BLOGGING: THE MANY SIDES of the SAME COIN
Words are your business, boy. Not just the Word. Words are everything. The key to the Rock, the answer to the Question.
Social media has become one of the most dominant, yet intangible, forces connecting people around the globe. Its importance is sometimes overstated and its impact on human interface is a decidedly mixed bag. It is time-consuming, addictive, invasive, pervasive, and unpredictable. I admire those who eschew it altogether. Disdain it if you will, yet the desire to establish an Internet presence is very real and continues to attract even the most reticent in droves.
My introduction to social media, in general, and blogging, specifically, was borne out of necessity. I taught classes on feature article writing and threw blogging in to meet a growing demand. My instructional style was overly formal, textbook oriented, and clunky. My students were gracious and enthusiastic, we learned together. A former student taught the technical aspects. She introduced us to the various platforms for creating a blog site, explaining both the differences and similarities, highlighting the free spaces and those which are fee-based. She dwelt on the administrative piece which is especially valuable for bloggers wanting to initiate dialogue with followers. This same pupil, and fellow writer, prevailed upon me to contribute to her blog, which I did. The arrangement suited me because all I had to do was write something and email it to her. She did all the heavy lifting. Thank you, Margaret!
The role of social media took on new meaning for me after my collection of short stories became available on Amazon. I needed to update my ten-year-old website, which I had lived with, happily, contentedly, and with no thoughts about visibility or the future. Reworking it didn’t seem like a big deal until I was confronted with a reality I simply hadn’t considered: should I, dare I, could I afford not to join the twenty-first century settling for less while hoping for more? What a demoralizing set of options! I chose the former and am learning to be strategic and purposeful in maintaining the presence I’ve carved out for myself. Like it or not, social media is an immensely powerful tool and one capable of generating great expectations.
The primary objectives of the collective platforms comprising social media are to bring people together based on mutual interests. The added attraction includes freedom of expression to share, in a variety of formats: (a) photos, (b) videos, (c) graphic images, (d) news, (e) politics, (f) religion, (g) nostalgia, or (g) commentary, just to name a few.
Cyberspace is filled with possibilities offering existing and prospective subscribers access to the stuff deemed necessary, valuable, useful, or desirable:
- Instagram. This mobile app was created for sharing photos and videos with, or without, commentary.
- Reddit. This website actually rivals Facebook. It’s a news, entertainment, information, data exchange, all-things-to-all-people site where subscribers rule.
- Tumblr. Technically it’s a microblogging site which promotes itself as a cross between social media and a blog.
- Twitter. An online social media networking site whose subscribers post messages, known as tweets, of 140 characters or less. Birds, of course, still tweet as well, and more sweetly.
- LINKEDIN. This site is a networking platform specifically targeting the business community.
- Facebook. This network is a social media for-profit corporation designed to connect people with each other, while also serving as a purveyor of news, videos, music, graphic images, goods, and services.
The foregoing sites comprise a medium for injecting one’s self into a plethora of twenty-four hour global conversations on any subject in addition to formal, unaligned blog sites.
BLOGGING – AN OVERVIEW
The formal definition of blogging is a public diary or journal posted on the Internet. This simple statement contains the essence of the act without dwelling on its various formats or uses. Blogs provide those who utilize them with platforms through which to:
- Express opinions.
- Share information.
- Promote themselves and their activities or areas of interest.
- Market goods and services.
- Educate, entertain, or engage.
The heart of the site is a narrative which offers a basis for a long-running dialogue. Blogs aren’t websites, and are not intended to be. Websites, technically, are static. Depending on the purpose, information contained in a website may remain as is, period. Blog posts, however, change each time the owner(s) upload new material. Theoretically fresh, new content is the key distinction between a blog and a website. Reasonably well-developed expository writing skills are helpful for developing posted entries. Blogrolls, the technical name for the real estate can include bells, whistles, graphics, and information on the owners. Blog hosting sites provide tutorials on setting up a site, often including domain name registration. Many also offer opportunities to write and post practice entries. Literature on creating, maintaining, and crafting posts abound.
