What It Takes

What It Takes

Outreach, Part II: Your Home Base

By Callie Oettinger | Published: November 2, 2012

To learn more about the individuals being featured in this series, visit Outreach, Part I: The Introduction.

“What’s your home base?” is the question that follows “What-do-you-want-to-accomplish?”

Where are people going to learn about you?

While the answer is Facebook for some, my preference is a blog. In this case, I’m a pessimist. We saw what happened to MySpace. Don’t rely on Facebook’s existence to share your work. Set up a blog. Own it.

Create and Buy Your Domain Name

Authors used to set up sites for specific books. This required buying a new domain name for each book and repeating the same drills required to drive traffic to a new site. When Steven Pressfield’s blog was being developed in 2009, he had a years-old static author site and a separate book site for his last book published, Killing Rommel.  Rather than closing the author and books sites, and breaking links directing readers to them, the address for the author site became the address for the blog, and visitors to www.KillingRommel.com were (and still are) redirected to his blog.

For authors, artists, and others sharing their work, basing your domain name on your first and last names makes sense. It’s a place for you to showcase all of your work, using a domain name that will work just as well ten years down the road as it does today, even if your work takes a turn.

In Jeremy Brown’s case, an address consisting of his first and last name wasn’t available, so he added and initial and purchased www.jeremywbrown.com.

If you don’t go with your name, go with something easy and memorable.

Josh Hanagarne started his blog before thoughts of writing a book entered his mind. The World’s Strongest Librarian was started as a way for him to “keep track of my workouts without losing my training notebooks.  I never planned on anyone reading it.” It’s a great name—easy to remember and unique. While I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first visited the site, the name drew me in, and the content has kept me returning to it. AND, once I started reading, I got the name; it made sense. It matches the content.

Ten-plus years ago, I rushed into setting up a business and site for the biz. The mother of all writing blocks visited and in frustration I went with the not so creative “Oettinger & Associates.” To boot, www.Oettinger.com and www.oa.com were taken, so I came up with www.o-a-inc.com.  I’ve been cringing every day since as I’ve had to verbally share my e-mail and site addresses. The dashes are a real pain in the butt. Dashes, I always emphasize—not underscores.

Bottom line: Think long and hard, and then choose something that’s memorable, unique, and will work well into the future, too.

Choosing Your Platform: WordPress, Blogger, or . . . ?

Steve’s site was build using the WordPress platform and was created by Jeff Simon of Little Box Creations.

“At the time it was the leader in open source blogging,” said Jeff. However, “with any open source project that has the number of users WordPress has, you’ll run into plug-in incompatibilities.”

“The plug-in incompatibility issue is related to upgrades. “When we started, we were using an earlier version of WordPress and now we’re using 3.4.2.,” said Jeff. “Upgrading everything all the time is tough, expensive, and the plug-in developers don’t upgrade in tandem.”

While Steve worked with Jeff to develop his personal site, and the site for Black Irish books, the individuals featured in this series, Jeremy Brown, Josh Hanagarne, Carolyn Snell and Patrick Van Horne, have created and built their own sites. With the exception of the Thistle Farms blog, which uses Blogger, all of the others use WordPress.

Josh started his blog in 2009 using Blogger. After friends told him, “You know, if you ever want to make money with this, you’d want to own your site,” or “You know, Google could shut you down at any time,” he switched to WordPress.

Blogger is owned by Google. Although it now offers unique domain names, allowing for the elimination of “blogspot” in the address, there is one option for hosting—Blog*Spot, also owned by Google. Earlier this year, Google Affiliate Ads for Blogger was announced. As stated on an affiliate site, it “enables Blogger users to easily monetize their blogs through Google Affiliate Network.”

Carolyn started using Blogger in 2007 when she launched her personal blog. In 2009, when she launched the blog for Thistle Farms, her choice of Blogger for the non-profits’ blog was rooted in her own experiences with the platform. It was easy to use, and something that would address the immediate need for the non-profit.

In her ComputerWorld article “Blogging Service Shootout: Blogger vs. WordPress,” Preston Gralla wrote:

“If you want the fullest set of blogging features, you want WordPress, but if you’re looking for simplicity and streamlined blog creation and posting, Blogger is the way to go.”

