I'm John Fischer and I've been doing this blog thing for about a decade of my life. To that end, I have far too much to say (as usual) about it and I want to share it with whoever may be interested in blogging. It's a collection of things I've learned and things I wish I knew then as I've been doing this. The last time I wrote up something like this, I focused on establishing the blog. Today's post will focus on deal with an audience.
First and foremost, a reminder of the most important lesson I've learned from writing about hockey for ten years:
Make the blog something you would want to read.
Got that? Because it's going to be a driver of what your audience actually is.
In General, You Can Expect What Kind of Readers You Get
Australian alternative band This Is Serious Mum (TISM) made a career of being shocking while penning pop-rock jams. Most of their songs wouldn't make this site. But that's fine. From their album, Machiavelli and the Four Seasons, they have a song that I can use and actually gets to the core of audiences in general in the song, "Play Mistral for Me."
Weird rapping bridge that doesn't quite fit with the song aside, the main point is clear. You tend get the audience that you deserve. I agree with that in a general sense. This is a New Jersey Devils blog. It's about the New Jersey Devils. It should surprise nobody that the majority of my readers are New Jersey Devils fans. It should surprise nobody that a significant percentage of them are currently in or from the New Jersey area. It's a blog in English, so pretty much everyone who reads it at least knows English. In general terms, this is my audience.
Is it the entire audience? No. Hence, the "general" part of this statement. There have been, are, and will be readers who are fans of other teams but just happen to be interested in the Devils for one reason or another (e.g. a recent game, a former Devil joined another team, etc.). There have been, are, and will be readers who check out the site that aren't Devils fans but may be fans of the writer. There have been, are, and will be people who may not be sure about jumping into the wonderful world of Devils fandom. But, by and large, my core audience is formed by what the site is all about. So it goes with other blogs, whether it's about a team, a hobby, a viewpoint, etc. Therefore, what you decide to blog about should give you a clue of what kind of audience to expect.
You Can't Control Others, But You Can Control Yourself - And People Notice
A big component of what kind of audience you'll get is what the blog is about. In time, how you act will be a driver of this as well. Are you the sort of person who swears a lot and writes as such? Then you'll get readers who do the same thing. Are you the sort of person who needs to correct every little thing? Then you'll get readers who do the same thing. So on and so forth. I'm not saying those are good or bad things; but how you act will be noticed. Actions speak louder than words and how you act will inform many on how they feel they can act with you and others on the blog.
The most important book I've ever read regarding blogging is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It's a classic book for how to interact with others. Even if you have the comments off and keep contact information minimal, posting writing online is interaction and readers want to interact in some way or form online. The book's lessons absolutely apply to blogging. One of the common themes is to actually consider the reader (or other person in a conversation or whoever) as a person with feelings and thoughts. Turning them off from the get-go makes it nigh impossible for them to want to read your site, much less understand what you're trying to convey. From the importance to not correct every single statement that could be wrong to trying to appeal to what others want to being friendly and allowing the benefit of the doubt; those lessons matter both in real life and online. I try to read it every so often to remind myself of the important lessons from within it. These were lessons I wish I knew before I as I've never been good at social matters. I know this site wouldn't be as large as it is without them.
To that end, how you control and interact with others will help or hurt how large this audience you'll get. No, you can't please all of the people all of the time. Mistakes are bound to happen. We're human. But you'll certainly limit your audience if you don't pay attention to how you carry yourself and you don't deal well with others. Most readers don't interact. The readership numbers are much larger than the number of people who have registered to comment, and that number is larger than the number of people who applied for a voluntary writing spot at All About the Jersey. But they do see what's going on and if the writer is overly mean or doesn't take care of a troll; they may not stick around at the site.
And if you act like a jerk, don't be surprised most of your audience are also jerks.
The Readers are Important - Value Them
While I have a lot to be thankful for in blogging for ten years, among the most thankful I have are for the readers. Even if said reader doesn't like me or what I write about, I'm glad they took the time in their life to read what I written about something. No, this blog is not as big as some of the other teams on this network. There are multiple factors into play, some I can control, some I cannot. But I'd like to think I respect the readers in general. That's why I end most of my posts with "Thank you for reading." I know in this day and age of videos, 140 character-limited statements, .GIFs, and so forth that reading thousands of words about the Devils isn't always attractive. For those that do, I really do appreciate it. I appreciate the people who comment, the people who respond, the occasional email, and so forth. It makes me realize that A) people do care to some degree and B) some people may even like it. That helps keep me going and wanting to do more for the site. That's good. So for the budding blogger, I encourage you to develop a respect for good readers, commenters, and others who interact with the site.
