Adding visually-interesting elements, widgets and gadgets to blogs

Blogger Chris Watkins writes "Spiritual Voices."

Blogger Chris Watkins writes “Spiritual Voices.”


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.

Blogger Roger Beukema writes "Outdoor Notes."

Blogger Roger Beukema writes “Outdoor Notes.”


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.

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