How to turn blog readers into brand advocates

By Srinivas Rao, Contributing {grow} Columnist

If you have been blogging for more than a few months than you have super fans whether you know it or not. You just have to keep an eye out for them. Fortunately there some key indicators.

  • They comment regularly
  • They send you personalized emails
  • They share EVERYTHING you write

But simply knowing who they are is not enough. The same way you water seeds for a plant, you must cultivate your super fans.

Approachability

One of the things that will immediately set you apart from other bloggers is how approachable you are.  As people become more well known online they seem to become less approachable.  Approachability may not scale, but it doesn’t have to since it leads to raving fans.  My two rising stars who are extremely approachable are Leo Widrich and Marcus Sheridan.

  • Leo’s startup Buffer has been wildly successful in the last several months. It was recognized by the Wall Street journal as twitter app of the the year. I’m a huge fan of the Buffer team because they are some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Success hasn’t gone to their head.
  • If you read GROW, then there’s a good chance you know Marcus  Sheridan. In the last year Marcus has really made a name for himself and his career is taking off.  If you go to  The Sales Lion,  you’ll see that he responds to every single comment and he’s extremely down to earth.  Despite starting to become “famous” online he’s still very approachable.

Vulnerability

In the book Click Ori Braffman analyzes the factors that lead to instant connections between people. One of those factors is vulnerability.  When you allow yourself to be vulnerable with your content, you become human. You put yourself on the same level as your audience. You end up talking to them instead of at them.

A few weeks ago I thought about emailing Mark and giving up my contributor position here at {grow} because I couldn’t meet his quality standards — I was having trouble coming up with anything original to say. I thought most of what I had been writing lately was garbage. When I told him this, he said I should write about the fact I have nothing to write about!  Looking back I realize that anytime I’ve been stuck, Mark encourages me to be vulnerable because people are able to relate to it. Chances are, other people are having this problem too.

It’s easy to create this picture of success online. But when you let your guard down, and expose your imperfections, people click with you and start to become super fans.  Vulnerability makes you human.

Go far down the social media rabbit hole

When somebody comments on your blog or tweets one of your posts, if all you do is respond in those mediums, then you’re missing out on an opportunity to cultivate a super fan. When somebody you’ve never heard of shares your content or mentions your name on twitter for the first time, make it to point to check out who they are.

  • Find out what their real name is
  • Visit their blog
  • Add them as a friend on Facebook or other social network
  • Get a more in-depth view into who that person is beyond their twitter handle

You never know who you’re talking to.

Setup a Circle, List, or Group of Super Fans

In Tribes Seth Godin talks about the importance of enabling the members of your Tribe to communicate with each other,  but usually the communication ends up being limited from member to leader in the form of comments.  I think a fantastic example of somebody who has managed to cause communication between the members of her Tribe is Gini Dietrich. If you look at the comments on her blog that becomes immediately obvious.

You’ve probably also heard before that it’s easier to sell something to people who are already your customers than it is to sell to new ones. Anytime somebody buys something for you or is extremely supportive of your work, you should create a list, group or circle specifically for them. These are the people who will cause your tribe to reach 1000 true fans. Treat them accordingly.

One on One Conversations

In his book Little Bets, Peter Sims highlights the work of Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank.  Yunus was actually a professor of economics, but what resulted in the idea for the Grameen Bank, was going out into the trenches and talking to people. Yunus won a nobel prize for his work on the Grameen Bank.

You’ll learn more from 20 minutes of talking to one of your readers or customers on Skype then you ever will from surveys and market research. If somebody sends you an email raving about your work, setup a conversation with them. These lose informal conversations allow for a much deeper and more rapid diffusion of valuable information.

Create Content Specifically For Them

One of the greatest things about the technology that we have at our disposal is an ability to customize somebody’s experience with our content or business. Once you’ve identified a group of super fans, one of the best ways to ensure that they will stay super fans is to create content specifically for them. Here are a few ways to do that

  • Ask them to send in Questions and record a podcast/video in which you answer all there questions
  • Write an report or free e-book specifically for your super fans

Highlight Them in Your Content

One of the nice things about creating content specifically for your super fans is that it naturally results in you highlighting them in your content. When you mention one of your fans, they automatically feel a stronger connection to you.  You can do this in a few different ways

  • If you have a blog, link bank to something they wrote
  • If you have a podcast, mention them in an episode
  • If you’re doing video, mention their name on camera

Cultivating super fans really comes down to one thing: listening to your audience. If you look back at everything above you’ll notice that all of these ideas are about becoming a better listener.

Srinivas Rao writes about the things you should have learned in school, but never did and his the host-co founder of BlogcastFM.  You can follow him on twitter @skooloflife

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  • Rosemary

    It could all be summed up as “get out of your own navel” right?  Chris Brogan is trying out some of this by including viewer promo video clips within his new “secret show” podcast.  Thanks for another goodie!

