There seems to be a strange addiction spreading throughout the blogosphere: the addiction to numbers. Large number of visitors, followers, pageviews and so on: the longer the string of digits, the better.
For most bloggers though, this attempt to create a huge reader base, often involves nonsensical repetition and addition of keywords to lure the search engine traffic; or spinning, re-spinning and re-re spinning the same articles and spreading it across the article directories on the Internet.
Unfortunately, but predictably so, all these attempts prove futile, not really adding to that string after all.
It seems bloggers have forgotten the most important ingredient to produce an army of repeat visitors or readers, that not only revisits your website but bring their friends with them; thus, keeping the string long and ever-growing.
The ingredient I am talking about is Establishing Commitment.
In this article, we are going to take a detailed look at how to get your visitors to (in Beyonce’s words) put a ring on it. We will look at how you can use content to lock in that commitment from your visitors because with a strong foundation build on loyal readership, there is no direction to go, but up.
Psychology behind Commitment
According to James Kane, a behavioral scientist who has been a consultant to brands like Apple, there are three triggers that induce loyalty in a person, which we will cover in this article.
First Trigger: Sense of Trust
According to James Kane, business owners spend a lot of time finding ways to acquire the customer’s trust. But the best way to earn it is simply by doing things that they expect you to do. Trust is an indispensable backbone of commitment. James says that your customers expect you to be competent, fair, honest, consistent and trustworthy. But it is important to note that you may not get commendation for being trustworthy, but you do get criticized if you aren’t.
This concept also applies to blogging as well. Trust is an important pre-cursor to commitment and the best way to build it is by fulfilling your visitors’ basic expectations from you.
According to Dan Gilbert, “A blog is like a garden; you can’t fuss over it for a while, forget about it for two years, and expect it to be there when you come back.”
If you aren’t reliable, then you can’t expect trust. People expect you to be consistent with your postings. This not only means posting on schedule, but also consistency in the tone of writing, consistency in the writing format, consistency in your write up being factual and well researched, and consistency in treating them with respect by answering their questions.
You can also insinuate trust is by adding stats in your posts, including relevant research studies wherever possible and linking back to the sources.
Another way to instill trust in people is by showing them that you trust them first. Here is an interesting incident that happened to Dr. Paul J Zak, a Neuroeconomist professor and a recognized expert on Oxytocin.
Back in high school, while working at a gas station, Paul saw a man coming out of the bathroom with a pearl necklace in his hand. He said that he had found it on the floor. A few seconds later, the gas station’s telephone rings. It’s a man saying that he lost a necklace he had bought for his wife. He also offers a reward of $200 for anyone who finds it. Paul tells him that a man has already found the necklace. The owner says he’ll be there in 30 minutes.
The other man, who found the necklace, actively listening to the phone conversation, says he is late for a job interview, so the other guy hopefully hurries. A little while later, while appearing to think what to do, he proposes the idea of giving Paul the necklace and they split the $200 reward. Being a high school kid working at a gas station, his greed-o-meter goes off and he agrees to the deal. Paul gives him the $100 out of the cash drawer, and the man gives Paul the necklace. When the actual owner of the necklace fails to come even after an hour, he calls the cops. He later finds out that the “pearl necklace” was only worth $2.
Paul had just been a victim of a classic con(fidence) trick called the pigeon drop.
Why did this trick work? The obvious answer would be greed on Paul’s part, but there is a deeper and more powerful reason why this worked. This trick engaged a powerful neurochemical called Oxytocin, which is released when we feel trusted by someone. Oxytocin instills a desire in us to then reciprocate that trust, even if it’s with a stranger.
By making themselves seem vulnerable, the “I need help” idea stimulates the production of oxytocin because we as humans feel good when we help other people. Paul wanted to help the owner give his necklace to his wife, and he didn’t want the man to be late for the interview, because what if he loses his chance of getting the job?
Now, I know what you are thinking. I know you are not a con artist and don’t want to trick your readers, and that’s exactly how it should be. I mentioned this story because there is an important lesson here for us bloggers who want a more committed reader base.
Ask your readers help by sharing your content. Be honest. Tell them that if they like what they read, you trust that they will share it with their friends. But do make sure that it is a very high quality piece and not a “$2 fake” pearl necklace.
