The Southeast Michigan Media Lab hosted its first Blogger Fair May 9, attracting 31 people either interested in starting a blog or currently posting to an established blog. The event drew writers from across Southeast Michigan, from Metamora, Sterling Heights and Birmingham to Flat Rock, Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, where the lab is located.
The fair featured an overview about the media lab, its free workshops and instruction, as well as its mission to recruit 100 new blogging partners for parent company 21st Century Media’s Michigan group of news websites managed by Digital First Media. In the last three months, with blogger fairs held at sister publications and through the efforts of editors and staff, 43 new blogging partners have been added. The program has been such a success that the webmaster of Heritage.com had to figure out a way to accommodate all the new RSS feeds because they were overloading the website, with a total of 89 partners. Blog categories were added under each tab, rather than all under the “Life” section. The Oakland Press has the highest number of blogging partners with 126, followed by The Macomb Daily with 85.
Breakout sessions followed the media lab presentation, with News-Herald Online Editor Joe Gray leading the session “Blogger Basics and Social Media;” Monica Drake, community engagement editor at The Oakland Press, led “Understanding Search Engine Optimization, Analytics and How to Monetize Your Blog;” and I led “Incorporating Visuals and Interactive Elements in Your Blog.” The 3-to-5 group saw the largest turnout, and the 5-to-7 group also featured some writers from the earlier group who wanted to join a second breakout group. Copies of my presentation were handed out to participants, and an electronic version can be found on Scribd.
In addition, freelance photojournalist Mark Bialek of Ann Arbor Nights took portrait photographs of the participants who wanted new photos for their blog and/or social media channels.
We have received positive feedback about the event via our page on Meetup.com and through email. Additional blogger recruitment fairs are in the works at The News-Herald and The Oakland Press. Voice Newspapers, The Macomb Daily and Daily Tribune in Royal Oak held similar successful events earlier this year.
Below is a video from the event. If you are interested in becoming a blogging partner, call 734-719-0192. Also, you’re welcome to stop by the lab for help with your blog or to attend our free workshops. On June 20, the topic is “Blogging for Nonprofits.” “Using Social Media to Engage Your Audience” will be presented July 25. Visit our Meetup page for times and sign up to be notified of future events.
Some days at the lab I am lost in another world on my computer exploring new digital storytelling or social media tools — like Talkshoe on Monday and tame.it Tuesday — setting up live chats, recruiting workshop leaders and newsroom trainers and talking about events and interesting content on our social media channels. Other days, I actually have real human interaction — like yesterday and today.
On Tuesday, Roger Beukema, one of our blogging partners based in Oakland County, stopped by the media lab in the morning to learn how to spruce up his blog and use social media more effectively. In between stories about his family, his career as a cop and his connection over the last 30 years to The Oakland Press, we made some headway. It was a purely enjoyable experience for me and didn’t even seem like 2 1/2 hours as I got lost in his stories, along with the fun of learning new digital storytelling tools.
I talked to Roger about adding hyperlinks to content he references in his “Outdoor Notes” posts, sharing YouTube videos related to what he’s writing about, adding more photographs and maybe a podcast after he buys that smartphone he’s been wanting to get for a while. I also shared with him my PowerPoint, “Contributing Community Content: Visually interesting ways to help your content stand out and engage your audience.” The presentation is an introduction to a variety of digital storytelling tools that he could learn about at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab and then incorporate into his blog posts.
On Wednesday, Chris Watkins, who writes the “Spiritual Voices” column for Heritage Media-West, came in for a morning appointment. A few months ago, she decided to convert her print column to a blog to reach a wider audience and become more interactive. Chris and I had a great time, too, chatting about her past jobs, her personal life and life experiences, in addition to technology and what we could do to enhance her blog.
Chris uses the Blogger platform. We logged on and I helped her add a number of widgets to her blog to make it more interactive. Now followers can connect with her on social media, her most read entries will be highlighted, her blog archives are displayed and she is hosting the Heritage Media “Life” section headlines to help drive traffic back to the Heritage Media news website. I also suggested she shoot some photos to either add images to her blog design or add a photo slideshow. In addition, like I did for Roger, I suggested Chris aggregate content and add her commentary to it, as well as YouTube videos.
I also took a look at Chris’ Twitter account @OnBendedKnees. When I saw she only had six followers and she was following six, we had a chat about how social media can help drive traffic. I showed her how to shorten her blog post urls using Bitly and then tweet them out. I also explained the “connect” and search functions on Twitter, and encouraged her to retweet, reply to tweets, and start interacting with people on Twitter. While we were at it, we followed all of the Heritage Media publications in Washtenaw County, where her column appears in print and her blog is shared on the website Heritage.com, assuring her that editors and reporters would help her out with some retweets and mentions.
While my meetings with both bloggers were fun and I enjoyed helping them, what I look forward to most is our next meeting — after they’ve mastered the basic skills and we can advance to the more fun stuff. For a list of my favorite digital storytelling tools, visit my NewHive expression.
Have you used ScribbleLive or uStream to hold live chats with your audience as they view your event online? Whether you’re an independent blogger or journalist working for a news website, these tools are great to incorporate into your skillset so you can provide better community engagement and practice interactive journalism.
I have been using uStream and CoverItLive for nearly a year to share our workshops at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, formerly the Community Media Lab, with our online audience, and recently switched from CoverItLive to ScribbleLive. I held my first ScribbleLive chat, broadcast at news websites affiliated with our chain across the United States, March 21, and again March 28. Having these two chats — one on cancer and the other on marketing blogs — under my belt has helped me build not only on my skills, but my confidence, as well.
