blog* Just a note about the difference between marketing and sales: marketing is making others aware of your book; sales is actually selling your book. What we’ll be discussing the next few weeks (and last week) is marketing. You’ve got to reach your audience before you can sell them.

So this week’s question is how do you use blogs to reach your audience.

Blogs – More than 100 million blogs exist on the Internet. Blogs tend to be more intimate, conversational and more ‘digital community’ oriented than commercial or association websites – like the difference between visiting Wal-Mart and visiting someone’s home. 

First you gotta find ‘em. Who does your audience go to for advice and comfort in the digital world? Who are the thought leaders (the sneezers) in your particular niche and how do you find them? Chances are, most of them have a blog. The good news is that you don’t have to know who they are in order to find them, you just have to identify their niche (which is your niche).

So how do you go about finding your niche’s bloggers? In the digital world,www.technorati.com is the blog ranking website. You can search for the top blogs in their categories, but it won’t necessarily help you find the top bloggers in your category. You can also use your own search terms in Technorati.com’s search bar to find ranked blogs in about any category. The biggest fail I’ve experienced on Technorati.com is that for niche search terms a lot of the results are irrelevant and the ranking system (‘Technorati Authority’) isn’t useful in many cases on niche sites. But, if you’re looking for blogs relevant to your niche audience it’s worth a search on this site.

I’ve found a much easier way to search for blogs relevant to the audience I’m trying to reach. I just Google my search terms (e.g. ‘soccer mom’ or ‘youth soccer’) and add ‘blog’ to the end of my search terms. My searches for ‘soccer mom blog’ and ‘youth soccer blog’ yielded much more relevant results on Google than they did on Technorati.com. Google also has a ranking system – it’s called the first page. Whatever shows up on page one of a Google search hasn’t gotten there by accident and it’s rank enough for me.

So what do you do once you’ve found the top blogs within your niche, the thought leaders to which your potential readers listen? You join the conversation. But joining the conversation isn’t shouting about your book; it’s becoming a part of their conversation.

Think of it like showing up at a party filled with people who share your interests. You don’t know anyone at the party and you invited yourself. That’s cool, the host is gracious and it’s an open party – anyone can show up. But, like any other party, there’s certain protocol – a way of behaving. You don’t walk in and start handing out business cards. This party isn’t about you; it’s about your host and her guests. As a newcomer, the best first thing to do at any party is to observe and listen. Then, after you’ve got a feel for the guests and the conversations, if you have something useful or complimentary to contribute to the conversation, go ahead. Like any party, being an asset will get you a lot further than being a bore. Once you’ve been recognized by the host as a contributor to her conversation you can begin to share more of your conversation.

Here are my steps for successfully using other blogs to reach readers in my potential audience:

  1. Seek Out – this is your search on Technorati or Google – where you’ll find the most relevant blogs your potential audience reads.
  2. Investigate – pick out your top five or ten candidates from the search in step one. Visit the blog, read the posts, comments and the ‘About’ page to be sure the blog is really relevant to your topic and your potential readers.
  3. Learn – now really read the posts, understand the blogger’s message, her reason for being here. Understand the conversation between the blogger and her readers – why did they come here? What information are they looking for?
  4. Contribute – now that you understand the conversation, do you have anything helpful to contribute? Can you be an asset to the conversation? And don’t forget to compliment the host; this is her party.
  5. Approach – remember that this is a dance, not a shotgun wedding. You may need to read and comment on a few posts over time. The host is going to be a lot more comfortable knowing you’re a reader and a fan rather than a one-shot interloper only intent on pushing your own agenda. When you feel comfortable that they (the host and her readers) feel comfortable about you being part of the conversation you can interject with a polite request. A polite request, by the way, isn’t “Will you buy my book?” It’s more like, “I’d be honored if you would consider reviewing my book; I’ll be happy to send you a copy.” Don’t be a cheapskate – send the potential reviewer a complimentary book, or e-version if that’s preferable to the potential reviewer.
  6. Follow Up – Once your host has agreed to take a look at your book and you’ve sent it, write down on your calendar when you plan to follow up with a short note, blog comment or e-mail. And don’t be paranoid if you don’t receive an immediate response – it doesn’t mean they hate your book, it most likely means they’re just busy. A polite reminder isn’t stalking them … but don’t stalk them. If you don’t hear from them after a polite reminder, let it go. Your best strategy is to continue being a valuable part of the blog conversation – that says more to your host than any additional ‘polite reminders.’
  7. Develop – once you’ve found a blog relevant to your topic and reading audience, joined the conversation and approached the blogger as an ally in sharing your book with her readers, continue to develop that hard earned relationship. If the blogger has been gracious enough to mention you and your book on her blog, be sure to link that mention to your own blog or website, share it with your social network. And continue the relationship by sharing her blog and message with your audience. That’s how social media works, it’s ‘social.’

This week’s assignment: search out five to ten blogs that are relevant to your message and your potential audience. Visit each blog, read some posts, read the comments (very important!) and the ‘About’ page. Comment on a post you find interesting. That’s it. Don’t try to sell your book (yet), just join the conversation.