Doodles & Googles & Wordles, oh my!

Technology has created an ever-changing language that only a committed techie can hope to master.  Along with new terms, new tools and techniques for using computers in daily life continually burst forth from creative minds.  One has to be committed to even try to keep up.  And yet, it’s worth trying.

On Friday I attended a technology workshop sponsored by the PAEOPThe purpose of the program was to demonstrate a variety of free links, and how to use them.  Our presenter was Laura Mikowycek, a woman with an amazing grasp on Internet programs and their value in a school or office setting.

Doodle is a great tool to help schedule a meeting for a group of people. The person scheduling selects a series of dates and times, emails them to the participants, and they each select their preferred dates and times.  Doodle is a democratic tool; the most votes win.

We learned about Google Docs. It allows a group of people to share a document via the Internet and work on it collaboratively.  Sharing a completed document is easy in Dropbox.  A free account at Dropbox gives the user up to 2GB of storage.  The creator can then email address/es and “share” the documents.  My writer’s mind immediately speculated on how either Google Docs or Dropbox could be used by critique groups, as well for online RWA Chapter meetings.

With a background in graphic design, she showed how to create readable and interesting Power Point slides, and a few tools to help. One of them, Wordle, transforms a string of words into a work of art.  It can make a small statement about a workshop or a website. It’s also a whole lot of fun! 🙂  We were also reminded of the importance of hand-outs at a meeting and encouraged to use shortened URLs, created with bit.ly or tinyurl.com.

There are many excellent, free sites on the Internet.  On Friday I learned about a dozen or so.  Most were totally new to me.  Of those, I’ve chosen those I think will be most helpful, or interesting, to you.

Sharing knowledge is one of the beautiful things about technology. It has allowed us to do so on a scale never before imagined.  So, the next time you read or hear about a really helpful website, click the link to FaceBook, Twitter, or whatever social media you prefer.  Or simply email to a friend.  Tell the world about it.   ♥

Successful Blogging (update)

Writers are often encouraged to enter the world of social media.  I was slow to open a FaceBook account. Then, prompted by the desire to see photos of distant family, I finally did. I found many writer friends on FB so I started adding them. I now have 356 FB “friends.”  Whenever I post a new blog, I create a link on my FaceBook page.  I don’t expect everyone to open the link but when the topic is intriguing enough, some will.

Twitter took me longer. The idea of tweeting confused me.  Birds tweet.  People talk.  Writers write.  Last month I opened an account.  With few exceptions I avoid adding FB Friends to Twitter. After a month, I have 86 followers; most have some shared interests. As with FaceBook, whenever I post a new blog, I tweet about it on Twitter.  Some posts are re-tweeted, which spreads the word.

I started this Stringing Beads blog three years ago. I’ve had long spells when I haven’t blogged regularly. Readership suffers when people can’t count on a regular column. A good blogger must post regularly and about topics a reader finds interesting.

Overall focus is important. Solo blogs written by a lone blogger especially need this focus. Define your purpose in writing the blog then find a niche and fill it.

Are you blogging about the craft or business of writing?  It may be mostly writers who read your blog. If that’s what you want and you’re good at it, fantastic! I’m grateful for blogs like J.A. Konrath’s Newbie Guide to Publishing and those wonderful writers at Writer Unboxed.

Some writers draw readers by focusing on something that complements their writing, either in style or content. In Casey Comments, Casey Clifford shares snippets of her life that could easily be found in her women’s fiction or suspense novels.  Mary Stella’s Postcards from Paradise goes well with her fun contemporary romances about the Florida Keys. Beth Ciotta’s Blog is providing perfect introductions to her upcoming Cupcake Lovers contemporary series as well as to the much anticipated steampunk series, the Glorious Victorious Darcys.

Frequent, meaningful blogging isn’t easy. Time is precious.  As a result many readers band together to write a blog with each writing every few weeks.  Two remarkably successful group blogs with high readership are The Goddess Blogs and Magical Musings.  Both have amazingly creative writers who write on a large variety of topics.

Successful bloggers always reply to comments left by their readers. Along with it being good etiquette, this helps create more interaction and reader interest. They also post interesting pictures. And they never delve too deeply into plot lines of their own works, but rather into life itself.

A successful blog also looks professional.  Bloggers must learn and understand the program they are using, whether WordPress (my favorite), Blogger, Live Journal or some other platform. Set up and regularly test links that add to the blog, little extras in the sidebar. As  your posts grow in number, occasionally link back to ones that were popular.  Proof-read incessantly.

Read and comment on other blogs but not in a way that screams “read my blog” or “read my book.”  Comments must be genuine and relate. Readers look for a connection.

Keep track of readership statistics.  While you can’t tell exactly who is reading your blog, you can track numbers.  WordPress has Site Stats on the dashboard that gives lots of data, including what search terms people are using to find you and what posts are most popular.  A useful tool to install in your sidebar is StatCounter.

In her blog Write to Publish, Robin Sullivan talks about the importance of connecting with readers.  You should make it easy to pass your blog on to others. Post Share links to Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, and others.  Include an e-mail link so the reader can send it to a friend.  On WordPress, these links are found on Dashboard under Settings then Sharing.  See below for my Share buttons.  (Hint: If you liked this article, please pass it on! :smile:)

Click onto Blog Tips for a list of other helpful tips.  Finally, please share a comment on what has worked for you.  Thanks!  ♥

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P. S.  See also this recent post in Savvy Self-Publishing for more helpful ideas.  Thank you, Lindsay!

P.P.S. – Another incredibly helpful post on this topic is Jim Murdoch’s guest column on Audacious Author called How to Get People to Read Your Blog. He mentions it in the comments below but I wanted to bring it up to the body of this post.  Thank you, Jim!