Opportunity has finally struck.
You just got invited to a special party with the who’s who of your industry, including Main Guru, who you’ve always wanted to meet.
When you get there, you find you don’t know anyone. You try to mingle and go from group to group, but they hardly break shoulders to let you in. It’s like you have a sign on your forehead: “NOVICE – AVOID AT ALL COST!”
Just when you’re about to give up, the host comes over with Mr. Guru in tow. “Hey, Firstnamefix, I want you to meet Main Guru.”
“Ah, Firstnamefix! Hosty here told me about your…” In mid-sentence Mr. Guru looks over your shoulder.
“Lisa! Where have you been? You turkey, did you bring that golf club you promised?” And Main Guru is gone without so much as a glance in your direction.
Wow. This is worse than rejection, it’s…
Is there anything worse than rejection? Yep – being ignored: with rejection there’s at least an acknowledgment that you exist.
That story is you when you start any audience based business. You’re unknown and everyone at the party ignores you.
Why are you ignored? It’s simple, really: people much prefer to interact with people they know. This even applies to products and brands. We all know you can buy cereal for half the price, but without the brand name of Kellogg’s. That’s because people will even pay more for something they know. That “what (or who) they know” – that’s powerful stuff.
And that’s your problem: at a party or in the blogosphere – people don’t know you. And they won’t engage until they do know you.
What Do You Do?
You have to introduce yourself – in the blogosphere just like at a party. If you have a host introducing you, that’s the best, because the guests know the host and “any friend of Hosty is a friend of mine.” In the blogosphere that rarely happens, though, and so you’re left to do your own introductions.
But how do you introduce yourself?
You have to know your space, your market, your niche, in other words you need to know the space to whom you will be introducing yourself, the players, their emphases, their styles, and so forth. Who will you be rubbing shoulders with?
Then you need to become known by that space. When they see your name or the name of your blog, their first reaction has to stop being “Who’s that again?” It needs to be “Oh there’s Firstnamefix again, yakking about telling jokes at parties again” (or whatever your niche specialty is).
In the online world, nothing breaks the ice and accomplishes that introduction and familiarization like commenting does.
How Do You Do It?
1. Start with a list
You can get one from either Alexa or Technorati, or both (they will be very different). I picked Alexa, but it doesn’t really matter.
2. Click the links.
Just look around at the various blogs in your space. Many of the top ranked sites aren’t blogs and don’t allow for guest posting. Just find the ones that do.
3. Get a system to track your comments.
Once you get started you won’t be able to keep track in your head, so start organized. I love Excel, been using it since 1.0, back when it was a Mac only product, but you can use any tool you relate to better. So I started a list of all the personal finance blogs I could track down and put them in a spreadsheet called Blog List. (Geek creativity reaching a new pinnacle.)
4. Populate your list.
Take your list from #1 above and simply enter the name and rank for each site into your Blog List. Because Excel allows me to link directly from the spreadsheet to any website, I enter their URLs as well. Now, when I go down my list and I want to see Club Thrifty’s latest post, I simply click the link and voila! I’m on their site. Here’s a screenshot of a portion of the spreadsheet, so you have an idea what we’re talking about.
Be prepared to read a lot. It’s the only way to get an idea of who is saying what, and their rank gives a clue (not much more) of how much traction their views and points have. Notice which types of posts generate the most conversation. The comment count gives a good indication. Get a feel for their perspectives. This will take you a few weeks. Don’t rush it. You have to get a feel for the lay of the land before you wander in and start firing.
6. Sign up for RSS feeds.
Not all bloggers post daily. In order to see which sites post on a given day, I got a free RSS reader (FeedDemon Lite) to track new posts. It’s the most efficient way to read a lot. I set it up to run through Google Reader, a free Google service tied to your Gmail account. (If you don’t have one, get one. It’s free.)
7. Pay attention.
As you read the posts, pay careful attention to the comments. In the personal finance space readers fall into two categories: the silent majority and other bloggers. The other bloggers are all trying to build their page rank, just like you, so they comment vigorously. Your space may be different, but the bloggers usually identify themselves as such. See who they are and what they say.
8. Expand the list.
Use that step (tracking commenters on known blogs) to discover the relevant bloggers in your space. Click the links next to their comments and add their sites to your Blog List. Your blog list is now growing. In the personal finance space there’s a thing called a Carnival where people list each other’s good posts. I’ve not participated yet, but those posts are an excellent source to find other sites to add to your list. Saturdays have been List Expansion Days for me for quite a while.
9. Write a comment.
After some active lurking (expanding your blog list) you’re ready to fire up the keyboard and start commenting. But only when you see a post or a comment that sparks a response in you. Don’t be a mindless commenter blabbing for the sake of blabbing. The other folks aren’t idiots and they will see through that. The obvious rules apply: don’t be condescending or rude. It’s OK to disagree, but it’s better to phrase it as a question than a statement. (There might be something you didn’t think of.) Begin slow and start adding more comments as you become more comfortable.