With the exception of a brief visit to Drupal, my blogging experience is with WordPress. For that reason alone, it is my preference. I know it and am comfortable with it. As Josh said, though, “If you’re not a coder, you might want to look carefully at the platform you choose. “ What’s right for me isn’t necessarily what’s right for you.

Bottom line: There are pros and cons linked to all of the platforms.  If you’ve hired someone else to develop the blog for you, ask your developer about ease of use. You want a platform within which you are comfortable working, whether or not you can code—and whether or not you are the developer or take it over once it is ready for content sharing.

Organization

September 30, 2009, Steve did an interview with Glenn Reynolds on PJTV. The interview was focused on world events, but when a screen shot of Steve’s site was shared, “Sex Scenes” filled the screen.

Awkward pause.

Glenn didn’t seem sure of what to make of it, and I watched realizing that while the address for the site made sense—www.stevenpressfield.com—as it was a site for all of Steve’s work, we hadn’t organized the site in a way that made sense to readers.

At the time we had more readers interested in the military or the writing posts than we had of the crossover audience, which likes both. We wanted to keep both, but had to figure out a way that made sense to readers visiting the site for the first time.

That’s when we started defining the categories—the “series”—on the site, using different headers and banner images. We stuck to Wednesdays for Writing Wednesdays and set specific days of the week, on which the other series would run.

Defining the series made it easier for new readers to dig into past posts, too. A Writing Wednesdays post from 2009 is old to Steve and readers from that year, but for newer readers, those old posts are fresh— and though the date on them goes a few years back, many have been shared as if they’re new.

When Josh launched his blog, he broke it into three categories—books, strength training, and self improvement. From there he sub-divided as necessary. “The archives for each category were just getting too big. They’re more of a guide for me than for the readers, but I definitely get people who find a post they like, then spend time going through every post in that category. That’s definitely welcome.”

While categories aren’t necessary, we’ve found them to be helpful when dealing with the non-crossover audiences—something Patrick Van Horne faced after setting up the site for his company Active Analysis Consulting. He had a company blog and another blog, Combat Profiling. He’s transitioned the company blog to Company News and added Combat Profiling to the site header. Because the latter has a different address, the next step is to make it clear to readers that there is a company related to Combat Profiling. It’s a great site for readers, but ultimately, it is a source of information for clients. If prospective clients find themselves on Combat Profiling, he wants to make sure they make the mental link between the blog and the company.

Frequency and Content

Do you know the saying “The cobbler’s children go barefoot? “That’s the story behind so many different blogs, mine included. (Thank you Mark McGuinness for sending me to Irene Hoffman’s site, which reminded me of the saying.) The cobbler’s first priority is to create. Outreach comes second. However, it has to be done. Like the cobbler’s children, it needs shoes, too.

You don’t need to post pieces every day of the week. Sometimes once is enough. For Carolyn, who blogs as a volunteer while working full-time, she’s done a mix of postings on the blog and on Facebook. The blog remains the home base, but when she’s working within a closing window of time, she’ll post to Facebook. (More about Facebook in future “Outreach” posts.)

Time, however, isn’t enough.

For a long time, people have been saying “content is king.” I’ve said it myself. Provide content and they will come, like that long winding string of cars at the end of Field of Dreams. Yes, content is important, but it ain’t king.

A great quote from Cory Doctorow:

“Content isn’t king… If I sent you to a desert island and gave you the choice of taking your friends or your movies, you’d choose your friends—if you chose your movies, we’d call you a sociopath. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.”

And those friends that you’d take with you to that desert island? They wouldn’t come along unless they had a really super duper amazing relationship with you.

So … You have to put in the time. You have to develop relationships with readers, so there’s an on-going conversation.

Think about how you’ve developed friendships. For me, someone has said something/done something that caught my eye, and I went back from more. We’re all busy, so if someone isn’t saying something of interest, we’re not going back. We’re not putting in the time to start a relationship.

