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Monday, June 21, 2010

7 Ways to SuperCharge Your Blog or News Out to Your Friends and Followers



Sharing the news from your organization, classroom, or just your personal writing is easier than ever using RSS (Really Simply Syndication.)

There are some very easy tips to make sharing easy.

Remember, in many ways the web is distributed and people are sharing in a wide variety of places everywhere. Many organizations make the mistake of marketing to the principal or the board or the most vocal. Just because your leaders are there doesn't mean everyone else is.  It is all about who you're linking with and you should go where they are.  That is what these strategies help you do.

1) Set up a Blog
This is the backbone of your sharing strategy and with most blogs like blogger (which I use), wordpress, edublogs, typepad comes RSS. It is an automatically generated "feed" that allows you to send your blog just about everywhere and make your life simple.

If you want to write a blog but are scared, use something like posterous which just lets you email the service and the blog is set up for you! (If you send an email to post@posterous.com and you've just started blogging.)

2) Improve Your RSS Feed with a Feed Manager
2A. Remix the Feed
My Feed "Chicklet"

Most blogs have generic RSS code, but if you want to remix it, put it on your organization's website and add enhancements, I like using FeedBurner (now owned by Google)- in simple terms, this means that if you change blogging services that you can easily move your subscribers from one blog to another and once they subscribe they are "yours." I use feedburner but there are other services out there.

Note that if you do this, that you should go into your blog settings and redivert your blog to the one feed through feedburner if you want an accurate count of subscribers. Otherwise, if you don't care, don't bother.  Reference: Alternatives to Feedburner

Build Bridges to Your Other Websites through Automation
2B. Republish it as HTML onto your websites
The most useful tool to me is the "Republish as HTML."  If you look at my school website (www.westwoodschools.org) - you'll see that I used this on the homepage.  So, it takes the school news blog - summarizes the top few posts and then turns it into HTML which can then be posted on any web page.  This is great because you don't have to install fancy web editing software, if someone wants to update their web page, set up a blog on blogger, set up a feed on feedburner, republish as HTML and put it onto your webpage.  Reference: Save Time Webmaster! Use RSS Feeds

2C. Pick the right "size" feed
One tip on remixing your feed is that unless you're publishing as HTML, publish it as a FULL FEED.  This was reiterated on John Chow's post five days a go "How I Broke 100,000 RSS Readers." A full feed means that everything goes through.  People who think they have to get people to go to their website often only give a partial feed. (This is often done by those who drive their readership through an advertising model which shouldn't relate to most educational bloggers, schools, or nonprofits.)

2D. Make it insanely easy to subscribe
Your chicklet should definitely be "above the fold" (the part of the page that loads first called that because of the top fold of newspapers) - you can see mine on my blog is in the top right corner - I've had it in the top left for most of the time. Make it easy! Make it prominent! Definitely put it near an email subscription box!

Don't put a ton of widgets and such as that can make your page load more slowly. If you have a lot of ways for people to subscribe, then make a Subscription page like I have that has more information. I've seen this done on many sites like mashable.

2E. Provide frequency options
I've just now created an option for a weekly summary delivered via inbox. For many, daily is just too much of anyone! (How many people call their parents daily?) So, create a daily, weekly, and perhaps even a monthly option if you wish. If you do less than monthly, because of how often emails change, you may find that you're losing subscribers because of having so many inactive emails.


3) Syndicate Your RSS Feed
RSS is great, but I find that very few people have an RSS reader but have heard that over 60% of us check our email daily.  You've got to get into email as another option.

3a. Give multiple ways of letting people pull your information into their "attention zone"
Now, Feedburner has a built in email service, however, it doesn't have more advanced features like being able to customize the URL and some pretty handy things, so I use feedblitz.  If you see my "subscribe" page, you can see how feedblitz not only takes my feed and allows people to subscribe via email, but they can also get a twitter direct message, an instant message, a Skype or other notification when this blog updates.  I for one, use an RSS reader, but it is important to realize that we are a very distributed web and you want to reach people where they are, so, I'd recommend feedblitz. (See the sample at the bottom of this section.)

3b. Don't be a spammer
The other feature of feedblitz is that it automatically makes sure you are complying with the CAN-SPAM Act but it also lets you import an existing list of people into it - which means you can move over that list from your email.  If you're sending out emails to more than 50 people from your inbox, very likely, you'll end up on a blacklist on some server for spamming and then you have real issues. I'd definitely consider the move. The last thing you need is to not be in compliance because someone is unhappy with you! Don't SPAM!

Again, take the responsibility to wisely use your channels - OVERPOSTING is a common reason people unsubscribe. However, if it is useful and they reap benefit, it isn't spam. Spammy-ness happens when you abuse the privilege and honor of people's twitter streams and inboxes! It also happens when people don't have the choice to unsubscribe. Life changes and so must our inboxes and feedreaders.

