Tales from the Underground

Steve Rubel writes a very interesting and timely post today about the underground blogosphere- the scads of emails that bloggers send to each other every day.

He describes the underground blogosphere thustly:

“The Underground Blogosphere is an intricate web of hundreds of thousands of emails that bloggers send to each other every day. In essence, they are “pitching” their latest posts in hopes of getting a link. Sometimes, bloggers are genuinely looking for good feedback, but more often than not all they are just looking for traffic.”

As you might imagine, I have a few thoughts about the underground blogosphere.

First, as I mentioned the other day, I have historically been very hesitant to email other bloggers about posts of mine. After thinking about it a bit, I think the reason is that it can easily (and often correctly) be interpreted as taking advantage of a contact or relationship. Putting it in songwriting terms, as I often do because of the similarities I see between blogging and songwriting, it’s sort of like asking another artist who writes his own material to cover your song. Bold, yes. Fruitful, not very.

Steve is one of my blogging mentors, and has been very kind to me as I grow my blog. About the time I was starting to make some progress up blogger’s hill, he wrote a post suggesting that emailing the top bloggers in a quest for links was not the way to go. While I questioned the way he said it, I agreed then on this blog and I agree now that emailing wildly is not the way to go. I also know that if you want people to help you, you have to play be their rules. By trying to be considerate and fair, I was able to (maybe, sort of) prove myself wrong, with much help from Steve, Scoble and other mega-bloggers.

As I mentioned the other day, however, like everything else blogging is different than it appears once you get into it, and as a now somewhat established blogger I am always appreciative of emails and Delicious links suggesting topics and posts to write about.

But I still go easy on emailing others about my posts. So how should emailing and the underground blogosphere work as far as blog growth goes?

I’ll suggest 5 rules for emailing another blogger about your post.

1) Develop a relationship with the blogger before you email. Link to him. Comment on her blog. Bloggers notice who links to them and who comments on their blogs. When I see someone linking and commenting here, I almost always subscribe to their blog and look for opportunities to create cross-blog conversations. Human nature dictates that you return a favor- no matter how big your linkcount is. Let this work in your favor.

2) Don’t just start sending indiscriminate emails to people who don’t know you and expect to get link love in return. Broad emailing looks more like spam than information, and it will be treated as such.

3) Be brief, kind and appreciative. Here’s the relevant portion of an email I wrote Scoble about my killer podcast application post: “I thought you might be interested in a post I did today about expanding the reach of podcasts.” I know Scoble cares about podcasts- I would never email him about a post about something unrelated to his blog and interests.

4) State why the post might be of interest to the recipient. Don’t make the recipient read the post just to see if it might be relevant- tell her why it is. Briefly. And remember, you’re not trying to sell her anything- you’re just giving information.

5) Be patient. I have a mental list of 3-4 newish bloggers I want to link to right now, and I am just waiting until I see an interesting post within a reasonable time after it is posted. I am sure other bloggers have similar lists in their head. It may not seem like it at first, but people will respond if you approach them the right way.

Obviously, these rules don’t apply to email for other purposes, or to emails between people who are friends- in that case, email away. We all do that- and that’s a large part of the underground blogosphere that Steve wonders about exposing.

Exposing it is a good idea, and I’ll have more on that angle later.