This is the third article from the How To Build Reputation With A Blog series. If you came here directly, you may want to check out the first posts in this series:

Today will talk about an important part of this process, namely the part in which you start to interact with your audience.

Listen To Them

The first and most important part of this process is to listen to them. Period. They are your audience, they are consuming your products and they know better than you what they want. Really listening to your audience is especially difficult in the first stages of a blog, when all you want to do is to get “out there”, make your message heard and be sure it’s heard by as many people as possible. In this stage, every negative comment will be taken personally. That shouldn’t be a problem. unless you respond in kind. Bitterness and irony are the most common reactions to negative blog comments, especially in the beginning. Well, don’t. Don’t answer in kind.

Taking it off of your chest will make you feel better, but I don’t think it will add to your reputation, on the contrary. As you advance in the blogging world you’re going to realize that negative comments and positive comments aren’t different at all. They’re just reactions. Some of them are signs of a positive reaction you ignited with your post, some of them are signs of a negative reaction. And it’s ok to be like that. You’re not the beholder of the absolute truth and you don’t know their personal circumstances. They have the right to say whatever they want. And you have the right to take from their comments whatever you want. I had my own share of negative comments in some (quite popular posts), you can find one of them here: 33 Ways To Start Your Day.

I started (a little abruptly, I admit) with negative comments because they are pivotal part in the blogging process. The moment you’ll start to generate negative comments is the undoubtable mark of popularity. You’re becoming important. Your words are counting enough to get on the people nerves. You’re bringing in a change and change is always received with rejection (people love their comfort zones, you know). I’m not saying you should hunt for negative comments, that would be equally easy and lame. I’m saying that if you do your job constantly, at some point you will create some opponents. It’s natural, don’t be upset. Don’t get nervous. Don’t panic. Go on and do your job as usual.

Comments Policy

A blog is about interaction more than it is about broadcasting. The huge success of this phenomenon is due exactly to this part. Traditional media is a one way communication process. Blogging (and social media) is a two way communication process. Your readers can openly state their opinions. And that’s a very good thing.

As a general rule, I think you should keep your blog open to comments. And to answer to as many comments as you can, if possibly, to all. There will be milestones when you could get rid of the comments, but only in some special contexts, I’ll talk about them in a second. In the beginning, you should keep your blog open. And pray for some comments, too. Answer to them carefully, even if the are just short sentences like: “nice post, I like it”. Just say “thank you”. Answer to them even if they are (or especially if they are) negative comments. Try to find out why they are negative. In other words, don’t get offensive or defensive. Try to start an interaction.

From a certain level, managing comments could become harder than maintaining the blog. Especially if you get 50-60 comments per post or more. From this level up, I think you could update your comment policy. You can gradually go to answer only to certain comments, and then you can leave your readers only share their opinions or discuss. Some of the most popular bloggers found an interesting way to keep the interaction going on, while getting rid of the chore of maintaining or answering to hundreds of comments for every post: they created special forums. On these forums people will still have a chance to make their opinion heard, but it will be a much more open discussion space. I think Steve Pavlina did that a couple of years ago, and also Leo Babauta did that recently.

Email Strategy

A good part of your interaction will be hidden from your blog. Namely, you will be contacted directly, most of the time by email. You should have a strategy for answering emails as well. Some people think that because of the private nature of this communication channel, it wouldn’t count as much as comments and tend to be a little lazy when it comes to email, or even ignore it completely. I think this is a mistake. Not only it will create a (maybe false) image of an isolated individual, but it will make people reluctant to get in touch with you in the future.

Almost my entire business communication related to my blog is done by email. I couldn’t imagine how I could create some revenue with my blog without creating a more personal approach with my audience. Some of my readers become my blog business partners and I become a blog business partner for some of the blogs I follow. Not having a proper email strategy in place will create a serious financial handicap in the long run. Seems hard to believe but it’s real.

I usually receive three types of emails: people are asking for advice, people are asking for business opportunities and people are just telling me that my blog helped them. Didn’t got any angry email so far, but there’s time. And I have patience :-). I had my share of online hatred and irony, mostly from Romanian bloggers, but no direct email so far. Anyway, my email strategy goes like this: if I can give advice, I give it within the time frame of a week. If I can’t, I refuse politely, usually in a day or two. If the business opportunity looks interesting, I follow up. A few of my most profitable affiliate deals were created as a result of some long email discussions.

