Navigating the Uncharted (or Overcharted?) Terrain of Social Media Sites

A slightly different version of this post appears on BlogHer.

A few of you have commented on the recent surge in posts here on ChezArtz–I have been a blogging fiend in 2008 so far. Part of this is just because I didn’t post much this past fall due to our move, a crazy work schedule, yadda yadda yadda, and part of this is because I’m exploring what it would take for me to quit my day job and start writing full time.

In the past, I had been adamant that blogging for money was not for me. Matt’s version of this story was that I thought I was too good for blogging. Before you get up in arms, let me say for the record that I never thought I was too good for blogging. I simply knew that I wanted to spend my time writing, not doing all of the things that bloggers have to do to make money. Then I thought back to my experiences trying to get my first (and only) novel, Insomniac Dreams, published in 2002-2003 and realized that, although I spent a year writing nearly full time, I then spent a year, also nearly full-time, trying to do all kinds of non-writing things to get it published.

And I don’t mean flirting with editors, although I would have had the opportunity presented itself 😉 I mean reading the works of other writers, researching their editors, their agents, their writing groups. I mean networking at book signings and publisher parties (I was lucky enough to work at a very well-connected book store during this time, which made access to the people in the industry easier than it would be otherwise). I mean spending hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars printing manuscripts, mailing them out, and collecting the rejection letters that came in reply.

So I realized over my few weeks off at Christmas that blogging is not that much different than shopping your writing around for print publication–it’s just a different medium. And instead of shopping around for publication, you shop around for readers, and advertisers, and ways to promote your blog to get, you guessed it, more readers and advertisers. The thing about blogging is that in some ways you have more control over your own destiny than if you are trying to break into the massive book industry while living in Colorado (most publishers are on the coasts), are not a professor, and are related to anyone in the industry.

So I launched my first money-making endeavor in the blogosphere: ToysNaturally.com. It’s not that I’ve completely discounted the idea of making ChezArtz profitable, it’s just that I don’t believe there are any other sites out there doing exactly what I’m trying to do with Toys, Naturally, and I think that having a unique (or at least less common) idea is part of making blogging work as a career.

In addition to reading a lot of articles about making money at blogging (my favorite are here, here and here), I started signing up for some of the social media/networking sites that are out there. If you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, don’t feel bad. A few months ago, Digg, del.icio.us, slashdot (which I learned about from a friend’s t-shirt!), Technorati, Reddit, StumbleUpon, and sk*rt meant nothing to me.

The executive summary is that these are basically web sites where you can vote for or submit what you think is good content (a blog post, a web site, a pod cast, etc.) and the more people vote for the page you tagged, the higher it moves in the rankings. So it’s a way for the public to rate a piece of content and, if enough members of the general public think your content is good, a link to the content will appear on the front page of the social media site, thus exposing your blog or site to the thousands (or in some cases, millions) of people who go to these sites on a daily basis.

Anyhow, I’ve now at least created a login on most of these sites and I’ve started trying to tag other people’s content when I find it interesting (hey, I’ve got to build up my blogging Karma, right?) and I’ve been toying with adding links to the bottom of my posts so that you, my beloved readers, can “Digg” my posts, add them to your del.icio.us bookmarks, etc. But what I really want to know is: How the heck do you decide which site to use to promote your site?

I don’t want to become a social media whore with a string of links to the various sites at the bottom of each post and, honestly, I haven’t seen anyone else doing that either (except for How the World Works, which instead of whorish string has a really nice drop-down: http://www.salon.com/tech/htww/). Most bloggers are throwing in their lot with a single site, but how to choose, how to choose? Most of the BlogHer gang seem evenly split between sk*rt (founded and run by women) and Digg (probably the best-known of these sites), but StumbleUpon is a hot topic these days, CNet uses Reddit, which gives it huge cred in my book, and Technorati seems easier to use than some and is diversifying from it’s technology-centered origins (and name!) to cover blogs like mine. And I haven’t even talked about promoting your site through MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or any other social networking sites. Sigh.
I don’t have the answer yet (although you can click on the green & white logo to the right to add this blog to your Technorati favorites 😉 ), and I suspect that some other people out there are having the same dilemma. I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Spread the WordPress Love – Subscribe2

How callous of me to reference the most excellent Subscribe2 plugin & widget without crediting its source!!! Although credit has to go to Matt for discovering this handy combo, once discovered, I had to have it for ChezArtz. Anybody who doesn’t have a WordPress blog (or plan to in the near future) can probably pretty much stop reading–or at least skip down a few paragraphs–right now, because I’m about to give you the step-by-step on getting this feature for your blog.

There are two pieces to this, a plugin and a widget. Now technically you can use the plugin without the widget, but then you have to create a page for the subscription form to live on, or put it inline like I did in the last post, and that’s just not as nifty as having right in your sidebar. So in addition to having the plugin, if you want the widget, you’ll have to enable sidebar widgets (if you’re a WordPress user and have no idea what I’m talking about, click here to get widget wise). Maybe it’s just late, but this seems like it’s getting complicated. OK, Tech Writer, put it in numbered steps:

  1. Get the WordPress Widgets plugin, install it on your blog, and activate it in the Plugins tab of your WordPress Admin. [Editor’s note: Hmm. Today I updated the version of WordPress I am using for this blog and now you don’t have to do this step any more. I left it in just in case you, too, are on an older version, but it now comes with the standard download. Whoopeee!]
  2. Get the Subscribe2 plugin, install it on your blog, and activate it in the Plugins tab of your WordPress Admin.
    Note: You can do some nifty things in the Manage | Subscribers tab like customizing the email templates for all the emails that go to your subscribers & unsubscribers and set it to auto-subscribe your registered users, etc. I won’t go into all the details here because the documentation in the ReadMe.txt on the plugin is pretty self-explanatory.
  3. Get the Subscribe2 widget, install it on your blog, and activate it in the Plugins tab of your WordPress Admin.
  4. Go to the Presentation tab, click Widgets, drag Subscribe2 onto your Sidebar list, and click Save Changes.

Again, thanks to the folks who design & support this great plugin & widget combo. You know they do it for free, right? I’ve been trying to purchase all my shareware & make donations to freeware organizations just because, well, I like to imagine that I’m helping to tear down the big baddies at Adobe and Microsoft who think it’s fun to charge $800 for software packages like Microsoft Office or Dreamweaver or PhotoShop when I can get a similar (in some cases better!) product like Neo Office or Gimp for free, or something like Rage Web Design for such a low cost that it makes it rather easy to live without Dreamweaver’s nifty but totally unnecessary (at least for $399) WYSIWYG editor.

Whew! Did you know I could take a simple little request for the link to the Subscribe2 widget and turn it into a diatribe against the shrink-wrap software dinosaur industry? Only at ChezArtz…