Blog Month: What Can You Do with Five Minutes?

October 11, 2010

Congratulations to Fred and Jillian for winning free copies of Philip Yancey’s “What Good is God?”  Thanks everyone for entering to win!

Last Monday, I kicked off October by launching a series of posts on blogging.  Why?  Because I’m reaching my second year of blogging, and to mark the occasion, I want to take some time to help you be a better blogger.  So unless you’re already a perfect blogger, keep reading.

Last week, I told you about what is the biggest reward in blogging to me; the interactions I have with you.  That really is the reason I keep at it.  Without that, I would’ve quit a long time ago.  Blogging is about building a community, and I have some thoughts for you on how to build your community.

Don’t Look at the Numbers

I’m serious.  If you sat down one day and decided to start a blog, thinking you’d become a huge famous writer, just quit right now.  Probably won’t happen.  If you think to yourself that if you could only have a certain number of readers, then you’d be satisfied, then just give up.  If that’s you, you will grow to hate blogging.

I rarely, almost never check the numbers that this blog is doing any more.  I used to do it multiple times a day.  It was like a drug…a really nerdy drug.  My mood was altered by the number of page visits and comments I got.  How dumb is that?  My everyday life is in no way altered if 10 people read a post, or 100 or 1,000.  If you’re worried that much about the numbers, you’re going to try to figure out what kinds of posts get the most visits, and try to replicate that success, and then you are a complete sell out, my friend.

A year ago, I achieved what I had coveted.  I made it onto ChurchRelevance.com ‘s list of 100 most widely read Christian blogs.  I was pumped.  I shook my fist in the air and demanded that my wife to make a sandwich to celebrate.  Guess what?  My life did not change, at all.  My wife did not adore me any more than before.  Nor did she make me a celebratory sandwich.  I did not become more handsome than I was, because that would be a physical impossibility for one man to be that handsome. 

In fact, like every other benchmark, it came, it went, and then I wanted more.  That’s the thing about numbers.  They’re never big enough.  You never reach a magic number where you say “that’s enough.”

A couple of weeks ago, the list of top Christian blogs was updated.  Guess what?  I was bumped from number 92 on the list to number 128.  Know why that doesn’t matter to me?  Because I know (from that one time I did check my numbers) that I have gained readers, though I won’t be specific on how many.  There are just other blogs that have grown faster.  So who cares?

If you’re not building a number, than build something else…

Build a Community

People sometimes ask me what they can do to build their blog readership.  I tell them to build a community.  Maybe it seems strange to think of a bunch of strangers who’ve never met as a community, but I’m serious.  Here’s what I try to do, and what I tell others to do.

Meet People:  When I first started blogging, I had no friends.  I didn’t tell a bunch of people, or even my wife about my blog.  I had to go and meet people.  So I poked around the inter-nets, looking for people with similar interests.  And I would comment on their blogs.  Everyone likes getting a comment, and it allowed me to introduce myself.  If they came to my blog and commented, great.  I had a new friend.  If not, oh well.  I did that hundreds of times.  That’s not manipulation.  I needed to meet people and figure out where I fit in.  There are no shortcuts, so crack those knuckles and get going.

Invite People to Engage:  Maybe you’ve noticed that I have a formula to the way I write.  The most important part of my formula how I end a post.  I once read a blog that told people how to blog, which said you should always end your posts with an invitation to respond.  It’s like a blogging altar call.  I always end a post with questions to invite all of you to engage.  I visit blogs all the time, and I love what is said, but I often times can’t think of anything to say back.  Help your readers out and suggest to them what they should write.

Follow Up:  I have a handy counter that keeps track of how many times you’ve all commented on my blog.  I have this for one reason; so I can tell who is a new commenter.  If I have a new commenter who has a blog of their own, I always visit and leave a comment.  (Except for those of you new commenters from last week.  I was out of town, but I’ll get to you, so cut me some slack.)  I also try to make the rounds among commenters when they pop up after I haven’t seen them in a while. 

What Can You Do With Five Minutes?

