How to convert a reader to a fan

Part of being involved and branding yourself on the internet is posting comments on people’s blogs. When you read a post, comment on it. At least, that’s what I try to do. Let the writers know that you’re out there, consuming information and have something intelligent to say. But it’s a little deeper too; Aurelius said that “you cannot quench understanding unless you put out the insights that compose it.” Which means two things: 1) Knowledge must lead to action to create understanding. 2) You encourage understanding in others when you send out your own perspective.

Anyways, a few days ago I posted a comment on an excellent post by Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist. She wrote about the gender disparity in Web 2.0 and its possible implications. My comment was simply that there is no need to worry right now because the web will likely shift dramatically multiple times before it finally settles. In other words, the leaders right now are transitory and like any revolution, the original members almost never end up as the ruling party.

Today, I got this email:

Hi, Ryan. Thanks for the comment. It’s so smart. And thanks for adding me to your feed. I feel really lucky to have such smart readers 🙂


And so I went back to her site and looked at the comments section. To my amazement, Penelope had responded to of her commenters with a personal, appreciative message. Not a form response, but a genuine acknowledgement and address of the reader’s point and existence. That is PR 2.0.

I emailed her back about it and she responded with:

Thanks for this email. some days i think i’m nuts for responding. but then i think, what am i doing blogging if i don’t want to have a conversation? it’s a conundrum. today i am glad ot have met you. today i like dealing with the comments 🙂

She is 100% right, and I will continue to tell anyone who will listen. The internet is about good will and there is no faster way to earn it than by making it clear that you care about the audience. PR isn’t just about getting eyeballs to the site, it’s about converting the ones that are already there. Before this little exchange I was an on-the-fence fan, but now, I’m firmly in the pro-camp. If someone asks me for an interesting site I’d recommend hers in a second.

If you have a site, you can learn from this. Understand that winning fans is a constant battle. It’s responding to each comment, it’s emailing the readers that have made an effort, it’s respecting the reader above all else. I’ve seen my traffic slowly grow as I took the time each day to respond to people’s emails. I’ve tracked down book quotes, given advice, said thanks a million times, and it has paid off. But even I am inspired by Penelope and you should be to.

How to follow her example (and things I’ve learned):

  • Set up Technorati RSS Feeds that monitor who links to you. Everyday, take the time to comment on those posts. Tell the writer that you appreciate them taking the time to read your work and the effort to add their own perspective. Tell them that you like their site (assuming that you do) and if they ever need a favor to drop you an email.
  • If you don’t think it is intrusive, email the fans who have taken the time to leave intelligent comments on your post. At the very least respond to them in the comment section.
  • If someone takes the time to email you, go ahead and respond. Even if it’s just a ‘thank you.’
  • You could utilize mailing lists to keep in touch with readers, customers and contacts. ZeroBounce can help to clean and enhance your mailing list using various tools, like an email address checker.
  • If a reader submits one of your pieces to a social network like Digg or Netscape, add them to your friends list and vote on their other submissions. If they’ve left contact info on their profile, make use of it.
  • If a forum or messageboard uses one of your pieces as the basis for a discussion, join in. Clear up any misconceptions and above all, let them know that you appreciate what they’ve done. Leave your contact information and tell them to ask if they have any questions.

And as a final note, I predict that her blog is really going to explode in the next few months. I’ve been picking up a ton of buzz about her, and a strategy like hers does NOT go unrewarded. This kind of goodwill pays huge dividends, so you’ll be hearing a lot from her I imagine.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.