Blogging Part III: A 5-step guide to getting started

You’ve thought about whether you should start blogging, and decided the answer is yes. You’ve seriously considered your content, pondering what makes a blog successful.

Now you ask: How do I get started?

1. Pick a platform. If you’re a newbie, you’ll probably want a hosted platform, one that’s easy to use. They’re also free. Here’s a list of the most popular hosted platforms.

I’m also including a few examples — pulled straight from my Google Reader — so you can see what blogs hosted with each platform look like. I’m only picking blogs I think the blogger created themselves, without help from a designer.

  • WordPress. I’m partial to WordPress.com because that’s what I use. I think it looks more professional than other platforms. It offers lots of templates (aka designs) to choose from and has more built-in options than Blogger. But there is a learning curve; it took me a while to figure everything out. Look at the difference between my first blog — my travel blog — and this blog. Big difference, right? To get a sense for WordPress.com, check out blogs by Steve Buttry, Lisa McKay and Simone Gorrindo.
  • Blogger. If you’re not comfortable with the Web, you might choose Blogger. Blogging with Blogger is as easy as it gets — easier than WordPress. You can’t do quite as much with it, but if you’re a newbie that might not matter. I haven’t looked for statistics on this, but I believe Blogger is the most popular platform. Here’s what a Blogger blog looks like: The Intern, BookEnds, Mary Carroll Moore and Peggy Frezon. (I coached Peggy on her blog.)
  • Typepad. While I’ve blogged with WordPress and helped friends use Blogger, I don’t have personal experience with Typepad. Can any readers vouch for it? TypePad blogs: Sarah Fain and Chip MacGregor.
  • Tumblr. This platform is meant for short blog posts, even micro-blogging. But plenty of folks use it as their primary blog. I keep track of my reads on Tumblr, but I put no effort whatsoever into that design, so don’t look to me as an example. Instead, check out Julie Kraut‘s blog.

One last word on this: If you’re Web-savvy or have someone who is to help you, think about using WordPress.org. It’s self-hosted, which basically means more complicated, and not as easy to set up. But while I usually recommend bloggers start out with WordPress.com (that’s right — there’s a WordPress.ORG and a WordPress.COM. COM is easier), bloggers often make the switch to WordPress.org once they’ve learned the ropes. If you can start with WordPress.org, you’ll save yourself the trouble of eventually making that switch.

If there’s one regret I have about blogging, it’s that I didn’t start out on WordPress.org. Because now I want to switch to WordPress.org, but that would require changing my blog URL, and you all already know to find me here. Sigh.

Examples of WordPress.ORG blogs: Marian Schembari, Todd’s Wanderings and In Search of Squid.

Want more pros and cons of each platform to figure out which is right for you? Check out this Blogging Basics 101 post.

2. Choose a URL. Try to make your URL your name. You can also make it match your blog title — if you’re absolutely sure you’ll stick with it — but your name is best for the purposes of personal branding. Maybe you don’t care about branding yourself now, but you might later. And while Blogger allows you to change your URL, WordPress doesn’t; to change a WordPress.com URL, you have to start from scratch and build a new blog. So choose wisely.

If you really want to get fancy, you can buy yourname.com at GoDaddy.com (usually costs about $10/year) and point that URL to your blog. For example, way back when, I set up alexisgrant.com to reroute to my travel blog. I say this is fancy, but it’s actually fairly easy to set up. And it’s good to have yourname.com anyhow.

3. Find your template. Your design says a lot about you and your blog, so choose one that looks professional. This is where WordPress has far more options than Blogger.

Whenever I’m looking for a new template, I always narrow the selection down in two ways: designs with two or three columns, and ones with customizable headers. A customizable header allows you to download a photo for the top of your blog (this is easy, I promise). With so many people using these platforms, a customizable header is an easy way to make your blog look unique.

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Five cool ways news organizations are using social media

Yeah, I usually blog about writing or travel. But since I’m looking to dive back into full-time journalism, my mind has been wandering into news land. Specifically, social media news land.

I’ve been watching how journalists and news organizations use social media (and playing with some of those approaches myself). By now, most media outlets take advantage of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, maybe even LinkedIn and Flickr. But there are heaps of other ways to engage audience and create community.

Five social-media tools that journalists are using in innovative ways:

1. Twitter Lists. When Twitter’s list feature was first announced in October, journalists quickly realized the tool was useful to group and follow their sources. Now media organizations are taking it one step further, offering those lists to consumers so they can follow sources on their own. The New York Times, for example, has a page that aggregates all its Twitter lists, with a button that makes it easy for readers to follow those lists, too. The Texas Tribune created a list of the state’s elected officials using a unique format that lets readers see the latest tweet for each one. And some outlets, like the St. Petersburg Times, offer lists of their own reporter’s Twitter handles.

Because they can be put together quickly, lists are also an awesome tool for breaking news events — even if you’re already using a Twitter hashtag. Lists point both reporters and consumers toward tweeps who know what’s happening: people at the scene, experts on the topic or others who are affected in some way by whatever’s going on. When I come across such an example again, I’ll link to it here. (If you can share one, please let us know in the comments.)

2. Avatars. Personality is what makes Facebook pages and Twitter feeds popular; that’s why pages and feeds by reporters, infused with those individual’s personalities, often have more fans and followers than straight-up topical feeds (although topical and breaking news feeds have their place, too). But what happens when more than one reporter contributes to a feed? Can you go topical yet remain personal?

The Chicago Tribune’s solution was the creation of Colonel Tribune, its digital face for the paper. On Facebook and Twitter, the Colonel doesn’t simply throw out breaking news headlines, he teases links to stories and offers interesting tidbits, like a person would. (He’s unbiased, of course.) “He routinely gets news tips from some readers, hears from others about corrections and typos in stories, and he is offered story ideas,” explains Bill Adee, creator of the avatar, in this Nieman Foundation story.

3. Tumblr. Newsweek is leading the way (for media outlets, anyhow) with this blogging platform. In this interview with MediaBistro’s FishbowlNY, Mark Coatney, who’s behind Newsweek’s tumblelog, says, “It’s useful for us in terms of engaging a new kind of reader.”

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