8 Steps to Sustainable Blogging

Note: This is a piece I contributed to a social media guide published by the Texas Hospital Association. It’s really very well done (the overall guide, I mean. You’ll need to be the judge on this particular article.) If you’d like to get a copy of the complete guide, which includes contributions from @EdBennett@ChrisBoyer@Billfer@DaphneLeigh and @JennTex, @reedsmith of the THA has them available for sale. You can order one or see the table of contents here. But meanwhile, here’s my contribution:

Many people are intimidated by the thought of starting a blog. Some of this angst results from misunderstandings: they think a blog is some mysterious creation, when in reality it is an easy-to-publish Web site that allows comments. But some of the trepidation results from a true understanding: starting a blog means you need to regularly update it to keep the content fresh.

The purpose of this article is to provide tips for developing a sustainable blog, not in the ecological sense (though the so-called “carbon footprint” of a blog is toddler-sized), but from the “How can I start small and give the blog a strong path to growth?” perspective. Here are a few tips:

  1. Start with a hosted blogging platform. I used http://wordpress.com and highly recommend it. You can get started for free, and for less than $80 a year you can have a blog with the same look as your main Web site that can host a podcast and that is mapped to a subdomain of your main site. But that’s the next step.
  2. Choose your URL and map to it. I mapped my personal blog to http://social-media-university-global.org/ and with my work we have blogs at http://sharing.mayoclinic.org/ and http://newsblog.mayoclinic.org/ and http://podcasts.mayoclinic.org/, for instance. By doing this, instead of the default yourname.wordpress.com URL, you preserve your blog’s ability to grow and move later to a self-hosted WordPress installation without having your incoming links break. That preserves your precious Google juice.
  3. Use video. I use and like the Flip video camera, which costs about $150 for standard definition and $230 or so for HD. Other cameras are available at similar prices. Particularly if you have busy subject experts you want to include in the blog, you’ll have much more success if you can embed video instead of asking them to write. And if they ask you to write for them, that will make your blog inauthentic. Being able to upload video quickly via a built-in USB connector makes it easier for everyone.
  4. Use lots of “tags.” Tags are labels you apply to your posts, which are your way of telling search engines what the post is about. This makes it easier for people looking for your information to find it.
  5. Use descriptive titles or headlines. In WordPress, your headline becomes part of the URL, which has search engine implications. So a cute, human-oriented headline may be less helpful from an SEO perspective. A way around this is to edit the URL for search, but still have the clever play on words in the title.
  6. Schedule posts in advance. You can take a vacation from blogging by using this feature in WordPress, which enables you to set a day and time when you want the post to be published. So you can work ahead and then take off on vacation, knowing that the content will stay fresh even while you personally refresh.
  7. Decide whether comment moderation is necessary. Akismet does a great job in WordPress of weeding out spam comments. If you don’t require comment moderation, your readers will have more immediate gratification for sharing their thoughts, and it will be less work for you.
  8. Use multiple contributors. WordPress and some other blog publishing platforms offer hierarchies and workflows, so you can share the publishing load among many users. Contributors can write, but posts must be edited and approved by, well…an editor. Authors can write and publish on their own. Administrators can add other users. Multiple contributors also helps with that vacation we talked about in #6.

8 Steps to Sustainable Blogging

Many people are intimidated by the thought of starting a blog. Some of this angst results from misunderstandings: they think a blog is some mysterious creation, when in reality it is an easy-to-publish Web site that allows comments. But some of the trepidation results from a true understanding: starting a blog means you need to regularly update it to keep the content fresh.

The purpose of this article is to provide tips for developing a sustainable blog, not in the ecological sense (though the so-called “carbon footprint” of a blog is toddler-sized), but from the “How can I start small and give the blog a strong path to growth?” perspective:

  1. Start with a hosted blogging platform. I used WordPress.com and highly recommend it. You can get started for free, and for less than $80 a year you can have a blog with the same look as your main Web site that can host a podcast and that is mapped to a subdomain of your main site. But that’s the next step.
  2. Choose your URL and map to it. I mapped my personal blog to http://social-media-university-global.org/ and with my work we have blogs at http://sharing.mayoclinic.org/ and http://newsblog.mayoclinic.org/ and http://podcasts.mayoclinic.org/, for instance. By doing this, instead of the default yourname.wordpress.com URL, you preserve your blog’s ability to grow and move later to a self-hosted WordPress installation (as I did with SMUG) without having your incoming links break. That preserves your precious Google juice.
  3. Use Video. I use and like the Flip video camera, which costs about $150 for standard definition and $230 or so for HD. Other cameras are available at similar prices. Particularly if you have busy subject experts you want to include in the blog, you’ll have much more success if you can embed video instead of asking them to write. And if they ask you to write for them, that will make your blog inauthentic. Being able to upload video quickly via built-in USB connector makes it easier for everyone.
  4. Use lots of “tags.” Tags are labels you apply to your posts, which are your way of telling search engines what the post is about. This makes it easier for people looking for your information to find it.
  5. Use descriptive titles or headlines. In WordPress, your headline becomes part of the URL, which has search engine implications. So a cute, human-oriented headline may be less helpful from an SEO perspective. A way around this is to edit the URL for search, but still have the clever play on words in the title.
  6. Schedule posts in advance. You can take a vacation from blogging by using this feature in WordPress, which enables you to set a day and time when you want the post to be published. So you can work ahead and then take off on vacation, knowing that the content will stay fresh even while you personally refresh.
  7. Decide whether comment moderation is necessary. Akismet does a great job in WordPress of weeding out spam comments, and if you don’t require comment moderation your readers will have more immediate gratification for sharing their thoughts, and it will be less work for you.
  8. Use multiple contributors. WordPress and some other blog publishing platforms offer hierarchies and workflows, so you can share the publishing load among many users. Contributors can write, but posts must be edited and approved by, well…an Editor. Authors can write and publish on their own. Administrators can add other users. Multiple contributors also helps with that vacation we talked about in #6.

