friends are doing. Yes, we have Twitter and blogs, but it’s so much more gratifying to hear it face to face.

Alex comments that he was just reading something about how people tend to blog at extreme emotional moments. He says this is why blogs provide such a terrible view of the world, all people see are the extremes.

[Jake questions Alex about his company’s relationship with their sponsor Belkin. To be honest, I tuned out. The short story is that Belkin has been super supportive, and that no, just because they’re a sponsor, it doesn’t mean Alex has to paint his walls with pro-Belkin material.]

I did catch this snippet regarding their partnership:

"The goal is to make their walls not be the same as the banner ad column as a blog. That’s not sustainable because eventually the customer will get banner blindness. The goal was to create sustainable relationships. They’ll give us a product, we’ll continue to use it. When things go well we’ll talk about it, when they don’t, we’ll go back and tell them about it."

Jake asks: How much difference do you see between online vs offline these days?

Alex responds that his line is so blurry that he needs glasses to see it. He thinks there’s a lot of room for professionals to come in and help social media people figure out where the end is. The reason a lot of people work themselves to the bone is because they’re so passionate that it’s really hard to turn themselves off. Where is the line?

Jake: Is there any difference between today and a few years ago in how people do things online vs offline?

Alex: Meeting people online first and meeting people offline second has become way more acceptable. A few years ago if you told someone you were meeting someone you met online, they would assume it was a date and that it was creepy. Today it is far more acceptable. (Unless you’re telling your mother. Then she’ll make you promise you’ll bring mace.)

Jake: Have you seen any good examples of bloggers connecting people?

Alex responds that he’s done it personally. For example, someone may leave a comment on his blog about something he’s not well versed on. Alex will then help the person out by putting them in touch with someone who is an expert. It’s part of creating non-redundant communities.

[I feel like I need to mention that it’s really hard to pay attention to this session when neither one of the speakers are looking at the audience. They’re just addressing one another and it makes me feel rude to keep staring at them!]

Jake: How come we see so much distinction between the social networking functions online and my ability to leave a comment on a blog?

[What?? – Lisa]

Alex apparently understood the question and says it’s an evolution of utility. There are things like Open ID where when somebody comments you can click on their Open ID name and get access to a wide variety of resources about them. Privacy may be another reason. Sometimes you comment some place and you don’t want people to know where else you’ve been. I think it’s difficult for the contribution to be as valuable without context. Without identity you lose a large amount of that context.

And that’s it. More blogging coverage tomorrow. I’m off to figure out what this whole "Vegas" thing is about.

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