How to Write for and Keep an Online Audience

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably not a genuine authority on this subject. I get a decent amount of followers and views each week, but I don’t pump my fist in the air every time I get a new reader or comment. All I know is what I’ve seen work, both for me and for others on the Web.

So here’s what I’ve learned about writing on the Web for an interactive, interconnected audience.

1. Don’t start what you can’t finish (or at least end it gracefully).

Across the Web, in the darkest corners of Blogger and WordPress, in the farthest reaches of YouTube and Fanfiction.net, are thousands upon thousands of projects that have stalled and died. So many eager hands reaching out to keyboards, ready to begin a grand adventure of fiction or blogging, only to lose hope or interest. Only digital fragments remain, dotting the landscape like so many gravestones. A fan fiction that never got beyond Chapter Eight. A review blog or a webcomic that hasn’t updated in over two years.

There’s nothing wrong with deciding that you can’t continue an online work, but if you’re going to shut down, at least have the decency to end it gracefully. Let your audience know that you’re putting on the final touches and give them one last message or thought before you lower the curtain on the stage for good.

2. It pays be serial and consistent.

In my job outside of this blog, I’m paid to write new content for websites every week. Sure, it gets exhausting at times, trying to always come up with new ideas and write around 300 to 600 words on several topics a day. But the habit of constant writing does me a world of good.

If you don’t keep up a solid work ethic, then you’ll never get anywhere. You don’t have to work your fingers to the bone every single time, but at least stay on top of your projects. Even if you decide that all you can offer is a new blog post every month or a new video on YouTube every two months, that’s fine. Make it clear to your audience and then stick to that schedule. And if you must change the schedule, then be upfront about that, too.

3. Your audience is your mirror.

In traditional media, you defined a lot of audience interest by sales figures and attendance records, and while new media enjoys a lot of the same metrics (like view counts and reblogging stats), you’ve also got comments and discussion forums. You can talk to your audience in real-time, getting real feedback on your material. When you’re doing something right, they’ll tell you. When you’re missing the mark on a particular episode, you’ll hear about it, too (or you might hear nothing at all if people decide to stop following you).

Think of your audience as a mirror. When you get up in the morning (and if you care at all about your appearance), you stand in front of a mirror at some point to fix your hair, brush your teeth, shave, and generally clean up. Bit by bit, you use the mirror to judge your own appearance and create the more appealing and pleasant face that you want the world to see. By the same logic, your audience looks at your material—your blog posts, your YouTube videos, your fan fiction, your Tumblr pages—and points out where you can improve until you’ve got something with solid Web appeal.

4. You can never go wrong with a sense of humor, politeness, and a pocketful of humility.

Any discussion of online behavior is sooner or later going to involve trolls, Internet tough guys, and GIFT. We’ve all seen the stereotype of the vlogger or fanfic writer who loses their mind at the first sign of criticism. We all know the person who compounded the error of a thoughtless tweet or Facebook post.

Thing is, I don’t think every negative moment online has to be the end of the world. So someone has a negative reaction. So what? Either they’re being a troll and trying to provoke you, or that’s their legitimate opinion. Trying to distinguish one from the other can be like trying to sort out light as a wave or a particle, but in either case, you can improve your response.

Take jokes at your expense with a sense of humor. Always be polite, even to your enemies (which will piss them off to no end if done well). And if someone’s got a legitimate criticism or points out a real flaw, own up to it. Just because you’ve got a blog or a video channel doesn’t mean you’re in a position of authority. You’re fallible like the rest of us. Accept it when you’ve stumbled and do a better job of looking where you’re going the next time.

5. Never stop having fun.

As someone who writes Web content for a living, someone who’s run a blog consistently for over three years, and someone who’s written loads of fan fiction, I have only this grimy pearl of wisdom to offer in the end.

You can start a website to support a cause or educate the public. You can interact with people online as part of your job. But if you seek to entertain, if you want to produce content that’s funny and thought-provoking, whether it’s a webseries or a comic or a blog about cats, then you can’t be too serious about it. Be serious about your commitment to it, but never let it stop being fun for you. Don’t see yourself as the next YA novelist waiting to be discovered or as an opinion maker whose mere presence keeps the world spinning. Do what you will online because it’s fun and forget all the rest…

Actually, let’s throw in one last caveat: have fun, but remember that everyone else is trying to have fun, too. Respect their sensibilities if you want yours to be respected in turn.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “How to Write for and Keep an Online Audience

  1. When it comes to #2, that’s the key.

    I’m a copywriter for a living and write my personal blog on the side. My personal blog (which carries my name—not sure yet if that’s a detriment or not), has a flavor and people know what to expect. For the most part, the flavor is a little more critical than I consider myself to be.

    But committing to that voice has been a key for me—as much as I’d like to branch out a bit. I get a lot of flack about my negativity, but hey, that’s my brand. ;)

    Like

    1. To be fair, you use negativity to make an ultimately positive point. If you gave nothing but blanket negative commentary, then I think we’d have a right to question the point of your blog. But you don’t and we need more constructive blogs like yours.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s