For more detail on each of these top tips, check out the entire Blogging curriculum.

Blogging 112: Pages vs. Posts

The great thing about blogs is that the newest and freshest material is always right at the top.

And the bad thing about blogs is that the newest material is always right at the top.

So you can write a great post, but over time it gets pushed further away from the front page, accessible only through the monthly archives and via Google.

That’s why Pages are a helpful alternative to Posts.

Pages become the overall high-level structure of your blog. So, for example, on this blog the Pages are

The Curriculum page is the “Parent” page for the Blogging, Core Courses, Facebook, Podcasting and Twitter curricula.

Then each page can have links to posts that have been done over time. So, for example, the Podcasting page has links to courses from Podcasting 101 through 110. These posts were written between March 31, 2008 and July 29, 2008. During that same time, I probably wrote a couple of dozen other posts, and I didn’t write the podcasting posts in numerical order.

By creating the Podcasting page, though, I could bring links to all of the podcasting-related posts together in one place, so that people stumbling upon SMUG (or one of the podcasting posts) can work through the related posts in a sequential manner.

As I write this post (part of the Blogging curriculum), it is Sept. 30, 2008. Soon it will be part of a previous month’s archive, and within a couple of weeks will be off the front page. But several months from now, when someone is wanting to learn all about blogging, she will start at Blogging 101 and work her way through.

Creating Pages is easy. In your WordPress dashboard, click the Write link:

Writing a Post is the default, but if you then click the Page link, you’ll be able to write a Page.

From that point, it’s just like writing a post, except a Page becomes part of your overall navigational structure.

Use Pages with care; once you start them you shouldn’t get rid of them. But if you need to bring order to your blog, Pages are important tools.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

Twitter 110: Tools to Automate Cross-Platform Status Updates

Note: Twitter 110 is part of the Twitter curriculum for Social Media University, Global (SMUG).

Here are some great tools that enable you to automatically use one of your social media tools to update others. They save you double-entry of the same information, and also help ensure that your profiles don’t go stale.

Twittersync is a handy Facebook application that turns your latest Tweet from Twitter into your Facebook status update. This is really helpful for me, because I’m notoriously bad at updating my Facebook status. It’s not that I don’t spend time in Facebook; it’s just that I’m doing other things instead of updating status.

Update: See Nathon’s comment below, about why Twittersync isn’t working and the alternative method for updating your Facebook status through Twitter.

Twitterfeed, by contrast, takes any RSS feed, such as this one from my blog, and uses it to create Tweets in an account of your choosing. For Mayo Clinic’s Twitter account, for example, I connected Twitterfeed to our RSS feed of news releases. That way if people want to use Twitter as their all-purpose river of news, we can make sure the Mayo Clinic tributary is flowing into it. And tonight I just added the SMUG feed to my personal Twitter account.

I have previously Tweeted about new blog posts. Now I don’t need to remember to do that anymore. By combining Twitterfeed and Twittersync, I can write a post to my blog and have that fact posted both to Twitter and to my Facebook status.

I like both of these services, and another that’s really helpful is Twittermail. One of the most irritating parts of mobile Tweeting is that when you do it via SMS text message it’s really slow. At least for me. But with Twittermail I have an e-mail address I can use to send a Blackberry e-mail message, which is much faster: unlike SMS, I don’t have to hit keys multiple times to select the right letters.

So, for example, I just used my Blackberry and Twittermail to Tweet the following:

Continue reading “Twitter 110: Tools to Automate Cross-Platform Status Updates”

9 Suggestions for Going Social at Work

This is from Kevin Winterfield from IBM, and relates to his presentation on Making IBM Small. He’s definitely coming from the perspective of a technology vendor and a Fortune 500 company, so he probably is advocating

  1. Enable your employees and be patient – create an environment that allow users to better collaborate via multiple modalities, across timezones, organizational barriers, skillsets, know each other professionally and socially, know each other’s skills and expertise.
  2. Integrate your tools – look for integrated toolsets; must be open; incredible growth here.
  3. Be sensitive to culture change – be sensitive to generational acceptance and norms, country cultures; incorporate storytelling and cultural sharing; allow for human interest and encourage employee participation and generation of content.
  4. Constant communication – campaigns to help with adoption; show leadership modeling and permission; define usage policies; provide education.
  5. Know when you are risking too much – connect employees without creating chaos; define free-form sandboxes and focused work projects.
  6. Ensure privacy – define the line between work and play; socializing and work.
  7. Protect and secure your assets – ensure interndal data is safe; use tools that are well-tested from credible vendors.
  8. Develop fair policies, not fluffy ones – govern use without boxing in innovation; allow for play but maintain values of company along the way.
  9. Implement with a credible vendor – work with a credible vendor to select and implement for your specific organization. Don’t try it on your own, or start with something extremely safe.

This set of tips has much to commend it, but it runs directly counter to what the Best Buy experience was with their Blue Shirt Nation project, which we heard about earlier today. They started with at $100 budget and used open source software. I think the better approach would be to go for some quick wins (which might be like the last half of Kevin’s 9th point), and then you have a proof of concept that you can use to sell the complete solution.

Otherwise, if you come in with a multi-million dollar project, you’re going to get asked to prove the ROI. If the I is to big, they’re going to be more skeptical. But if the I is small (or next to nothing), you can proceed until apprehended.

What do you think?