The following is a work-in-progress copy of my presentation notes for this month’s Toronto WordPress Group meetup. I’ve been hacking away at this thing through the afternoon, so I figured it might as well be my Monday blog post.
Why this topic?
At WordCamp Toronto 2011, we received a lot of feedback from WordPress.com members who felt that they were being sidelined as “second-class” users. The concern was understandable, as most of the WCTO presentations focused on custom themes and plugins – two subjects that aren’t of much use to .com users.
With that in mind, our March meetup is going to focus on the publishing side of WordPress, and we’ll cover topics that apply to WordPress.com and WordPress.org users alike.
There are three hurdles that we’ll cover today:
- Brainstorming - Coming up with ideas for blog posts.
- Scheduling - Crafting a predictable routine and sticking to it.
- Posting & Syndication - Reaching more people with less effort.
Identifying the Players
WordPress.org and WordPress.com are two sides of the same coin.
The division between WordPress.org and WordPress.com is silly, because both platforms are one and the same, competing against different products and catered to different audiences.
WordPress.org competes as a CMS product against Drupal and Joomla. The appeal is control, flexibility, and extensibility – there’s a huge amount of support for WordPress sites. For developers and users alike, WordPress is more accessible and easier to learn than either Drupal or Joomla.
WordPress.com competes as a blogging service against Tumblr and Blogger. The appeal is ease of use, performance, a huge community of users, and constant investment in growth. For enterprise customers, WordPress.com VIP is unmatched by any other hosted blogging platform.
WordPress is the only platform that performs well in both worlds. You’d never mistake Drupal or Joomla for an easy-to-use blogging tool, and you’d never mistake Tumblr or Blogger for a powerful CMS – yet WordPress does both quite well, and it’s beginning to push into the world of online shopping (WP-Commerce, WooCommerce) and community sites (WordPress Multisite, BuddyPress, bbPress).
Publishing is Universal
WordPress was born out of a desire for an elegant, well-architectured personal publishing system built on PHP and MySQL .
I chose publishing as the focus of today’s meetup because it’s a universal topic, not just to both sides of the WordPress coin, but also to the competing products – Drupal, Joomla, Tumblr, Blogger.
It’s universal, and WordPress does a better job of it than any other platform, because publishing has always been the focus of WordPress. To quote the WordPress.org site, it’s a delightfully simple focus on “enhancing the typography of everyday writing”.
Hurdle 1: Brainstorming
Growing up, I always wanted to be a cartoonist, like Charles Schulz, the creator of Charlie Brown and Snoopy. When I was twelve, my parents gave me a big book about cartooning. The one thing I remember from this book is the lesson about inspiration. Ideas will come to you out of nowhere, and you can’t rely on your memory to keep track of these lightbulb moments – so carry a notebook.
So, ever since then, I’ve always had a notebook with me.
That lesson applies to publishing, of course. You never know when an idea will hit you, so make like a Boy Scout and always be prepared – have something with you, in which you can capture ideas as they pop up.
Digital: I’m a huge fan of Evernote. It works on every device and it syncs to the web. I swear by this app. The free version is great, the paid version is amazing. Other options include Microsoft’s OneNote, now a free mobile app, Google Docs, Google Tasks, Remember the Milk. There are many, many memo apps available on mobile marketplaces, too.
Traditional: For longer notes, jotting things down in meetings, or wherever else, I use a cheap Dollarama notebook protected by a decent leather case. It works, which is all that matters. Somewhat relevant point: I read somewhere that writing things down by hand commits more to memory.
The Headlines (Sandwich Method)
There’s an oft-repeated lesson that writing a good blog post starts with the headline. I believe it. By capturing your ideas in headlines, you’re essentially creating a brief summary for your post to follow. You can flesh out the details later.
Where do good ideas come from?
Inspiration can hit you from anywhere, but there are three general types of posts that are useful for focusing your thought process: lists, easy for readers to skim; reviews, useful and opinionated; and guides, an excellent opportunity for you to establish thought leadership.
