Blogger Basics: How to Get Freshly Pressed

Twice in the past few weeks, I’ve pulled up my WordPress dashboard in the middle of the day and nearly fallen out of my chair. The dashboard displays statistics on blog and page visits, traffic sources and comments, among many other things. This surprising experience first happened a few hours after I published a post about fried green tomatoes on my Grabbing the Gusto blog and again last week after I published a post about copyright on this blog.

My dashboard revealed I was getting an unusually high amount of visitors mostly from the home page for WordPress. Why? My posts were showcased in the daily Freshly Pressed feature. Both posts set records for visitors and comments.

The WordPress editor soon emailed me to tell me my post was featured in Freshly Pressed, but by then I already knew. I asked, “why me?” She told me to read a post on the editors’ blog explaining their criteria for selecting ten posts for inclusion each day. In short, she said, “It’s our way of saying we like you. We really like you.” Sally Fields, I now know how you feel!

The WordPress tips are good general blogging guidelines. The editor said the existing popularity of a blog (i.e., its page views) or the time a post was published doesn’t matter.

Write unique timely, yet evergreen, content.

Always focus on the content, not keywords. Create content that’s valuable, interesting and timely. In my winning post, I introduced the copyright issue by discussing the recent Cooks Source magazine incident. The magazine printed a writer’s online article without her permission and received a lot of negative attention from both social and traditional media. It was a teachable moment, and the inspiration for that timely post, since many bloggers don’t understand how copyright works.

My other post? If you grew tomatoes this summer, you probably ended the season with several green tomatoes still hanging on your plants. I didn’t want mine to go to waste so I fried them up and wrote about it. My recipe post hit the blogosphere just when many people were wondering what to do with those surplus green tomatoes.

WordPress recommends avoiding plagiarized content, improperly used content and images (copyright!) or self-promotional content.

blogging guidelines
photo by flickr:beckayork

Use alluring images.

I always include at least one image that I find using the Creative Commons search on Flickr. WordPress says, beating the copyright drum again, to “be sure you properly credit the original source.”

I’m convinced my fried green tomatoes post was picked up because the photo by Becky York was so stunning, particularly the contrast between the kiwi green of the tomato flesh and the toasty tan cornmeal coating. I aim for visually appealing photos that have some connection, even if tenuous, to my content. I spend some time finding these. I want the image to add to the reading experience – either a laugh, an illustration of what I’m writing about, or something that’s just cool to look at.

Start with a compelling headline.

It will either get someone to read that first sentence, or it won’t. Make sure your content delivers what your headline is promising. Avoid profanity and punctuation. WordPress says they like clever headlines. I’m puzzled as to why they chose my posts because neither headline was compelling, although they were straightforward.

Add tags.

WordPress finds the Freshly Pressed posts by browsing the tag pages for common ones, like recipe.  Tags are keywords and will also help your SEO or Google indexing. Don’t forget to use keywords in your file name and alternate text on your photo.

Avoid typos.

That’s a no-brainer. Write your post. Set it aside a while. Go back and read it carefully out loud (whisper if you must), word by word. Read it again for grammar and flow. Use your spell-check, but don’t rely on it or allow it to auto-correct. I’ll never forget an email to a member, Sherm. Well, you can guess how that went.

Now you know the secrets. My blog traffic isn’t at the same record-setting levels of those two days, but it’s definitely trending higher than it was before I was Freshly Pressed.

blogging basics guidelines freshly pressed
After the party's over - flickr photo by Daniel Mohr

Blogger Basics: Freebie Disclosure

In December 2009 new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines on the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising took effect. The revised guidelines concern blog posts and other social media word-of-mouth marketing. The purpose of these FTC guidelines is to help advertisers, and now bloggers, stay in compliance with the FTC act.

The FTC has long held that “material connections” between advertisers and endorsers must be disclosed. If a blogger receives cash or some other in-kind compensation, for example, free products or conference registration, in return for writing about a product or service, that is considered an endorsement and must be disclosed to the public. Porter Novelli published a helpful six-page summary that includes historical context and recommended best practices.

Why has the FTC cracked down? Companies know that word-of-mouth is the most effective marketing, particularly when it’s from someone you trust. A blogger with a large readership might receive a basket of products or an all-expense paid trip from a company looking to reach her audience. In return for these favors, the blogger might write glowingly about the company’s product. Her readers trust her and buy the product — win-win for the company and the blogger. However, many of these bloggers weren’t disclosing the payola. Their readers trusted their endorsements without knowing the whole story. That is deceptive advertising.

As with all regulations, the interpretation of these guidelines will likely evolve as the FTC decides to pursue some cases and not others. However, the most ethical (and legally prudent) thing for a blogger to do is to disclose any freebies, no matter the cost, whether it’s a car, conference registration or meal at a restaurant. We’re human. ‘Free’ puts us in a mood to be kind, but not necessarily credible; your readers deserve to know that. Don’t deceive anyone by telling less than the whole story.

If you receive free products or services, how do you handle it? I’ll let Mary from the FTC tell you.

click to go to FTC site to watch 17-second video

Porter Novelli also recommends that bloggers who work with marketers create a disclosure policy.

Associations who partner with bloggers on outreach campaigns should also read the Porter Novelli summary and Maggie McGary’s post on the “slippery slope” of blogger outreach. Bloggers can certainly provide access to target audiences that associations may not be able to reach on their own, but everyone should be up front about expectations and ethics.

I wonder, are print media reporters, columnists and reviewers also required to make such disclosures? Anyone know?

Blogger Basics: Copyright

The web was buzzing last week with news that a small freebie magazine, Cooks Source, had allegedly committed a copyright violation by publishing a writer’s apple pie recipe and article without asking her permission. Edward Champion provided a synopsis of the entire incident and discovered quite a few other possible violations.

