Saturday, April 05, 2008

Answering questions from some New Bloggers On The Block (NBOTB?)

Please forgive the rather terse tone in this post, but I am genuinely fed up at this point.

Ok, the food blogging community is lovely, everyone helps each other, yadda yadda. I try and do my part by having my contact details on my blog so that people can email me directly with any queries they have. About 80% of those are recipe inquiries, but the other 20% are either photography or blogging questions from relatively new bloggers (and the odd request for a link exchange, which I delicately push towards Kalyn's post which answers it far more politely than I could).

Despite some of the questions that I get sent (including the manner in which they're asked!!), I try and answer in a quick, polite, informative and friendly manner. Many times these questions have answers that would be readily available to the asker if they chose to use Google, but I still take the time to answer, and depending on the question this can be quite time-consuming.

However, I'm beginning to lose patience with the attitude that I'm beginning to perceive - there has been many an email that I've sent in reply (that has required quite a bit of thought and typing), always ending with an offer for them to feel free to ask any more questions and I don't get any acknowledgment that they received the email, found the information useful or even a thank you.

I'm looking for advice for any bloggers who deal with a large amount of these sorts of inquiries - do you bother answering every email that is sent to you? How do you cope with the occasional rude and demanding request for help, and keep your cool when you get nary a thanks for your effort?

This Post was written by Ellie from Kitchen Wench

P.S. Apologies again for the rather short tone here, am also extremely hungover which didn't help my mood when I got the most recent of these sorts of emails this morning...

P.S. I don't mean to condemn all new bloggers - for every rude/demanding person that contacts me, there's 5 very sweet, lovely and very polite ones. The rude ones just affect me more as I'm generally a bit of a grumpy sort, especially in the mornings which is when I do most of my email-answering.


Sara, Ms Adventures in Italy said...

If you find yourself answering the same questions over and over again, that's a good indication you'll need a FAQ page - and don't hesitate to send all inquirers there first to check it out.

Otherwise, you should encourage them to comment directly on the post so you can make the information available to everyone. Alternatively, you could paste their question into a comment, respond with your answer, and then email the person back linking to the answer on your site.

You can't help everyone and you need to make sure what you're doing is worth your time, too.

Annie said...

I ignore link exchange requests. My policy is on my links page, so if they don't take the time to read it, I won't take the time to respond.

As for assistance, I think some people think that sending another e-mail in thanks might be rude because it clutters up the mailbox. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt on that. But if the initial e-mail was rude or demanding, I'd just ignore it.

Rachael said...

"I don't get any acknowledgment that they received the email, found the information useful or even a thank you."

Are you saying you are upset people arent thanking you for your emails? It seems like that is pretty much what this post is about...and while of course that is a bummer, its, um, kinda just sorta how people are. I know, news flash, right? People have bad manners. Its annoying, but past getting that FAQ page up (as Sara so eloquently said.) I think it's a bit of a lost cause. (Yes, I'm a bit jaded on the manners of humanity.) I guess you could include a note on your site somewhere that you would appreciate acknowledgment to inquires too...

Seriously though, obviously you are fed up, but honestly, its better to laugh at bad manners than to get frustrated by it. Right? A big smile can cure those blues. Or a nice "om." Whatever works for you.

Ellie @ Kitchen Wench said...

Sara - Thanks for the tip about the FAQ page, sounds like it'd be a worthwhile addition.

Annie - Most of the emails I send do get a quick response, but I'd never actually considered a reason for why the minority doesn't. Thanks for the input.

Rachael - No, that's not all I'm saying. What I *am* saying is this:

1. I'm fed up with rude/demanding emails from newer bloggers asking advice.

2. I'm fed up with the lack of courtesy sometimes displayed by those aforementioned bloggers when I've done all I can to answer their queries (and yes, this does include their not acknowledging whether they received my email at all, or that the information helped)

3.I want to hear about how other bloggers who've been around for awhile handle their blog-related mail, particularly when it is written in a rude or demanding manner.

