Are You Leaving Your Readers Out of the Conversation?

Build a Sticky BlogWe know that one of the most important words we can use in blogging is you, so our copy should be squarely focused on the reader. And we also know we need to identify just who exactly our prospective readers actually are.

Wouldn’t it be a shame to go through all of that and end up not speaking to those people after all? It sounds crazy, but speaking to the wrong “you” is a common problem throughout business communications, and blogging makes it an incredibly easy mistake to make.

The Danger of the Wrong “You”

Even when people know exactly who they are supposed to be speaking to, they often fail to tailor the message to match the audience. A great example comes from the book Presenting to Win by presentation coach Jerry Weissman.

Weissman tells the story of working with Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, just before the company IPO. Hastings’ road show presentation outlined all the great benefits of subscribing to Netflix, which was all fine and good, except that a road show is designed to sell investors, not subscribers.

Weissman reoriented the presentation to focus on the benefits of investing in Netflix, such as how large the market opportunity was, rather than the benefits of the service itself. The Netflix IPO in 2002 ended up a smashing success.

Having the Wrong Conversation

Blogging provides all too many opportunities to get off track with your own audience. The problem arises by chasing the conversation with other bloggers. While it’s essential to get involved in cross-blog dialogue in order to gain links and mindshare in your niche, you need to make sure you tie it all back into the needs of your prospects.

When the conversation is not one that is of interest to your actual readers, however, you’ve got a problem. Here are a few of examples.

  • Do the prospective customers of a Realtor want to read endless debate about Zillow and other threats to the traditional role of the real estate agent, or do they want actionable tips on buying and selling a home?
  • Does a small business person care about you hashing out the vagaries of the social media press release with your industry colleagues, or might they benefit more from a few practical publicity tips that demonstrate that you are a savvy and confident PR practitioner?
  • Does the average car accident victim care about the novel procedural ruling that just came out of the Federal District Court, or do they care about information that demonstrates that you’re an attorney who will take care of them and fight the insurance company?

All three of the above are examples of bloggers talking shop. It’s all too easy to get caught up trying to look good in front of your peers, which leads you to drop the ball with the people who matter most—your prospective clients and customers.

Have the best of both worlds. Engage in blog conversation, but never miss the opportunity to clearly explain (without jargon) to your readers why it matters to them. If you can’t find a compelling reason why it actually does matter, maybe you need to find another conversation.

Every post is an opportunity to demonstrate why you’re the solution to the needs of a prospect. Don’t squander that opportunity by leaving your target audience out. They’ll happily wander away and listen to someone more interesting to them given half a chance.

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Reader Comments (23)

  1. says

    It all comes down to making a mission and statement for your site/blog.

    An online business uses the same management and marketing tools as an offline business.

  2. says

    One of the things I find interesting about many of the blogs I read is how the target audience has changed over the life of the blog. Or for as long as I’ve been reading, anyway. You can see where a blogger may be “feeling out” their audience and eventually land on one different from the original. I think this may be part of the evolution of a blog. I’ve changed my content slightly on my own blog as I’ve gotten to know my readers better. I think this actually can benefit readers by focusing in tighter.

    Then there are those that go from talking to their *customers* to talking to their *peers*, like the examples you mention. That’s what can alienate readers. I think it’s more common than we might expect.

    I like that you mentioned Jerry Weissman’s book (one of my favorites). It is one of the best resources for designing your story around your audience. Something a lot of bloggers seem to miss.

  3. says

    This is particularly difficult for a person like me who has the laser-focus of an eight-year-old left alone in a toy store while they’re restocking the free candy tasting booth.

    I wrote up something this morning, and forgot to add “what’s in it for you.” A couple of paragraphs of “put this thing on your site to keep ’em coming back” later, and the article made sense to to show it added value for the reader. Until then, I was just describing a new widget I stuck on the front page.

  4. says

    >>You can see where a blogger may be “feeling out” their audience and eventually land on one different from the original.

    Yep. No matter how much you plan beforehand, you need to constantly pay attention to the feedback you are getting to tweak your focus. I’ve done it constantly with Copyblogger over the last year.