The magazine’s dubious actions would have been bad enough, but the editor further inflamed the situation by her arrogant and clueless response to the original author. The editor wrote,

“I have been doing this for 3 decades,…I do know about copyright laws….But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it!…” (excerpts)

She refused to apologize or compensate the author, instead saying,

“You as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio.… We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me!”

It’s too late for this editor, but we can learn some lessons from her disgrace.

Understand copyright.

The U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress has an easy-to-understand Frequently Asked Questions section that explains basic copyright principles:

  • The moment you create a work and fix it in tangible form, that is, perceptible directly or online, your work is under copyright protection.
  • Original writings, artwork, photographs and other forms of authorship on a website are protected upon creation.
  • Unpublished work is protected.
  • The © symbol is not required for copyright protection.
  • Although your work may be protected, you can only sue for copyright infringement if your work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.
  • The web is NOT public domain. Public domain is not a place. Public domain applies to works with expired copyrights, generally 70 years after the author’s death, or work that fails to meet requirements for copyright protection, for example, facts, ideas or methods of operation.
  • Under the fair use doctrine, you can use limited portions of a work, including quotes, for commentary, criticism and news reporting. An example of commentary that falls under the fair use doctrine are the editor’s quotes that I use above. By linking back to Monica’s website, readers have access to the original work.

Additional copyright resources:

copyright basics blogger blogging
flickr photo by 5tein

Get to know Creative Commons.

I use Creative Commons licensed photographs on my two blogs. Before you use a Creative Commons licensed work, find out which type of license applies. All of them require that you give attribution to the original author. Some give permission to alter a work, some won’t. Some do not allow commercial publication, some do.

Find photos on Flickr by using their search tool for Creative Commons licensed photos.  Flickr provides an explanation of the different types of Creative Commons licenses used on their site. You can find out whether there are usage restrictions on a photo by clicking on “Some rights reserved” under License. The license will always require that you give credit to those who share their work freely with you, either with their real name or Flickr username. You may also be required to link back to the original photo; if not, it’s good social media karma to do so.

Use Google Alerts for monitoring.

Monica found out about her copyright infringement because a friend saw her article and congratulated her on the publication. She wasn’t the only one surprised; other authors were not aware that their work was being used by Cooks Source, even though it appeared online. If they had created Google Alerts and other alerts for their name, they would have found out much earlier.

My recent post, Social Media Monitoring, explains how to find out if your name or blog is mentioned online.

I’m not a copyright expert, like many of you, I continue to learn. The last thing I want to do is unfairly take advantage of someone else’s original work, time and energy.

UPDATE: Since we’re all following along, Cooks Source released a statement on what is left of their website. (4:55pm, November 9, 2010)

Blogger’s Block: What the Heck Will I Write About Today?

“Creativity is nothing but active listening,” says Scott Ginsburg in an interview with Susan Young. “I make observations, I listen, I write everything down. I’ll always have a full reservoir.”

How’s your reservoir? Is it at capacity or in a drought alert? Do you find yourself staring at the monitor, brain bereft of any inspiring thoughts and deadlines looming on the calendar? Judging by all the recent posts on blog content ideas, you are not alone. Here are a few that address the dreaded blogger’s block.

I can’t think of anything unique to say.

Does that sound familiar? Get over it! My outline and notes for this post were sitting in draft for a few weeks; during that time, several posts were published about finding content ideas. However, I know this is a hot topic for many of us and no one has time to read everything, so it’s perfectly fine for me to share my take with my readers. Don’t let the unique excuse become a barrier to publishing.

Kick start your content creation.

What are some of the most frequently asked questions by your members, customers or attendees? What problems do they have? Create a system to keep track of the questions or concerns that come into your organization:

  • Phone calls to your main number, information or customer service desk
  • Emails to staff
  • Website form
  • Questions in blog comments

What are the common search terms or phrases leading folks to your website or used on your website search engine?

What are other industry blogs talking about? What’s your take on the issue? See if there are any new questions or ideas raised in the comments that you can write about.

Gather ideas by polling your members. Send out an email with a link to a survey. Create a quick poll for your home page. Distribute one-question survey cards at your events. Ask members directly while on the phone or in person.

  • What do your members, and particularly those new to your industry or profession, want to learn more about?
  • What issue confuses them?
  • What don’t they understand about your organization or its policies, your industry or profession?
  • What keeps them up at night?
  • What are they curious about?
  • If they could ask one question to the CEO or another industry VIP, what would it be?

Review the tweets of those you follow for the kernel of an idea. Scan the hashtag stream from a conference or twitter chat. Don’t limit your review of conference hashtags to those related to your industry. I’ve seen many interesting ideas in tweets from the keynote speakers of the most random conferences. Read tweets from ongoing TEDx conferences for a diverse selection of thought-provoking ideas.

Is anyone doing something innovative or unusual in your industry or profession? Has anyone come up with a solution to a common problem? Write about the successes of your members if there are lessons to be learned from those stories. If members are willing to share, write about failures and lessons learned; provide the cloak of anonymity for those unwilling to be publicly forthcoming.

Review a blog, event, book, or resource that your audience would appreciate.

When all else fails, suggest some good reads from other blogs. Provide the author’s name and link to the post with a descriptive blurb. If you have enough to say about the post, turn it into a short post. Always give credit to the blogger by linking to the original post.

Build up a stable of guest bloggers. Or ask another industry blogger if you could publish an excerpt of one of her posts with a link back to her blog where your readers can read it in its entirety.

Have monthly blog brainstorming lunches with your colleagues. Capture all the ideas flying around the table. If an idea won’t work now, it may work in the future or with some tweaking.

Where do you get your blogging inspiration?

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