As a blogger, you probably have peoples’ attention for no more than five minutes.  I think the average attention span of a reader here is less than two minutes.  I think half my readers must be hummingbirds…hummingbirds on crack.  How can you build a community beyond that?

That’s what I’m trying to figure out these days.  How can I take this blog beyond the blog?  How can I take it offline?  Every once in a while, someone will want to talk directly to me by phone or email, or even in person.  That means more to me than anything else.  I love talking to people. 

I mean it, I would love to talk to you.  If you’ve got something on your mind, something you need to pray about, or you just saw a hilarious episode of Family Guy, but you can’t talk about it without being judged by your Christian friends, email me and we’ll talk it out.  You don’t even have to tell me your name!  I’m at thechurchofnopeople@gmail.com.

How do you build community on your blog?  Are you a numbers addict?  Have you made any real life friends through blogging, or do you have other aspirations?

43 responses to Blog Month: What Can You Do with Five Minutes?

  1. I am not a numbers addict either about my blog although at first I used to be. Now, I don’t even check my stats all the often. I used to be concerned about my page rank, but not really anymore. I blog as an outlet and a way to connect with people. Yes, my followers are few compared to some other blogs but that’s okay. I’m amazed that anyone follows me at all! I don’t get a lot of comments but enough to keep me busy. I blog because I enjoy it.

    I do have a prayer request for Stephanie who has been in a coma since for a week now with no brain activity as well as her husband. They are Christians and are praying for God to heal her even though the doctors say there is no hope. God loves doing the impossible. Her husband updates on his blog at http://www.blog.cheezer.com (his name is Brad). They appreciate all the prayers they can get! They are a young couple (only in their 20s with two young children).

  2. Since I have a techgeek who takes care of my blog, I talk to him about things that I want to add or subtract. When I first started I told him I wanted no stats, no contact from other cities/countries widget, nothing that could either feed or destroy the ego. I prefer to be just bill the cycleguy. When I look back I am not really sure when I began to get readers. Some have come and gone. Some have been faithful in staying with me. I check out others and comment and feel blessed if someone comments on mine. But I know my inner beast and I know he would feed on those numbers-pro or con. So I choose to leave them alone.

  3. RE: what’s driving you:
    I was talking to my 12-year old daughter about some of my blogging goals (she’s just about as geeky as I am, and is totally stoked about starting her own blog when she turns 13). This child is truly mastering the art of the snark, so she listened to me talking and then she walked over, put her arm around me and said, “I hope that all works out for you, but you’re still going to be totally lame.” We laughed and laughed, but she’s totally right. I DO want to meet some of these goals, but really, they don’t matter. My life is exactly the same, at least in the ways that are important.

    And so far I have yet to meet any of my blogging friends, but some day (some day!) I hope to make it to Catalyst for the blogger meet-up and that will be a happy day. Definitely the people I have met through blogs (both mine and theirs) have been the high point of my blogging days. Turning some online friendships into flesh and blood friendships (even if it’s just for a couple of hours one evening) would be super awesome.

  4. How do you build community on your blog?
    I think a big thing for me in blogging is to do it consistently. Since I started my new job a couple of months ago I can’t do 5 daily blogs so I emulated what you do Matt, just doing it 3 times a week.

    Are you a numbers addict?
    Sad to say, I am. I feel like no one cares since I only have 24 followers and I only get 2 to 3 comments a post, if that.

    Have you made any real life friends through blogging, or do you have other aspirations? I haven’t but I’m loving the blogging community I’m a part of. My aspirations from my blog is to eventually turn it into a book. It worked for SCL and other authors I know. Hugh McLeod who wrote, “Ignore everyone and 39 other keys to creativity” said if you want to improve your writing, you need to write 300 words a day. He says to start a blog and make it into a book. And he gave a story of an uptight French woman who didn’t want to share her work to people for free.