10. Make a note on your Blog List every time you leave a comment.
I simply copy and paste the URL into a cell on the spreadsheet. Then I color each populated cell. Over time it becomes a fairly simple bar chart which tells you at a glance which blogs and you have a “connection.”
11. Rinse and repeat… a hundred times or more.
Seriously. I’ve been at it a little over two months now and I stopped today to count — that little spreadsheet has over 300 comments logged on it. I enjoy reading and writing, so to me it’s fun. I like getting to know the folks in my space, because most of them are great people. Danny’s big thing is engagement, and engagement goes several ways. This happens to be engagement with peers. I’ve not developed to the point where I have a lot of subscribers to engage with, so this is what I focus on for now. My hope is in time I’ll know and be known by my peers, and then I can focus on the same thing with the entrepreneurs and other fine folks who share my interest in making, and not losing, their money.
12. Post early.
Here’s something I discovered by accident: the early commenter gets the worm. When people read a post, they will often read only the first five or ten comments, then they just drop to the bottom and say what they want to say. If part of your objective is to become known, this is not a trivial issue. One of the biggest PF sites, Get Rich Slowly, has the “Like” widget enabled on their site and I noticed that the people who comment early consistently get more Likes than the ones who post later. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to connect the dots. It pays to get up early and be one of the first 5 commenters. If you’re not a morning person, just get coffee.
13. If you want to comment early, use RSS.
If you subscribe to most sites’ email subscription service, you will get the email much later — in many cases only the following day. If you want to comment early, that’s a killer. RSS feed is close to real time. That’s why I converted all my high traffic sites to RSS. On the low traffic sites, email is fine, because there will be fewer comments, so if you’re late, you’re not buried under 90 other comments.
14. Build relationships
Commenting builds much more relationship with peers than guest posting or posting on your own site. It’s like going out for a beer after work. Learning what I learned, I probably will never get away from it, simply because of the social aspect. Some people get that from Twitter or Facebook — it all depends on your style. Me, I’m too long winded (bet you haven’t noticed) and none of the social media sites have windows big enough for a windbag like me. (140 characters?? You kidding me?) Just find what’s a natural fit for you.
14. Guest posting.
The spreadsheet becomes worth its weight in gold when you move on to guest posting. You can tell at a glance which sites you connect well with. Those are the ones with the long colored bars. When I approached those site owners about a guest post, it was a natural fit for almost all of them. By then they knew me, knew my style and my angles, and they knew they could trust me with their audience. The sites with short bars are most likely not going to be that receptive to guest posting, simply because they don’t know if they can trust me. It’s a good match: I’m probably not likely to come up with a good topic fit for their audience either. If I think I can, then I flag those so I look at them first every morning to see if there is any comment to post that (to use Darren Rowse’s mantra) is helpful to them.
In time, your comments blend together, giving people in your space a composite picture of who you are — kind of like a mosaic. Each individual mosaic tile says nothing, but when you put a few hundred together, they form a picture.
Once you have established an identity and people “catch your scent” so to speak, you’ll find it becomes a lot more natural to write guest posts. In one case, I read a post by someone who said investing in individual stocks is not a good idea. I immediately wrote the blog owner (with whom I had established a tiny bit of relationship) to pitch a rebuttal. He agreed and the rebuttal ran the next day. Everyone had a chuckle and hopefully learned a little something. But that only happened because it had become Kurt and Jim and William by then and not strangers in the night.
In other words, commenting properly done will make guest posting a natural progression, rather than a contrived effort. And it will also establish you in the eyes of your audience as a peer participant, not a preacher or a dummy.
Something else to keep in mind: the online space is dynamic. Don’t be tempted to focus on the “big dogs.” They already have an established audience so it’s harder to get your blog noticed and they’re past the point of appreciating a new face, so it’s not easy to strike up a relationship. Just like it isn’t easy to get face time with Mr. Main Guru at a party.
Go for the smaller blogs, the puppies, if you will. Smaller blogs are either small because they are hobbies and their owners are content with that, or they’re new and will eventually join the ranks of the big dogs. You don’t know which is which. And honestly, you don’t care. Remember this is about building relationships. Some of your new friends will be simple hobbyists and some will be aggressive growers. Don’t be a snob and pick just the ones you think will do something for you. Go with what resonates. There will be enough puppies that grow to become big dogs and you’ll hopefully be a true peer to them on the way up.
If you start with diligent commenting, you will find the path for your progression opens up almost naturally, and you don’t have to force anything. You’re much more likely to establish an identity in they minds of your target audience with a million small impressions repeated than a few big impressions forgotten.
Repetition, after all, is the biggest builder of relationship…