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How to Turn Casual Visitors Into Fanatical Readers

Credit shoothead

Credit shoothead

Paul Graham is one of the most famous technologists of our lifetime and his blog is one that I read on a regular basis. His blog post titled “Do Things that Don’t Scale” offers advice to startups that any business owner should consider.

The basic premise of the post is that many successful companies get there by doing things that don’t scale, don’t go viral, and aren’t run on auto-pilot. They take a hands on approach to customer service, to customer acquisition, and all the other things you might easily expect them to automate. That’s the mentality you should take on as you grow your blog.

The example in Graham’s post that you should try to follow is that of Wufoo. Wufoo is an online form builder and they sent every new user a hand-written thank you note. While you won’t be able to send each visitor a hand-written note, you should try to engage them at every opportunity. If they reach out to you, always respond. Always reply.

Here are some of the common ways a reader might reach out to you and what you should do in response to foster a friendship and, hopefully, earn a loyal fan.

If you don’t know what to say to your readers, here’s some of my thoughts on how to find your voice.

Blog Comments

When someone takes the time to leave a comment on your blog, it is an invitation to engage them in a conversation. Think of the last time you left a comment on a blog, did the author of the post email you back? Did they reply? Did you know they replied?

If you don’t have a plugin that notifies a commenter that someone has replied, install one. Make sure the default is that they will not be notified! (if you have integrated Disqus or another commenting system, a plugin is not required)

Next, reply to every comment. I try to reply to every comment I get, even if it’s a simple “thanks!”. If it’s a particularly thoughtful comment, consider emailing them a thank you for commenting on your blog post and open up a dialog. I’ve learned a lot from readers just by emailing them afterwards when they mentioned something thought provoking. By default, even though I had a comment notification system installed, I assumed the original commenter would not see my reply.

Social Media

If you’re using social media to promote your blog (which you should), you should treat each of your posts on social media like a post on your blog. When someone leave a comment on your Facebook status update, be sure to respond. They’re more likely to see the response, given Facebook’s native notification system, and it can start a dialog that enriches the original post.

Be sure to thank people who retweet or share your posts. These readers have become your volunteer ambassadors, you should be thanking them with hand-written letters!


On the internet, an email is one of the most intimate forms of communications between strangers. Yes, it sounds strange to read that sentence (just as I felt a little strange writing it) but it’s very true. Blog comments can be anonymous, Tweets can be anonymous, but email is less anonymous. It’s a conduit to an individual and not just another form of throwaway communication. When a reader emails you, treat it as the ultimate compliment even if they are sending you vitriolic hate-mail.

Think about how easy it is to leave a comment or tweet something – it’s almost trivial. With email, you have to find a contact form or email address, type out a message, and then click send. It’s not like writing a letter but it’s the closest thing on the internet.

So when someone emails you, always respond. Respond quickly, thoughtfully, and graciously – even if they are insulting you. You never know what you’ll learn. 🙂

Hate Mail, Trolls, Racists

Just as there are the good, there are the bad. Sometimes you have people who just want to get you riled up. Sometimes they just like to see you flip out and do something stupid. Sometimes they are good people who get so worked up that their emotions get the better of them and even they say something they’ll later regret.

If they’re just in it to get me fired up and hoping I say something stupid, I ignore it. Life is too short to respond to people who aren’t worth responding. What’s tricky is finding out who fits in the camp of “too fired up and saying something dumb” vs “they’re just trying to start a fight.” It’s worth responding to the first group.

Sometimes, if they sent the email hours ago, they’ve calmed down and you can actually have a rational conversation with them. Usually, they apologize for what they wrote, thank you for giving them the opportunity to apologize, and you can hear the underlying cause for their anger. You might even be able to offer up some clarification that ends up helping them. Those emails are often the best ones.

However, don’t get sucked into flame wars where you just trade barbs. It’s like a fist fight outside the bar at 4 AM – no one ever wins.

What’s your approach to reader interaction?

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In 2005, I founded a personal finance blog ( that became successful enough that I quit my career as a software developer in the defense industry. It is my goal to share everything I learned so that you can do the same - build an online business that let's you pursue your passion.

32 responses to “How to Turn Casual Visitors Into Fanatical Readers”

  1. Tony O. says:

    I think the mentality of always responding to your readers if they reach out makes sense. I think in this day and age there’s so much competition for attention that if you don’t interact with your customers, they’ll go somewhere else where they’ll get a response. It’s a standard operating procedure that I’ll keep in mind once I get my own blog up and running.

    • Jim Wang says:

      If they go out of their way to email you, they deserve a response. It got hard with Bargaineering when I was getting a ton of PR email and had trouble keeping up with the “regular” emails.

  2. Barb Friedberg says:

    I feel better knowing that I’m not the only one into the “organic” “every reader matters” mentality. I am definitely a singles hitter (few home runs for me). Great content and best of luck with the new site!

  3. Mahalo for this, Jim. Disqus for email notifications – this senior citizen is going to attempt to install. Wish me luck!

    • Jim Wang says:

      I love the notifications, it lets me respond asap!

      • I see that! You are the fastest responder – makes me feel special!

        Well, it took me 2 attempts, but I think I did install Disqus now! I had a different user name and password set up and that confused me for awhile until I looked at my trusty old notebook that has user names and passwords for various sites.

