At this point, I’ve published, launched or founded several sites in wildly different categories. And every time I start one from scratch, the two hardest things to accomplish are getting a critical mass of organic traffic and getting readers engaged and actively participating in the site and the comments.
One of the smartest things Nick Denton did when he launched Gizmodo was putting a prominent call for tips at the top of the page. Nick knew that the readers could be sources as well as passive consumers of content.
We did the same thing at Gawker. Initially, the incoming tips were infrequent, weak and usually inappropriate. Then I noticed that I was getting a lot of random celebrity sitings—mostly with ironic commentary from the senders. It was the only thing consistently coming over the transom. Nick was on vacation in Brazil at the time and wanted less celebrity stuff on the page, so I figured I’d group them all into one post to consolidate it instead of littering the page with individual posts while still using everything that was publishable from the tips queue. I titled it “Gawker Stalker” and over the next couple of weeks, reader submissions increased exponentially. And not just Gawker Stalker submissions—the overall volume of submissions.
I don’t believe this happened because everyone’s so amazingly interested in where Law & Order happens to be shooting on any given day or what Sarah Jessica Parker had for lunch, but because it demonstrated to Gawker’s readership that if they sent in tips, we actually read them and used them whenever possible. It signaled that we were paying attention.
And that’s what engaging your readership does. I guess you can ignore it if you don’t care about having readers or site growth (and that’s probably the case on many personal blogs) but as someone who creates pro blogs for a living, I don’t have that luxury.