And sure, it'd be great if I could just laugh off the laziness/rudeness/demanding nature of some of these emails, but when (for example) you've gotten 10+ emails from people in as many weeks telling you to convert all the measurements to US ones and email it to them, it kinda stops being funny.

Ilva said...

yes the conversion question really gets on my nerves too sometimes, it is as if it is only the US measures that counts and then it never seems to occur to those who ask me to convert my old recipes that they could do it themselves, there's a conversion link on my blog. It is not as if they are paying for reading my blog or anything no? And they rarely thank me for the work I do but I have to say that those who ask rarely are food bloggers.

cybele said...

I get a lot of emails. A very small percentage are from real bloggers who want me to link to their site or want some other advice.

I kindly explain that they need to be around for at least 3 months, that I've added them to my feed and I don't redo my blogroll that often so it may take more than 3 months or whatever.

I also usually give some sort of praise and then a helpful comment. I also mention that asking for a link isn't usually good form, but their best bet is to simply read other blogs, comment every once in a while and link generously when they can on their own blog.

(I've also had to tell some new bloggers that stealing photos from other blogs is a no-no. So keeping the lines of communication open is a good thing for all of us.)

In most cases I hear back from them in a positive way. (And most become readers or at least comment regularly.)

There are times when people are very rude or at least whiny. Like waiting until exactly 90 days since their last link request ... in the most recent case I obliged him because he took every one of my comments and integrated it.

In a way I admire their chutzpa, as I don't think I'd ever be so brave as to ask someone to link to my blog just because it exists.

The most frustrating type of email is when people ask about photography. I've never really addressed it on the blog, so I end up writing long emails, tailored specifically to their question about lighting and tripods and how you have to take a lot of photos (I usually take about 25 per setup with small changes on each). Then the post processing, on and on.

Then I never hear from them again.

I don't know if what I've said is helpful, too overwhelming, or just glaringly wrong because so few people have ever responded.

I blame myself because I feel like I should be able to just point to a post on my blog, or maybe someone else's tutorial and be done with it.

I do recognize Annie's comment as being true, especially since I rarely end an email conversation as the "last one" with thanks. So perhaps someone thinks that they've already taken up a lot of my time that they don't want to waste it with an email.

(I recognize that there are days where all the crazies come out and log into their email and start sending stuff ... must be something in the water when that happens.)

Kalyn said...

I get an insane amount of e-mail and often just hit delete on things which come from PR people wanting "to suggest an idea for a post" (read: give me a free advertisement for my product.)

I do sometimes get annoyed with the e-mail other bloggers send me, but I try to remember back to when I was new (and completely clueless!) and wrote to Elise of Simply Recipes asking if she would link to me. (As I said, clueless.) She wrote me the kindest reply and continued to give me good advice to the point that I was thrilled when I finally got to meet her, and now I consider her a dear friend. I'm sure my request was one of many annoying ones she got that day, and I don't know if I wrote back and thanked her. My point is that even if people don't write back and thank you, you've probably made a good impression on them which will be good for your blog in the long run.

That's not to say you have to spend a huge amount of time helping people either. If someone asked me to convert a recipe, I'd just send a link to a conversion site (I got mine from Ilva's blog, thanks Ilva.) If they want photo advice or other things that can be found online, I'd probably suggest one source and send it with a quick reply. Just handle such communications in a way that works for you and don't feel obligated to spend more time answering questions than feels good.

And since you linked to my way of discouraging link requests, I want to credit Elise again, since many of the ideas on my "why some blogs are listed here" page were inspired by the explanation page she has on her own blogroll.

Scott at Real Epicurean said...

I just try and remember that just a couple of years ago I was a "newb" and due to my ignorance at that time was just as annoying as any other.

Basically if someone asks a question I'll answer. If a few people ask the same thing then perhaps I'll throw up an article; answering customer demand and all that.

The only problem is that not many people ask ;)

deb said...