    To be honest, I’m a little scared of the whole publishing thing, I just don’t want to get ripped off.

    nicodemusatnite.blogspot.com

    • That consistency is really important to me. I thought about blogging every day, but decided I would not be able to keep up with that, so 3 days a week it is. Someone last week asked me how often I meet my goal of 3 times a week. He was surprised that I told him “always.” If I gave myself an excuse once to skip a post, I know it would be all downhill from there.

    • Dude, I love your blog! I read it as often as I can,. The problem is that it doesn’t display at work, so I have to try to fit you in around the edges – like today which is a day off for me. Maybe try a new theme? You rock!

  5. Have I made real life friends that I hang out with? No, but feel like a number of my readers are real life friends. I read their blogs and they read mine, and we share things about ourselves that our real life friends may not know, unless they read our blogs, too. I miss them when they don’t post, and some of them even notice when I don’t post.

    When I first started blogging, I didn’t visit a lot of other blogs, and I didn’t comment much. It added a whole new dimension to blogging once I started interacting with other bloggers. That’s the part – the community part – that keeps me going.

  6. People are always surprised when I tell them that I started with xanga… not in junior high, but just after high school. It’s the blog I did the best at updating, and the one with whom I built the best sense of community.

    Met people through it: yes!

    Became friends with a girl who was in Australia at the time… ended up becoming even better friends when she came back to Chicago and we got to hang out.

    Met my original xanga friend 6 years after we’d become friends online.

    and talked another xanga friend into coming to work at camp with me… where we met each other for the first time… and where he met his wife.

    Still getting used to the new blog. But I do love internet strangers, so I hope it eventually leads to some.

  7. How do you build community on your blog?
    I try to respond personally to each comment, be encouraging and let folks know that I care – because I do. I only comment on blogs that I really like. Right now it’s only 3 or 4.

    Are you a numbers addict? Before becoming a database programmer, I was a statistical engineer. So, no! 😉

    Since you dumped Intense Debate (for good reason) my numbers dropped. :(

    Have you made any real life friends through blogging, or do you have other aspirations?
    I have two blog friends that I call on the phone. I talk to Dave T. almost every day, and Tony C, about once a week; and have been for well over a year. They are both on http://www.KingdomBloggers.com with me. I have also appreciated your interaction too, Matt.

    I kept thinking that I would promote my ministry or a book that I am writing. The more I pray and get with God, I am leaving that up to him – as it turns out, it’s His ministry anyway. The best ministry opportunities that I have had all came random meetings with folks in random places. I met a pastor in the chapel of a hospital in a state I don’t live in. I met a guy in the hallway at the Salvation Army, and another on the stairs at our condo.

    In fact, I am thinking about not blogging so that I can concentrate on 3 books. I have one almost finished, another I put into a booklet form for a class I am teaching in a few months and the other is a collaboration. All along, my original intention for blogging was to write a book in bite size pieces.

    BTW – I wrote a blog with some links and stuff that I was doing to get things going.

    http://fireandgrace.blogspot.com/2010/08/5-12-christian-blogosphere-culture.html

    • Your numbers dropped after I dropped ID? Wow. Didn’t think that would happen. Well, sorry about that :) I’m glad it was a reward for my top commenters, but it was just too dang slow and problematic for too many people. Too bad, because I actually did like it. Now it’s like the MySpace of commenting.

      • It provided about 50+ per week. What was nice was the title of the blogs showing up – and not having to feel the shame of self-promotion.

        I still love your blog.

  8. I try not to look at numbers. I try. But, since I blog for work, I have to keep track of some numbers. And, mostly, that’s been very encouraging. Which is good.

    What isn’t good is when my best friend points me to a podcaster/video-blogger-type-guy who does World of Warcraft stuff and has almost 140,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel and over 36 million views. 36 MILLION.

    It made me very depressed yesterday. I almost went to bed then and there.

    So, my numbers tend to be encouraging. The lesson I’ve learned is that I really need to turn a blind eye to other people’s numbers. I just don’t feel cool enough after seeing successful people [smile].

    ~Luke

  9. My husband used to be the person in charge of Assessment for a huge global Christian network, so numbers were a huge deal. Then God woke him up a few years ago to point out that He never uses numbers to rate spiritual outcomes. Never. Eighteen months of Bible study later, we realized it was true.