Years ago, I attended a Blogs with Balls conference. It was one of the early ones. I remember a few things from it. Namely, awkwardly stopping Brian Cook about how he did those Under Further Reviews at MGoBlog and getting a quick "Just do it, man." It's continued to inspire me to do the goal against reviews, Killing Time, the EHM Let's Pretend, etc.) Also, that the keynote speaker had nothing to do with sports. It was entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. He talked with impressive, pro-wrestler like enthusiasm about content and connecting with the people targeted for said content. His main tagline was that making connections is the Queen. Content is King, but how you deal with others who engage in said content was almost as important. He spoke in generalities because in his case, he was doing it for wine and business consulting. The lesson I took applies to this blog. That is, respond to the emails, read the comments, pay attention to the mentions on Twitter, and just be involved. Even if it's answering the same question a million times; it's not the millionth time to whoever asked the question and they certainly matter as much as the next person. And given that a lot of this is done online, people do notice. It's akin to rewarding good behavior. It encourages more of it, which can drive content, drive interest, and maybe even more. I'm not saying a good blogger should only do what the audience wants. At the end of the day, it's your blog. You're in control and you should do what you're comfortable with. But reaching out to the audience is the next level beyond regarding the reader with respect.
To that end, I'm bothered when readers just get picked on. I use Twitter quite a lot. Perhaps too much. Here's something that I see from other writers online on Twitter on a regular basis. I see them quote something they think is stupid, wrong, ignorant, etc. and just Tweet out something snarky against it. Yes, there are a lot of people who are mean and write bad things and so forth. There are ways to deal with that. But by putting it on a platform doesn't shame them from existence or teach any lesson beyond "Don't bother me, or I'll taunt you some more." All that does is tell me that the writer thinks the quoted person is dumb and he or she is not dumb. That the writer thinks he or she knows better. They may very well could, but my opinion of that writer is lowered. They probably don't intend to be constructive; they just want to highlight a bad thing in their eyes and just say that they don't like the bad thing. (And in some cases, not even give a chance for that per Said writers might as well hold up a sign saying "I WILL REWARD BAD BEHAVIOR" as they wonder why they seemingly continue to get the dumb stuff in whatever area. They are effectively encouraging it and for what? To signal to their colleagues or the "Good and decent people" that they are on The Right SideTM? They may be on the right side and are good and decent people, but it doesn't make me want to interact with them. It doesn't make me want to read what they have to say. It just tells me that they may not respect their readers. I can't respect that. So please don't do that.
I know I'm not perfect, but I will try to respect the reader. You should too. Otherwise, you'll likely limit what your audience will be and how they act. Again, people pick up on that and will respond too.
Dealing with Bad Readers
Now, I did say that I respect the good readers. I did say that you generally get the audience that you deserve. In time, you'll deal with bad readers. People who don't act the way you'd like them to on your site. People who are just mean and add nothing to the conversation. People who just want to get a rise out of others, also known as trolls. These are the people I don't respect as they aren't respectable. Unfortunately, human nature hasn't changed in thousands of years and so the likelihood of everyone just playing nice is somewhere between zero to nothing. Consider the Internet to be like an ocean. A seemingly limitless area of great wonder - and completely filled with waste products.
So the Internet and human nature isn't going to change. How to deal with those who just want to cause trouble? Simply: you don't. Trolls want to get a reaction; deny them. People don't behave on the site properly; they get messaged, warned, and if they don't listen, banned. People want to send mean and threatening comments on social media or in emails? Reported if serious, otherwise deleted and ignored. All done swiftly and - this is important - as impersonally as possible. I'm 33. I've lived most of my life without knowing the person who wants to ruin my day or site or not follow my rules; I'm not going to let it start now. In more practical terms, you use the tools available to deal with the non-good readers. I'm privileged to be at SBNation where I have plenty of them; but most sites and social media channels have them too. You block or mute them on social media. You ban them from your site and delete comments as necessary. You report emails or just toss them. If there are serious threats, then you go to the police. And then after using whatever you have available you move on.
Again, human nature, the Internet, and the world aren't going to change. I wish I would never have to use these tools in the same way that I wish I would never have to have a fire detector. But fires happen and so do jerks, and so one must be prepared. And then you move on with your life. I assure you, after blogging for just about ten years, the Sun will still rise the next day.
Rules & Application
In order to deal such readers and to make sure parts like the comments or other means of interaction turns people away, then you'll need to have some rules in place. I'm not sure if any blogger likes doing this sort of thing. I've done more than my fair share of moderation and rule making. At the same time, if I don't communicate what should not be allowed at the site, then how can I expect people to follow it? If I don't enforce the rules, then how can I expect anyone to listen? You may not need this as your building up the blog and establishing it. You'll likely need to do so as it begins to grow and a community, for lack of a better term, forms.