Though I try not to get frustrated, I do hear you about writing a long, detailed response to an email and not receiving so much as an "Got it!" or "Thank you!" back. But what can you do? I think blogging is inherently about putting your best foot, and best effort forward regardless of what comes back and if email is really driving me up a wall for a couple days, I'll just pause until I'm ready to come back to it in a better mood. Well, I try this for most things in life, but I actually practice it with email. ;)

Tracy said...

I can't say I've sent emails to fellow bloggers or received many either.

I'd suggest looking at the big picture. People asking for your advice means that you are admired, respected and emulated. It means you are doing a great job! Feel good about it!

And if you're hung over, don't read emails from strangers.

Krista said...

I seem to get about one e-mail a week from someone who is traveling to London and wants very immediate advice on restaurants to eat at. It usually goes something like "We are leaving in eight hours and really need your advice." I always help--sometimes spending 20+ minutes writing back, giving them suggestions based on where they are staying and what they're spending.

And I never, ever, ever get any reports back on whether my advice worked or not. No "Thanks," no nothing. Talk about feeling like a chump!

David said...

The best way to deal with too many questions and e-mails is to create a FAQ page at your site, where you can link to places that are helpful on your site (and elsewhere) where they can find the answers.

That's Step #1.

Step #2 is to go back and make sure that that page is very easy to read and navigate so that people can scan it quickly and find what they're looking for. If there's a six paragraph essay about why you don't accept freebies, buried under lots of other info, no one's going to find it.

Edit to just the essentials.

Step #3.
If you find yourself getting a lot of the same questions, such as "We need a list of your favorite chocolate shops in Paris...asap!!" or others, it might be helpful to create posts that answer those questions and link to them in your FAQs.

I've also created a Word document that I cut & paste as an email reply (or you could set up a separate mailbox with auto-reply message for your blog) that directs people to my FAQs rather than me typing in the same information, directing them there, over and over.

As for rude people, I don't answer messages from people I don't know that aren't addressed to me with some sort of salutation, since I'm not sure if they're actually for me or were meant for someone else.

In those cases, I assume they're spam and I delete them.
; )

Ann said...

Here is a comment FROM a newb! May I? I have sent a few emails - but only if:

1) I have salient questions and have exhausted my online search efforts. I may then try to send a short, to the point (and, genuinely complimentary) email to an experienced blogger. You know what? I don't often hear back. When I have heard back - you can be sure that I promptly send a heartfelt thank you. I think it's amazing when one of YOU takes the time and effort to send me a thoughtful reply.

2) I really want to leave a more meaningful and personal comment. I know - I know. You're probably thinking, just leave it in "my comments". Well, sometimes one of your posts evokes something deeper and I truly feel the need to drop an email and share something deeper, and compliment your work and artistry. That's me. I'm not looking for a link exchange - I'm not; maybe just a thanks - just as you are in the original intent of this entire post. But, I rarely have received a "thanks" because I think maybe folks are assuming I'm "looking" for something...? But, yes, I pretty much never hear back when I send a very heartfelt email where I want to compliment a certain post. It stings a bit.

I will say, I do appreciated FAQ pages, photography FAQ pages, etcetera. I think one missing component (one with which I'm currently struggling), is where to go/what to do when one is having html/site issues (learning curve) - the forums aren't much help, no one points to "editors/live people help" - so you're sort of just searching.

All in all though, as a newb, I have found your sites TREMENDOUSLY helpful and I canNOT thank you, and others, enough! Thank you, thank you, thank you! And, David, the area where you allow anyone to post their url - how gracious of you, merci beaucoup! ~ Ann Langlois

nika said...

All of the advice in this comment stream has been tremendous. I would just like to reiterate that keeping a sense of humor and perspective is key. If the emails get you steamed dont read them until you have woken and had your coffee and never while hungover. I have other issues like making sure to deal with emails when the kids are not wailing. Being hungover is not a factor in my life. I too have written long photo related emails with no response. Didnt upset me... I do not have time to ruminate on it. Let it go. I have a wp plugin that sends the commentor an email with the comment response and i do not expect any response but am happy when it happens. Usually there is a human writing the email so its worth responding with respect and with the best foot forward... We are all connected so important to be a positive force where you can.

