Crushing on Love Letters: A Valentine's Day Case Study in User Engagement



Online businesses know that user engagement is incredibly powerful. Better than chocolates or flowers, getting users to “like” your posts or engage you in conversation through Google+ is a dream come true! But often, it can be difficult to obtain that valuable user interaction.

With Valentine’s Day upon us, I thought today we could evaluate Boston Globe’s online Love Letters column, a small niche of a large news site that has managed to obtain some exceptional user engagement.

love letters user engagement

I heard about Love Letters through my mother, who habitually sends me her favorite posts. Although my mother works as a computer programmer, she is the farthest thing from a techie, virtually inept at anything outside of COBOL. A once-a-month Facebooker, she’ll often call me to ask how to “send a message to someone’s wall.” She doesn’t know how to open new tabs, and uses Internet Explorer. And you know what we think about those Internet Explorer people.

Certainly she’s not the type of person you’d expect to be an engaged social media user. But she’s become smitten with the Love Letters online community, and here’s why:

Interesting and Relatable Topic That Quickens the Heart

Ah love, the topic of countless songs and a cornerstone of Hollywood cinema. People love to talk about…love. It’s a subject anyone can relate to, and that’s what makes it so successful in regards to user engagement. People are often eager to share their own personal tales of romance gone awry, confident that their advice could help others.

Focusing on a compelling topic that many people can relate to bolsters your chances of user engagement, similar to why our social media infographics tend to be popular.

Love is a topic that is relatable, but has the added bonus of being a concept people are passionate about. Certainly appealing to niche groups has its own advantages, but if you can pick a topic that many people care deeply about, chances are you’ll get some great responses.

Actively Engaged Community: The Ties That Bind

Just like that local diner in every town that has the same Joe Shmoe ordering coffee every day, Love Letters has a number of regulars who are well known to the community. It’s an extremely tight-knit group, with the top commentors all knowing one another’s personalities quite well. It’s not uncommon for the regulars to race to a fresh posting in order to nab the coveted first comment spot.

Take a look at one of my favorite LL regulars, Rico. Rico always leaves comments in third person, and asserts that the solution to most angst can be solved with an endorphin-pumping bike ride.

gaining user engagement

Witnessing a committed community makes new readers want to join and be a part of the community as well. Naturally this aspect of gaining user engagement is a bit of a Catch 22, since you first need a developed close community to draw in additional users.

Users Prompted for Responses: Let Them Know You Want Them

Every blogger knows how important it is to end posts with a question or prompt for further dialogue, but many businesses not accustomed to social media or blogging forget this important detail. It often feels awkward for beginners – a question being asked to no one, yet simultaneously to everyone. Yet you may be surprised what an impact a purposeful request can have.

Meredith of Love Letters always ends her answers with a prompt, asking her devoted community what they think of Confused Cassidy of Cambridge’s problems.

Take a look at how Meredith ends her response here. She immediately calls out her readers and sends a plea for help.

asking users for help to get comments

 I imagine it’s not always easy for Meredith – she dispenses advice for a living and probably doesn’t always love having a huge peanut gallery to affirm or debate her wisdom. Yet she’s really made Love Letters a team project, not solely advice articles about her own opinions. That’s why Love Letters gets about one million page views a month.

People want you to want them. They need you to need them. They’d love – alright, you get the picture. It’s true though; everyone wants to feel they are valued and have something worth contributing. Ask people to share their experiences, and they gladly will.

Tough Love: It Hurts So Good

A huge part of what is so entertaining about Love Letters is that where Meridith is polite and gentle, readers are harsh, no-nonsense critics.

Commentors will often barrage love advicees they dislike with insults and calls for reality checks. A collection of internet Simon Cowels, they often tell it like it is with a refreshing lack of sensitivity. Here are some recent burns:

getting comments for your blog

get better user engagement

And people eat this stuff up. There’s just nothing like seeing someone get torn apart that really deserves it, even if we’ve substituted bayonets with words and the coliseum for the websphere.