The cancer chat was a little intimidating because it was my first and I knew I’d have a national audience. I recruited experts for the chat from the American Cancer Society, Southgate Surgery Center and the University of Michigan cancer AnswerLine. Although none had participated before, they were excited for the opportunity.
I started by setting up the event in ScribbleLive and adding them as guest writers. They were sent invites through ScribbleLive a couple of days in advance so they could register, upload avatars and become familiar with the platform. In the meantime, I researched the topic and came up with questions in advance to facilitate the chat and fill in when the talk was running slow. I also created shortened links in Bitly to facts and information I was citing so I would have analytics later to view. ScribbleLive also shares data.
Although I don’t think the other media outlets promoted it as well as they could have, I tried my best, using all of our Michigan publications’ Facebook pages and Twitter accounts affiliated with our mastheads in Washtenaw County that I had access to as a former editor. So, it’s no surprise that most of our audience came from Washtenaw County.
In all, we had 41 concurrent watchers, 1,551 total uniques, 2,186 page views, 16 unique users who posted comments, 24 published comments and 101 total posts for our cancer chat. To view the chat, click on our article page at Heritage.com, where it was posted.
I also organized and moderated the chat for the Southeast Michigan Media Lab’s workshop “Marketing blogs so people can find, read them,” the following week March 28. I upped my skill level by incorporating livestreaming video with this chat, embedding our uStream channel, which has had 465 views since inception, in ScribbleLive. For this, I had help from Paul Kampe at The Oakland Press, who has been my ScribbleLive mentor. In the past, I uploaded three embeds — chat, video and PowerPoint — in an article page with a headline.
To prepare for the marketing chat, I asked the presenter to send me his PowerPoint in advance. I uploaded that to Scribd.com to share with our audience, but also so I could prepare questions and information blocks. This chat had 149 uniques, 200 page views, 48 posts, 13 comments and five unique users posting comments. It wasn’t as many as the cancer chat, but the subject was pretty narrow, so it was expected. In comparison, The Oakland Press hosts a chat on the Detroit Lions. On March 28, that chat had 3,455 page views, 3,046 uniques, 16 unique users posting, 34 published comments and 37 posts.
I expected both of my chats to get a wider audience than they did, especially the cancer chat because of its broad interest, but I think as I do more and as I get more cooperation from each newsroom in promoting them, future live chats will fare better. I am still pleased, though, with the outcome. These are awesome community engagement tools that I anticipate will grow in popularity as our audience becomes more familiar and comfortable with the platform as they’re exposed to it more.
Just as I have been working steadily over the last month to recruit bloggers — partnering with 20 in the last month — I’ve been working equally as hard at lining up live chats, asking editors across Michigan and our audience for their suggestions. Some future chats in the works include a talk on Alzheimer’s disease, suicide prevention and tax filing headaches and deadlines this season.
If you have any ideas for live chats or workshops at the media lab, or want to learn how to use these tools, please contact me through Twitter, @digitalJRN.
One of our more measurable successes in the Southeast Michigan Media Lab has been our efforts to recruit blogging partners. Since mid-February, we’ve added eight blogs, shared five existing blogs across all of our Michigan websites and we have seven other bloggers we’re working with and should have their blogs linked soon. That could translate into 20 blogs in the last month or so.
Not only is it exciting to link to these new writers and share their insights on everything from travel, international cuisine and world travel to gardening, spirituality and farm life, but it’s fun working with them and offering them advice on how to improve their blogs. I’ve provided critiques on four blogs, and met with several bloggers in person to either get them started, talk about Google AdSense or share digital media tools that can make their blogs more visually interesting and interactive. We’ve also discussed how to grow their audience by using social media.
I’ve also joined two blogger groups on Facebook connected with The Oakland Press and Macomb Daily, and I share tips with them, information on workshops at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab and engage in conversations about their work.
Some of our newest blogs are A Spiritual Voice by Chris Watkins, Talking Taylor Schools by Karl Ziomek, Speck of Sanity by Elizabeth Cusulas, Science for Everyone by Nate Jessee, Transform Yoga and Massage by Carrie Hura, The International Food Diaries by Laura Clark and Travelers Dream Blog by Laura Clark.
Blogs originally only linked to The Morning Sun but now shared on all of our Michigan websites include Lilac Wold and Stuff, Our Transplant Journey and Live Fitness Inspired. I thought all these would be of interest to readers across Michigan. I will be looking at all of our websites and determining which other existing blogs could be shared across our footprint here. I also shared this blog on all of our websites, and added our digital transformation editor’s blog, The Buttry Diary.
In the works are Garden Guy by Paul Rodman, Simply Delightful Sweets by April Davis and The Nourishing Farm by Heather McDougall. They have created their blogs, but have a few more bells and whistles to add.
Blogs in the conceptual stage include a teen mom blog, a crafts blog, a blog from the Parent-Teacher Organization in Milan schools and a blog by Daniel Lloyd with a yet-to-be-determined focus.
If you haven’t checked out these blogs yet, I encourage you to do so and post comments. Bloggers are thirsty for feedback and want to communicate with their audience. They want to know someone is actually reading their posts and that they’re making a difference in other people’s lives, whether it’s providing helpful information or just putting a smile on someone’s face.