27 Jan

Two Words about Social Media: Don’t Panic

Posted in Blog, Conferences, Social Media, Twitter, Web

One of the sessions I was super-excited for at the Writer’s Digest Conference was the Social Media panel.  After all, over the last year or so, I’ve become almost addicted to fairly comfortable with connecting to readers and writers through blogging or twitter or other webby things.

I’ve been to plenty of conferences with panels on social media and I find they always run into the same glitch.  The speakers are super-talented and the audience wants to hear what they have to say.  The trouble is, the panelists and audience are speaking in different languages.

I didn’t do an empirical study, but here are a few things I observed during the session:

  • Very few young whipper-snappers in the audience, tweeting the panel from their iPhones.  (OK, I guess I’m a whipper-snapper but I didn’t tweet from my phone because I’m morally opposed to phones that do more than work like phones.)
  • Hardly any people clicking on their laptops (fewer than what I noticed at other panels, in fact).  A lot of people taking notes by hand.
  • When the moderator asked how many people in the audience had a twitter account, only a few people raised their hands.
  • When the moderator asked how many used social media to interact with industry professionals who would be at this conference, no one raised their hands.  (I almost raised my hand, but then I was embarrassed because no one else did.  Remember, I’m shy.)
  • Based on a lot of the questions that came up in Q&A, most of the people at the session were just starting to get their feet wet in the world of social media.
  • As the discussion and Q&A progressed, I noticed more and more writers around me looking like they were about to have a nervous breakdown.

Despite these obstacles,  I was blown away by the awesome I observed from both the audience and speakers at the session.  This session had everything to be an incredible opportunity.  Writers hungry for information were present and motivated to connect with some of the leading industry professionals in the field of social media.  Both sides of the equation were there, but it seemed like there was one crucial piece missing in the middle.  What it needed was some way to bridge the gap.

How do we solve this problem?  Personally I’m a believer in baby steps.  When people get overwhelmed with too much information, they end up shutting down altogether.  The idea is to help them take one tiny step outside their comfort zones.  Once they’ve grown comfortable with that, they take another step.  And so on.

This is where you come in.  Think back to when you were new at all this social media stuff.  For some of you, it could have been last week; for others, it was back in 1989.  The point is, somehow or other, you learned to get comfortable with it and to make it work for you.  All sans meltdown.

I want to know: If you had one piece of advice or one small step you’d recommend to a newbie, what would it be?

Here’s mine:

From The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


04 Dec

Google Reader

Posted in Blog, Tips, Web

One of the most important ways to Boost Your Blog is to interact with other bloggers and read their blogs as well.  We’ve all heard this a zillion times: to get people to follow and read your blog, you need to read/follow other people’s blogs.  Easier said than done, right?

A few months ago, my good friend Ghenet (from All About Them Words) showed me this awesome tool that has made keeping up with blogs I follow super easy. It’s called Google Reader, but it should probably be called Blogging Lifesaver, because it’s seriously changed how I read blogs.  OK, so this is probably not all that new to most of you and you must think me a computer dunce for thinking this is awesome, but humor me OK? 

This is what Google Reader looks like.  If you have a gmail or blogger account, then you can use that with Google Reader.  When you log in, your reader will look something like this:

Here are a few tricks I’ve learned to keep things organized and make checking blogs super-easy:

1)  Make folders for different blogs you follow.  I have one folder for publishing-related blogs, one for writers I absolutely must read, one for DIY MFA peeps (because during September I wanted to keep up with their blogs in case they posted about DIY MFA stuff), and so on.  Having blogs in folders works for me because in a pinch, I just check one or two folders, depending on what I’m looking to read at that moment.

2)  Use iGoogle and put a Google Reader widget on your page.  iGoogle is a personalized version of Google that allows you to put widgets on your Google homepage (weather, news, gmail, google reader, etc.)  I keep both my Gmail and Google Reader on my iGoogle page so that I can quickly scan it every time I search for something on Google.  That way, rather than sitting down for an hour or more to read blogs, I just scan my reader widget for a couple of seconds multiple times per day.  If I read a post I want to comment on, I’ll just make a note of it and come back when I have time.

3)  Subscribe to your own blog.  This probably sounds narcissistic but there is a logic to this tip.  Here’s my dirty little secret: I subscribe to my own blog on Google Reader, but I do this so I can see if my posts look right when viewed in a reader.  These days, so many readers use Google Reader or other such services that I want to make sure the post looks right both on the blog itself and in a reader.  Sometimes something that looks just fine on the blog can actually be hard to read in Google Reader and I want to make sure that my blog is user-friendly on all formats.

Also, keep in mind that when readers use Google Reader, they will not see most of the design elements on your blog (like the sidebar or the pretty header, or any of that stuff).  They will see pictures, but only the ones that are in the post itself.  Any other graphics or widgets will not appear.

What about you?  Are you a fan of Google Reader?  How do you use it to make blog-surfing easier?


03 Dec

To Blog or Not To Blog?

Posted in Blog, Tips, Web

Here’s the big question: Do writers need to have a blog?  Given how publishing is going more and more digital by the minute, is it an absolute must in today’s tech-driven world?  Some experts say yes.  I say… it depends.

The way I see it, it all comes down to two questions each blogger should ask him or herself:

     • What are my goals?
     • Will blogging help me achieve those goals?

