Creating meaningful blog connections

(Originally published on September 22, 2008 on The Next Stage)

On August 10, 2008, in the wee small hours of the morning, a propane station blew up in Toronto. The video and the information was all over the internet long before it reached the mainstream media, even Television.

Lorraine Murpny, taking over the world, one blog post at a time...
Lorraine Murphy, taking over the world, one blog post at a time...

Local blogger Lorraine Murphy, otherwise known as Raincoaster, was awake that night, and saw the first reports about the explosion coming in on her Twitter feed. She immediately blogged about it, linking to videos, photos, and other blogs. Her blog ratings for that post were very soon #1 on Google.

Lorraine Murphy is a professional blogger here in Vancouver. Her blogs include, (link blogging), The Fearless City project, and, of course, Raincoaster. She is also a social media consultant, and teaches a workshop called Pimp My Blog (details at the end) on how to grow your readership in a meaningful way. She defines meaningful connections as “linking to you, reading you, leaving comments, or recommending you to their friends.”

She shared some of her tips with me, in this, the third of my three-part series on blogging.

1. Be aware of different ways for people to access your blog.

You can physically go to the website and read the blog, you can subscribe to the blog through RSS readers, or by email updates (Feedburner can help you to write the code needed to create this widget for your blog, if you don’t already have it). The more of those options you can make available to people, the more people you can get to read your blog.

2. Blogrolling:

Blogrolling is still happening, but it is not as popular as it used to be. Blogrolling is kind of like having a links page on your website—you put your favorite blogs on your blogroll, and hopefully, those to whom you are linking, put you on theirs. “In addition to putting someone on your blogroll, also write a post about it,” is Murphy’s big tip about blogrolling. It gives them an extra boost.

3. Linking to other blogs in your posts

Linking and quoting other blog posts is a great way to increase traffic to your blog. Murphy warns against linking to Wikipedia or corporate websites or BoingBoing. Your link love will go unrequited–they are too big to care too much about linking to you. Linking to other bloggers is going to get the attention of individual bloggers and draw them to your site as they check trackbacks.

4. Commenting on other blogs:
Probably the best way to create a following is to post high-quality, appropriate comments on blogs that you are reading. “Add value or add amusement,” Murphy says. Don’t forget to leave your name and the URL of your blog so that they can follow you back to your blog.

5. Write often, and write well.
“Keep it short,” Murphy says, “just get it out there!” She recommends 100-200 words per blog post, and be sure to include at least one image. “It’s a multi-media platform—use multimedia!” Use keywords, but not too many—Wordpress will only allow 10-12 keywords and categories per post. Write about only one thing in your post. Write at least one blog post per week, three is optimal.

6. Include buttons on your site to connect with social networking
Buttons for Facebook, Digg, stumbleupon,,technorati, feedburner, and fark, right on your website, will make it easier for people who’ve read your post to share it with their network if they really like it. If you have a WordPress or Blogger blog, this feature is built in, but if you are running your own show, installing these buttons could help increase your readership. “It’s good to enable people to follow you around,” says Murphy. But she also reflects that a very small percentage of her readership comes from hits off of Twitter or Facebook.

7. Know your blogging platforms
Tumblr is a new blogging platform, similar to WordPress or Blogger. It’s pretty slick, but unlike WordPress or Blogger, it doesn’t allow you to connect with people off of Tumblr. So your audience potential is smaller. The platform is probably the strongest blogging platform available, and is probably the best in terms of Search Engine Optimization.

8. Add your blog URL to your email signature
”You wouldn’t think that it would have that much pull, but it really does,” says Murphy.

Pimp My Blog
takes place on Saturday, September 27, 10 am—2 pm, at  Tradeworks Training Society, 87 E Pender St. The course costs $150, which includes all materials, including computers. Email to register.