    In fact, Jesus went from thousands of followers, to hundreds, to twelve, to none.

    I rarely check my stats, and when I do, I try to remember that whether they’ve gone up or down, they have nothing to do with any fruit that God is growing in my life or the lives of my readers.

  10. Matt,

    Thanks again for the book. I read a lot of blogs and I try to comment on some. If someone happens by my blog, I check their’s out and leave a comment. I don’t even know how to check my numbers on blogspot, so I don’t worry about numbers.

    Interestingly, I met the guy that I have helped to start a small church through reading his blog and meeting him for coffee. We live in the same town, and think a lot alike, but I had never met him before.

  11. Fantastic post man. One thing I do is reply to most comments, to show that I’m reading and value feedback. I’ve been trying to build community , and I really appreciate your thoughts on that!

  12. Great post Matt. Definitely helpful tips…especially for a new(er) blogger like myself.

    One thing I would ask though. Why don’t you have an option to subscribe to comments? I’ve read that having that ability helps to get people coming back to the site and keep conversation alive. I know I’ve commented a few times and had to come back and try to find my comment to see if you or anyone else has replied.

  13. I stopped being a “numbers” guy but have become a “location” guy. I check my Google analytics just to see where the hits are coming from versus the actual number. I just think it’s awesome someone from Germany or South Africa or Thailand can visit the site and be encouraged and/or challenged.

  14. I view blogging in the same way, that is why i even hunted for a better comment system that is designed to be more community oriented. I am always willing to engage fellow believers outside the blog. That is why I have things on my blog for twitter, facebook, etc. I need to find one for skype though.

  15. Not bad. Congratulations on the numbers! No numbers aren’t important. Great blog!

  16. I talk to myself. A lot.
    (Actually I sing to myself, that way people are less likely to stare.)

    So blogging is just me sitting mumbling to myself, occasionally making a point.

    If I had any clear idea how many people were listening in, I would probably be afraid to do it. So I really do not check the numbers.

  17. Your thoughts on numbers ring true. I first wanted to break 20 visitors in a day, then 50, now I want 100…

    …except that it doesn’t change my life, and I’m slowly learning not to care.

    The only number that matters is the hotline to my local Indian takeaway!

  18. I try to build community on my blog by asking open-ended questions, but I’ve actually found that even more than asking questions, people comment when I’m honest. And brutally so. I think one of my most-commented posts was about when I talked about my struggles with a neurological condition.

    However, it’s been a bit difficult for me to build up a “community” commenters. I’ll get the occasional comment, but different commenters will rarely communicate with one another.

    A note about ID: I think it’s really useful :) But I can also see why you dropped it. Also, I had a weird glitch where it somehow reverted to the blogger commenting system and deleted all previous posts. A commenter tried to re-post, and all his posts (and ONLY his posts) were deleted. It was really bizarre.

  19. Dude, you are so spot on about the numbers. They can become like a drug. Community is definitely where it’s at.

    It took nearly 9 months to get my first visit or comment on my blog (other than my mom).

    I also love what you do with follow up. People want to feel important and doing what you do shows them that you actually care that they stopped by.

    It may be weird, but I often-times will send them a personal email to the email that they registered when they commented. And I don’t mean an auto-message that everyone gets. I mean a real sincere thank you. But it just kinda depends on the scenario.

  20. Matt,
    Great suggestions! I care a lot more about engagement than numbers. I use PostRank to check my social engagement. I’d much rather have 5 conversation because I had 5 readers…than 1000 readers and no engagement.

    Keep up the good work, bro. Great meeting you last week at Catalyst!

  21. Matt,

    Thanks for the post! I want to start out by saying that in order to build community beyond a blog, you CANNOT view the blog as insular. If a person thinks that he/she can take part of community purely through a blog, they have already doomed themselves to failure. I say this, because to truly create community, you have to go beyond the digital media. Think about it this way: If you are wanting community, yet only attempting to foster it through digital means, then you’ve effectually created a digital water cooler. Meaningful stuff may happen, but more than likely won’t.