Social Media Strategy

I said it before, I’ll say it again: your blog goes beyond your blog. You’re not having only a single outlet, you have access to a lot of streams which can carry and deliver your message pretty fast to a huge audience. And that’s social media. In my experience, as a blogger, there are only a few places which can be of interest: twitter, Facebook, StmbleUpon (since I already talked extensively about StumbleUpon before, and since SU is mainly a promotion outlet, I won’t talk about it in this post, feel free to check out this post: The First Six Months Of Blogging – Promotion) Some people may have had good results using digg or reddit or delicious. I had a few myself, but not enough to draw some clear conclusions or to create some  repetitive processes out of them.

From a reputation point of view, being at least on the most popular social media networks is a must. People are hanging out there. And they will expect to find interesting people there. It’s like everybody hang out in the big cities and if you chose to isolate yourself in the countryside, it will take a while to make those big city guys know that you’re around. You may still do it, but you’ll have to shout a little louder.

Twitter

It’s a “hit and run” network. It has a very good link generation potential, and it can also act like a reputation enhancer. Your followers can act like broadcaster for you, transporting your message to their followers and so on. A few people told me they discovered me not through Google or direct recommendation, but by Twitter. The structure of this network will make it very easy to propagate your message to a potentially very big audience, very fast.

But it has a few downsides too. Being so fast, it means others are waiting for their messages to be delivered too. Your message will get out of focus almost instantly. If you’re not “floating”, meaning if you’re not generating enough retweeting activity, your links, after a 5-10 minutes spike, will become almost dead. The biggest interaction happens in the first 5-10 minutes on Twitter.

This “floating” can happen in a lot of ways and I don’t think this is the time and place in this post to cover all of them. The most common situations are: your tweet has been retweeted by an influencer (an influencer is a twitter person with at least a few tens of thousands of followers), you have a very big audience (hard to believe it will happen in the beginning) or you just got lucky, creating some very powerful viral content. I’ve experienced the first and the last of these situations quite often, especially the last one. There are few posts which are still retweeted daily even after a year: 100 Ways To Live A Better Life.

How do you create reputation on Twitter with your blog? Well, first of all, maintain a clear profile. Create and maintain a twitter landing page. Tweet your posts. Engage in conversations if people are asking you. Tweet other, non-blog related, stuff. People will know that you’re real and not a WordPress plugin. Create interactions.

Facebook

It’s a place for human interaction rather than link sharing. In this respect it’s more human than Twitter, but it’s also more picky. Building a strong presence on Facebook will ensure a constant (albeit small) flow of links. If you get links from Facebook, you can be sure that those who shared those links are really enjoying your content. There is no reciprocal “pay-off” for sharing, as it may be in Twitter, when reteweeting is often a currency for supporting each other.

I admit I didn’t do much of an effort to create a Facebook presence, other than placing a link to my Facebook profile on my blog sidebars. And yet, I get friendship requests on a daily basis. Many of these friendship requests are generated by my blog. In fact, almost all the requests are generated by my blog.

Being mostly centered around relationships, Facebook will be a nice place to hang out with like-minded people, chat, exchange ideas or just seeing other people lives unfolding in front of you. If you got an organic Facebook audience, I guess the most important thing is to be consistent. Sharing stuff on your wall which has little or no connection with your blog will dazzle your audience (I did it a few times and it does :-) ).

Why Is This Important And What Are The Benefits

Direct interaction with your audience is a great gift. You have instant access to what people really like or dislike about you or your work. You know immediately if you did a blunder or if you hit it big. And you have a chance to meet a lot of people in real life. I personally met a few bloggers I respect while I was traveling last year and it was a fantastic experience.

Reputation is not something you carry on yourself, show it to somebody and they will recognize it. It doesn’t work like this. Reputation is in fact created and maintained by your audience. You may brag about how good and skilled you are as much as you want, if other people won’t agree with what you say, it will mean nothing.

So, if you really wanna know if you have built reputation don’t look in the mirror, don’t re-read your blog posts, don’t get out in the front of your house and shout out from the top of your lungs: “I’m the best guy in my field!”.

Just look at your audience.  Your readers will never lie to you.