Web 2.0 and Social Media: A Practical Guide to the New, Live Web
Part 1: Achieving Interactivity
by Deltina Hay
Like it or not, the Internet is changing, and it is changing fast. The changes, however, favor individuals and small businesses, including authors and independent publishers.
Web 2.0 and social media are likely the beginning infrastructure of a fresh, new Internet, and the beauty of this new, live Web is that it is driven by the people who use it. Popularity among the masses will do more to determine a site’s placement on tomorrow’s Internet than it does on today’s. By taking advantage of social media optimization as well as search-engine optimization, you can profit from the new Web, especially if you have a meaningful and sincere message.
The tools for achieving social media optimization are numerous and can seem overwhelming, especially if you don’t have even a general understanding of what those tools are supposed to accomplish for you. But once you arearmed with this general knowledge, you can choose which tools are the best match for you, your book, and your business.
Wikipedia defines social media as “the online technologies and practices that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences, and perspectives. Social media sites typically use technologies such as blogs, message boards, podcasts, wikis, and vlogs to allow users to interact.”
Additionally, Wikipedia defines Web 2.0 as referring “to a perceived second-generation of web-based communities and hosted services—such as social networking sites, wikis and folksonomies—which aim to facilitate collaboration and sharing between users.”
Social media and Web 2.0 optimization, then, mean optimizing your Web presence to achieve three general goals: interactivity, sharing, and collaboration. To find out how to achieve interactivity, read on; information about tools for sharing and collaboration—by using social bookmarking, Webcasting, custom widgets, and virtual worlds, among other things—will appear in upcoming issues of PMA Independent.
Tools for Interactivity
Users of the live Web expect the information presented to them to be at least somewhat interactive—by allowing comments on the content, for example, or by making content easy to subscribe to, easy to share with others, even easy to syndicate.
Tools for achieving interactivity include blogging, RSS feeds, podcasting, vidcasting, and using wikis.
In its simplest form, a blog is a tool for posting information chronologically and, in many cases, allowing others to comment. Blog posts can be organized in categories that are read by social bookmarking indexes (in much the same way that search engines read keywords) and indexed as tags. Users can then use tags to find blogs on subjects that interest them.
The interactivity of blogs consists mainly of comments on posts and conversations that ensue. To help others engage in your conversation you can use trackbacks, which are links back to someone else’s blog. The beauty of trackbacks (as opposed to hyperlinks) is that the “source blog” is notified—by a ping—that its content has been referenced, which makes it extremely likely that the conversation will spread. This feature is what makes the blogsosphere such a powerful social media tool.
Blogging tools also take advantage of RSS feed technology, which makes it easy for readers to subscribe to your entries by placing feeds to your blog on their own sites (see the RSS Feeds section below).
Who should use them. Having a blog has become almost as important as having a Web site. If you have something to say about your book topic or industry, you should probably be talking about it in a blog.
How to use them. Because blogs are meant to be conversational, you should write your entries as though you are sitting across from someone at a coffee shop, explaining to them what you do or what your book is about. If you want people to comment on your posts, keep your content somewhat open-ended. And link or trackback to as many other blogs or Web sites as you can within the body of your posts.
Where to start.The three top blogging platforms are WordPress (wordpress.org), Blogger (blogger.com), and TypePad (typepad.com). When choosing a blogging platform, check to make sure that the documentation is clear, that a strong community forum is in place, and that plenty of people are contributing themes and plugins.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. “Yeah, right!” you say. But really, it is simple. When set up correctly, RSS feeds make it easy to syndicate (i.e., display or publish) selected content from other sites on your site and to offer information on your site for syndication elsewhere. (See “Why You Need RSS PDQ,” July 2007.) A visitor to your site who has a feed reader, a subscription to a Web-based feed aggregator, or a blog can subscribe to your feed with one click if you are using a platform like WordPress.