Becoming more bloggable

Originally published on August 26, 2008 on The Next Stage)

If you google Vancouver blog, the number one hit is Miss 604. Rebecca Bolwitt is a born-and-bred-in-Vancouver professional blogger and podcaster, whose Vancouver-centric blog garners 40,000-50,000 unique visitors a month.

I interviewed Rebecca about how new media is changing the face of traditional media, and how we, as artists, can use it to help market ourselves.

RC: How do you think blogs are changing the face of traditional media?

RB: Blogs are making traditional media know that they need to be more immediate. The thing about a blog versus a newspaper is that it [the newspaper] can’t change. The thing about blogging is that you can post a news story in the morning, and it can change through the day. You can have comments on it, you can continue the discussion. What blogging is doing for traditional media is that it’s making them realize that it’s becoming a two way discussion. You can hear back from your readers, and not just in traditional ways like letters to the editors.

Secondly, you can also go mobile—people can get updates on their phone, have online subscriptions—RSS—so the news goes to your inbox every morning, instead of your front door mat.

Thirdly, anybody can be a producer. Anybody can produce content, have people pay attention to it and watch it. Everyone can be a part of what the internet is becoming. And what the internet is becoming is something that traditional media outlets can no longer ignore—since it is so huge, it is so big, and it’s engaging people in conversation.

RC: Do you think blogs are gaining in credibility (as compared to mainstream media)?

RB: Yes, definitely. If I’m writing a post about Vancouver history, I research my pieces; from my dad, from textbooks, from online sources. I can quote them, and link back to my original source, which you can’t always do in a newspaper. People can also call you on it if you make mistakes. In that way, blogs can be very credible. We are gaining in credibility, however it is a very slow process.

A lot of people are scared of bloggers. People are still very hesitant to trust bloggers, because there are few bad seeds out there, and there are some who are doing it just for fun, but there are also those who would like to gain credibility in the mainstream realm.

RC: If I have an art event to promote, and I invite the mainstream media to come out and see it, we have a kind of unspoken contract that we will let them in for free, and they will give us some press about it. Does it work the same way with bloggers?

RB: Absolutely. If you are willing to give me access to your event and blog about it, certainly.
The thing about bloggers is, if you invite us to your event, we are very open and honest and transparent. That’s the big thing about blogging. If we’ve been invited to an event for free and in exchange we are writing a post about it, we are going to be honest about our experience. We can say if we had a bad time—or not. That’s just the way it is. We have no editor to report to, just ourselves, and as long as we let them know. I don’t want people to think I am being paid off to write positive reviews.

RC: How do I know that a blogger is legitimate? Anyone can have their own blog, what if they are just looking for free tickets?

RB: This is a very valid question. To know a blogger is legitimate, you need to know their first and last name, not just their handle. You need to know who this person is. Google them, and find out that they don’t also have a blog that is terrible and illegal. Ask around town and see if people know them, have heard of them. But most importantly, read their blog, and see what they’re all about. Make sure they are the right type of person you would want at your event—if it’s a fit. Also, if you are looking for the most reach, don’t be afraid of asking for their stats. Bloggers check their stats. How many unique visitors do they have every month?

RC: How do I pitch my event to you?

RB: If someone copies and pastes a press release in an email to me without even a “Hi, Rebecca!” or a “Hi, Miss 604!” I’m probably not going to pay much attention to it. You need to be personal. You need to know what the blogger’s about. Read their site.

Let the blogger have free access to it. For me, if it’s not on my radar as something I’m already going to attend or can/would attend, I would need that incentive.

To pitch an event to a blogger, you have to realize what they are writing about, You have read their site, and then contact them, either through email or a contact form on their site.

RC: Is it okay to ask a blogger about their stats?

RB: Yes it is!! 90% of bloggers look at their stats, and where traffic is coming from. A big thing for bloggers is to give them link love. What that means is, if you have a website link back to the blogger once they’ve written about you. That makes us feel really good. We like that people are paying attention, that they are open to bloggers, open to communication. It makes me want to deal with them in the future, and recommending them to my friends.

