Common blogging wisdom says that you should know your audience and write to them. That’s certainly good advice in general, but if your idea of “audience” is too broad or general, you could end up creating something that speaks to no one at all.
When you think of an audience, what image comes to mind? Maybe you imagine a cinema crowded with movie-goers staring at a glowing screen. Or a football stadium packed with screaming fans. Or a concert hall full of hushed, attentive listeners. Regardless, with such a large “audience” in mind, how do you write to them all? What do the audience members have in common that you can tap into?
In the introduction to Bagombo Snuff Box, Kurt Vonnegut published his “Creative Writing 101” — eight rules for good storytelling. Though his rules are geared specifically toward fiction writing, some of them are just as important for nonfiction writing, and especially for blogging. His seventh rule states:
“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
Put another way, you won’t be able to please (or, in digital marketing terms, engage with) everyone with your post. But you can please just one person with it. By focusing on just that one person, you can create a more personal, even intimate, connection with your readers.
Narrowing your audience to just one specific person can give your writing more focus and eliminates the equivocation and generalizing that can creep into a post when you’re trying to be all things to all people. So instead of writing a post to appeal to, say, all women over the age of 40 in managerial positions, write your post to speak to your own manager, or to your own daughter, or even to Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!.
Your tiny audience doesn’t have to be someone you know or even someone you know about. It can be a volunteer at a nursing home, one of the guys who pick up your trash each week, or the adult you thought you’d be when you were thirteen.
It doesn’t matter that the person reading your post doesn’t volunteer, doesn’t work outdoors, or hasn’t hit puberty yet; you can still connect through humanity’s shared experiences and through the fact that your post speaks directly to the reader. You’ll be talking to a person, not preaching to a crowd.
How does this shift in focus translate in the real world? The differences can be subtle or dramatic, but they can also mean the difference between reading your entire post and clicking away after the second paragraph. Consider the beginning of this factitious blog post:
People start blogging to have fun. Some people even make some spare cash from their blogs, and a few actually make a living at it. What many bloggers have found over time, though, is that their blog becomes more than just a simple soapbox. It becomes a gateway to a new community of friends, colleagues, and business leads that makes blogging more worthwhile than they originally thought possible.
This opening is grammatical. It states some facts that anyone can grasp, and it gives an idea of what the rest of the post will be about. But do you connect with it? Are you compelled to keep reading?
What audience is this author writing to? It could be meant for any number of large groups: people who want to know about blogging in general, people who don’t understand why other people blog, and people who are interested in online communities for starters.
Focusing on a more definite, smaller audience can turn this vanilla opening into triple chocolate fudge that readers will want to gobble up. Let’s rewrite this for someone who likes to write but, even though her friends keep talking up the wonders of blogging, doesn’t think a blog will be worth the effort. More specifically, let’s write it for a woman in her late thirties, single and childless and with a secure job, who has been journaling from time immemorial:
Your friends keep nagging you to start your own blog. It’s fun, they say, and you can even make some spare change from it! But your finances are in order, your future looks secure, and you get plenty enjoyment from the journaling you’ve been doing since before the Commodore 64. So why put yourself out there publicly with a blog?
Simple: Because blogging is about more than just the words. There’s a whole community of people just like you ready to bring you into the fold and lift you up.
Not everyone who reads your post will be a single, professional, thirty-something, female diarist, but that’s not the point. Anyone who reads this can find something to identify with:
- Everyone has been faced with friends nagging you to try something you don’t want to try.
- Nearly everyone has experienced the trepidation of trading old, comfortable habits for new ways of doing things.
- Everyone has worried about opening themselves up to public criticism and (horror of horrors!) ridicule.
- And everyone understands how support from a community can help you grow as an individual.
These are some of the things that make us human. These are the shared experiences that link us one to another, that lead to sympathy and empathy. And because we can all identify with these experiences, we are drawn into the post personally.
What about you? Do you try to write to everyone all at once, or do you have a specific person or persona in mind? Whom do you most try to please with your posts?