Hurdle 2: Scheduling (Timing Is Everything)
Predictability is Key! Build a Routine
Our lives are filled with routine. Waking up, getting the kids ready, taking them to school, heading to work, lunch, going to the gym, going home, taking out the trash, walking the dog… it’s all predictable. Sometimes we don’t want to do it, but we do it anyway, because it needs to be done. And by working with schedules, we’re able to organize all those different obligations into a neat routine.
But it doesn’t need to be a daily occurrence.
Predictability is more important than frequency. Three good posts a week will trump seven half-hearted attempts. By being predictable with a posting schedule, readers can fit your blog into their routine.
What schedule works for you? Experiment with different formats.
Two approaches that might work for you:
a.) Write in advance.
Set some time aside to peruse through your brainstorming notes and write posts in bulk. Weekends are the best for this, I find. Spend a lazy Sunday afternoon preparing your posts for the week, and schedule them for later posting.
b.) Write the night before.
If you’re posting on a Tuesday morning, write your post on Monday night.
It’s important that you practice discipline and stick to your routine, or else you might get lazy and procrastinate more than you publish. Calendars can be useful for this, as they let you set hard deadlines with dates and times.
If you’re already using a calendar to manage your appointments and schedules, great! Start adding your blog posts to it, and consider setting them as recurring events with reminders. (I’m looking at you, Outlook users!)
If you’re not already using a calendar to manage your day-to-day activities, here are some options:
Digital: Google Calendar, Hotmail Calendar, and Yahoo! Calendar are solid and free. Your desktop and mobile devices also have built-in calendars that you can use and sync with the web.
Traditional: Go to the dollar store, buy a calendar – seriously.
Hurdle 3: Posting & Syndication
There’s more than one way to craft a blog post.
I have a confession to make: I loathe writing blog posts directly in the WordPress editor. It just doesn’t feel right. Instead, I write my blog posts in Word or Windows Live Writer, and publish them to my site in draft format. From there, I’ll make the “final touches” in WordPress – inserting images, linking text, tidying up the formatting, and adding Meta data.
If you also find the WordPress editor to be less than welcoming for composing text, I have some recommendations for you.
- Windows Live Writer: Free tool for Windows users, part of the Windows Live Essentials suite.
- Microsoft Office: Provides support for direct-to-blog publishing in Word 2010.
- ScribeFire: Browser plugin for Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari. http://www.scribefire.com/
- For Mac: Going to the crowd for this one – any suggestions?
When it comes to post syndication, I stand by the hub-and-spokes model.
Your audience is going to be spread across multiple platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc), and you want to reach them in a way that they find convenient. But just as all roads point to Rome, you want all those social network updates (the spokes) pointing back to your blog (the hub).
The Manual Approach: When a new blog post is live, you can make the rounds to your different social network accounts and run the updates by hand. It’s time consuming, but some may praise this as the most honest and “authentic” way of participating in the online community.
The Assisted Approach: Using a browser plugin like Shareaholic, you can share to multiple accounts with a single update. Alternatively, you can use dashboard applications like Seesmic or TweetDeck to hit up the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) from one screen.
The Automated Approach: Hook your blog’s RSS feed into Ping.fm and automatically push updates out to all of your accounts. You can also use Twitterfeed to push updates to Twitter, and pull your Twitter updates into any social network that allows it.
Once you’ve made your posts, it’s important that you keep your eyes open for responses.
Social Media Dashboards: Tweetdeck and Seesmic are good for general use. For businesses, products range from the accessible (Hootsuite, Jugnoo.me) to the enterprise (Radian6, Syncapse).
Google Alerts: Track whatever text you want across the interwebs, hook it into an RSS feed or get alerts sent directly to your email inbox.
This is an amazing book that focuses entirely on painless content creation for your website or blog.
Copyblogger @ www.copyblogger.com
Copyblogger Media has a blog that you should bookmark, a series of lessons that you should subscribe to, and a handful of awesome WordPress plugins for online publishing + marketing.
Plinky @ www.plinky.com
Plinky helps you write inspired blog posts by asking you questions on a daily/weekly basis.