RC: What are some good blogs to pitch to?

RB: Try pitching to the group blogs in Vancouver. I also blog for Metroblogging Vancouver, and we have about 8 authors right now. Some focus on politics, some on food, so you can submit to us and someone will pick it up. Beyond Robson is another Vancouver group blog. The good thing about group blogs is that, more than likely, someone will be writing about your subject matter, and pick it up.

Other good ones to submit to are ones you read. If you read someone’s blog, and you have an event coming up, pitch it to them. If it’s a food event, find some food bloggers. If it’s a sporting event, find some sports bloggers. A good way to find popular blogs is to just google them. It means that they are doing it right, and have excellent SEO (search engine optimization).

RC: Any additional words of wisdom for using blogs/bloggers to promote your art event?

RB: The biggest thing in dealing with bloggers is reading blogs. Find some daily reads, the ones that you enjoy, and those are probably going to be the ones you are wanting to pitch to. You don’t want to send them a big huge press release, you want to be personal. NO generic “Dear Sir/Madam”. Be personable. Blogging is very personal, it’s a real discussion, it’s person to person, it’s comments, it’s transparent. Bloggers love free stuff, and when they get free stuff, they will write about it. Make sure you supply them with your website so they can link back to you, which will help drive traffic to your site.

In conclusion:

  • NO copy and paste press releases
  • Let the blogger know you’re reading their stuff
  • Make sure the event is a good fit
  • Link back

– Rebecca Bolwitt, Rebecca Coleman, Simon Ogden and Rob Parker of YaYah Studios will all be participating on a panel discussion tenatively called The New Face of Marketing: Facebook, Text and the Bloggers’ World at the Making a Scene Theatre Conference on Friday, November 14 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Granville Island.

Miss 604 image via Miss 604

For a streaming or downloadable podcast of this post (the interview in its entirety), click here.

Welcome to the blogosphere

Originally published July 29, 2008 on The Next Stage)

To listen to the interview in its entirety, click here. (27 minutes)

If you are reading this, you already have at least a handshake acquaintance with blogging (given that it’s published on a blog and all). This month, I delve into the basics of blogging, with the help of the authors of Blogging for Dummies, Second Edition, Shane Birley and Susannah Gardner. Shane is a partner in Left Right Minds, a web development, arts management, business blogging and on line marketing content consultant company, here in Vancouver. He also writes a bunch of blogs. Susannah is the owner of Hop Studios, a web design company, and author of, among others, Buzz Marketing with Blogs. Oh, and she also writes blogs. Enough introductions, on with the show!!

Shane Birley, Susannah Gardner and Rebecca Coleman at the Left Right Minds Studio.
Shane Birley, Susannah Gardner and Rebecca Coleman at the Left Right Minds Studio.

What is a blog?
According to Blogging for Dummies, the word blog is an amalgam of two words: “web” and “log.” Another term you may have heard being bandied about is “blogosphere.” Shane says the blogosphere is simply, “everyone on their soapbox.” Basically, if you have something you feel like writing about, and are willing to put the time in, you can have a blog. And because the internet is so wide, you will probably get an audience, even if that audience is only your family and friends. But more about garnering an audience later.

As an artist, how can having a blog help me?
A blog can be a very powerful marketing tool, albeit an informal one, for several reasons.
Technical stuff: The more often you blog, the more often you will be indexed by search engines, and the higher you will come up in a search. “Search engines love fresh content,” says Susannah, “and blogs feed right into that. The more you put yourself out there, them more you make yourself a possible search result, the better the chances are, you will be able to increase your profile. In a fairly painless, non-traditional way.”
Get to know the person behind the product/service: “People respond to people,” says Susannah. “It is incredibly powerful to be able to speak to the artist directly—you don’t always have access to that. Blogs help to create a dialogue between the audience and the writer.”