  • One of the things I have done is highlight others in my blog. When I was a part of Triberr, I was getting more retweets, but my audience was less engaged, since I don’t think half my “tribe” members knew who I was!

    At least now, I have regular readers who do take the time to comment. Many of them know of my plight being homeless and living in the shelter system in my state. I post when I can, and my readers come and show support.

    I get out and read and tweet and share as much as I can. Nothing beats being approachable and getting to know someone. I have been very lucky that I have made incredible friends doing just that.

  • I like this. 🙂 I’ve been purposefully doing some of these things, and they’ve been working well for me. Perhaps it’s way past time to implement the others. Thanks for reminding me. 🙂

  • Srini, first, let me thank you man for the incredible kind words. I really do appreciate it. Furthermore, I think this was a great piece (not because I was in it) as you gave actionable ways in which we can build stronger advocates– something I think we all want.

    The bottom line for me is this– It takes a lot of work to show people you care about them. It’s not a passive thing. In fact, it’s the opposite. Many folks simply aren’t willing to put in this amount of time. Personally, I have to check myself all the time to see if I’m “giving back” enough, because the balance of “more projects” in conjunction with “help others” can get whacky if we let it.

    Again, thanks so very much for the kindness Srini. Continued growth my friend.

    Marcus

  • Some really great points, If you want to build famous and successful blog then you must have loyal readers and how to do it?? that you’ve already mentioned in the post. 😉

  • This is all very good advice.. except it’s for ‘blogging for bloggers about blogging’ isn’t it? I mean if I were Coke, trying to sell more soda, why would they highlight me? Or Disney or Apple, any of the other brands I have advocated? I do read Disney’s blog a little, sometimes Carnival’s unofficial John Heald; but linking to my posts or thanking me on Twitter, don’t think it’s going to do them any favors. 

    Again this all works if your blog is for other bloggers; IMO we’re not ‘regular’ people, we heavy social users. I have/done/will continue to do this — I link to supporters in posts, highlight them on Twitter, read/share/comment their blogs — plenty of love (and time, h/t Marcus) for my audience. I am also trying to shift my blog to attract/include more of the audience I want – small business owners/managers looking to hire someone like myself, that aren’t ‘inside’ on all this… just not sure these tactics will turn them into brand advocates for my biz. FWIW.

  • I think you might be correct with the mega-brands you mentioned. Those are all things that people have extremely strong emotional ties to. I won’t drink a Pepsi just because they linked to me.

    However, there is a huge disparity between megabrands and bloggers with a lot of room in between. Fact is, there are very few brands that are as high on the food chain as the ones you mention. At the same time, I would venture to guess that while people are passionate about their products, most people could care less if those megabrands had a blog or not.

    Consider Marcus Sheridan. He’s not a blogger blogging about blogging. He’s running a legitimate business and has used his blog to inform people and attract attention to his business. Customers that purchase a pool don’t have the emotional tie to the brand (which is the case for the overwhelming majority of businesses). As such, anything to bring attention to his company (in a genuine way) helps his brand. 

    Bottom line is that yes, this strategy is fantastic if you are a blogging blogger. But don’t be quick to dismiss it for a large number of other types of businesses. The example you listed were megabrands but I would say that most businesses can’t claim that status…or anything near it. 🙂

  • I think you have a point in terms of the megabrands, but I think this could actually do wonders for other brands. For example if a surfboard company highlighted me using one of their boards in their content or marketing that would definitely make me want to pay more attention. As far as the small business owners that you work with,  why not do case studies on the work you’ve done with them on a blog. If people read case studies about their business on a popular web site and they ended up with more business because of it, I think you’d create a great relationship with those people. 

  • I know what you mean David, not dismissing the bloggers, blogging.. or what it can do for brands, businesses of any size. Just the other day I highlighted Carnival’s community, which has been vocal in its support. Marcus is a unique example b/c he has blogged for a biz (pools) w/ success; and now he’s blogging as a speaker/consultant, earning that kind of business too. It’s just that he does blog about blogging – and what inbound, content marketing can do for businesses – plays great w/ this audience, but IME it’s a harder sell on the doubters.

    Re: Pepsi (coke woman myself) that I hear ya. I’ve said it before: Dell and Best Buy and anyone else can hit me w/ there award winning social media, lead me to those waters all they want; still can’t get me to buy a PC.. or not look lovingly at the new iPads.

  • Like I told David, brands may get me to pay attention; pay money, that is something else. As for case studies, would that I had them. Again it’s not that I doubt this wisdom- smart stuff- but that all too often I run into the SMBs who aren’t convinced, aren’t sold that this considerable investment of time, talent, money will work as fast, easy, cheaply as they want. Or that just b/c they get customers to say nice things about them, it means ROI.

  • Misty Dietz

    Love. This. Thank you!

  • Srini, What a great post. I love the honesty behind it. It makes me think of your (excellent) podcasts. I love the way you show the real you (occasional cussing and all!). It’s so important for small businesses to show who they are in particular. And by doing this you reach out on a different level: not the expert, the trust builder but the human being. 