    We’ll talk abour re-positioning a bit later in this series.

  5. says

    Thanks for making me think Brian.

    My blog started by purely talking to potential clients. The problem was that local business owners don’t want to participate in online conversation, so I had to then tailor the posts towards peers and prospects.

  6. says


    Well said.

    I have been preaching about the importance of speaking to an “ideal reader” for some time.

    You must first know the reader in order to converse with them.

    It seems a lot of folks overlook the fact that they may NOT know who their readers actually are.


  7. says

    It goes back to why you blog and what is the outcome you are seeking. Re-calibrating your brand promise on a regular basis keeps you from becoming unfocused as you evolve — growth is a worthy outcome, whether that be purely in terms of your own self, your business, and the business of your customers and prospects.

  8. says

    You hit the nail on the head with the Realtors talking shop instead of speaking with their target audience.

    The lure comes from the fact the large majority of the real estate blog readers are actually other Realtors. A stat watcher (we’re all guilty) will see jumps in readership when they discuss Zillow, disintermediation, or the Bubble.
    The traffic becomes exciting to them and they lose sight of the ‘business intent’ of the business blog.

    It must be kept in mind who you are trying to attract, and this target is not just traffic. If it were, we should just start writing headlines like:
    “The 5 Reasons Britney Shaved Her Head”

  9. says

    Context, context, context. Great post, Brian. So easy to forget this – a lot of us talk sideways to other bloggers even while attempting to talk out to our first-time visitors, and this can make relationships difficult to form or foment.

  10. says

    Post on demand can be a very useful point.Sometimes you should get to ask your readers what they want.I had this situation few days back and When i asked for feedback I had few readers mailing me for some topics.It was really great

  11. says

    Thanks for this one on conversation. What you said can’t be said enough. So many bloggers write for other bloggers, which is fine if that’s who is their target audience. We have know who we are talking to if we ant them to listen. No one could have said it better.

  12. says

    I totally agree — there’s an incestuous slant in so many internet marketing professionals blogs, webcopy, and (don’t get me started) testimonials, as if blogs & sites exist only to promote the industry of blogs & sites!

    It’s refreshing to see a marketer who realizes that there are businesses that exist to serve other industries than marketing…

  13. says

    Thanks for this. The thing I struggle with today is writing for existing vs. new readers, when all are within the *intended* audience. I try to provide enough context in posts to help bootstrap the new folks while not completely boring existing (and especially long-time) readers. But wow — this is tough to do. There’s a lot of backstory in my posts, and I’ve realized that even people who really love your blog can’t/won’t take the time to go back through your archives.

    I have not figured out how to do this well.

  14. says

    It goes back to why you blog and what is the outcome you are seeking. Re-calibrating your brand promise on a regular basis keeps you from becoming unfocused as you evolve — growth is a worthy outcome, whether that be purely in terms of your own self, your business, and the business of your customers and prospects.

  15. says

    I have not figured out how to do this well.

    Kathy, atlhough I personally think you’re doing a damn fine job, this is a challenge, isn’t it? I often cringe at how often I feel I’m repeating myself when it comes to core concepts on this blog, but no one complains (and I keep expecting the complaints to come). The reality is, I’m probably not doing enough for new readers all the same.

    All I can come up with is to relentless cross-reference earlier posts in a way that doesn’t bog down the flow for long-time readers. Can you imagine life without hyperlinks? 😉

  16. says

    This is such a useful post b/c all writers want an audience, and all audiences want to be catered to in some fashion.

    While it is hard for me to gauge what exactly my readers want, if readership continues to grow, and I see a trend, let’s say in a certain topic in graphic design, then I will continue that trend.

    Is that good?

    I mean, I noticed that plp where searching for Photoshop Brushes and they liked the Logo and Vector posts, so I am writing more about that and doing a whole PDF on Photoshop brushes and creating abstract art.

  17. says

    Hi, Just reading through the top blogs of 2007 and really enjoyed this article.

    It was a timely reminder for me to keep one-three people in mind as I write my articles. This way I keep their (meaning my readers) needs at the front of mind and write like I’m talking to them.

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