The Power of Your Blog’s Hidden Community and How to Find It

by Marcus Sheridan

hidden blog communityI’ve talked about “community” many, many times here on The Sales Lion. It’s a subject that fascinates me and frankly it’s a subject that continues to develop in my mind each and every day.

Understanding “Blog Community”…and What it Really Means

When I started this blog 3 years ago, the thought of getting comments on a post was magical. The idea that someone would come to my website, read my stuff, and then actually feel prompted to leave their own words was purely exhilarating. But for a long time, almost no one did.

In other words, for the first 6-12 months of blogging here and pouring my heart and soul into this blog, I didn’t sense I’d developed much of a community at all, which was a tough thing to deal with.

After about a year of writing, I shifted my thoughts and actions towards networking. I built up relationships with other bloggers. I commented often on other posts. I worked very hard to serve others.

All of these actions paid off, and the comments started rolling in. The “community” started building, and I was happy…at least for a time.

Something was missing

But even though I would often get dozens, if not hundreds of comments per post, I began to feel a lack of true community in one main regard—I started The Sales Lion to help marketers and business owners—big and small—to overcome their trials and struggles in this information and digital age.

And for the most part, I never heard much from those people. Most of my comments were from other bloggers doing similar things to me. I appreciated (and still very much do) all of those comments and all of their support, but I also realized that I didn’t seem to be talking to my hard-core end users—the business owners, entrepreneurs, and marketers that I really wanted to be touching, teaching, and helping.

As I was going through this struggle, I began reading more and more about the sacred “list.” People like Pat Flynn and Derek Halpern were always mentioning the power behind this “list” and what we could do as businesses and bloggers to build said list.

The “List” is born

After much contemplation on this subject, in November of last year I published my 230-page eBook, Inbound and Content Marketing Made Easy, and used it as the means whereby I would start my email list—one that would receive my bi-weekly newsletter—and one that I would now start a relationship with on a “different” level than my regular blog rss/email subscribers.

To put it mildly, publishing that eBook and starting The Sales Lion newsletter was the best thing I’ve ever done on this blog during its 3 year existence. Not only did more people subscribe to my newsletter in 6 months than had subscribed to my regular blog in 3 years (we’ll talk a lot about this another day), but I also discovered something to me that was utterly magical—I had a massive, untapped community just waiting to chat with me, if I would only give them the right means for doing so.

I came to this conclusion based on many events, but here are 3 of the most telling experiences I’ve had:

1. When anyone subscribes to my newsletter and downloads the eBook, they get an automatic reply email that asks one simple question: What is your biggest struggle with inbound and content marketing?

Now, every single day, business owners and marketers all over the world are replying to this question and telling me their specific struggles with a subject that I’m absolutely passionate about. In fact, so many of these emails was I getting that I decided to start  my Mad Marketing w/The Sales Lion Podcast—all for the sole purpose of answering these amazing questions/concerns of real people and businesses around the globe.

2. As those of you who read my newsletter know, I like to ask questions, usually one, at the end of the posts. In one of these newsletters, I told readers that if they sent me the URL of their company’s website, I’d give some quick feedback as to the inbound/content marketing suggestions I had. Little did I know it would take me 8 hours of diligent focus to answer the dozens and dozens of emails and comments that came from this one simple question. And although the work and time investment was significant, I was developing a sense for my community, and end user, as I’d never seen before.

3. A few weeks ago I asked my newsletter list another simple question: If I did a free webinar on “How to Become a Thought Leader in Your Niche,” who would attend?

Literally, within 30 minutes of firing off this email, I had over 100 responses from readers expressing their excitement, and need, for such a webinar (which is in the works btw, so stay tuned). In fact, still to this day I’m getting emails from folks talking about their sincere desire to become a thought-leader in their field, and how to make said desire become a reality.

Personal Questions, Personal Responses

I’m sure you can notice a pattern behind these 3 powerful events. Each one involved a simple question—a question that allowed for a simple answer.

But here is the thing about your “list:” Although some folks never answer your questions at all, and although some may leave incredibly quick responses, others will definitively take the time to open up and chat. Simply put, they’re looking for someone to talk to. They need help. And the fact that you’re willing to at least listen speaks volumes.

Oh, and another note about this whole newsletter/list/community subject—since I started it 6 months ago my business has really, really taken off. To be honest, I’m already overwhelmed (in a good way), which is why I now have a virtual assistant (I’ll be chatting about that subject another day), and am looking to add folks to my team so as to continue to give great service, grow the business, but also have the time to write, teach, and speak as much as I possibly can in the coming years.

A Truer Definition of Community

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, when I first started with The Sales Lion I measured community really in two ways: Number of comments and number of shares/likes/etc. (per post).

Today, although I still greatly appreciate all comments and sharing readers do, I also now understand that email communication (outside of face to face) is king when it comes to truly understanding the thoughts, needs, and concerns of your actual customers.

For almost 3 years of blogging I didn’t allow 99% of my audience to open up and share to me their thoughts, problems, and struggles simply because I wasn’t making it easy for them to do so.

The fact is, most folks don’t delve deep into their “issues” in a comment section. Yes, some do, but most do not. They want intimacy. They want privacy. And they feel like email allows for that. And remember, this principle applies to any business– whether you’re a plumber, a doctor, whatever– the principle doesn’t change.

So tap into your email community. Grow your list. Ask them questions. By so doing, I can assure you that you’ll be simply amazed at the results and you’ll also discover an entire side to your audience that you didn’t even know existed.

Your Turn:

What facets make up your blog community? Do you have a “list” and what have been the results? If you haven’t started building you list yet, why not? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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