    However, if you integrate both your digital community with the one that you normally experience,then you’ve extended your real-life, personal community to the digital one. You can do the same with your digital community (location/resources permitting).

    The one huge flaw with the idea of creating community with a blog, for me, comes in the human experience of conflict. Not the screaming match type of conflict. Rather it comes from being around someone so long that you’ve seen the parts of each other’s lives that are quite frankly,disgusting, irritating, and ugly, yet, have pushed through those experiences to forge something that you just cannot forge in the digital world.

    To really know someone requires so much more than responding to a comment. I think that there is something that God did when he created humans to need physical interaction with each other. There is something so rich and deep from being in the same room as another person that a blog/comment can’t substitute.

    So the challenge isn’t really “How do I create community beyond the blog.” The challenge is, how do I take what I already have and enrich it to the point that it becomes community. Can you do that with a blog? Not really. There are geographical boundaries that prevent every reader from being in community with you.

    Even meeting people or inviting them to engage with you can only do so much. I think the heart of community is in the very heart of God. Pushing deeply, pursuing each other in spite of conflict, and challenging each other to growth is going to be so much more fruitful than blogging about it.

    Blogging may be one piece of community, but it isn’t the community itself. Just as dialog in any group does not make a group, neither can blogging be a community.

  22. Never ever check my numbers anymore. I’ve met a few folks in person, talk to even more of them on the phone, have made valuable connections (and I don’t mean that in a slimy, what-can-you-do-for-me way, but in a good way), and have been able to help folks promote projects, charities, and people. I love that. And I enjoy writing, much to my surprise. It’s been a great experience which has opened doors I could never have imagined I would even want to go through.

  23. Through Blogging and Twitter, I have: prayed for people in crisis, comforted them in grief, sent them hope in a dark place where all light had gone out, advised them on their diets, helped them overcome medical conditions, alerted them to tornadoes heading directly to their neighborhoods, suggested reading material which solved a problem, helped them homeschool and raise their children, showed them how to organize their homes and lives, shared recipes, recommended movies, wept with them, laughed with them, been instructed in my writing and communication skills, and received encouragement that sank down into my bones, giving me new life where I had despaired.

    Community? Oh yes.

    • Cassandra, I agree to an extent. However, it could be argued that what you’ve done is no more than the transmission of information.

      That’s not to say that community building didn’t occur. But realistically, there is something very different about community that has been forged through conflict. It’s not what’s been done, but through what circumstances have occurred. Community that has been forged through conflict is very different than community that has stayed at a surface level.

      Much like a husband and wife who experience growth by pushing through conflict, so too is the community that experiences conflict and instead of shying away from it, pushes through the pain that conflict inevitably produces.

      • I think I would respond that it’s easy to underestimate the kind of conflict that a blog can invite people to engage in. I throw an opinion out, and I get a lot of conflict over it. People can choose to shy away, or get real. I have grown so much because of the conflict I have experienced, regardless of my relative geography with people. Sure, a blog isn’t a person’s primary community, but there can be degrees of community. When we build trust, grow together, challenge each other, even band together to do some good in the world (like raise money for two African villages to have clean water), I think some degree of community exists there.

        • Matt,

          I agree that there can be varying degrees of community, much like there can be varying degrees of relationships. You have people who you call “acquaintance,” or “coworker.”

          More often than not, people in the church or people who share a common cause/goal are more like coworkers. You have no vested stake in their life, do you? If the people who comment on your blog didn’t comment or pose differing opinions, would the loss of your blog community create a rift in your life that would cause you distress?

          Sure, there may be a few people who you have gotten to know and that there is a mutual stake in the relationship continuing. I think that is what I am trying to get at–the mutual stake in continuing to have a relationship with a person/group of people.

          Realistically, if your readers only devote five minutes to skimming over your blog entry, can you honestly say that they have a mutual stake in you and you them? I mean no offense, but am trying to be realistic.

