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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It's Really Simple

I just posted a new podcast on "Grizzly's Growls," explaining as best I could an idea I'd had for a non-profit to communicate with their audience.  The question came up at that Minnesota Voices UnConference I attended, but I didn't get the time to try to give the answer.  And then someone from the Conference asked me the same question.

I think the answer is simpler than it looks, just not "easy."  Taking my own advice from the podcast, I decided to copy the text of the podcast over here, to make it more accessible to that audience.



The secret of getting your message to those folks, and to any variety of folks, is to take the complexity on yourself.  They don't have to see it or deal with it, that's your job.  Instead of expecting them to figure out how to get to your content where it is, you but your content in a place they can find it, in a form they can digest, with the tools with which they're comfortable.

Let's put together a hypothetical case.  Let's start with a blog.  Most of the folks at the Unconference were with non-profits.  Some of them, though, were a bit mystified by the basics, and nobody was telling them the basics.

Suppose you're not interested in doing a blog, because it seems like something wild-eyed political types would do, or techy geeks like me would do, or you think it involves telling your life story and talking about your cat.  Well, you can certainly use a blog that way, nothing wrong with it.  I for one happen to like my cat.

But you can also consider a blog simply a tool for managing a website with changing content.  You don't have to care what content other people post with that tool.  You only care about your message.  The Medium is not the Message, if you will.  The Medium is a message, maybe.  But the Medium is just the Medium -- just another tool.  The Message is the Message.  That's all you have to care about.

By the way, how do I know this stuff will work?  Because I've done all this stuff myself for several years now.

So let us start with a Blog.  If you wanna get all high-tech, you could set up something like WordPress, an excellent tool, very powerful, that'll let you get down into alla them fiddly bits, really personalize your site and make it your own.  And you can set up Wordpress on your own website, or have it hosted on Wordpress.com.  And Wordpress is Free.

Free, by the way, is a Very Good Thing.

Or you can let Google do all the complicated stuff, and set up a Blog on Blogger.  Google owns Blogger.  And a blog on Blogger is free.

Blogs are simple.  Blogger will give you a place to type in a title, add a picture, whatever you want to make it pretty and recognizeably belonging to your organization.  And adding your message to the Blog is pretty simple, too.  You type your text into a text box.  You can add pictures and links and whatnot, if you'd like.  But you could certainly just type in some text.  People do.

Okay, so there's your blog on the Web, and your message is in there.   Something new comes up, you type some more text in another text box, and you've added more content.  Again, very simple.

If you have a domain name of your own, pointed at some webpage you already have but don't understand, you should be able to point that domain name of yours at your blog that has your message in it.  As far as folks looking for WHOEVER DOT ORG are concerned, WHOEVER DOT ORG is what they see when they get there.  And what they see is your message you typed into your blog.

And now we get to the beauty part for your purposes.  You can keep putting your message into your blog very simply, and have it delivered to essentially everywhere your audience might be on the Internet automatically.

All modern blogging tools, and that includes WordPress and that hypothetical Blogger blog we just set up, will automatically create something called a Feed.  If you have a blog, you have a feed.  One type of feed is called an RSS feed.  RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. 

RSS is like sausage.  If you knew how it was made, you wouldn't think it was simple.  But these days, it really is Really Simple.  It's already done adequately well for you by the same stuff that runs your blog, and you don't have to mess with it, or understand it much. There's another type of feed, called an Atom Feed.  That's what Blogger creates by default.  And it's easy to get Blogger to create an RSS feed.  Don't worry about it, either type will work fine for our project here.

So, you have a Blog, with your message in it, at your web address, folks can come and look at that.  And you have a feed.  But you have part of your potential audience that won't bother to come look at your blog.

Let's suppose they are having fun playing with Facebook, finding all their friends and whatnot.  Facebook has tools for adding your feed to your Facebook page.  So new posts to your blog show up on Facebook.  Want a fan page for your group on Facebook?  Same deal; have your Fan page display your feed, which will include copies of what you
typed into your blog.  How do I know?  I do that myself.

Let's add another tool.  We'll run the feed you already have, through something called Feedburner.

Remember I mentioned Google owns Blogger?  Well, Google also owns Feedburner.  You set up a free account at Feedburner.  You tell Feedburner where your blog is.  And Feedburner finds that feed that's already been created for you on your blog, and Feedburner allows you to do a whole bunch more fancy stuff with your message.