Second Trigger: Sense of Belonging
According to Dr. Kane, a sense of belonging is showing the customers that the business, or in our case the website publisher, empathizes with the troubles, questions and concerns, that keeps them up at night. Along with that, it is knowing and solving their problems before they ask for help, and presenting them with an identity they can relate to, and most importantly, making them feel acknowledged and more than just a number on your string.
A simple way to learn about your readers’ challenges is by communicating with them, or rather “observing” them.
Encourage them to ask questions through emails or social networking platforms. Observe their answers, and comments in general. This is a great way to learn about their desires, fears and challenges. Use this as an inspiration for your next blog post. Better yet, give a shout out to the reader(s) who have gave you the idea for the topic. This will show them that you not only appreciate their input but also value them.
Empathy is another element that is crucial for your customers to feel that sense of belonging.
“Empathy is identifying with the situation and feelings of another person. The capacity to share in the emotional life of another, as well as the ability to imagine the way the world looks from another’s vantage point.” ~ Diane Goodman
Empathy is important to create loyal readers and attract new visitors, especially in this age of social media where the power or the “ring” certainly lies on the hands of the customers.
Take this incident for example:
Brandon Cook, a college student, visits Panera to get clam chowder. It’s for his grandma who in the hospital for cancer. He knows she doesn’t have much long to live and wants to see her happy. Even though he hasn’t had any himself, he understands how bad hospital food can be, and he really wants to get her grandma the soup she is craving for.
Problem? Clam Chowder is only served Friday. Brandon calls Panera anyways, because he knows he can’t wait till Friday. The manager listens to his situation and is touched by his story. She empathizes with him and says that she understands what it feels to lose a loved one. She says that even though it isn’t Friday, she will make him clam chowder.
When Brandon goes to pick it up, the manager presents him with a box of cookies along with the soup. Even though she doesn’t know Brandon’s grandma, she wants her to be happy, and the added box of cookies might just make her happier.
Brandon was so moved by the love and support from Panera towards his grandma, that he decides to post this story on his Facebook wall as a way to repay the favor. His mom reposts the message on Panera’s Facebook wall.
The story went viral. It got more than 750,000 likes and 32,000 comments. This small act of kindness got this post half a million likes.
Empathy is about showing them that you know and understand their needs and feelings.
Whatever the niche of your blog is, empathizing with your readers can solidify your relationship. Use examples in your write up that your audience can relate to. You can even use a story or an anecdote, which your reader can identify with at some level. In your write up, use phrases such as “I understand why you feel that way” or “I understand how frustrating this must be” while describing a scenario that might be the source of their pain.
Another important aspect of creating a sense of belonging among your readers is identity. Are you someone who they aspire to be? Take Pat Flynn, for example. He is an inspiration to his followers and each of his blog posts are written in a conversational tone, aiming to help his readers get to where he is today.
As a publisher, you should make your content all about your audience. Many times it’s ego-centric- too-focused on “I”. But for a commitment to be formed, you need to take your content from being egocentric to reader centric, something Ted Rubin might call- “looking people in the eye digitally”.
Third Trigger: Sense of Purpose
“We stand for something beyond just the exchange of money for services” – according to James Kane, that’s what a sense of purpose is. Every company, or blog owner, has a set of ideals or beliefs for doing the business, or being in the niche they are in. For a commitment to happen, your readers’ sets of belief and ideas about what is right should match yours. When there is a common purpose that appeals to your entire audience, they are more likely to form a stronger bond with you. For example, take the website Salty Droid, whose purpose is to expose online scammers.
As a blogger, your website should have a purpose greater than your financial goals for the site. Maybe it is to help people become better public speakers, or to see a healthier nation or to spread awareness on the topic of animal abuse, whatever your purpose is use your content to make it known. Once you do that, you will attract the right audience who will be ready to make a commitment.
The Church of Apple: What we can learn about customer loyalty?
Simonlycontracts.co.uk polled 2,275 iPhone users to understand their mobile phone purchasing decisions. What they found was that 59% of them admitted to suffering from “blind loyalty” to the brand. They wouldn’t even research other phones when making an upgrade. It is a great position to be in where your target audience can’t even fathom looking elsewhere for a service/product similar to yours.