Jeanne said...

I tend to delete link requests - most that I get aren't from newbie blogger anyway, but from people with something to sell. When I get questions (usually about sourcing South African products abroad, or sometimes London/Cape Town restaurant recommendations, I go to quite a lot of trouble to answer them as completely as possible. And yes, I agree, I seldom get a response - a simple thanks would suffice. But then every now and again somebody replies and says "wow, I'm so glad such a busy blogger took time to respond to my silly question!" and it makes it worthwhile. I don't get too many tech questions from newbies, but I have answered those I do get fully and as a result I am now good friends with somebody who only started blogging a year ago and asked me a ton of questions. She now calls me Yoda. And if that isn't enough compensation I don't know what it ;-)

Tea said...

This is a tough one.

I get blogger questions, I also get questions through my professional site about how to break into the writing/editing field. I try to answer them all (not the link ones, I gave up on that ages ago), though I am not always prompt in doing so.

Often my (sometimes quite detailed) replies are not acknowleged and it always pains me (is it so hard write "hey, thanks"?).

At one point, out of frustration, I wrote a PS that I would paste onto these emails saying I was happy to do my best to help (total strangers) but when such effort was not acknowledged it made me less likely to help the next person so could we all just keep things polite and friendly. I hated feeling like I had to do it, but I feared losing my faith in humanity.

These days I do my best to answer, and keep my fingers crossed that I won't regret doing so. I recently had one of each--a woman in London was delighted to get my restaurant picks for SF and thanked me profusely; and a man in Iowa whose daughter wants to be an editor didn't bother to say thanks for the detailed advice and resources I gave him to help her.

Manners--I fear the internet has done away with such things.

Tea said...

PS. Sam did a great post on this a while back, and incorporated it into her FAQ. See here

Sam said...

I set up an FAQ which covers the subject 'your questions', and a blog-dedicated email address where I have vacation settings switched permanently on causing everyone who emails me via my blog to receive a lengthy email stating my terms and consitions including one which says anyone who doesn't thank me for info they have requested will be publicly named and shamed on my blog, including the printing of their email address. I have had no rude people ever since I set that up 18 months ago. And it has given me great peace of mind too.

Tey it - email me with TEST in the subject at becks dot posh dot food dot blog at gmail dot com and you will see what I mean.

good luck

hhoffman said...

I remember hearing some good ideas in a talk about protecting your time by Merlin Mann of 43Folders...

For an unknown emailer when you have lots of other things to do, you should probably stick to sending a quick reply maybe with a couple of links or suggest a Google search. However, if you feel generous, spend the time and feel good about it - regardless of the response. Who knows - the person you wrote that long reply to may have been knocked over by a bus, unlikely but possible.

Mimi said...

I hardly qualify to answer this one. My e-mails come in cycles. I won't any for months, then a get a whole slew of them.

The rudeness doesn't matter much to me; I just let it go.

I rarely respond to link requests or product review requests, unless the item pertains to my blog in some way.

I have received help from Kalyn in the past, for which I am extremely grateful.

cindym said...

Many of the questions I get are about cooking school - should the person go, did I like it, how much did it cost, and so forth. I do answer these because I had similar troubles finding information before I went, and I would have appreciated advice from a real human back then.

I ignore solicitations.

I'd say about half of the people I reply to respond with a thank-you. The other half don't respond at all.

I suppose I could let myself feel like a chump for almost always replying to people, but I look at it all as a karma thing. It feels good to give somebody some help or info if they need it, and if they do choose to thank me, all the better. But I don't really have any expectations that people are going to respond in what I would consider to be a "polite" way. When it does happen, it's all the sweeter.

But then again, I don't get nearly the volume of mail that many of you do. ;)