A brief side note here.  I've mentioned two options for creating a blog.  There are lots of options.  I've mentioned one option for doing fancy stuff with your feed.  There are several options for that, too.  But for our example, we'll talk about a blog created with Blogger, with it's feed managed by Feedburner.  I have one of those.  I used to have three of those, but that's another story.

So, suppose you've got folks who only read email.  Fine.  Feedburner allows for email subscriptions.  Any time you add a new entry to your blog, it shows up in your feed, Feedburner sees it come out, and those folks get a copy in their email.

Do you have blind folks who should be able to get your message?  If you stick to text in your blog, their screen reader software should have no problem with reading your blog, or reading an email version they get from Feedburner.  But, if your blind audience listens to podcasts, you could use a tool like Odiogo.com to turn the text from your blog into a podcast.  Not a great podcast, basically some computer reading your text aloud, just like their screen reading software.  How do I know this works?  Because I do that myself.

Heard of that thing called FriendFeed?  Well, all FriendFeed does is look at feeds just like that one from your blog, you can get that, too.

Want more than one of the folks on your team able to add content to your website?  Blogger already has ways to allow multiple folks to post new content.  Betcha WordPress does, too.  Both allow for your audience to comment back to you.

What if you are only comfortable with typing emails?  You can set up Blogger to receive emails from you and post them to your blog. You can set up Blogger to receive emails from multiple people on your staff and post them to your blog.  And via your feed, those posts will also show up on your Facebook page, and on FriendFeed, and a whole bunch of other places, if you'd like.  That's Syndication.  And all you're doing with your content is typing it into a little text box.  That's Really Simple.

Wanna get fancier?  Wanna do some audio?  Do a podcast.  It's simple.  How do I know?  Because I do two of them, and I'm not the sharpest tack on the bulletin board.

I won't try to explain everything there is to know about podcasting here.  I recommend a book I recently finished reading, called "Podcasting for Dummies," by Tee Morris, Chuck Tomasi, and Evo Terra.  Don't let the title fool you.  You don't have to be a Dummy to do a podcast.  But it's always helped me.

At its most basic level, a podcast is just a digital audio recording that people can get in whatever manner, via the Internet.  Remember that business about Odiogo I mentioned earlier?  If you set that up, you already created a simple sort of a podcast.  But you could also plug a microphone into your computer, record yourself reading something, put that on the web somewhere with the right sort of link in your blog, you've got a podcast.   You can get fancier, but you don't have to.  "Podcasting for Dummies," that book I mentioned, will explain all that stuff better than I can.

Suppose your audience doesn't have an iPod or any other sort of MP3 player.  Fine.  They go to your blog, double-click on that link in your blog, and their computer will play that audio file for them.  Most people who listen to my podcasts do exactly that. 

If you're concerned folks won't be able to figure out that podcasting stuff, fine.  Record your podcast from a script.  Put the full text of the script, and that special link, into your blog -- which already goes to Facebook, and Friendfeed, and out by email.  Wherever folks are, they also get that special link in the email that they can double-click on, download the audio file and play it on their computer.  Whichever they're most comfortable with.  They still get your message.

Once you've recorded your podcast, you have even more options.  Want to get your message out on Old Media, too?  Contact your friends in Public Radio, and see if they'll play your podcast.  For that matter, contact your friends doing newspapers and newsletters and whatnot.  See if they'll print the content from your blog.

The point is, you can create your content once, do all the seemingly complicated stuff on your end, and your audience gets the content without dealing with anything too complicated for them.  And the part you do doesn't have to be very complicated, either.  You might well manage it all yourself.  People do.  I do it several times a week.

Think all this stuff is too hard for your little organization to manage?  Well, I honestly doubt it, but I respect your feeling that way.  So get a couple of related organizations together, combine your efforts, and do a joint podcast or a joint blog.  Or find some podcaster who's run out of stuff to talk about, and see if they'll do a podcast for you.  By the way, if you've listened to any of my recent podcasts....  Well, you probably get the idea.

And maybe a more important point.  Feel free to ask for help.  Most amateur podcasters, and most bloggers, would be happy to help you get started.  The original meaning of amateur wasn't Not Good Enough To Be Professional.  The original meaning of amateur was someone doing their thing for the love of it.  We love what we do!

And as a fella named Steve Eley, truly the original definition of amateur, though he's nearly making a living these days, said once,any podcaster would be glad to help you get your audience listening.  Because folks who listen to one podcast, are that much more likely to want to listen to more than one.  Maybe mine.  Just sayin'.

There, that wasn't so bad, was it?

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