I know it sounds sort of cold and calculating to see blogging as a means to an end, but hear me out.  See, I think writers should have an idea what they want to get out of the blogging process before they jump into it.  Not only will this help them figure out if the blog is helping them meet their goals, but it will also help them shape the direction of the blog itself.  Here are a few classic blogging goals and how they affect the tone and style of a blog.

Blogging for Fun
Most people who have blogs do it because it’s fun.  After all, if you don’t love it, the project can quickly become a chore.  If you’re doing it for your own enjoyment, things like number of followers or posting schedules don’t matter too much.  The visual design of the blog is also not a big deal because you’re doing it for you, so if you like how it looks then that’s what counts.  This is a perfectly valid and noble blogging goal, and many bloggers out there do it for this reason alone.  In the end, even if your blog goals develop beyond just having fun, remember to take time to enjoy the process.

Blogging for Community
If your goal is to build a community and connect with other people through your blog, things start to shift a little.  For starters, you need to make sure your site is user-friendly.  A few months ago, I asked my sister (an e-marketing guru) to analyze my blog and suggest some changes to the interface.  I never realized it before, but little stupid things–like making sure your font is readable, or making it easy for people to click and follow your blog–can make a huge difference in terms of helping your visitors navigate their way around your site.

In addition to the look of the site, it also becomes important to engage in dialogue with your readers and other bloggers.  Blogging for community is kind of like when you find yourself in a serious relationship and suddenly you’re thinking in terms of “we” instead of “me.”  All of a sudden you go from wondering “what do I want to write” to asking “what does my audience want to read?”

Blogging for Promotion
I think when people say “writers should have a blog” this category is what they mean.  After all, writers will need to promote their books when they get published, so what better way to do that than with a blog, right?  The irony, of course, is that of all the writer blogs I read, very few of them (if any) go over the top to promote the blogger’s published work.  More often than not, the promotional stuff gets tucked in discreetly–in the sidebar or as the subject of the occasional post–but rarely does it make up more than a fraction of the blog’s overall content.

In the end, each writer will probably take an approach that combines all three to varying degrees.  It becomes something of a balancing act and depending on what you want to accomplish as a writer, you can give each of these categories more or less weight.  Also, remember that it’s perfectly OK for your goals to change over time, so don’t be afraid to allow yourself the freedom to shift gears with the blog as well.


01 Dec

Boost Your Blog: The Journey Begins

Posted in Blog, Tips, Web

As I was writing yesterday’s post on Myths about Blogging, I realized had a lot more to share on the topic than I could ever fit into one post.  I do not pretend to be a master blogger, after all, this blog has only recently come into it’s own and I’m still learning new things every day.  I have, however, picked up a couple of tips and techniques (often learning them the hard way… through trial and error).

Enter my new project: Boost Your Blog.  Over the next few days (or maybe weeks) I’ll be doing a series of posts on all things blog-related.  I might throw some twitter in there for good measure too.  My goal is to share with you some tips that have served me well with iggi&gabi.  I figure, if I can help just one person avoid the pitfalls I ran into, then this project will have been worth it.

The journey begins with a little history about how iggi&gabi came to be.
I was really late on the blogging scene.  Like, years and years late.  I remember when blogging first started, my friends would say “hey, check out my blog” and I’d say “your what?”  The idea of keeping an online journal that the whole world could see just didn’t do it for me.  (I mean, you’re talking to a girl who still keeps a pen-and-paper journal to this day, and whose hubby is under strict instructions to burn all her notebooks in the event of her death.)
It was only when I discovered the wonderful world of knitting blogs that it all started making sense to me.  At first, I read blogs to learn about knitting techniques.  (How do you block a lace shawl?  How do you knit cables without the cable needle?  Etc.)  Eventually, I grew to like certain blogs because of each blogger’s voice, and I started reading for entertainment as well as information.
At one point, I even tried my hand at a knitting blog but I quickly realized that I couldn’t knit fast enough to keep up with a daily (or even weekly) posting schedule.  My posts began humming to the tune of: “still workin’ on that sweater…” ad infinitum. Thankfully, that blog died a quick, merciful death.
Around that same time, I decided to start a blog on writing (because one blog just wasn’t enough).  I had no idea what to write about so I just did writing exercises.  Online.  For everyone to see.  I later discovered that there’s a reason writers don’t publish their exercises: because they’re usually awful.  The whole thing was an embarrassment.  Thankfully no one read it.
After two failed blog attempts, I swore off blogging altogether.  Then the MFA came along and tons of my classmates had blogs and I really, really, really wanted to be one of the cool kids, so I caved and started yet another one.  This time, things worked out better.  I even got a few comments too!  For a while I was flying high, but two problems lurked in the shadows:

  1. My blogging schedule was very erratic (“feast or famine” as my hubby calls it).
  2. The blog itself lacked focus.  I didn’t have a thread or concept to hang my hat on and I just picked topics willy-nilly.

One morning in April, I woke up early with an itch in my fingers.  I grabbed a pen and started doodling and this little guy is what came out on the page:

iggi inspired me to reboot the blog as iggi&gabi and that’s when everything started taking shape.  Suddenly, I knew what the blog was about and, more importantly, what I was about as a blogger.  Through the iggi persona I could try out ideas and take risks that I would never have attempted on my own.  I’m like the kid who blames her imaginary friend for breaking the cookie jar.  Having a partner in crime (even though he’s just lines on a page) gave me the confidence I was missing in order to navigate the blogsphere.  iggi is the heart and soul of this blog.

What about you?  How did you find yourself on this blogging journey?


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