Once your information is set up in a feed, you can make it available to feed-indexes and directories that can offer it for syndication to thousands of other sources, as part 2 of this series of articles will discuss.
Who should use them. If you have any information to share, you should be offering it for subscription to your visitors as an RSS feed.
How to use them. Blogging platforms already have RSS technology built in, so once you post a blog entry, podcast, or vidcast, it is made available as a feed. If you want to have an RSS feed for a traditional Web site, you will need to create an XML feed file or use software like FeedForAll (feedforall.com) or a syndication service like Feedburner (feedburner.com).
Make it easy for visitors to subscribe to your feed by offering one-click options for adding it to their favorite Web-based feed aggregator (My Yahoo, iGoogle, or Bloglines, for example). Most aggregators offer an easy way for you to display their buttons on your site so others can add your feed to their aggregator easily. WordPress and other blogging platforms have plugins that accomplish this automatically, as well as plugins that make it easy for you to subscribe to and display feeds from other sites. For a good list of aggregators, visit newsonfeeds.com/faq/aggregators.
Where to start. If you are using WordPress or another blogging platform, look up “RSS feeds” in its documentation, and check out the many plugins available to help your visitors subscribe to your feed. If you want to create an RSS feed on a traditional Web site, you can use software and/or services, as mentioned above.
Podcasting and Vidcasting (aka Video Blogging)
Podcasting can best be described as blogging out loud. Instead of typing your entries, you record them, and offer them on a blogging platform as an audio file. Most good blogging platforms have many helpful plugins that make podcasting as easy as blogging. And just as with a regular blog, you allow other people to comment on your podcasts. Similarly, a vidcast is a blog presented as a video. What differentiates these audio and video recordings from others is that they can be syndicated as RSS feeds, so users can subscribe to a podcast or vidcast just as they can to a blog.
Who should use them. People who do a lot of public speaking, readings, and radio interviews should consider posting recordings derived from them as podcasts. Similarly, people who do TV interviews, readings, book trailers, or other promotional videos can benefit from posting them or portions of them as vidcasts.
How to use them. If you can record something into a digital recorder, save it as an MP3 file, upload it to your blog or Web site, and make it available for others to listen to, then you have a podcast, since a podcast is nothing more than a recorded audio clip. To create a vidcast, you would use digital video and convert it to a Windows Media File. Ideally, you will be using a blogging platform like WordPress with its many good plugins to post your podcasts and vidcasts, but if you are technically uneasy here, there are a number of services you can use.
Where to start. WordPress is an exceptionally good platform for podcasting or vidcasting; visit wordpress.org for more information. An alternative, Audio Acrobat (audioacrobat.com), will help you create, publish, and stream your podcast/vidcast.
Generally, a wiki (a shortened version of the Hawaiian term wiki wiki, meaning “fast”) is a collaborative Web site that allows anyone to update it. Once established, a wiki essentially becomes an ever-changing online database of information. Wikis are especially effective if your readers have a lot to say on your subject.
Who should use them. Probably a good gauge for whether you want a wiki is whether you can keep up with the comments on your blog. If answering questions is becoming overwhelming, a wiki may be a good solution. Keep in mind, though, that a wiki requires quite a bit of maintenance.
How to use them. Wikis allow content to be entered directly from a Web page, so anyone can add to any wiki at any time. By definition, the wiki is a collection of wiki pages that users create, edit, and add to at their convenience. Wikis can be public, meaning anyone can add to them, or private, meaning a user needs certain permissions to create new content.
Where to start. You can install your own wiki using the same software used to power Wikipedia—MediaWiki (mediawiki.org). Also, you can use a service such as Wikidot.com to start your own wiki.
Social Media News Releases
A social media news release is a release that includes multimedia elements (such as downloadable images or audio or video files) or PDF/DOC files; that allows readers to comment directly on the content, bookmark it in social bookmarking indexes, or email it to others; and that incorporates Technorati tags and links to del.icio.us pages so that readers can investigate sites on the same subject.
