On Social Media, and How I Built my Blog, Part 1

I’m writing this post for the Society of Actuaries Annual meeting, to explain some of the nuances of building a blog, and using social media.  I write this knowing that I am still a learner after 4.5 years of blogging.

Goals

The first question is why do you want to blog?  What do you have to say?  Do you have a lot to say, and the expertise to back it up?  You will need that if you want to blog long-term.  You should be able to state your goals in 30 seconds or so.

My main goal is to give back to others.  My secondary goal is to raise my profile, because it indirectly aids my businesses.

Commitment

Are you willing to give blogging regular time?  A few times a day? Once a day?  A few times a week?  Once a week?  As the frequency gets lower, the demand on quality gets higher.  If you can’t meet the tradeoff of quality versus frequency, blogging might not be for you.

Do You Have a Thick Skin?

I can be hurt.  My skin is not so thick that I can’t be hurt, but once you start publishing, the attacks can be significant.  The attacks can be reduced if you are humble, and willing to admit mistakes.

Building Your Brand

It is easier in the short run to start with Blogspot or some other free blog hosting service.  But then you have less control over anything except your content.  From the start, I had my own domain, and using WordPress, almost all of my blog has been self-created.  All of the utilities that I used to create the blog were free or donation-based.

Themes are readily available, which can make the appearance of your blog distinctive.  A little theme editing can go a long way.  Themes also can contain useful widgets like calendars, and other ways of segmenting your posts in order to make them more accessible.

Fixed Content

By fixed content, I mean pages that rarely ever change.  Who are you?  What are your goals?  How can they contact you, should you want that?  I have fixed pages for Book Reviews, My Portfolio Rules, Presentations I have given, etc.

Starting Out

Write a really good post, and point it out to a few bloggers who might be friendly to your point of view.  Ask them for a link, or to be on their blogroll.

Show Link Love

When you find good content, write about it and link to it.  If you do this well, links start coming back to you.  Maybe you will create anew niche, where you curate all the best posts in a given subject area.

Make Your Blog Accessible to Readers

Not everyone wants to make a regular trip to your blog, to pull your posts.  They might like the content pushed to them.

Do readers want to read your posts via email?  Then set up an account with FeedBlitz.

Do readers want to read your posts via Really Simple Syndication [RSS]?  Then set up an account with FeedBurner (a Google Sub).

If you have a good blog, you can allow an aggregator to scrape your RSS feed, and you will be published there as well.  More fame, but they get the ad revenue.

Worse, if you have a really good blog, unpermitted scrapers will republish your work (I have maybe a dozen or more).  I don’t care much about this, but many bloggers do.  You can threaten them with legal action; which usually gets them to stop.

Make Your Blog Visible to Google

Using a utility like XML-Sitemaps, it is easy to have a rich set of links for your site when people search using Google.

Offering Metadata on Posts

When you post, use categories and/or tags so that people can search your content for the things they are interested in.

Comments

Think in advance as to what your comment policy should be.  Unmonitored, monitored on the first post, you reserve the right to delete anything, etc.  Do you even want public comments?  Emails to you could be enough…  I monitor comments, all first posts must be approved by me, and I see all comments via e-mail, and edit/delete objectionable comments.  Oh, one more thing, I have people register in order to make comments.  That doesn’t mean that I get get any true information about them, but it does mean that there is a little hurdle, which means that a person has to be motivated to make a comment.  It makes the comments more high-quality.

Excerpts of recent comments appear on the front page of the blog along with excerpts from other websites quoting my work — a utility called “Get Recent Comments” automatically takes care of it.  Users can also subscribe to comments if they like, post by post, or all comments by RSS.

Using Akismet, or another utility to eliminate spam comments is necessary.  If your blog gets big, you will have to set up a Captcha to strain out machines that try to register with you and send spam comments.  Before I had this, my service provider nearly shut me down because of the huge number of Russian entities trying to use my blog unsuccessfully for spam.

Improving Usability

I added utilities to my blog to allow people to turn my writings to print, PDF, Word, XML, etc.  I used Universal Post Manager to do that.  It also allows users to send information about my blog to other social media sites, such as:

bloggerbuzzdeliciousdiggfacebookgooglelinkedinmyspacenetvibesnewsvineredditslashdotstumbleupontechnoratitwitteryahoo

The Guts

Regular database backup is important.  There are utilities that do it quietly in the background.  In order to speed up the loading of the site, I use WP Minify and WP Super Cache, which caches the most recent version of the site for fast loading, along with the CSS and Javascript.

Tracking the Response

I use Googlebots, via Google Alerts to troll the web for comments about me or my blog.  Feedburner gives me data about how my RSS traffic is doing.

Quantcast and Google Analytics give me detailed demographic information on what sort of people read my blog.  I’ll give some examples in my next post.

Finally, I can get basic data on how much overall use the blog has been getting through simple software like WP Stats, Statcounter, and my blog host, Netfirms.

That’s all for now, more in part 2.