    Great stuff. And @markwschaefer is a great man for encouraging you to be this open. 

  • Arminda

    I absolutely love this post, Srini! You raise so many valuable points about our readers, and I am reminded that anyone who stops to read anything I’ve written is a superhero in my world. I am always so grateful for the comments, for the retweets, for the support. Thank you for some additional actionable steps I need to implement.

  • HEy Marcus,

    You’ve always been somebody I look up to and see as an example for us to learn from. I know what you mean about the work that goes into taking care of a community.  I’m realizing that the more you add that personal touch the more people love your brand. 

  • Nancy,

    I think highlighting others is essential. In fact I always recommend that people write about people that we haven’t heard of when they put together a “bloggers to watch” post they should find people we have never heard of and shine a light on them. Of course the more approachable you are the faster you’ll connect with people. 

  • So glad you enjoyed it and thanks so much for your kind words. 

  • Jon,

    I think the key take away for any brand, small or big business has an opportunity to show their humanity.  The best brands in my opinion are not afraid at all be be human. We sometimes forget that there is a person on the other end of the screen.  Personally I think small businesses have a competitive edge because they can really showcase personality since they don’t deal with any red tape. 

  • Rachel, definitely come back and share the results with us.   

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  • Doug Kessler

    Great post — thanks.
    Love the Super Fan idea.

  • Hforton

    A superb piece.  Thank you for sharing.

  • It really does come back to that quote about people remembering how you make/made them feel. They respond to that.

  • Srinivas,

    Really these are amazing thoughts… Not because they blow the roof off how to create superfans but rather they talk about building relationships… 

    In my humble opinion there is still a widespread belief that creating relationships online is a simple as publishing content… The “Build It And They Will Come” mentality.

    My belief success Online is about building, developing and sustaining relationships just as you would in the real-world.  It takes time and effort and focus and dedication and time… If you treat people like they are important they will feel important.

    I very much enjoyed they way to laid this topic out.  I’ve previously seem your name around the Inter-web but this is my first real exposure to how you write… I’m a fan now.  

    Thanks,

    Ryan H.

  • It’s funny, Srini, as I admire both Marcus and Leo and they get mentioned in a post written by a blogger I really like 🙂 + on a resource that I read frequently.  Which makes me smile for a few reasons: 1. great people flock together forming a labyrinth of amazing relationships 2. great people always (!) find time to be humble & nice 3. great people make internet a wonderful community (overshadowing the dirt and negativity many times over)

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  • I love this, Srini. As usual, you rock it. The articles I’ve read from you always deliver for me.  My favorite part about this whole post, is that to me, it’s talking about and focusing on *caring*.

    There are lots of ways to show caring, and *caring* is kind of a “know-it-when-you-see-it” thing, but that’s good, because it means every individual can tell if they’re caring well or not, on a personal, individual level.

    Anyway, I summarize this post to:  “Care about your fans and be rewarded.”

  •  I tend to be curious about stuff like this…

    The word “work” to me seems culturally loaded, stigmatized.

    In my experience, the people who *care* about their fans, are willing to put in the *work* because they can’t imagine something that’s *more fun* than *contributing* to others.

    Which means it isn’t “work” at all 🙂

    Semantics, yes, and I know you understand this Marcus, but many people get tripped up on the word and I thought I could offer a fresh look.

  •  Woo! A fellow homeless-ite! Nice to meet you, Nancy 🙂

     (though I somehow managed to survive without entering the shelter-system.

    Good for you for engaging others!

  •  Ryan, you’re in good company man, Srini’s awesome, I met him years ago and somehow he fell off my radar as my life took some interesting turns.

    Now I’m back and I’m a fan too 😉

  • Hi Davina; Srini — this is a really interesting sidetopic: Megabrands.

    In my experience, thinking about ROI is a good step, but ultimately limits growth.

    The world’s most famous achievers, Lady Gaga, Bruce Lee, Gandhi, etc. came from a place of complete and utter dominant passion. ROI was barely a factor, from what I understand.

    Even when things looked grim, even when it looked like they were “wasting their time” they didn’t sit down with someone a be like: “Oh, you’re right, this is not high ROI, I should give up.”  they pressed on and blew everyone’s expectations.

    Then they become walking megabrands who become part of the cultural fabric, and by doing that, they are referenced by…

    …well, nearly everyone 🙂

  • David, nice to meet you! I love what you wrote here and to me, you hit on a very important thing:

    The ‘magic’ to creating a megabrand.

    It’s general, and there’s lots of ways to do it, but it is rock-solid.

    What was it that you said? What’s the secret?

    To be a megabrand is simple, create something “that people have extremely strong emotional ties to.”

    Easier said than done? Maybe. The ‘right’ thing to focus on for grand-scale success? YES.

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  • BLOB

    NICE ARTICLE 🙂

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  • Great article, Looking forward connecting with you, check me on @Viktorpreneur:twitter  and check my articles viktorpreneur.blogspot.com  Stay sharp

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