“Can I ask for some volunteers?”

I’m usually a stand-in-the-shadows kind of gal, but when touring the Old Jameson Distillery as part of the TBEX Dublin experience, my hand shot up. I had heard that volunteers got the chance to taste more whiskey, and I wasn’t about to turn that down. Our guide handed eight volunteers, including myself, weird-looking cardboard sticks, and away we went on our tour.

whiskey tasting at Jameson

About an hour later, I was sitting with my fellow volunteers at a special table doing a taste-test comparison of whiskies while everyone else looked on. It was a cool experience in and of itself, but at the end, they surprised us with a little certificate, naming us official taste-testers for Jameson. The weird-looking cardboard sticks were actually for rolling our documents and taking them home.

That certificate took what…three or four cents to print? But it elevated my experience at Jameson to a much higher level. It’s a memento that I will show my friends and keep forever. Jameson did something small to reward me, and in exchange, I feel compelled to tell others about my experience, which promotes their brand and encourages others to go on their tour to be rewarded as well.

You can achieve this same effect on your blog with little rewards for your blog readers. They don’t have to cost much money. In fact, they can even be free to you in some cases. That “something special” will help you turn readers into fans and fans into advocates. Here are some of the best ways to reward your readers:

Reward #1: Bring blog readers special discounts and freebies.

If you’re writing an post about some awesome curry you had at this little restaurant in Idaho of all places, you’re going to surprise your readers with your content alone. If you give them a discount code at the end of the post that they can redeem when in town so they can try the food for themselves, you’re going to surprise and delight them! When you’re writing a post, it’s very easy to reach out to destinations and companies to ask for some kind of freebie or coupon for your readers. Many are happy to oblige, since it means more promotion for what they’re doing. The worst you can get is a “no” and at best, that first communication turns a sponsorship deal.

Reward #2: Host contests.

Remember, the majority of your blog readers are probably not travel bloggers who get to have the same experiences you get for free. They’re pinching pennies to make a trip to Tanzania or a hike in Hawaii possible. When you’re invited on trips, consider making a giveaway prize one of your negotiation points with the destinations or company.

Reward #3: Respond to comments.

Your readers, especially the core members of your community, come to your blog because they admire you. You are a kind-of, sort-of a celebrity in their world. Responding to comments gives them a little piece of you that is extremely personal. It’s a way to reward blog readers at zero cost to you, other than your time. You can also take the time to actually answer emails. My personal opinion is that if you don’t have time to answer all the emails you get, you’re probably at the point where you should consider hiring a VA (read more about that here).

Reward #4: Create a loyalty program.

Reward your readers using a points system or badges for interacting with the community. You don’t even have to give real prizes. Readers love to display the fact that they have a high number of points or have a badge identifying them as a veteran member of your community. It encourages readers to come back again and again, in addition to making them feel good.

Reward #5: Ask some blog readers to become comment moderators.

This does involve working closely with a few readers and ensuring that you really trust them. But by giving your most loyal and active readers a higher status, you’re acknowledging them—and that’s something that most people really want.

Reward #6: Create contributor opportunities for your community.

Chances are that most of your readers travel as well. Allow them to contribute to your site through a guest post. Reward them with a profile/bio on your site, and even consider some compensation if the post and your budget justifies it. (As an added bonus, allowing guest posts can also make YOU a better blogger.)

Reward #7: Share readers’ posts.

Not all of your readers will also be bloggers, but when you do have a reader who is a blogger, acknowledge them on social networks. Share one of their posts or retweet a link. It might not be possible to spend all day sharing links from every single reader, but you can take the time to acknowledge a few people every day. You can also just say a simple “thank you” to people who share your posts.

BONUS Reward: Get off the beaten path to reveal locations’ secrets. This might not at first sound like a reward in the traditional sense, but the whole point is to surprise and delight readers. There are three types of travel bloggers:

  • There are those who visit a destination and tell you the facts/experiences that anyone would have there.
  • There are those to dig deeper to find special things to do that most people wouldn’t otherwise know about.
  • There are those who interview the bus driver to get his take on things, convince tour guides to share secrets that the public shouldn’t know, and follow waiters to see where they hang out after work.

Be the third type. Quality content rewards your readers every single time they come to your blog to check out a new post. Push yourself to always go one step farther, so you’re constantly giving your blog readers goosebumps, making them gasp, and evoking emotional responses.

How do you reward your blog readers?