3c. Let Friends Be Your Bullhorn
Feedblitz also has an option that you can have people automatically tweet out that you've updated your blog or news service and  or it will put it on their facebook wall. This is especially important for charitable organizations that have infrequent announcements.

3d. Add Accessibility by converting to audio automatically
Feedblitz has also added automatic Talkr syndication (their site was down this afternoon, but last time I checked it was working) which means it can automatically convert your blog feed to AUDIO. This is so easy (and free) it is a must do. For educators who believe in including everyone, come on and make your blog and news accessible!

3e. Reward and Remind
One advantage of having email newsletters is that you can offer special incentives to those who subscribe over email and a bit more "privacy" in some ways as you are in their inbox. You can schedule special posts that don't go out over your blog from the feedblitz console, so this is perfect for schools.

Sample of Feedblitz Weekly Subscription Option for this Blog

Note: I'm testing some of these new options, so if you test it, please email your feedback to vicki@coolcatteacher.com - I'd appreciate it!
 

4) Automatically Post to Twitter and Facebook When You Blog
Let people know that you're updating what you're doing without having to remember to use ping.fm or update on twitter or facebook.  I use twitterfeed for this, but don't let the name fool you.  If you'll take your feed into Twitterfeed, you can have it send out Twitter messages when you update automatically.  I use this to send messages from cool cat teacher but also to @flatclassroom when we update our blog and @digiteen as well.

You can also use twitterfeed to send out your facebook updates and I have started doing this as a SEPARATE feed from the one for Twitter in Twitterfeed and disconnected Twitter from facebook. If you do it separately, it will post the title and the first several hundred characters of your post which is better for you because most people don't take the time to click the links. (As an aside, I'd also recommend linking your twitter account to friendfeed as well so you can share in a lot more places when you automatically send out your information.)

Additionally, note that you can link your Twitter account to almost any site such as Linked In and if your organization or you are there, you should do that. Link everywhere and anywhere appropriate for your audience. If it is free and it can be automated - go there!

5) Kindle It
This option may not be for everyone, but I've got a few Kindle subscribers to this blog. Most Kindle'rs I know have 6-8 feeds in their Kindle (or none at all.)  It is as simple as setting it up on https://kindlepublishing.amazon.com/.  Yes, they do have to pay for it and you'll get a couple of dimes for each subscription, however, it is another way to share your information.


I like to think of my kindle as my "media diet" as Mark Hurst says in his book Bit Literacy (one of my favorite digital productivity books, by the way) and so I usually read everything in my Kindle blog list daily or at least every other day. It has made a difference in my life and is much more manageable than my rss reader of several hundred blogs.


The Kindle reader blog list should be a coveted spot and if you're publishing 3-5 times a week minimum, people may pay to have it delivered. (Also note that the iPad has feed readers, so people can get it for free and they can read it for free in the kindle browser, however it is just a different reading experience.)


6) Make It Go Mobile
This is for a little more advanced users and I have to admit, I'm right in the midst of doing this on my blog, however, creating a mobile version of the site is pretty simple if you know some CSS. Some of these sites will do it without that knowledge, but I've been trying Mobify and that one definitely requires you to know how to hand code CSS.  Reference: How To Create or Convert a Site to a Mobile Format

We've updated our PowerSchool at the school and it comes automatic with a mobile interface. School SIS systems should have mobile access for small screens, it is just the way it is going and we need to syndicate for mobile.

7) Make Widgets
This is for more advanced and I wouldn't really recommend it for those who aren't as comfortable with a little more advanced tweaking.  Widgets are the little boxes on websites, like the Twitter box on the right side of my blog and shown below.






Add this widget to your blog and share the content from this blog wherever you are posting. Additionally, the one shown below can be shared and shows content from this blog.

This lets you mix up your Twitter, Youtube, and Feed, and any other place you share in one easy to embed widget that you can put anywhere -- your website, your facebook page.  This is another way to make things simple.  Additionally, people who are trying to keep their site updated can embed your widget (if you allow it) so they can keep their content fresh. I use Widgetbox and like it, but the pro version does have an expense.

Note: Before you go purchasing widgets, check in your blogging software to see if they have already made a widget that will do what you want. The only issue with this is that often these widgets cannot be moved off of your blog and you'll want to share this.
    








Really, these are good, honest ways you can do to "get the word out" about your school, class, organization, or what you're writing on your blog. I do not recommend "astroturfing" which is where you pretend to be someone else to improve your ratings in stores or anywhere - that is just unethical! 

Good luck and please, I beg you to share your favorite tools to syndicate RSS in the comments. A good blog post includes good comments and there are so many more things out there than I use! Thank you!
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