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Lessons for Life

Tips for growing your online audience

How to blog your way to a bigger following with advice from the president of BlogHer

Jen Weigel

July 9, 2013

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Are you part of a blogging community? Do you have what it takes to go viral? According to Jory Des Jardins, president of the website and blogging community BlogHer.com, getting noticed online starts with being authentic.

"I look at one of our most successful bloggers, Ree Drummond (thepioneerwoman.com), who started a blog because she home schools her four kids, lives on this huge ranch and was kind of isolated," Des Jardins said. "She started writing about her life and then her food blog took off after that, and then came a DIY blog, and television shows and book deals and the empire began."

Des Jardins co-founded BlogHer.com in 2006 with Lisa Stone and Elisa Camahort Page because of their shared passion for blogging. What started as a conference in 2005 with a few hundred female bloggers now draws 92 million unique visitors per month through their website, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

"Our 9th annual conference will be in Chicago (July 25-27) and the No. 1 reason people come to the BlogHer conference is to meet the people that they communicate with online," Des Jardins said.

Here are Des Jardin's tips to establish your online presence and gain a following:

Find your niche.

"There's got to be something about you that is different from everyone else out there," she said. "Be yourself and do not try to follow any particular category because it's popular. Even more important than being huge is you have to be relevant. For any publisher or advertiser, the value is placed in the quality of your audience and the relevance of your audience."

Embrace several online platforms.

"We've always felt like we represented women online and now a typical woman online uses multiple platforms," she said. "It used to be that you got your book published and then you started a blog, and you have your signature fragrance, but it just doesn't work that way anymore. It's so different. We had to build programs in Facebook and Pinterest and Twitter because the technology is changing."

Don't approach sponsors or publishers without a following.

"Some bloggers say 'I'm going to approach brands and see if I can review products' and the brands don't want anything to do with them because there's no audience to begin with," she said. "And publishers come to us and ask, 'Who are the big bloggers?' They want people who are already building their audiences. And for those who want to have a book published, you've got to become a name first. Publishers want people who have built these mini eco-systems."

Connect with your readers.

Des Jardins said even if your audience starts small, you need to interact with them often for that number to grow.

"You have to be loyal to your online audience," she said. "What Ree Drummond did right, was as the book deals were starting and the Food Network shows came, she was always super loyal to her online audience. They were sacred to her. One you trade in one for the other, that's when things start to go bad."

Submit your posts for contests.

"We do something called Voices of the Year ... we built this because there were so many amazing blogs that were going viral and these weren't bloggers with big names," she said. "We realized there's such good content out there, what if we allowed some of these names to bubble up and really get a stage for a while? So for Voices of the Year, we get thousands of entry posts and we have a panel that reads them and then we send them to the founders to choose the final 15. The finalists get recognition at the annual conference.

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jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel