From the moment that first BBS user looked at his glowing login screen and decided to type gandalf14 as his name, there has been a bit of an illicit relationship between personal identity and the online world. Suddenly there was a whole new existence where who you really were didn’t matter, and you could be whoever you wanted to be. This need for a sometimes false anonymity grew to a point where people considered this to be the norm rather than the aberration. Fast forward to today, when the blog has taken on the mantle once owned by the BBS as the de facto top medium for digital discourse, and we can see that the trend has not only continued but flourished. There are tens of millions of mostly anonymous blogs read by hundreds of millions of mostly anonymous readers. In this faceless mass the online entities that win the greatest following are the ones with the most personality. So ask yourself this: Is my secret identity costing me my readership?
For almost all of you reading this, the answer will be a very definite yes. Unless your blog deals with the highest order of secret or personal information, which for whatever reason you think you must still share with the world, there is absolutely no reason to push your online anonymity to the point where your online output is faceless, headless, and characterless. To blog well and get the kind of reader response we all hope for in our serious blogging endeavours, it is essential to infuse a large dose of your own personality into the content and the presentation of the blog. This personality and identity will get you the three kinds of reader response, which are must-haves for any successful blog:
It is difficult to admire an anonymous serial number, but that is exactly what many budding bloggers try to achieve when they start their blogs. Admiration is the first step to growing a fan following, which is essential if you want to come up tops in the popularity contest that is blogging. The blog started as, and still remains, primarily a journalling application – an online version of a person diary — so it is not surprising that readers expect and respond to the personal aspect of your content. They just want to know that there’s a real live human being back there.
No matter what the subject matter you cover is, the personality that you infuse into your site and the writing creates a sense of continuity and recognition in your audience. Even if you write a blog about antique spark-plugs, if you write and present the information in a personal manner, you are creating a continuing story that people can follow through your articles. Even if they don’t consciously realize it, this sub-conscious story is the best way to keep readers engaged and to make them care about you and what you have to say.
Ultimately, you want them to care about what you have to say, and you want them to admire you. Detesting you can also work in your favour in some cases, but that’s not a sure thing. If you want your life size poster plastered on their bedroom wall, how do you expect to get by with a paper bag over your head?
We are always told to never talk to strangers, and on some level we never forget. Sure, with a keyboard and screen in front of you and a few thousand miles between you and whoever is on the other end, you can bend that rule a little, but it still doesn’t mean you can come to trust these strangers. If you want to build a good and regular readership for your blog, you need your readers to trust you. They need to trust you on a personal level so that they can think of you as a friend or acquaintance rather than a stranger, and they need to trust the information that you are feeding them so that they can accept it regularly without any guarded cynicism.
So the question is, how much of a stranger are you to your readers? Do they know your name? Even a measly first name would do, because remember that the reason you might be so protective of your name is the same reason that your readers will value knowing it so much. There is an ancient idea that knowing your name gives people some power over you, and that idea still lies somewhere in the depths of our psyche. If you trust your readers enough to give them some power over you, they will trust you back.
Let your readers know who you are, and stop being the mysterious trench coated figure lurking in dark alleyways. How much detail you want to reveal or hide is still a matter to think about, but the revelation is still a cornerstone of building trust. If they trust you they will listen to you.
We human beings love being loyal to people and ideals. But it’s usually only people whom we can see and ideals that come with a great logo and a catchy poster. Our sense of sight rules us to a large extent and it often decides how we react to something or someone. This is why first impressions of your web presence are important, and this is why great leaders always have large imposing statues built in large city squares. We like to think we know them, and we like to see what or who we are being loyal to.
Some sort of photograph of your self on your blog goes a long way in giving people a visual symbol to latch on to. Along with the impact that your layout and other visuals will make, this cements your personality in the reader’s mind. And with good content and decent luck, you just might have a chance to winning their loyalty. Being considered a dreamy hunk or a sultry siren can help a bit too …
If you are serious about blogging in the long term, you don’t just want page hits, you want a loyal readership. A loyal readership will not only listen to what you have to say and like it, they will also tell everyone else they know how great you are and get them to come read your work too. Your smiling face or that slightly fuzzy photograph of your shenanigans at the last illegal rave you you visited can play a large role in winning you some loyal readers.
In spite of all the commercialisation and corporatisation and networkisation and a couple of other -isations I can’t pronounce, blogging still remains a very personal medium. Unless you want only very medium results from it, you must try to be more personal in your blogging activities. To succeed as a blogger you need to build a readership which admires you, trusts you, and is loyal to you and your site. This is the only way that works.
If you are like most bloggers, all this talk of people seeing your face, and recognition, and trust by your readers has immediately got you to dig into your trusty utility belt for your spare superhero mask. But hold off on that impulse and consider who you want to be in this new and wonderful land of blogs, your own lovable self with a growing fan following, or a mysterious loner in a cheap spandex suit.