Web 2.0 and Social Media: A Practical Guide to the New, Live Web
Part 3: Collaboration
by Deltina Hay
The public relations community calls collaboration “becoming part of the conversation.” With the new, people-driven Internet, it is not enough to put your content out there; you also need to be willing to give back. This could mean commenting regularly on others’ content, joining and contributing to a social networking site, contributing to crowd-sourced news sites, or becoming an avatar in a virtual reality. Of course, this step is not completely altruistic, since all these efforts will eventually direct attention back to you.
Here are several collaborative activities for you to consider.
This one is pretty self-explanatory: Go to other people’s blogs and comment on their entries. Not just any blogs, though; you will want to target blogs that are of interest to you and relevant to your book topic, perhaps along with other blogs that your readers are probably frequenting.
Who should use it. If you have a blog of your own, you should be commenting on other’s blogs. It helps build credibility.
How to use it. Be authentic. Don’t comment for the sake of commenting (that is considered spamming). Instead, share sincere thoughts and concerns—you will be amazed at the contacts you will make, and at the depth of the conversations that ensue.
Where to start. Use one of the blog search engines (Technorati, for example) to find blogs that interest you. And if you do a lot of commenting, think about using a service—such as Co.mments.com, Comment.com, or Commentful.com—that can help you track your conversations.
Crowd-Sourced News Aggregators
A news aggregator is a site that pulls in RSS news feeds from many different sources, including blogs. “Crowd-sourced” is a term used to describe news aggregators that let their visitors collectively determine the value of the content presented on their sites.
Some crowd-sourced aggregators have no editors at all; at Digg, for instance, visitors submit all the content, and other visitors “digg” the submissions, thus moving content further to the front page of the site with each digg. Reddit operates similarly but also filters an individual user’s content according to what that user has tagged as likes or dislikes. Other aggregators—Fark is an example—also work much the way Digg does, but submitted content must be approved by editors to make it onto the site.
Who should use them. You can benefit from participating on these sites even if you do not have a blog or Web site. They offer yet another way to build credibility in your area of expertise.
How to use them. It is a good idea to vote on or digg other sites, stories, or blogs in addition to your own. Successful marketing in this arena needs to be done in the spirit of collaboration.
Where to start. Visit Digg (digg.com), Reddit (reddit.com), and Fark (fark.com) to get an idea of the diversity of the tools. Other sites to investigate are Netscape (netscape.com), Newswire (newswire.com), and Shoutwire (shoutwire.com).
Social networking via MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like has become one of the most powerful social media tools. Many social networking sites offer a personal profile page where you can post information about yourself, invite other people to join your network, join groups, send out bulletins, and so forth. But there are distinct differences among them. MySpace and Facebook are both considered social networks. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is more of a professional networking tool, and sites for authors and publishers like Shelfari (shelfari.com) and Book Movement (bookmovement.com) are designed for niche networking.
Who should use it. It is a good idea to have a presence in at least one of these networks; they are tremendously powerful networking tools and could have a huge impact on your readership.
How to use it. Poke around to get a feel for each community you visit; then base your decision to join on your impression. It doesn’t hurt to join several, even if you don’t participate in all of them. You will find that more and more libraries, bookstores, and publishers are joining these networks. Be proactive: seek them out and invite them to join your network. And always read and respect a network’s guidelines.
Where to start. Wikipedia has a good list to get you started (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites), and there’s a site with more detailed information: rev2.org/2006/07/11/33-places-to-hangout-in-the-social-networking-era.
These tools are used to share short updates instead of or in addition to blogging. The updates can be short text entries, images, or other kinds of content, and they can be sent out as cell phone text messages or instant messages, or through badges (or widgets) using RSS feeds.
Who should use them. If you already have a fairly large fan base, microblogs could be a good alternative to longer blog entries.
How to use them. Get an account (see below), and post updates on what you are doing from time to time. You can also post a badge/widget on your blog or Web site that lists your latest entries to your microblog.
Where to start. The most popular sites for microblogging are Twitter.com and Jaiku.com.
These sites allow you to post information about events, tag that information with keywords others can use to search, and share it with others. This could let people in your region stumble on one of your events they might never have found otherwise. Another advantage is that you can place a widget or badge from one of these services that puts updated information on all your blogs and Web sites after you’ve provided it in only one place.
Who should use them. Anyone who hosts readings, signings, or other events.
How to use them. These services are pretty straightforward. You will need to get a user name and password, but beyond that it is just a matter of keeping your events current.
