How to Make Friends with Blog Sites and Twitter

by Guest Blogger Laura L. Mays Hoopes

It’s not very hard these days to start up a blog.  If you go to the web site for Blogger or WordPress, it will invite you to start your own blog, offer you a choice of templates or let you freely design your background colors and designs, and offer you a panoply of gadgets you can choose to install on your blog.  Gadgets range from ways people can subscribe by email to your blog or if they’re e-literate, take an RSS feed from your blog, to blogs you recommend, to ways you can automatically share your blog entries on Facebook or Twitter. Once you’ve started a blog, you can tell all your friends and sit back hoping for visitors, but few may come. Or if they come, they may “lurk” and not comment on the postings.  Once you set up a blog, you can ask writing groups to which you belong to connect their pages with your blog’s web page, but you still may not get a lot of traffic.  However, you can post on Twitter and Facebook about your blog to increase visitors.

You’ll know if more people visit, because Blogger has a nifty feature where you can look at numbers of visitors, what countries they are from, and which blog pieces they came to see over various lengths of time from a day to “all time.”  WordPress has similar counting features.

I know most people have Facebook accounts but worry about whether, if they join Twitter, it might take over their lives.  So I won’t explain how to use Facebook here, but I will go into more detail about Twitter.

What makes Twitter work as a referring site for your blog is to get a lot of followers who will see your tweets.  But you probably can’t read all of what each of them posts, so it can feel like you’re drowning on there. I only had about 30 followers for a year or so on Twitter, but then I asked a friend whose list of followers was burgeoning for her advice.  She said to forget trying to read every message, and also to avoid those “bots” which are sites that offer to get you many followers, most of whom are not real people.  It’s better for you to look at hashtag lists (that look like #writers  or #authors or #memoirs or #fiction or #poetry.)  If you type one of those into the search box on Twitter, it will take you to postings that people have connected with that topic.  You can read those and follow other people who say smart things about that topic.  Mostly they will follow you back.  The exception is famous people.  Mary Oliver or Margaret Atwood will not follow you back, any more than you could expect Gwyneth Paltrow to do that.  So don’t pick the famous people unless you just want to know what they tweet about.  If you post an interesting tweet and someone retweets you (RT in Twitter slang), you should send them a message of thanks.  Then, you can collect the Twitter names of people who post cool stuff on topics you like and suggest that others follow them like this: on a  Friday, post #FF followed by a list of recommended people to follow.  (#FF @llmhoopes, @coolmemoirs, etc) It’s a Friday follow recommendation.  A lot of them will thank you (TY) or RT your thanks.  Soon you’ll have hundreds of real people following you on Twitter so that if you post a note about your blog, at least some of them will go look at it.

If you look at how many people visit your blog and it still seems like a low number even though you can tell Twitter has helped, you can consider a couple of strategies to increase traffic.  One is to interview authors or do something else to make some kind of interesting information that people search for on the web available free.  Of the items having the most hits on my blog, nine of the top ten are author/writer interviews.

Another strategy is to participate in web challenges.  Web sites offer challenges for a limited time and sign up groups of participants.  For example, in January, 2012 I participated in a challenge on the blog ‘Writing Our Way Home,” a Buddhist writing blog fromUK.  This challenge was called River of Small Stones, and participants are asked to observe very closely for a few minutes and then write down what they observed each day in January, creating a #smallstone for the day.  There is a place on their blog for you to post your small stone and/or you can post it on your own blog and connect to theirs via a Blogroll, which someone runs for them.  I sent that person my blog address and said I was writing small stones, and she connected my blog.  As soon as I posted a small stone, it showed up on the blogroll along the right side of the Writing Our Way Home blog page.  Others who are in the challenge then could click on my blog on the roll and go to read my small stone for the day.  I went up from about eighty hits a month to well over a thousand hits a month for January because of this project.  I also post on Twitter each time that I post a small stone, and people in the project retweet my tweets to their followers as well.  It’s a very pleasant way to interact with a lot of writers from all over the world.  I certainly found out how special our weather is in doing this small stones challenge!  Snow, rain, sleet, hail, wind, freezing rain, black ice, and then beautiful sunsets in Southern California from me!  But I love all the new traffic to my blog, and  many of those folks continued to visit when the month was over.  Some have commented on several more postings.

So give blogging and Twitter a whirl, and you could find some new enjoyable writer virtual friends.  The resources will stand you in good stead when you have a book to publicize.

Laura L. Mays Hoopes is a biology professor turned writer.  She has mentored almost 200  students in research on aging, supported by over 2 million dollars in federal and private grants.  She blogs on Women in Science for the premier international journal Nature and advocates for having it all–balancing career and family. Find out more at www.Lauralmayshoopes.com.

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