So if there is a brand that can teach us about converting customers to devotees, it is definitely Apple. Here are 3 priceless lessons Apple can teach us about customer loyalty:
1) The Complete Package- Apple not only offers iPod, iTouch and iPad, but they also provide their customers with a platform to purchase apps, music, audiobooks, podcasts and movies. There is no reason for their customers to look elsewhere because Apple is enough.
As a blogger, your goal should be to cover topics as comprehensively as possible. From challenges they might face in the future, to tools they might look for to implement what you taught them, let your blog be the one who introduces, or better yet offers, them with the solution.
2) Knowing your wants before your make it known– “You can’t just ask customers what they want then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” – Steve Jobs
Make your blog an authority website that your readers can look up to and reference when the need comes. As the expert, you should be able to see their future because chances are that your readers are exactly where you were at one time- before you became an expert.
Also add articles on your blog that might not help your readers at the present moment, but down the road once they get deeper into the journey, when the challenge makes itself known, your article will be there to guide them through.
3) Make your Interactions Matter – Apple strives to make each of its interaction memorable and pleasurable to the customer. Their goal is to offer Ritz Carlton level customer service, which is the gold standard of customer service. With a warm welcome, successfully resolving unvoiced issues, to fond goodbyes; Apple knows how to make each of its customers feel valued.
As a blogger, your readers are your customers. Every interaction you make with them, be it in the comment section, email or the social media, strive to make it memorable. You will never hear an Apple customer rep say, “It’s not my job”; instead they will warmly direct you to people who do know how to solve your problem. That’s what you should do too.
Can the Traffic Source Affect Loyalty?
A study conducted by Pew Research Center looked at whether the loyalty and engagement of a visitor to a website was influenced by how they discovered the site in the first place. What they found was that direct visitors, which are people who directly typed in the URL of the website (in this case U.S. News websites) or had the website bookmarked, were found to spend three times more time on the site, view as many as five times more pages and return three times more often, than someone who came through a search engine or by clicking a link on Facebook. The result also shows that converting the Facebook and Search engine referrals into loyal readers is not a very easy task.
This study examined 26 popular News Sites. What they found was that direct users spend an average of 4 min and 36 sec each visit. On the other hand, Facebook visitors and search engine visitors spent, 1 minute 41 seconds and 1 minute 42 seconds respectively.
When it comes to pageviews, on average, direct visitors looked at almost 25 pages per month, compared to Facebook visitors and Search engine visitors whose page view averaged 4.2 and 4.9 pages respectively.
Want to increase Loyalty? Show Your Readers They Matter
Social Media is a great platform to be utilized for this purpose. Here are five ways you can make your readers feel validated for their contribution, and make them feel part of the team.
- Give Them A Chance To Help: Got a Facebook page? Perfect! Let your readers help solve each other’s problem as a team. The idea here is you make a post based on a question from one of your reader and ask your fans for their input. They will not only be helping the reader who asked the question, but they will also be engaging with each other, making them feel like a team.
- Highlight Your Fans: Featuring their photos or videos or comments on your wall, helps them feel validated. It not only strengthens their connection with you, but also encourages them to work even harder to achieve their goals. For example, take the highly active fan page of the blog-500px. They regularly post the works of their fans, who are mainly photographers, on their wall. With over 500,000 likes, anyone lucky enough to be featured on their wall gets much more exposure and recognition for their work.
- When posting, use the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time, make it about them, and 20% of the posts, are about you.
- Give your readers the opportunity to contribute to your next blog post. One way to do this would be to ask them for help in coming up with a title or topic for your next blog post. You can even use the poll feature on Facebook to make it easier for the users to cast their votes.
- Personalizing your conversations and make the people who tweet or like your posts, feel acknowledged. A simple thank you can do wonders, or answering their questions in a timely manner would be much appreciated as well. If you use twitter to connect with your audience, use its inbuilt video tool like Vsnap to make short, 60 second personalized video messages specifically directed towards your reader.
Commitment needs to be nourished through consistent quality connection. For a commitment to form, your blog should appear trustworthy; it should make the reader feel validated and acknowledged for their contribution, and it should match their sense of purpose. I hope this article helps you generate a long string of loyal readers who will stay with you for years to come. If you takeaway anything from this article, I hope it is this: If you connect with thousands, you connect with none. If you connect with one, you connect with thousands, and attract a thousand more.