BLOGGING: ONE PERSPECTIVE
“It sounds strange, but blogging is a very serious trend in the wired world…Blogging is short for Web logging. It sounds simple, but it is a very complex subject. For example, there are few people who agree on what blogging actually is. For the most part, a blog is a journal with dated entries and links to other sites on the Web that are usually other blogs. These links give blogs a sense of community that also becomes a part of their definition. Blogs and their content are as diverse as the people who post them. Their topics range from personal thoughts on the day’s events to hard-hitting political commentary…
Blogging was already gaining momentum nicely on its own but then took another leap forward when blogging tools were introduced. These tools made it easy for nontechnies to get into the ring. Before that, you really had to know html to post your thoughts to your site…
Blogging is a lot of work and most of those who read blogs tend to expect regular updates of material. Not a problem if you don’t want a large following for your blog, but it is something to keep in mind. Once you have your page and your blog in place, you need to garner some attention. Read other blogs and make contacts in the blogging community. In fact, do this before you get started so you know what to expect as well as what is already out there. Then you need to list your site. As with any Web page, the best place to get noticed is with sites such as Yahoo, Lycos and Google…There are also sites that specialize in listing blogs. Weblogs.com is a good place to list by interest and then, of course, there are the blogs themselves…”¹
The foregoing piece was written before Facebook was launched. Social media was in its infancy. The author’s approach may seem quaint, however, from a general principle standpoint, his take remains relevant.
THE BLOG BACKSTORY
People have kept – and published – chronicles, pamphlets, and leaflets on politics, religion, love, medicine, diseases, travel, and countless other topics for centuries. Blogging provides a limitless venue for chronicling everything from the banal to the spectacular. Consider what web logging could have meant for Samuel Pepys, Lewis Carroll, Dostoyevsky, Virginia Woolf, or the U.S. presidency. Samuel Pepys was a seventeenth century British Naval administrator and Member of Parliament who recorded life in London from 1660-1669. His papers have been preserved as a blog and are available online at www.pepysdiary.com.
Lewis Carroll is the pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, an Anglican clergyman, mathematician, author, and diarist. He is best known for his novels, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass. Dodgson chronicled his life, from the age of ten. Nine volumes of his journals survive, dating from January 1, 1855 through December 23, 1897. He died January 14, 1898, three weeks after his last entry. Imagine keeping a blog and posting entries daily for forty-two years?
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky, author of the Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment published his journals as The Diary of Writer. Adeline Virginia Woolf, author of Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, kept a diary about her writing. Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president of the United States donated his senate, vice presidential, and presidential papers to the federal government. Some are described as diary-like. Imagine a sitting US president writing daily posts! Visit www.whitehouse.gov to view the Obama White House blog. What is the likelihood Pepys, Dostoyevsky, Dodgson, Woolf, or Truman would have been bloggers had the Internet been available to them? It’s a fascinating question and underscores the utilitarian nature of blogging.
GOOD WRITING: the FINE ART of BLOGGING
Bloggers are writers. Some have argued to the contrary, however, unless a site lacks commentary, someone, somewhere has written the text contained in it. An expansive and continuously growing vocabulary is an asset and a gift to the bloggers’ online community. Focus on constructing sentences which are grammatically correct, properly punctuated, and easily understood. A hint to the wise: regardless of your level of expertise, your posts should demonstrate noticeable improvement with every effort. Remember, rational content has a better chance of being read and digested. Discursive rants have a downward trajectory. Definitive writing empowers readers. Influential writing motivates. Concise content eliminates questions. Unforgettable writing keeps the dialog meaningful.
Anyone wanting to blog is encouraged to learn how to use the dictionary and thesaurus. The blogger’s ability to originate, develop, and compose cogent, legible, and substantive content directly hinges on the words and phrases employed in each post. The goal is – or should be – to get and keep the attention of the visitors and followers. The lexicon employed and the manner in which it is used, the presentation, and attention to detail – all these elements contribute to the quality of the writing and help calibrate both appeal and visibility.
