How to Engage Readers: Answer the So What and the Now What

Question Marks
Photo Credit: Don Moyer (flickr)

One of the biggest challenges new bloggers face is learning how to write effectively for a blog. A blog is not a newspaper (in fact, most major newspapers have blogs). It’s not an encyclopedia. It’s not really a collection of white papers, either. It could be, sure, but you might find it difficult to engage readers that way.

Whether or not it is done consciously, when writing, successful bloggers answer two very vital questions that blog readers look out for – the “So what?” and the “Now what?”

If you want to engage readers, what you write needs to matter to them.

The “So what?” addresses why the information is relevant to readers. It’s a very blatant question that deserves an upfront answer. The “Now what?” then addresses what people are supposed to do with what you’ve just presented. This is your opportunity to present a call-to-action: suggest a resolution, propose a challenge, invite people to buy a product, or ask for comments/reactions.

If you are struggling with developing a readership, or if your blog is new, re-read your post after you’ve written it and try to figure out if you can find the answers to the questions, “So What?” and “Now What?”.

Easy Ways to Answer the “So What?”

1. Address a problem your readers are having

As much as I have to stifle a gag reflex every time I see another post about how to get more readers or something like that (really, a new one pops up every single day), the bottom line is that it seems to be an issue every blogger feels that they have, and so writing a post about that subject is a smart move. Similarly, if you are a food blogger, it will help you to develop a niche and tackle issues that are pertinent (quick recipes, healthy alternatives, cheaper meals, etc.)

In the “blogs about blogging” sphere, it’s sooooo easy to keep re-hashing the same issues, so what I try to do is think of new ways to look at the problem. In turn, I take a hit for not having such catchy titles but I would rather bring something new to the table that you guys can think about and use.

2. Explain yourself

I’ve seen great posts written that have a big, bold section that says “Why This Matters” or something similar. That’s your opportunity to justify your decision to write about the topic. Often times, great posts just include a line or two in the beginning about the reason behind the necessity.

3. Ask questions

You can ask your readers questions to get them thinking about their situation, also. Asking “have you ever” type questions can make your readers think about the subject and how it relates to them personally.

Easy Ways to Answer the “Now What?”

1. Toss out a solution

If your post raises a concern or an issue, try coming up with at least one solution. Then, perhaps, ask your readers to chip in with more solutions. Francisco Rosales did this recently in his post, “Blogging Struggles… And the Advice to Overcome Them.”

2. Produce a clear set of instructions

I think that, besides the psychological associations we have with numbers and their significance, the reason so many people flock to numbered/list posts is that they usually present a specific set of instructions. If the post is great and clearly outlines the “So What?”, the logical follow-up is the “Now What?”

3. Link to posts/articles that solve the problem

If you aren’t able to provide a resolution yourself, or if it’s been done very well by someone else, you could link to their post(s). This is also a great way to increase page views on your own blog, because you can link to your Resources page (every blog should have one or more) or another post that already address the issue. This will save you time, also.

Now What? What to do going forward

OK so I took the easy way out and just used the words, “Now What” in my conclusion. It was to demonstrate a technique, though. When you close, close well. I actually find that the 2nd most challenging part of blogging, after writing a great title, is writing a great close. You don’t have to be as obvious as I am right now 🙂 But your post should bring people to the point where they feel like you were “going  somewhere” with your information and that you eventually got there.

Going forward, try to keep the question, “now what?” clear in your head as you write. Don’t be afraid to save your post as a draft until you can come up with something good. I’ve trashed many posts or left them collecting dust in Draft state because I could not come up with a good answer to “Now What?”

Your Turn: The So What, Now What Challenge

Have you written a great post that you feel is an example of So What, Now What? Or do you know someone else who has? Please leave a link here! I’d love to showcase some of those posts later in the week.

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