Learning From Love

So take some lovely advice from Boston Globe’s immensely successful Love Letters column:

  • Pick topics people can get passionate about.
  • Genuinely ask for your readers’ help.
  • Don’t be afraid to order some brutal bacon with a side of harsh-browns.

Soon you’ll be able to start building a devoted community you’ll fall head over heels for.

What techniques do you use in trying to engage users? Any additional thoughts as to why Love Letters has such active participants?

Feeling lonely on Valentine's Day? Try visiting a cat cafe.

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Feb 14, 2012

Thanks for the Valentine's Day shout out! ♥♪♫♪♪♫♪♥

Feb 14, 2012

Rico thanks you for reading and appreciating his style of giving advice...Rico hopes you get out and get an endorphin pumping bike ride yourself as well...It's good for everyone!!!Love always,RicoGears not

Megan Marrs
Feb 14, 2012

You guys are both welcome, thanks for contributing to the fun and insightful love letters environment!

Feb 14, 2012

I still visit my friends at WordStream from time to time.You said.

Although my mother works as a computer programmer, she is the farthest thing from a techie, virtually inept at anything outside of COBOL.
    That sounds pretty techie to me.  Being a COBOL programmer in 2012 is like being a systems archaeologist.  COBOL programmers keep ancient programs working with a program hardly anybody knows today.Somewhere in the cosmos, Admiral Grace Hopper is smiling.Happy Valentine's Day

Elisa Gabbert
Feb 14, 2012

Nice to see you swing by!

Megan Marrs
Feb 14, 2012

Haha, I'll be sure to let her know that. She just wrote to me asking,"You do know that I do much more than code COBOL don't you?"Then she informed me that I spelled COBOL incorrectly.   

Feb 14, 2012

As a regular Love Letters commenter.....nice to see marketing strategy guidelines using the LL blog!I hope your mom joins in on commenting. Since you say she's not a techie, be sure to help her get an avatar.And if she does comment....the new rule is: be nice to Lily :-)

Megan Marrs
Feb 14, 2012

I'll try to get her commenting!be nice to Lily. Got it ;)

Feb 14, 2012

Not exactly a regular poster, but definitely a regular reader that has gotten sucked into the vortex, as they like to say.And pleased to have encountered this blog and it's interpretation of the LL phenomenom.

Feb 14, 2012

Not quite a regular poster, but a regular reader that has gotten sucked into the vortex, as they like to say.Great explanation about the LL phenomenom! And glad to have encoountered this blog as well.

Megan's Mom
Feb 14, 2012

Well, I must confess that my charming daughter Megan is at least correct about my resistance to FB, Twitter, smart phones and the like.  And also that reading Love Letters is a nice daily break from sorting out the intricacies of Boolean logic and print field overflows.
 Happy Valentine’s Day to my baby girl and all !

Feb 15, 2012

Rico hopes you will take time to get an avatar and login to discuss the letters with the blog monkeys...Rico appreciates good taste and your daughter exhibited the best taste of all in her writing...You did a great job raising her...keep it up...Rico also suggests a great mother daughter activity...biking together :)Love always,RicoGears not Gas

Feb 16, 2012

I love that the "be nice to Lily" meme has made it here.HI MEGAN'S MOM!Megan, this really is a great analysis of LL.  I'm glad Meredith shared with us.  The "refreshing lack of sensitivity" still makes me laugh.  

Apr 09, 2012

Recently, Rico lost favor on Love Letters when he was caught logging in claiming to be a letter writer. These are called "fake updates" and there have been a lot of them lately. They disrupt the blog and cause a lot of confusion. The majority of commenters are angry that he has been allowed to comment any further and wish you to know he is a troublemaker.

Fan of Rico
Apr 13, 2012

Rico is still favored by many and sources have said he was not behind the fake updates. The trouble makers are the same as they have been for a while. Rico is still one of the most respected and read posters on the blog. I have emailed Rico and he is one of the nicest guys, I can't wait to read his posts every day. It is unforunate that a few posters on the blog want to tarnish Rico's reputation and regularly make negative comments about him. Now they are making negative comments on here too?

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