This post was originally published on Live to Write – Write to Live where I blog about writing and publishing with a diverse group of literary friends. 

In part 1 of this series, we talked about the Identifying Features for your blog – letting people know who you are, what you can do for them, and what you’re all about. This installment is an overview of six social tools that can greatly increase reader engagement with your blog. I call these the “Social Graces” of blogging.

As I mentioned in the last post, I blog. A lot. Though the blogs I write for have very different readerships – in terms of both size and make up – all of the audiences have experienced the majority of their growth because of three things:

  1. Reader Dialogue
  2. Reader Loyalty
  3. Reader Advocacy

(Note: The following tool recommendations are for WordPress blogs. I happen to be a WP groupie. If you are using a different platform, I am sure there are comparable solutions you can use. The important thing to grasp is the concepts … the tools can be sorted out based on technical requirements.)

Social Graces for Dialogue:

Blogging is called many things – a “social platform,” a “publishing platform,” a “content marketing platform” – each of these is true in its own way, but in the best scenario, a blog is a conversation. It is a two-way dialogue between author and reader. It is a place where people can express opinions, share resources, and exchange ideas. The first two Social Graces of blogging encourage conversations by making them easy and keeping them top-of-mind.

Comment Plug-ins: If you want more comments, make commenting a seamless part of your reader’s experience. There are dozens of plug-ins that offer all kinds of commenting functionality. Two of my favorite features are the ability to sign-in for commenting from different platforms like Twitter and Facebook (this is infinitely easier than typing in user names and passwords) and “nesting” comments so that a series of responses are displayed together chronologically. I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of all the options, but here’s a good post on some of the top social commenting plug-ins for WordPress. (Personal hint: As a commenter, I love the DISQUS experience.)

Subscribe to Comments: Have you ever noticed the check box asking if you’d like to subscribe to comments? This feature is integrated into some commenting plug-ins, but if you happen to prefer a commenting tool that doesn’t include this option, I recommend you add it in as a separate item. There’s a nifty little tool called, appropriately, “Subscribe to Comments” that allows your readers to be notified by email when a new comment appears on the post they’ve subscribed to. This is a great way to keep the conversation going.

Social Graces for Loyalty:

Once you’ve got people talking, you want to take the reader relationship to the next level – you want people to become Regular Readers, the people who never miss a post. This means you have to establish a more reliable connection. It’s not enough for them to stumble across your content, or randomly remember to visit your site. You want permission to deliver your posts directly to them. There are a couple ways to do this:

Follow Me/Like Me: Include “Follow me on Twitter” and – if you have a Facebook page – “Like” buttons on your blog to encourage readers to connect with you on the social web. Though these are still indirect connections (readers may or many not see your tweets or status updates), it’s a great first step to engaging with them where they already hang out. This is important because precious few people will go out of their way to visit your blog. You have a much better shot at getting them to come by if you’re able to “ping” them with a little teaser about your latest post. This same theory works for other networks – LinkedIn, Google+ (which I haven’t yet explored), etc.

 Subscription Option: A more reliable method of keeping in touch with folks is through subscription. There are two methods: RSS (real simple syndication) and e-mail. RSS allows folks to read your posts in a “reader” (like Google Reader) that aggregates all the posts from all the blogs they’ve subscribed to. This means the reader doesn’t have to visit all the individual sites to read all the latest post. Very handy. An e-mail subscriber opts in to have each of your posts delivered to her inbox. Both subscription types can be set up quite easily through Feedburner.

Social Graces for Advocacy: 

You’ve got people jumping into the conversation. You’ve got them coming back on a regular basis. The next step is to get them sharing your content with their networks. This is where the potential for audience growth goes exponential. Here are two tips to help encourage and facilitate sharing.

Sharing Tools: There are dozens of different sharing widgets and plug-ins available for WordPress. Some are unique to a single platform, like Tweetmeme’s Retweet button or Facebook’s “Like” button. Others give readers more options to choose from, like Share This or Add This. Personally, if I know my audience is hanging out on a few specific networks, I prefer the ad hoc versions to the ones with dozens of options. Simpler is better.

 Mobile Ready: As more and more people go mobile with smart phones and tablets, more blogs are being read on these devices. While it’s great that people get to catch up on their blog reading while waiting in line at the grocery store or at the soccer game, it’s not great for you if your site isn’t optimized for the mobile platform. Luckily, there’s an easy way to make sure your on-the-go readers can access your content. There are a number of mobile plug-ins for WordPress. (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/tags/mobile ) The one I’m most familiar with is WPTouch. Whichever one you choose, making your content mobile-friendly will give your readers the opportunity to read and share no matter where they are.

Those are my six tips to help you maximize the Social Graces of blogging.  There are doubtless some that I have missed, so I encourage you to add your suggestions in the comments. Astute readers will notice that not all of these tools have been implemented on this blog or my own blogs. All I can say is that nobody’s perfect and each and every one of these is on my To Do list. How about you?

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who, among other things, works as a marketing strategist and copywriter. She helps creative entrepreneurs (artists, writers, idea people, and creative consultants) discover their “natural” marketing groove so they can build their business with passion, story, and connection. She also blogs. A lot. She is a mom, a singer, and a dreamer who believes in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Look her up on facebook or follow her on twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image Credit: Mark Wathieu