          Most readers are content to read, to post a comment, say their opinion and leave. If you blog didn’t exist, what would they do? Would they feel a genuine loss for the role that your blog played in their lives? Some, maybe.

          With regard to the conflict that occurs as a result of a blog post, is it really conflict, or is it a person who just doesn’t agree and isn’t content to let go of an opinion (admittedly, I very well could be one of these people). Community is something that takes time, LOTS of time, effort, and resources. Community that doesn’t leave you exhausted after an encounter is cheap community. It’s something that doesn’t require you to get your hands dirty. It’s a committee meeting that’s merely talked about something instead of having acted. It’s cheap grace.

          There’s a reason that Christ spent three years with his disciples and not five minutes. There’s a reason that he overturned tables, called out pharisees, and invested not only time, but his very blood into creating the Church.

          If I am content to call my commenting on your blog community, then I’ve short-cut the very thing that Christ set as an example. Because here, on this blog, I don’t have to know you. I don’t have to know your story. I don’t have to know what makes you the person that you are. I don’t have to see the things that you will never share in public. I will never have to work side by side with you, or say that something you said pisses me off but am still committed to investing into your life.

          A blog entry may be a great way to open the door for a potential relationship. But it will never be a substitute for the blood, sweat, tears, and grace that comes with interacting with another person/group of people on a regular basis and knowing that that person or group has seen you at your absolute worst and are still committed to walking with you on your journey.

          • Agreed. Really, I do. No, I wouldn’t call you commenting on my blog community. Though you’ve shared your opinions, I know next to nothing about you, except that you seem to be a very articulate person. Any semblance of community could only happen after we’ve exchanged dozens of comments, gotten to know one another, and shared more than two minutes of time together. I’m not saying community happens with most people. But it’s that way with the church, no? A few people really are the core of the church that experience its full benefits, while the rest exist on the fringe.

            The one thing I will refute is that I think you are underestimating, because you are not me, just how deep the interaction has been that I’ve had with a few readers. When they feel free to share parts of their lives that are hurtful or they cannot talk to anyone else, or I’m able to share Christ, or we’re able to pray together, or I meet someone in person, there is something there, even if it isn’t geographical proximity. I’m not saying it’s perfect, or it replaces my nearby friends. But it is something. This is somewhat on topic, and doesn’t really prove anything, but it’s just interesting to note that the amount of time people spend on my blog is equal to the amount of time many people spend reading their Bibles each day. Again, I don’t know what to do with that, but it’s just interesting.

  24. Hi Again Matt,

    I saw one of those de-motivational posters proclaiming:

    BLOGING–Now You Can Show The Whole World Why Nobody Pays Attention To You!

    I think of that when I look at my own numbers.

    John

  25. Hey, Matt!

    I feel pretty cool because my husband and I started a blog about a month ago and we have sort of been following your “formula” to build a community without really trying to!

    We aren’t numbers addicts because we are still learning how to even find the numbers!

    Thanks for this post. It was helpful!

  26. i think you should start offering crack as giveaways.
    you know, for the hummingbirds.

  27. Still struggling through all that stuff. Just opened mine in April. Still finding a knack…i guess. but other that I just like writing for the sake of writing. If no one sees it…okay.

  28. Hello!

    Found you through your comment on Pop Thy Collar – there’s that community working again!

    Totally agree with your thoughts, I have been toying with the idea of writing a blog on blogging for awhile now after seeing this: http://web.me.com/saamvisual/epiloguetv/files/EN81grazingmining.html

    It’s a balance between wanting your writing to be read and not craving the stats. A balance that I am probably not managing very well…

    Cheers

    Nick

  29. Wow great stuff! Our blog has been running for a grand total of 2 weeks, so I’m not even sure I qualify as an official “blogger” yet, but getting there. I have to admit I have been a numbers addict that entire time. I check the counts, the location maps, the facebook numbers, the comments. I’m a hopeless addict. Now that I’ve read your post I’m going to admit myself to blogger rehab. I’ll keep posting, but no more obsessing! Thanks!