What do I need to start a blog?
First, you need to decide if you are going to sign up for web-based blogging software, or use software that will post your blog under your own, dedicated domain name.
I am going to talk about how to start a blog using web-based software, as I think this is the most popular, and easiest route to go for a beginning blogger.
The two most popular blog software programs out there are Blogger and Word Press (this blog is done on Word Press). Signing up for either one is a very simple, three-step process.

Now, here’s some stuff you might like to add on:
About Me/Profile:
“If you are wanting to use your blog as a marketing tool, and you don’t have a bio, don’t bother having a blog,” says Shane. “You’re talking about yourself, but there is nowhere they can go to get a background on who you are.”
Comment section: Blogs that elicit comments from their readers are considered to be successful. That doesn’t mean you should write stuff that it controversial just to elicit comments, but blogging is all about creating dialogue. So ask your readers for their opinions and comments.
Archives/Categories: This helps people to find similar posts to the ones that they like and enjoy. Most blog software programs have this built in.
Blogroll: Shane describes a blogroll as being, “a listing of blogs that you recommend to other people.” This is similar to a links section on a webpage, and all about cross-promotion.
Photos: add visual interest to your blog posting.
Widgets: third party pieces of software, which are embedded in your blog, and are little add-ons, like Flikr, which show your latest photos in your sidebar, polls, or ETSY, which allow you to show your latest products right on your blog.

What the heck is RSS?
Shane and Susannah both agree that RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. RSS is code, written in a language called XML. Every time you update your blog, the RSS feed goes out, and lets all the search engines on the web know that you have a new posting. Also, if you read blogs using a program like Google Reader, it lets people who subscribe to your blog that there is a new posting. Shane recommends that everyone “go to Google Reader and sign up for an account and take the tutorial.”
Most blog software has an RSS feed built in, so once you activate your blog, you don’t need to worry about it again, it updates automatically.

How many times a week should I blog? What’s the magic number?

This is a controversial question. The more often you blog, the more often you will be indexed by the search engines, which drives up your profile. However, you also have to be able to be inspired enough, and be able to sustain, writing 3-4 blog posts per day, if that is what you want to do. That can lead to burn out, or some pretty lousy blog posts. Or worse, you can overwhelm your audience, and you may lose them completely. Shane and Susannah agree the magic number is “ a couple times a week.” Shane recommends, if you are thinking of starting a blog, to “do it once a day for an entire month, and if you can, then you will probably be a successful blogger. If you do it for a couple of days, and can’t maintain it, maybe you should think about another medium, like audio or video blogging.”

How do I garner a readership for my blog?
Here are some suggestions from Susannah and Shane:

  • Make it searchable by search engines. Most blogging software will do this for you automatically, but you may also want to register your blog with sites like Technorati or Feedburner.
  • Put your blog address in the signature line of all your outgoing email.
  • Make a business card with the address on it.
  • Put your blog address on anything that gets handed out.
  • Let your friends and family know, send out a mass email, inviting people to read.
  • Buy advertising, such as Google Ad Sense.
  • Post comments on other people’s blogs, and include your blog address.
  • Make your blog posts related to something that is current and newsworthy, be topical.

Final comments?

Susannah: “In general, try to think about who you’re blogging for, and what they’re interested in. Don’t get fixated on traffic numbers. You want an audience that is interested in you–you don’t need 5 million readers, just the 50 who are actually interested in you.”

Shane: “Blogging is writing. Read blogs, comment on blogs, get involved in the community. Get out and talk to people. Nothing spreads like word of mouth, it’s faster than the internet and any RSS feed.”

Special thanks to Shane Birley and Susanah Gardner. Blogging for Dummies, the Second Edition, is available widely in bookstores, and I highly recommend it as an informative, but easy read.

Special Thanks also to Dave “the sound guy” Rankin.

And until next time, here’s to bums in seats everyhwere…