How to Turn a Small Blog Audience into Small Army

By Srinivas Rao, Contributing {grow} Columnist

Every single day we focus on how to get more traffic to our blogs, increase our conversion rates, and sell more. The result is an obsession with raising our Klout scores, increasing the number of followers we have on Twitter and inflating every metric we can in hopes that we’ll become the next … insert famous blogger of your choice. 

Let’s get real for a moment. I’m not going to become the next Zen Habits, Chris Brogan, or Seth Godin. Neither are you.  They had a substantial head start and don’t appear to be slowing down. But the good news is that you have an edge that you may be overlooking.  When your audience is small  you can run your blog like a VIP experience.

“If you only have a few readers, treat them like the most important people in the world because they are.” – Chris Guillebeau

Email Each Reader Personally

I have to give credit where it’s due for this idea. Chris Guillbeau told me he emailed every single newsletter subscriber personally for his first 10,000 subscribers. While each one may not have had an impact, the cumulative effect was incredibly powerful. You can’t really argue with his success.  I’ve made this part of how I treat my email subscribers and I recently received this email in response.

Thanks for your email! Of all of the resources that I subscribe to, I don’t think I have ever received an actual personal email that wasn’t an obvious use of email marketing personalization features.  Your content is awesome, and I am finding it really helpful! 

Just to be clear, while this is a tactic, if somebody does respond to you, that provides chance for you to take that relationship further. You’ve just discovered a super fan.  Be genuine and engage them.

Write a Post Specifically for Each Reader

A friend mentioned to me in a conversation that he only had 25 readers. I told him to contact each one of them.  If you have  a small group of readers imagine the impact you could have if you wrote a post dedicated to each one.

Phone or Skype Your Readers

Although we live in an online world, we can’t forget that 95% of communication is non-verbal. When somebody who reads your content hears your voice you go from “that person who writes that blog” to a real person.  Let your readers to get to know the real you.

Host a Fireside Chat

This is where an audience becomes a community. It’s no longer  a tribe leader communicating with a tribe member. It’s how you become a facilitator of conversation between the members of your tribe.

Visit Your Readers in Person

My friend Mark Lawrence, who was and still is a relatively unknown blogger, runs a start-up called SpotHero. He used all his frequent flyer miles to visit every single person he connected with online. He used his connection with me as an excuse to visit California and to this day we’re friends. His blog is more or less dead, but here I am telling you about it 2 years later. For the A-list bloggers to emulate this they’d have to spend their entire year, every dime they have and possibly their whole life to accomplish this.

The Cost of Failure is Minimal When You’re Small

One of the great things about being relatively small and unknown is that the cost of failure is not that harmful. That gives a blogger with a small audience a tremendous amount of leverage. If Mark Schaefer did something that absolutely bombed on this blog, his audience is substantial and lots of people would know. When you’re small you can take some bigger risks with your creativity. I’m convinced it’s one of the reasons small companies are so innovative, while big companies lose this capability as they grow.

Don’t forget attention is a form of currency on the social web. When people spend theirs with you, give them more than they paid for. Nurturing a small audience is essential to converting a small audience into a small army. So take that small audience and turn into a VIP experience that has people lined up around the block for an opportunity to be part of your army.


srini rao

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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  • Srinivas, this is refreshing, original (at least to me) perspectives. I really like the central thought here of embracing the fact your audience IS small and connecting with them in ways that are only possible with a small audience.

    Great ideas, thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks Eric,

    I’m trying to make the stuff I write for Mark’s blog as actionable as possible these days. I’d love to hear your what your results are like from trying some of these things.

  • Colleen Conger

    Srini, your article is a great reminder to not treat people as mindless hoards of product/service eating zombies. Readers, customers, clients, etc. are real live human beings and basically want to be treated as such.

    I can say from personal experience that in every instance in which a blogger followed the steps you mentioned above, it’s turned me into their, as Tea Silvestre (aka The Word Chef) says, amBUZZador.

    When I get treated well (whether it’s a personal e-mail or a simple offer of help), I feel special. When I feel special, I naturally want to tell all of my friends, family, contacts, business associates, pets, small children, etc. about the person that made me feel that way. The result? Traffic and sales will naturally flow back to the blogger who cared enough about me in the first place to reach out and make a connection.

  • Those green plastic soldiers bring back very fond memories from childhood. But a question: What is it with the guy with the mine sweeper? Why did the toy company always throw those guys in when they should have known we were only interested in the guys in various poses of shooting a rifle?

  • Hey Srinivas, nice post. This is what it’s all about–connecting. You’ve done a nice job of breaking it down into manageable pieces of growing a community.

  • Never underestimate the power of feelings. People remember how we make them feel and if you can find ways to make them feel valued it will come back to you ten fold.

  • Hey, Colleen! Just stumbled across this post and am blushing a little bit over your mention. Folks should know that YOU are also a very engaged and enthusiastic person — and ANYone would be lucky to count you as engaged reader. Buzz on!

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  • Thanks Colleen. I think is is applicable to almost any business even if it’s not online. Nowadays is the one thing that you can differentiate on is a personal touch.

  • Thanks Jeremy. I think these are very manageable. The interesting thing is you could do one every single week and if you looked at the results after about 6 weeks I’m sure it would have a very profound impact.