Where to start. A couple of good free services are Eventful.com and Upcoming.org.
Groups and Forums
Although they are similar to social networks, groups and forums are usually formed around a particular interest or affiliation. Groups are rather like email lists in that members post items and everyone in the group receives the posting. Forums are more like chat groups; members can bring up topics and discussions of them emerge as threads. You can create groups easily in Google or Yahoo; forums can be more challenging to set up and maintain.
Who should use them. You might consider becoming a regular contributor to a strong forum built around the topic of your book or around your type of business. This kind of collaboration can have a positive viral effect.
How to use them. Just as with social networks, it makes sense to get a feel for a forum or group before joining. If possible, read some of the conversations that are taking place. Once you find a group or forum that seems like a good fit, join up and respond to current threads or start new topics. Always read its guidelines, however, before posting—netiquette should be respected.
Where to start. Google and Yahoo both have great services for setting up groups. If you want to have your own forum, Ning.com is a good place to start, and there are plenty of more-sophisticated open-source alternatives, including Phpbb.com. You can also find relevant forums and groups on Google groups (groups.google.com), Yahoo groups (groups.yahoo.com), and Ning.com. Often, the strongest forums about a particular subject are hosted by organizations associated with that subject, so keep an eye out for forums on sites that you frequent for research or marketing information, or that your readers may be frequenting.
These sites are virtual 3-D worlds created by the participants. To participate, you create an avatar that will become your persona in the virtual world. You can then enter the 3-D environment as your avatar and meet other people, attend events, or create your own 3-D space. This is one social media tool you should experience firsthand before deciding to add it to your optimization plan.
Who should use them. If you enjoy games and are adept at them, you will do well in these worlds, and they might be an especially useful tool for science fiction or fantasy authors.
How to use them. First, dive in. Create an avatar. Crash into a few walls. Drive a car into a pond or two. And then go to the manual for instructions. OK, that may not be the best way; but it worked for me. Once you have a feel for a virtual world, you can begin to see possibilities that might apply to you, like building a virtual book club or opening a virtual coffee shop with poetry readings.
Where to start. Second Life (secondlife.com) is the most talked-about, but there are many others that may appeal more to your readership. Virtual Worlds Review (virtualworldsreview.com) is a good place to learn more.
What Works on the Live Web
To be successful in this new Internet arena, it is important to understand two things: the tools are changing, and we must learn to change the way we use the tools.
Businesses often make the mistake of attempting to apply old methods to the new tools, and it has been disastrous for many of them. Authors and small publishers have advantages over many other businesses, though—their agendas already include getting to know their readers on a more personal level, and they tend to be sincerely interested in knowing their readers. That sincerity fuels success in the live Web.
Deltina Hay is the owner and manager of Dalton Publishing, a literary press in Austin, TX. She has worked in programming and Web development for 25 years, and she reports that her love of publishing and media coupled with her passion for open-source programming led her to Web 2.0 and social media consulting. To learn more about social media, visit her site, Socialmediapower.com, and look for her upcoming book: Don’t Get Caught Dead in the New, Live Web: A Survival Guide to Social Media Optimization and Web 2.0. To read “Web 2.0 and Social Media: A Practical Guide to the New, Live Web, Part 1: Achieving Interactivity” (December 2007), and “Part 2: Sharing” (January), visit pma-online.org.
Resources and Strategies
Finding blogs to comment on:
Technorati (technorati.com). You can get overwhelmed with all the offerings on the front page of this blog search engine. I recommend using the search box in the upper right corner to start. Once you enter a general search term (say, “publishing”), you will have the choice of searching posts, blogs, videos, or photos. I prefer searching blogs rather than posts, since that narrows the search substantially.
Technorati will guide you with suggested Related Tags or subtopics. These can be helpful for narrowing your search. Don’t rely on its related tags too heavily, though. Notice how the tag choices change if you now enter “independent publishing” in the search box.
Google Blog Search (blogsearch.google.com). If you have grown accustomed to using Google as your main search engine, you will probably prefer this option. I would not rely on this method exclusively, however, since Google is still using its algorithms to present the top search results; other blog search engines use more organic methods.
See part 2 of this series of articles, on sharing, in the January issue of PMA Independent for a good list of RSS submission sites that can help you find more blog search engines.
Crowd-Sourced News Aggregators
Making it easy for others to “digg” your content:
Get an account at Digg.com and submit your content (you will need to follow this process at most other news sites too).
