Helping two new bloggers launch their dreams at the media lab

Amy's Next Chapter

Over the last two weeks, I’ve helped two people launch their blogs on two different blogging platforms. Beckie Crispino started a blog for her business, Cashbackclics, an affiliate of, on Blogger and Amy Alandt has started a blog on divorce and the next chapter in her life on WordPress.

Beckie Crispino

I first met Beckie when she came to the media lab through for a workshop on blogging. She learned a lot from Heritage Media Managing Editor Rick Kessler’s two-part series, and wanted to put into action much of what she had learned. We took Rick’s recommendation for a blogging platform and set her up on Blogger. We also set up a Twitter account

and Facebook page associated with the blog, and I am pretty sure she has either set up a Tout account, as well, or plans to soon.

Beckie’s blog has not been launched yet. First she wants to have a logo made and get all of her ducks in a row. In the meantime, she has been adapting to Twitter very well, tweeting and retweeting multiple times a day since we first set up the account Nov. 6.

Amy’s blog was freshly pressed today on WordPress. She also found the media lab through an had attended Rick’s blogging workshop, and my presentation on RebelMouse and NewHive. She works in sales and marketing, and wanted to become more familiar with the WordPress platform since the company she works for uses it and she’s now an administrator of the blog.

To gain practice before actually using her new-found knowledge on her employer’s blog, she set up a personal blog, called “Amy’s Next Chapter.” Today we set up her “” and she wrote her first post, “Welcome to my blog about divorce.” Initially, her first post was titled “Welcome!” but we changed it after I explained about search engine optimization and writing headlines for the web.

Amy is also interested in Tout and during our time together we created a Tout, so I could show her how easy it is to do. The short video was shared on my Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Amy doesn’t have a Twitter account yet and she prefers to share links to her blog posts on Facebook, rather than link the two. She is considering starting a Twitter account and Facebook page just for her blog.

I applaud both women for taking the steps to realize their dreams, and I look forward to working with both more in the future.

If you are a blogger or thinking about starting a blog, 21st Century Media‘s Michigan Group is recruiting blogging partners. Reach out to me by commenting on this blog and I can send you information.


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 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, 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.

A new crew of blogging partners

April Davis shows off a flier she created to promote her business while setting up her new blog.

April Davis shows off a flier she created to promote her business while setting up her new blog.

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.

Helping bloggers pursue their passions

AdriannaBlogWhen Adrianna Lypecky entered through the doors of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab in Ypsilanti yesterday, it was like a ray of sunshine peeking through the heavy Michigan clouds we’ve become accustomed to this winter. She was bubbly and excited to be there, and grateful for the help. A travel blogger linked at The News-Herald and Press & Guide websites, she was relatively new to the Blogger platform and was looking for design help.

And that’s where Monica Drake, community engagement editor at The Oakland Press, came in handy.

I had been in e-mail contact with Adrianna. She was looking for some feedback on her blog, and I gave it to her. I wrote:

Add hyperlinks to places you reference — beaches, hotels, restaurants, landmarks, etc.
Add locator map embeds
Include photo galleries or photo slideshows
Incorporate YouTube videos of these destinations
Ask readers questions such as have they been there or ask them about their favorite destinations. Start a conversation. Get some comments.
Encourage readers to share your posts on social media. You should be sharing them on all of your social media channels, as well. Feel free to post a link on all of our channels.
Include an “About Me” page so readers can relate to you as a person. Give your background and explain what qualifies you as an expert in travel.
Suggestions on changes: Eliminate all the white space around photos and text, and stay with one color of type/text. It looks a little crazy.
I like the recipes from the different locales. Great idea. I also like that you blog more regularly than some, but keep in mind our goal is three per week.
You may want to look into the different templates Blogger offers and find one that better suits your goals.
You can call me if you want to talk more.
But sometimes when people ask for help, they don’t really want it. They want to hear you say great things about whatever they’ve produced. But Adrianna was different, and her sincerity was apparent in her reply.
Thanks ever so much for all your suggestions. I really appreciate it. Is there any chance that I could meet you at your office in Ypsilanti and go over the details in person? It would be much better to meet one on one rather than talking via the phone.
Please let me know if this is at all possible. 
I really want to make my blog much more dynamite and entertaining. With your assistance I think I can make major improvements which will give me more enthusiasm to be creative and inventive. I do need some pointers on how to use software so that the blog is more eye catching.
I thank you for your assistance and hope that sometime in the near future I can meet with you so that you can help me make my blog reader friendly.

So, of course, I welcomed Adrianna to the media lab and introduced her to Monica, who knows Blogger like the back of her hand. In the next two hours, Monica helped transform Adrianna’s blog into a visually-appealing site, with a custom header that featured a photo reel of Adrianna’s travels and the name of her blog at the top, a new background photo, a new template and layout, incorporated some of Adrianna’s videos, made her “about me” box more prominent, and she linked Adrianna’s Twitter and Facebook feed to the blog.

In addition to Adrianna, Paul Rodman, a regular gardening columnist at The News-Herald in Southgate, came in after I approached him about turning his print column into an interactive blog. He, too, was excited about the prospect of going digital. Paul understood the value of digital, which will enable him to add hyperlinks and embeds of documents, photos, videos and information he is referencing. His newspaper column is called DigIt and he’s thinking about calling the blog DigIt Digital.

Paul’s visit was short. We talked about the various blogging platforms available and decided on Blogger. He then set up an account and decided he wanted to go home to digest all of the information before getting started. The plan is for him to start posting his weekly column, as well as a photo, video, aggregated content or a tip from him twice during the week.

One of the perks of working in the media lab is helping others pursue their passions, and discover how much fun it’s to express their creativity on a digital platform, where they can add all kinds of bells and whistles, interact with their audience in real time, and reach a wider audience from all over the world that they couldn’t have reached in print.