Jeremy has been experimenting with creative content that will inspire conversations. He initiated the “call-sign generator” on his site. My first try, I was named “Cheddar Warlock.” Allergy issues aside, I couldn’t take anyone named Cheddar Warlock seriously, so I went for another stab and accepted “Savage Jedi.” It’s fun and I shared it with a few friends, but I’m waiting to see where Jeremy goes with the content of the blog. That content will play into the relationships he makes, and thus the conversations in which he’s involved.

Bottom line: Strive for amazing content over large quantities of posts, and strive for conversation-inspiring content, rather than creating content to fill space.

Posted in What It Takes

10 Responses to “Outreach, Part II: Your Home Base”

  1. November 2, 2012 at 6:54 am

    Callie, Steve, and Shawn,
    I can’t thank you guys enough for including me in this series. It is certainly humbling. Thanks again.

    • November 2, 2012 at 7:29 am

      I second Patrick’s gratitude. You’re doing great work.

  2. November 2, 2012 at 8:01 am

    And me makes three. It’s nice to be part of something so professional.

  3. November 2, 2012 at 8:23 am

    Callie – Your story reminds me of the many blog titles I’ve been through. After 5 or 6 I finally decided to end it all and just use my name. I guess we’ve all experienced “the mother of all writers blocks!”

    Couldn’t agree more that you need to own and control your content. Thankfully, after 5 years on Typepad I was able to successfully move all my content to Wordpress, where my traffic instantly went up 20%.

    Besides, seems I read somewhere that Pros don’t waste their time on Twitter or Facebook!

  4. Basilis
    November 2, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Hmm, some of them are known, some others can be realized only when you see them written down, but still the essence of a blog (I’m currently experimenting with some friends of mine with a wordpress about old Greek comics) is share some time with the gang!

    Blogs are made for communication. Also writing books is a way of communication.

    But then, of course, good content is always needed!

  5. November 2, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    As a long-time web developer I rarely see such cogent advice from anyone who’s not a hard-core geek. Nicely done. Also nice to see the ever-helpful Mark McGuinness referenced; what a guy. And Irene Hoffman as well. Worthy stops on the road to happy webbing.

  6. November 2, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Good and interesting piece, Callie. Thank you. Along with radio and TV interviews Facebook has been working beautifully for me as an author. This week alone I was contacted by two radio hosts to be on their shows and one magazine out of London, inviting me to publish there an excerpt form my new and fifth book: CIAO FROM ROMA, SPRING IN THE ETERNAL CITY OF LOVE. After posting my PBS interview that aired this summer about my writing career and my 900 mile walk along the Cherokee Trail of Tears, resulting in the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, WALKING THE TRAIL (Random House), I received this message from Susan Kelly, district manager at Alabama Magazine: “WITHOUT A DOUBT, YOU DEFINITELY NEED TO BE IN THE MAGAZINE! I’M SPEAKING TO MY PUBLISHER/OWNER THIS WEEK REGARDING DOING A FEATURE STORY ABOUT YOU! You epitomize a TRUE AMERICAN HERO! I was totally engaged as I viewed the interview from beginning to end. I will get on my knees and beg for you to be in Alabama Magazine in 2013. I would love to see it happen immediately. Thanks for the share and I’ m enjoying becoming acquainted with such a courageous, inspiring, articulate, and talented person such as you. My Best Always, Susan.” While blogs can be golden, I am very grateful for what Facebook has offered me so far.

  7. Basilis
    November 3, 2012 at 6:46 am

    I read somethings from the blogs of the 4 gentlemen and I found very interesting stuff!

    Congrats!

  8. Rob
    November 3, 2012 at 9:00 am

    One (minor) complaint I have about the blogs on this site is that – unless I’m missing something – you can’t start from the beginning of each blog and read to the end. You have to start at the end and work backwards, which can be very frustrating when you’re reading a multi-part blog.

  9. Tricia
    November 6, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Callie,

    Just to say that I appreciated the information that you shared here. Some of us need to have these things spelled out very clearly (ie., assume no understanding of the basics and you will always reach those of us that are unfortunately still on that level).

    I look forward to hearing what you have to say about Facebook platforms.

    I guess I would just add that for me reading a blog is about learning, not just about connecting. And I always learn something on this blog.

    Thanks again.