When you decide on a rule, you have to ask yourself, what will it accomplish? Most rules make a blog or a site less inclusive. They typically state that something is not allowed. Ironically, most are to make others feel more welcome at the site. You have to be exclusive to be inclusive, if that makes sense. The whole point is to make it clear what's expected of the reader and what sort of site it is. Take swearing for example. I swear a lot in real life. Others do too. But I want my blog to include all kinds of fans from young kids to people in professional places. I want to be able to tell anyone to go the blog without fear of what kind of bad language they may encounter. They may use it, but they may not want to read it; or it may hinder me from telling others. So I write clean. And so I require others on the site to be clean as well. And it's pretty clear that anything non-PG language-wise isn't allowed. It's not only on a site page of the rules, but it's also mentioned in every single Gamethread, the most commented posts on the site. It's been a net positive for the blog. It's an easy tell as to whether someone actually read the rules and will follow them; it helps cut down on a lot of any personal attacks or disrespect; SB Nation certainly doesn't have to worry about any questionable content, which is good for the business; and I have no qualms about telling just about anyone about the site. It makes up for putting off those who absolutely, positively need to use obscene language. Does your site need to be run the same way? No. If you want to swear, by all means, let it flow. My rules are for the site; I don't want the whole Internet to follow them. But this example is the sort of thing to keep in mind when you develop a rule. Keep in mind what you're trying to accomplish. And make sure you can communicate the rule clearly. Generalizations or vague language helps no one.
And it doesn't help you or whoever else is tasked with enforcing these rules. Rules don't work unless they're enforced. Those who remember Fire & Ice under Tom Gulitti may remember that for years and years, Gulitti would kindly remind the readers to not use bad language in the comments. Yet, the comments weren't moderated. The rule was not enforced. So the bad words were flying along with a whole lot of other things that made the comments section absolutely suck. Gulitti had a rule but it wasn't enforced by anyone, and so it was worthless. It was a shame because Gulitti, to his credit, would actually reply to questions and comment occasionally. It wasn't until a new commenting platform was put into place where this could be regulated that the comments section for each post at Fire & Ice was not a kind of a trash heap. I can understand why the rule wasn't enforced. There's not a lot of value added to combing through comments and removing them. It's a pain to do after writing something or knowing it's ongoing while you're trying to do something else. It's work. I get it. However, I can say from experience that the work is worth it over time. Earlier years at this site, I had to issue many warnings for comments with bad language in them and even banned a few people. Yet, I rarely have to do that. Why? Most of the readers who've been around know the rules and that they'll be enforced. The bans don't get rescinded. (Again, SBN makes it easier than other platforms. That is a privilege) Most of the new readers see that the rules are followed and so most are inclined to continue it. And despite the attention paid to bad behavior from readers these days, most who want to participate on the site in good taste will listen after even a warning or a heads up of what's not allowed.
My point is that think about what rules you'll have in place and then think about what it would take to enforce them. As the site grows and some readers want to be more than just readers and commenters, then you may consider asking for help with moderation (and other parts of the site). That help can be there if, again, you respect your readers.
Lastly, You are in Control
The main piece of advice for this meta series is to make the blog something that you'd want to read. That's up to you. Unless it's owned by something else, you are in control of the site. You. It can be work to make the rules, enforce the rules, do all of this engagement, and find time to write, record, tape, draw, capture, sing, play, or do something for the actual site on top of everything else in your life. But it's your decision to do all of this. And it's up to you to put in how much of yourself into the blog without turning a hobby into a job. Building up an audience is great and it can open up many more possibilities. But your audience does not own you. You can pick and choose what you want to interact with or cite for a post or bring up. You can decide how to deal with others, good and bad. You are in control.
Over the last ten years, I've put in countless hours and thoughts into the site. I'd like to think it's pretty good. Could it be better? Of course. Anything can be improved. Could someone else do this better than me? Probably. I don't know how you measure a blogger being better than others. Am I happy for doing this? Absolutely. Some people wonder through their 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond wondering if they made an impact in the world that they may be known for. I did. I made a Devils blog in 2006 that's still around and still garners Devils readers. It's not a big impact, but it's not nothing. And I legitimately enjoy doing the previews, the recaps, the posts, and so forth. I like reading the comments. I like reading the Tweets. OK, I could do with more sleep and some of the games from the last five years or so were really hard to write about. But the site means that much to me and I want to continue doing it. And so I do. I choose to blog. I am in control. You are too. Remember that's true when you start and when you do build up an audience.
I could continue on more and more about this. But between this and the other three meta posts, I think I've shared a lot of thoughts and opinions of what I learned through blogging. I hope it helps somebody out. And if you have further questions, feel free to ask through emails, Tweets, comments, etc.
Thank you all.