Who should use them. If you create press releases, you should seriously consider adding some sort of social media or multimedia to them.
How to use them. You create a social media press release the same way you create a traditional press release, but with some added features. Just above the boilerplate, add a section called “Multimedia.” In this section, place downloadable image files, podcasts, vidcasts, PDFs, and so forth. Just below the “fact sheet” section of the release, place Technorati tags and links to purpose-built del.icio.us pages. At the very end of the social media press release, add interactive elements: a way for readers to share the release with others, via email or social bookmarking sites, as well as the ability to comment on the release.
These releases should remain on your Web site indefinitely.
Where to start. WordPress is good for setting up social media releases, and you can utilize one social media optimization tool right away by just adding a few items to your existing press release format; see owenegertonnewsroom.com/?p=22 for an example to follow. PRX Builder (prxbuilder.com) is also a good place to start—it offers social media news-release templates for WordPress, as well as a service to help you build your own. Social Media Power (owenegerton.socialmediapower.com/?p=22) can create a custom template for your social media release that you can use for all future releases.
The Social Media Newsroom
As noted in the November PMA Independent (“Why You Should Build a Social Media Newsroom, and What to Put in It”), social media newsrooms are the ultimate way to present all your social media and Web 2.0 elements in one convenient place.
Who should use it. Any author or publisher who gets a lot of media coverage should seriously consider setting up a social media newsroom.
How to use it. The social media newsroom is the place to post all your media coverage, news/press releases, book reviews, and events. The newsroom should also feature all the other social media optimization elements you have in place, like Technorati tags, del.icio.us pages, instant message accounts, wikis, blogs, social networking profiles, and so forth. A newsroom is most efficient if set up using WordPress or a CMS (content management system), so that all the content can be easily shared through social bookmarking and RSS feeds.
Where to start. You can build your own social media newsroom by using the original social media newsroom template created by Todd Defren of SHIFT Communications (shiftcomm.com), or working from the examples provided by Social Media Power (socialmediapower.com), including owenegertonnewsroom.com and lesmcgehee.com/newsroom.
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.
See How They Work
Authors’ blogs sometimes spawn interesting conversations; see, for instance, tessgerritsen.com/blog and judes-writing.blogspot.com.
Here are two examples of successful blogs with a more commercial appeal: blogs.herald.com/dave_barrys_blog and freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com.
A great list of author’s blogs: authorsblogs.com.
RSS Feed Examples
Inside Scoop Live (insidescooplive.com) is a podcast site of live interviews with authors that utilizes its feeds effectively. Notice all the ways a visitor can subscribe to this site, including by adding it to their favorite RSS feed readers. As a test, Google my name (Deltina Hay), and see how many of the results show up from other sites that have subscribed to Inside Scoop Live’s RSS feed.
For an example of an RSS feed in a blog, scroll down to the bottom of robertstikmanz.com. Again, visitors can subscribe to this feed in a number of ways, but regardless of how they do it, they will receive this author’s latest blog entries automatically.
View a nice wiki hosted by Lulu at lulu.wikidot.com.
And see an interesting project — DeMont University and Penguin Books using a wiki to create a collaborative novel — amillionpenguins.com/wiki/index.php/Main_Page.
At thepenguinpodcast.blogs.com, notice that visitors can subscribe to this podcast using an RSS feed or directly from iTunes.
A nice podcast of author resources and interviews is on view at authorsaccess.com.
Social Media News Release Examples
To see a good social media news release for a new book, go to owenegertonnewsroom.com/?p=22.
To see a social media news release with a more corporate feel, visit shiftcomm.com/Web20Releases/10172007.html.
Social Media Newsroom Examples
You’ll find good examples of authors’ newsrooms at owenegertonnewsroom.com and lesmcgehee.com/newsroom.
An example of a newsroom with more of a business emphasis appears at accoladespublicrelations.com/newsroom.