        Which brings up a non microblogger question: How do you manage all those user names and passwords for sign ins on various sites?



        • Jim Wang says:

          You ARE special 🙂 But yes I am a fast responder, at least I try to be… if you leave a comment at 9pm Eastern, I won’t be as fast.

          I try to stick with similar usernames and just vary up the passwords.

  4. Good advice and something that I have not been doing well. I have responded to every e-mail and tweet, but I have not offered comments on comments to my posts.

    • Jim Wang says:

      Yeah you’ll find that replying will help build a bond (because unless you reply, how do they know you even read their comment?) that, hopefully, will last.

  5. Mike Collins says:

    These are great tips Jim. I definitely give you credit for following up with every visitor. It’s not easy to stay on top of blog comments, facebook, twitter, etc.

    I’ve been hesitant to install Disqus abecause some corporate firewalls block it and it can make commenting impossible. But if it has worked this well for you it might be worth re-considering.

    • Jim Wang says:

      Hmmm I didn’t know some corporate firewalls block it, that’s unfortunate, I guess we’ll see how many complaints I get about it. It’s so pretty. 🙂

  6. Your Daily Finance says:

    I am big on emailing people and responding to comments. I must admit I haven’t even checked to see if emails are sent to let them know a response came to a comment they left. I have to check on this over the weekend. It does get a little overwhelming when you are getting a lot of comments and working on 10 other things. When you run a one man shop you have to have many hats and it does get time consuming.

    • Jim Wang says:

      I trust that Disqus is handling all the email stuff (and telling commenters about discussions)!

      As for being overwhelming, it can be, so as this site gets bigger I won’t be able to respond to every comment but I’ll try. I certainly read them all, it’s just sometimes difficult to reply with something new… especially if there are ten other things to work on!

  7. Forest Parks says:

    I’ve always tried to respond to every comment and believe it helped me a lot during the early days of blogging. What makes it harder these days is that so many other sites are mass commenting. They never come back to engage or care about such a thing, rather they do it to make you go to their site!

    However it’s still worth responding to everyone and forging relationships with the people who are genuinely there for your stuff.

    • Jim Wang says:

      Yeah the mass commenting thing can sometimes be unfortunate, I figure I have to do what I think is right and let the rest sort itself out. I’m surprised it still happens a ton because you’d think the nofollow aspect of it would stop spammers (but it doesn’t).

  8. […] While that’s a proven strategy, it isn’t what you do when you are getting a blog off the ground. You’re going to have to do things that don’t scale. […]

  9. First of all, thanks for this great site! I’m learning a lot. I just started my blog last year and from the very start, I decided I’d respond to every single comment.

    I now get a lot of email from readers, too. The volume has made it more difficult to respond quickly because I get a lot of questions that require research. But every reader is important, so I do what it takes to respond. I set aside time early in the morning (seven days a week) to catch up on emails and comments.

    I agree with your earlier comment that bloggers who don’t have an “every reader matters mentality” won’t last long.

  10. Ryan Cote says:

    Hey Jim, i take this approach with Twitter. I only follow people that I’m interested in following and engaging with. I usually keep it to less than 100 people that I follow so I can keep up with what everyone is saying and interact with them when I have something to say or add to the conversation. When you’re following thousands on Twitter, that becomes impossible.

    • Jim says:

      I always have good intentions with Twitter but I end up following everyone I like… so far it’s been a reasonable number but it can only go up. Maybe I need to remove some, but then that seems “mean.” 🙂

  11. I also try to respond to every single comment etc. I just need more commenters!

    • Jim says:

      Doesn’t everyone? 🙂

      In all seriousness, it helps to go where your commenters are (or the commenters you want) and try to connect there too.

  12. Julie Rains says:

    One of the things that stands out about your newsletter/email at Microblogger is that you invite people to respond via email or connect with you. Many bloggers ask for a response but it’s typically something that benefits the reader, such as a comment or a tweet (not that there’s anything wrong with those requests and comments can be helpful to all involved in a conversation). Still, I feel like I can ask a question, give feedback, etc. and someone will actually listen.

    On my to-do list is to revise my blog post email to ask folks to respond, ask a question, etc.

    • Jim says:

      I’m learning that people find it to be far easier to hit reply and send a message to me, instead of putting it out into the world as a tweet or comment. It doesn’t “boost” my stats in terms of comments and social metrics but I don’t really care, I can build a friendship with someone who replies and, hopefully, help them.

      I love comments though! 🙂

  13. Bobbi says:

    Great advice…especially about hate mail, trolls & racists. This will come in handy as I’m just starting my blogging journey.

    Thanks for sharing!!

  14. Ryan Finlay says:

    Just found your site, wish I would have come across it quite a while ago. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your posts.


    • Jim says:

      Thanks Ryan!

      Your site looks very familiar, I think I read a post you wrote that became popular on Hacker News or Reddit or something a few months back about buying and selling appliances on Craigslist. I remember the post was fantastically detailed and very well done.

  15. Pragati says:

    Hello Jim,
    I just stumbled upon this site and am already learning from this post. I think I got as much from the comments as from the post.

    Looking forward to being a regular visitor here.


  16. Jim, Thank you! This is great information. Just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean everything can be handled by bots or automation. It’s great to have interaction from writers and readers of blogs. I hope to integrate all of this into all my ventures. There’s nothing like the human touch!

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