Pay close attention to its guidelines, and submit only URLs that are truly newsworthy. In other words, don’t submit the home page of your site “just because.” Instead, submit specific blog posts or news content you have created on your topic of interest.
Next, get a button to place on your site so others can digg your content as well. Once you have an account, go to digg.com/tools/integrate to create a button that will allow others to digg your content. For an example, go to Socialmediapower.com. Notice how different blog posts may have more diggs than others; it is not the entire site, but the individual posts that you want to submit to get maximum exposure.
In addition to a Digg button, you can provide ways for your readers to add your content to many other news sites.
Share This (sharethis.com) is a nice tool you can integrate into your site that not only offers a way for users to add your content to news and bookmarking sites, but also has a tracking feature. You can see it in action on the sidebar of Socialmediapower.com.
Add to Any (addtoany.com) is another tool that lists just about every bookmarking and news site out there. You can see an example within the blog posts of Socialmediapower.com.
If you are using a blogging platform or CMS, there are many other plugins you can use.
While researching this piece, I realized that the best sources for extensive lists of news and bookmarking sites are the tools that rely on them. Therefore, I am recommending Addtoany.com as the best source for finding the most up-to-date list of these sites.
A MySpace strategy (processes will be similar for the other networking sites):
Get a MySpace account. You will be able to state that you are there to “network” when you complete your profile, so don’t be concerned about the “social” aspect of the process. If you are creating an account for a business, use the business name as the main profile name.
You can customize the look of your profile page whenever you like; the process is pretty straightforward if you use the Pimp My Profile tool (pimp-my-profile.com/generators/myspace.php).
Invite people to be your “friend.”MySpace and many other networking sites make it easy to invite people from your existing email lists in AOL, Gmail, or Yahoo. You can also enter lists of email addresses to invite people into your network.
To invite new people or businesses, go to Browse in the main menu, and select criteria for the people you are interested in bringing into your network. If you are looking only for networking relationships, be sure to check that criterion.
Next, go to Search in the main menu. From here, you can enter specific search terms like “Book Stores,” “Libraries,” or “Publishers.” You can also use the Affiliation for Networking tool to find people in your field to invite. You can directly invite only people who are in your extended network; but the larger your immediate network gets, the more your extended network grows.
Finally, go to Groups. You can join groups in your area of interest that will ultimately bring you closer to people/colleagues/readers with the same interests.
Other MySpace features:
Blogs. We post the blog entries from daltonpublishing.com and other news to our MySpace page as well (myspace.com/daltonpublishing).
Events. We also post our events to our MySpace page, in addition to the local and social calendars, since everyone in our MySpace network will get notified of the event.
Forums. This is another great way to make additional contacts and to connect with people you might not find otherwise.
Above all else, do not forget that the goal is to connect with people in an authentic way. Be sincere and casual. If you find that difficult, you may want to use LinkedIn as your primary networking tool.
Groups and Forums
Here are some search terms you might try in Yahoo and Google groups:
publishers and writers
Getting a better feel for Second Life:
Go to the Second Life home page (secondlife.com). Search the community (secondlife.com/community/search.php) using the following terms:
book stores (use two words)
This should give you an idea of the types of groups that are forming in this virtual environment.
Next, go to Events (secondlife.com/events). Pull down Arts and Culture from the choice of categories. Here you will find poetry readings, writing contests, book signings, book club meetings, and the like. When you click on an event to find out more, you will be given a location; you can then “teleport” directly to that location if you already have an account and an avatar.
Once you have an account, you can go into the forums. When in the forums, mind your netiquette, but don’t be afraid to ask what may seem like a stupid questions; people really do like to help.
Texting/mobile technology. As texting replaces emailing, and cell phones become the way we access the Internet, keep your eye on tools that will easily integrate with mobile technology—specifically, from this article: microblogging. Moblogging is a term used to describe a blog entry that is sent from a mobile device. Utterz (utterz.com) is an online service that can make the process painless.
Video, video, video!
“Widgetizing” the Web. In the January issue of PMA Independent, I talked about widgets and badges, and how they are changing the face of the Internet, partly because they are so easy to integrate into individual Web sites. I highly recommend that you:
upgrade to a social media–optimized (i.e., widget-friendly) Web platform—WordPress, a good CMS, or a site that is css/php driven
visit empoweredbywordpress.com to learn how to build an optimized site on your own
invest in widgets or badges of your own that your readers or customers can place on their sites; you can find a good developer at Widgetbox.com