This is a guest post written by Katie Lewis.
We’ve each been smacked by writer’s block or a lack of inspiration at some point.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that for every blog post I write, I’m also mistyping PowerPoint as PowerPint and spending the next 20 minutes working on a strong microbrew joke that never comes to fruition.
Or pivoting to learn everything I can about whales for a whale-themed poem for my brother. For his birthday. In 10 months.
Heck, as I’m drafting this very post, I’ve been sidelined by an online Myers-Briggs test. (INFJ over here!)
The main deterrent to writing, I’ve found, is not knowing what to say in your field of focus and letting that immobilise you.
When you could write about anything for your social community, narrowing in on a specific enough topic to warrant a useful blog post can feel near impossible. (At least, it sometimes has me gazing longingly at my Netflix queue or trolling the kitchen for between-meal snacks. Maybe you’re made of heartier stock than I!)
It helps to know who you’re writing to: the profile of your audience, what their challenges are, the other blogs they read, where they spend their time, etc. You’re a person writing to a person, after all!
Learning your audience is part science and part good ol’ human-to-human communication. I’m excited to share five methods that have helped me write more valuable blog posts.
#1 | Collect social handles on your email newsletter’s signup form
If you have a blog, you likely also have an email newsletter list. It’s vital to help grow your reach and connect with your audience in a more intimate way than social media allows. (And you don’t have to be a techie to hop on board: Holly has a great intro to MailChimp here!)
I’ve written before about how you should only include fields on your signup form that you actually plan to use. That’s both to keep from bogging down your subscribers with loads of fields to complete (does anyone enjoy an inquisition?) as well as point you to your audience online.
The email service provider I use, Emma, sends me an email each time I get a new subscriber so I can easily jump to his/her/their Twitter feed. (Full disclosure: I used to work for Emma.)
As a writer, Twitter is where I’m most active and feel best suited to connect. Having my audience’s handles means I can see which content they found most valuable to share.
It means I can hear directly from them about creative roadblocks they’ve hit, the blogs they share weekly, which writing contests they’re excited about and what projects they’re working on.
My audience sharing their Twitter handles with me has also meant they’re telling me what they want to know more about, and there’s rarely a day where that advantage doesn’t conquer writer’s block.
#2 | Segment your email audience based on gathered data
As mentioned above, I use signup forms to ask my email subscribers for their Twitter handles. I can pull this report in Emma at will to mass-follow my subscribers on Twitter, if I wish, but I can also generate reports based on other behaviour.
Who among those who downloaded my study on the six books I read to become a better writer also clicked a link in my email about top grammar mistakes? This could help me find those writers who are likely in the middle of a current project. Since I offer writing coaching services, I may be able to lend a hand.
Of those who signed up in the last 60 days, who has opened every email? This could lead me to folks who are actively submitting their work to literary agents and magazines, as that’s what I’ve written about most recently. I might email these individuals to ask about their experiences and craft a post about magazines currently accepting work.
For those who open my emails, who’s opening them after 9 p.m.? This might tell me which subscribers are side hustlers, working on their creativity after their day job. There’s a big difference in content created for full-time writers vs. those wonderful creatives trying to fit in their writing where/when/how they can.
#3 | Survey blog readers to gain useful information
The biggest lesson I learned while working as a community manager is that a brand joins a community; it doesn’t build it. Once I feel I’ve sufficiently listened to my audience on social media and tuned into their habits, I craft survey questions to fill in the blanks for myself.
I’ve used Twitter’s polling feature but found more value in Google forms. (Both are free!) Here again, keep your audience in mind and don’t overwhelm them with 45 questions dissecting their needs. Be specific with your questions so you get specific answers.
One question I recently used in an audience survey is this:
Invaluable! I learned that 44% of my audience struggled with growing as a writer, while I’d been focusing my content on making time to write.
Your audience’s needs fluctuate over time, but this survey let me know that as of today, what I blogged about needed to reflect this interest.
Ask yourself this when creating your survey: Based on what I know now, what do I still want to know?
Share your form(s) periodically on social media, on your blog and in your emails.
#4 | Test how/when you share content on social platforms
If you use a social media scheduler like Buffer (another full disclosure: I also used to work for Buffer), you can set up times for your social posts to be sent.
Keep in mind:
- Time zone: Though your account is set up for your time zone (for me, that’s Central Time, as I’m in Nashville, TN), your audience is living, breathing and scrolling through social media around the clock.
According to Twitter, 79% of accounts are from outside the United States. After a visit to Sydney, Australia, last year – 15 hours ahead of my hometown! – I realised I’d limited my social interactions almost exclusively to those stateside. Now I try to schedule personable social posts to go live while I’m snoozing so I can still be active and reach more folks.
- Stale times: Do you post at the same times every day? Try varying when you post to see which times of day – and, indeed, which days – see the most interactions. I revisit my posting schedule every couple months to experiment with posting times.
- Twitter chats: Find Twitter chats related to your field, and join them. I’ve connected with a bevy of amazing creative and entrepreneurs this way, and their insight has helped me grow my business, as well as my blog following. Remember that while you want to create actionable content for your readers, you also want to grow as a blogger.
What I’ve experimented with lately:
- Balancing sharing others’ links vs. my own: This test is in its early stages, but I’m tracking whether I get more responses to on-brand links or links to my own content.
The results should help me understand if my audience is already reading the same articles I am, and thus not wanting me to share that content with them, or if they’re already reading my blog posts, and not needing me to promote them. It isn’t entirely scientific, but I’m curious about it!
- Including emojis: As much as I love animated gifs, it’s the darndest thing - I see the highest engagement in tweets that don’t contain animation or a link but do contain an emoji. These are typically tweets with personal thoughts or about how the day is going, and I kind of love how the simplest of musings experience the most connection.
#5 | Make use of your blog’s analytics
Your blog's analytics feature – I use Squarespace – gives an all-important glimpse of your audience’s path to reach you as well as their behaviour once they’re on your site. (You can also supplement with Google Analytics.) Maximize this data by letting it inform your blog management.
What sources, like Pinterest, direct them to your site? Perhaps you should spend time improving your Pinterest boards.
Which blog posts are most popular? Boost the attention you get there by including relevant internal links.
What time of day do most visitors land on your site? Use that data in association with your email service provider’s analytics to figure out if your newsletters containing new blog posts are hitting inboxes at the right time.
What’s one way you’ve learned more about your readers that made a big difference in the content you create now? Share it with us in the comments!
Katie Lewis's work has appeared in The Tennessean, BookPage, Tennessee Register, Regime Magazine of New Writing and elsewhere. She was a winner in the Nashville Poetry in Motion contest and a two-time winner of the Albert Montesi Award for poetry.