CREATING a POST (ALSO KNOWN as WRITING)
Scribes, authors, aspiring bloggers: write each post out in long hand. Avoid permitting your fingers to do the talking. As tempting, or convenient, as it may feel to simply go with the flow, cranking your thoughts out without thinking too much about them, is potentially problematic and really does limit intentional artistic expression. Grant yourself the gift of composing your material as a first draft.
After completing your handwritten piece, create a word document, preferably on a computer. Give it a name, format the page, use double-spacing, it’s much easier to read, and upload your copy. Print out a hard copy of the draft and save the electronic version. Review, edit, and revise using your dictionary and thesaurus. Incorporate corrections and revisions into the digital document. Always remember to save each iteration. Once you have a final finished piece, save it to your desktop. Be sure to change the format to single space prior to uploading it to your blog site.
The benefit of drafting and finishing the entry on your computer device is two-fold: (1) you can save the document for future reference, and (2) you can copy and paste the edited final version for insertion into the post framework on your blog site. It’s a win-win proposition. Log into the admin page of your blog and click on the post tab. Follow the steps for uploading a new entry. Copy and paste your piece and hit the save draft button. After inserting the draft, list the tags which will help search engines find your post.
TAGGING YOUR POST
Tags are key words culled from your entry. You choose the ones you want. For example, key words and phrases from this post include: Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, Instagram, Dostoyevsky, Lewis Carroll, Virginia Woolf, Obama White House, search engine optimization, Reddit, and blogosphere. There’s no limit and each one of the more unusual tags helps boost your entry’s visibility. The tags will appear on the published post following your name and the date of publication. Before uploading your piece, write out the ones you want to use. After uploading check off the categories appropriate to your post. Type the title of your entry in the designated space and add a graphic image before publishing.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION
Before I really understood the meaning of this phrase, I was intimidated by it. These three words comprise a fancy saying for publicizing blog posts. SEO is important, but it’s not the only game in town. Each time a new entry is published, search engine crawlers pick it up and look for the key words which will determine the post’s ranking. Be creative in selecting tags, go for the lesser known, infrequently used, and unusual words and phrases.
There are other tools available to the blogger to boost visibility: specifically, websites and links to other social media platforms. I have an author Facebook page and I use it to repost my entries on writing. I also have a Twitter account where I occasionally repost. Use social media strategically to enhance your presence. Again, be creative, innovative, and purposeful. Above all else, develop and implement strategies which work for you. Trust your intuition and instincts to provide guidance.
Have you ever been admonished to think before you speak? The blogosphere is an exciting place; it can also be a hostile and unforgiving environment. Posting entries written out of anger, ignorance, pain, or vengefulness will bite back. Rants go viral, creating havoc, bringing unwanted negative publicity, and unanticipated consequences. Entries based entirely on one’s opinion can generate dicey dialogue and uncomfortable situations. Despite its informality, there is a set of standards for speaking your peace in cyberspace.
- Be transparent with your blog. Tell the truth – be honest. If there’s an aspect of the information you want to share which could potentially pose problems, rethink your approach. Remember why you’re blogging. Poseurs are quickly detected and challenged.
- Admit mistakes. No one is immune and your willingness to acknowledge errors goes a long way toward establishing integrity and reinforcing credibility.
- Be responsive. Bloggers who don’t acknowledge the comments they receive will lose their audience. Be sensitive to feedback. Act judiciously when handling malicious comments, libel, spam, obscenities, or personal attacks.
- Tread carefully when blogging about controversial topics.
- Apologize when you’re notified of content followers find offensive. Keep an open mind: not everyone is going to like, or agree with what is posted.
- Don’t over-react to comments which take you by surprise but do recognize this can, and will happen.
- Exercise discretion when blogging about family, friends, or co-workers. Obtaining permission isn’t a bad idea.
- Don’t publish something impetuously. Posts can be taken down, however, they will also be read while they’re available.
- Remember, posts are archived and can be read by anyone at any time.
- Don’t share information which could result in identity theft.
Okay, now you’re ready to start blogging: go for it!!! And have fun.
¹ The Tech Dude: All About Blogging
Jones, Joseph, The Santa Fe New Mexican [Santa Fe, N.M.] 25 Nov 2003