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  • Some good ideas here that are practiced by very few. Direct communication with subscribers can be nothing but favorable. Now flying to meet every subscriber is totally ridiculous and inefficient. Let’s get a grip. His blog is dead probably because he can’t afford a computer. I’ll pencil you in for a Spring visit Srinivas, as I am a subscriber of yours. You’re going to love New Jersey. 🙂 This gave me a good idea to create a Twitter list of subscribers and show in Hootsuite. Thank You.

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  • I think one of the culprits here is email marketing software like AWeber, MailChimp, etc and the advice new bloggers are given. That advice being “Grow your email list.”

    This advice is dead on and email marketing software should be employed to manage that list. But that doesn’t mean that every communication sent to that list has to be a distribution to the entire list.

    Mass distribution to a list is a sacrifice that the big bloggers make so that they can scale. You trade personalization and humanity for scale and gains in productivity.

    This post raises a very important point — when you are small, take advantage of it by cultivating real relationships with the tiny group of people that have given you the gift of their attention.

  • Really great post here, Srinivas!

    The blog I write for definitely has a small audience and very few subscribers, so this was exactly what I needed to read this morning. I don’t think my boss would be cool with us flying out to meet subscribers, but writing posts for individual audience members and personally emailing them something we could definitely do!

    Thanks for the great, actionable advice. Your posts are some of my favorites!

  • Nice post. Will try to use some of the suggestions to increase my audience.

  • Yeah that’s spot on. I remember every single person who made feel good and unfortunately I never forget the ones who made me feel bad.

  • Steve,

    I think you missed the point on the flying to meet every subscriber. His blog was tiny and it’s not dead because he can’t afford a computer. He went on to build a venture funded startup in Techstars :). Hardly a disaster. As far as New Jersey if we go surfing i might just show up on your doorstep. I agree that visiting every subscriber is inefficient. But it’s not impossible , especially if you only have something like 10 subscribers. Efficiency isn’t the point of that suggestion, personalization is.

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  • I got the point…See you at the beach Srinivas 😉

  • Absolutely loved the quote on attention = currency: “Don’t forget attention is a form of currency on the social web. When people spend theirs with you, give them more than they paid for.”

    You’re absolutely right. Personalization is key to growing an audience, and something I don’t think I’ve done a good enough job on. This post gave me a few new ideas (and encouragement) to try ’em out – thanks, Srinivas.

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  • Glad to hear it my friend. Feel free to get in touch and let me know how the suggestions worked out for you and how they might be improved upon. I have a feeling this is the first iteration of something bigger.

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  • Linda Wilson

    Good morning, Mr Rao.

    I like your suggestions very much, but I’m struggling to know how I could use any in relation to my own readership. If analytics is anything to go by, I have a small and growing regular readership. On my email list I only have close family and friends whose names are there because they want to show support.

    So there is no way of knowing who my true readers are or how to contact them. The nature of the information on my site doesn’t seem to attract comment from even the few organic visitors I regularly get.

    Any suggestions? I fear my blog may end up like that of your friend, Mr Lawrence. 🙁

    Kind regards,
    L

  • I have personally emailed a lot of my subscribers and it can make a huge impact. I’ve also been able to leverage that email response into posts for more engagement. Great tips!

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  • Hi! I agree with the most of the content. I truly believe that your advice is great and those companies (like Clarity) who has been practicing it win me as a fan and customer.
    I am not so sure about going more personal, like F2F meetings. I would rated keep it online. But still, I agree 100% that personal email to each customer is a way to go. You convert a customer into a friend. And each friend is worth 200 customers. Great post! Thank you for writing it.
    Masha

  • Thanks Mandy. I just saw this comment this morning. I think flying to meet blog subscribers is much more feasible for a personal blog than a company blog. But you hit the nail on the head with that personal touch. It’s highly effective.

  • Hi Linda,

    Apologies for the delayed response and hope this makes its way your inbox.

    Let’s actually start with your friends and family on your email list.

    1) Email Them: I know they already know you, but thanking them for their support is a perfect excuse to email them. In the email ask them the forward your work on to anybody they think might find it valuable. This might not lead to massive numbers, but it can lead to the right people. Don’t underestimate the power of friends and family. That’s your most immediate network of supporters.

    2) If you’re not getting any comments, you might want to do an audit of your content. Is it something that naturally results in conversation? If not, then you might want to start by asking yourself “what’s the response i’m looking for from this.” For example, when I wrote this post, my intended response was to get people to take action on the ideas in it. I also have the intention of seeing if I can learn something from the comments.

    Hope that helps. If you have more questions please feel free to contact me.

  • Thanks Masha. In terms of Face to face, it really depends on the nature of your business. Given that many of us who are bloggers tend to fall into the category of “solopreneur” meeting people face to face has lots of value. It leads to collaboration and many other things.

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  • Linda Wilson

    Thank you, sir.

    My apologies for the delay in acknowledging your reply. I’ve come back via Danny Brown’s site – I know of no other way!

    I’ve done an audit and I see the problem is I give information, but in a manner that doesn’t invite comment. I’ll have to have a go at leaving things out, or maybe being opinionated in some way.

    But what I really want is bums in beds!

    Sorry to be so rude on your site, Mr Rao.

    Kind regards,
    L

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