One of the primary goals for Talk of the Sound in 2009 was to grow our readership, build critical mass and thus turn newrochelletalk.com into a visible platform from which other people and organizations could communicate with fellow New Rochellians. From January 2009 to January 2010, the site grew from 3,000 to readers a month to more than 15,000 readers a month, more than a 500% increase. Having achieved our goal for 2009 we are now ready to move onto our next goal, for 2010, to support the development of social media in New Rochelle – to encourage and assist New Rochelle residents, businesses, non-profits, schools, religious institutions, government agencies, professionals and any other person or group in the City of New Rochelle to use social media tools like blogs, RSS feeds, Facebook and Twitter to “talk” to their fellow residents and other “stakeholders” in our community.
Towards that end I have been meeting with a diverse group of people in New Rochelle and discussing how they can better leverage the wide array of online tools available to enhance communication, foster to debate and dialog on the issues of the day or promote an event or a business or whatever. There are an infinite number of possibilities on where to begin but so as not to overwhelm those who are just getting started I intend to confine myself to a “Social Media 101” approach, focusing on three core platforms: a blog with RSS enabled, Facebook and Twitter.
There are many reasons why but let me focus on one for each:
1. RSS is described in Wikipedia as “a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works—such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video—in a standardized format. Click the hyperlink for more on RSS but the key point is it publishes information in a standardized format that allows the information to be published once and viewed by many different programs. All popular blog software includes RSS. I am going to focus on WordPress.com because it is considered one of the best and they offer an excellent free service.
2. Facebook is a very,very large walled garden — a closed or exclusive set of information services provided for users – with over 400 million users worldwide. More than half of all Internet users in the USA now use Facebook. In order to be “visible” to all those people when they are “on” Facebook you must have your own account “in” the Facebook walled garden. For people that generally means having an account with a public, personal “Profile” and for organizations (or public figures) that means having a “Fan Page” linked to a public, personal profile.
3. Twitter is technically an RSS-enabled blog application with the counter-intuitive “feature” of a 140 character limit on the length of a blog post but to understand why it is on my list of core platforms, a little background is required. I am going to be more expansive on this point because Twitter is the source of greatest confusion among the folks I have been meeting with in New Rochelle.
Twitter is often thought of as “a collection of emotional grunts”, to quote Michael Arrington of Techcrunch and often dismissed with a wave of the hand by people who find the nomenclature of “tweets” and “tweeting” a source of amusement. Initially, Twitter was largely a “grunting” platform and that legacy is still a part of Twitter but Twitter has evolved beyond that at a rapid pace. When Twitter first launched in 2006 — users were asked “What are you doing now?” Not surprisingly most early adopters answered the question they were asked so tweets were often a timeline of a person’s day “I just woke up”, “drinking coffee”, “taking the train to work”, “heading out to lunch”, “heading home”, “going to bed” with the occasional observation “just saw a man with a monkey walking down Main Street” or other such minutia of people’s daily lives. Overtime, however, people began to use Twitter in ways not envisioned by its creators and, reflecting that change, Twitter scrapped “What are you doing?” d=for “What’s happening?” — a seismic shift that moved users away from the ultra-personal to observations about the world around them. Meanwhile, the service, augmented by applications from third-party developers and conventions adopted by creative users, was enhanced with new capabilities meant to more and more meaning into that tiny 140 character micro-blog post. Today, users can add hyperlinks to text, photos and video, categorize tweets by category using hashtags (putting a # in front of NYY will turn up tweets about the New York Yankees) and each tweet is packed with metadata including the option to report the geolocation of the sender (Twitter is often used on mobile platforms like an iPhone or Blackberry).
Steven Johnson of Time magazine said it better than I can as he describes the “super-fresh web” otherwise known as “real-time search”. With millions of people constantly updating their account with text, photos and videos, on a myriad of subjects, from every conceivable location, the accumulated mass of information has grown so large that filtering tweets by subject, author, location or any other criteria now provides real-time information on just about any topic from any place. Set up a “search” for #Oscars” and follow a cascade of comments as each presenter appears and each award is announced, limit that to just tweets within 5km of 10801 and you can follow the Oscar buzz just those in and around New Rochelle, limit to only your list of friends and family and you can turn an event with a global following into a highly personal experience. There are limitless applications which is why Twitter is now worth billions of dollars despite never having made a profit. Bottom line, every if you never send a tweet yourself, Twitter has, as Johnson says “unsuspected depth”.
Still with me?
We want every person and organization to set up and use the “big three” platforms: an RSS-enabled blog (WordPress.com, or pick your own), Facebook and Twitter..
Read this through until you have a feel for it and then go through each step.
0. To get the most out of these three services we are going to use two other tools: bit.ly (a URL trimmer which lets us to replace very long URLs with very short ones to save space in Twitter) and Twitterfeed.com (a service to send RSS feeds into Twitter automatically).
1. Create a bit.ly account. In your account settings you will see an API key (to the left). Make a note of that we will need that later with Twitterfeed.
2. Go to WordPress.com, Facebook.com and Twitter.com and register. Each allows you to personalize how you appear on their site; feel free to spend as much time as you want fiddling until you are happy (of course, you can come back to it later).
3. Go to twitterfeed.com and register. Follow the instructions to set to set up your first twitterfeed by copying/pasting in your RSS feed from your wordpress blog and associating with your Twitter account (click “advanced settings” and click on the word “Twitter”). You will see lots of additional options, pick the ones you like but definitely add your “bit.ly” account and API info here no matter what.
4. For organizations or public figures, create a Facebook Fan Page. Once created, click “edit page” and then scroll down to the “Notes” app, click “Edit” and follow the instructions to add the RSS feed from your wordpress.com blog. Each blog post will now also appear in your Facebook fan page. For individuals, many users prefer to link their Twitter account to Facebook so their tweets appear as “status updates” in Facebook.
END: Having done this you are set up so that you can write once on wordpress.com and have that content appear on your blog, as a tweet and in your fan page which makes you “visible” to all search engines like Google via your blog, to all users of Twitter and within the Facebook walled garden.
This will certainly sound a bit overwhelming to “newbies” but to put it simply, you are able to write once and blog, tweet and update Facebook with a single push of the button (“publish” within wordpress.com). Best part, this is all free.
I am going to encourage the folks I have been meeting with about doing this to post any questions they have as comments and so when I answer them everyone else can see the answer too. Please feel free to ask questions but please confine them for now to the techniques described in this post.