Technology... is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. ~C.P. Snow, New York Times, 15 March 1971

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Art of Socialization: Blogging to Twitter, Part 2

So you know the value of publishing your blog posts to Twitter.  Now how do you do it?  Some blog platforms have this ability built-in (LiveJournal, for instance), while others require a plug-in or a third-party product.  Whether you use a built-in feature, a plug-in, or third-party product, there are pluses and minuses for each solution.

My experience with blogging is with LiveJournal, Blogger, Tumblr, and Twitter.  One of the most popular blogging platforms is WordPress.  I haven't used it, so my knowledge of it is limited.  My mother in law uses WordPress and seems very happy with it.  Her blog is called Designin' with Judy and is hosted on her company web site, TechPalette Design.  The CleverWP blog has an article about using the plug-in WP to Twitter to publish your blog entries to Twitter.  I haven't tried the technique since I haven't used WordPress, but it seems to be a workable solution.

One third-party solution that will work for any blog (or website for that matter) that has an RSS or Atom feed is FeedBurner, which is currently owned by Google.  Blogger, also a Google product (though not originally as with FeedBurner), doesn't contain any built in ability to do this, so a third-party product is necessary.  If you have a Google account, you can use the same account to log into both.

An RSS is a way to distribute entries in a way that can easily be broken down and manipulated by programs, such as readers.  It stands for Really Simple Syndication.  The specification is defined in by the RSS 2.0 standard, which can be read from Harvard Law for those geeky types that are interested.  For more information, you might want to read the Wikipedia article.  Atom is a competing type of feed that does basically the same thing.  Many sites support both.  RSS is compatible with more readers, Atom allows more rich content and has some additional features.  For more information on the differences, see Aaron Brazell's article on ProBlogger or the description in the Atom Wiki.

FeedBurner is primarily software for improving you RSS feeds, but contains the ability to socialize your feeds to Twitter.  This is the feature I want to discuss in this entry.  FeedBurner has many other useful features that deserve more time.  One advantage to using FeedBurner with Blogger or Tumblr and probably other sites is that they have the ability to add your FeedBurner feeds to your blog to replace the built in ones.  LiveJournal and Twitter don't have this ability, though on LiveJournal, you can add a widget to direct people to it.

To focus on the socialization part of FeedBurner, there are several advantages to it over some of the other built-in and third-party solutions I've used.  The biggest one, and the reason I am currently using it, is that it has the ability to dynamically create hash tags from the tags or labels on the blog entry.  I have only tried this with Blogger, so I don't know how it would work with other blog platforms.

In Twitter, there are certain characters that have specific meanings.  An "at" sign (@) at the beginning of a word designates a username.  If you wanted to say something to my on Twitter, you would put "@kethar" in your Tweet.  I would get a notification of the message, and if someone clicks on the link that is created by doing so, it will take them to my profile so they can see my timeline.  A hash sign (the name coming from scripting languages), called a number sign or pound sign in other contexts (#) designate a hash tag.  A hash tag is designed to make it easier to search for other Tweets that are related.  You can put a hash sign on any word, and if the person clicks on the link created, Twitter will show them all Tweets with that hash tag in them.  This makes it easier for people who might be interesting in reading your Tweet, and in the context of this post, people who might be interested in reading your blog post.

FeedBurner creates these hash tags dynamically from the labels or tags in your post, like I said.  The advantage of this is that the hash tags are the ones you felt were relevant to you post.  Some other solutions, like Twitterfeed, doesn't do this dynamically, so all posts have the same hash tags.  This limits your audience to only the people interested in the general subject of your blog, not any that might be interested in a specific post.  Someone coming for a specific post might like what they found and start reading your blog.  The disadvantage to it being dynamic is that Tweets have a limited length (140 characters) and you can have a lot of labels or tags in blogging platforms.  FeedBurner chooses the ones it thinks are most likely to get hits if there isn't enough room for all of them.  These might not be the ones you would prefer.  The only way to control this is to keep the title short and the tags few.  This isn't always what you want.

The other advantage of FeedBurner in the context of Twitter is statistics on visitors.  The normal statistics for FeedBurner are not too good, and Twitterfeed's statistics are better.  However, if you use the beta version of the statistics in FeedBurner, you get much better data than you do from any other program I've used.  The links added to Tweets direct through FeedBurner, so you get statistics on all clicks from Twitter.  If there's anything Google does well, it's collecting and analyzing statistics.  That is how they do searches, and that is how they determine which ads to show.  And ads are how they stay in business.  They have applied this expertise to FeedBurner in the beta version.  Blogger has some statistics built in, and these are pretty good, but combining them with FeedBurner gives you plenty of data.  This is one disadvantage of using LiveJournal's built in Twitter feature.  Unless you pay for a paid account, you have basically no statistics.  I haven't seen what they are like in their paid version.

There are two reasons Twitterfeed is better than FeedBurner.  The first reason is the reason I still use Twitterfeed even though I'm currently using FeedBurner for Twitter.  FeedBurner only does socialization to Twitter.  There are no other options.  Twitterfeed has a number of options, Twitter and Facebook are the only ones I've used. It sends posts to Facebook automatically, and if you configure it right, it will show a picture from your blog post and the first few lines of the post.  This is a very nivce feature and I use it for this.

The second is that FeedBurner gives you a choice of adding text to either the beginning or the end of the Tweet.  I use this to add "TechEdge: " to the beginning of my posts so people can tell which posts come from this blog easily.  I would like to add a hash tag of "#ipn" for Iron Pixie Networking to the end of my posts, so anything related to my consulting business would be easy to find.  Twitterfeed allows you to add something to the beginning and to the end, which is what I did what I was using Twitterfeed for Twitter.  I debated moving for this reason, but decided I'd rather have the dynamic tags than the static tags Twitterfeed allows.

One advantage using the built-in Twitter function in LiveJournal is that on each post, and on each comment you leave, you can choose whether the post is sent to Twitter and/or Facebook, if the post is public.   The other products I've seen either send everything or use a filter, but none of them give you a choice on each post.

How to set up FeedBurner to send blog entires to Twitter

Open FeedBurner and log in using a Google account.  There will be a text box to enter your site into.  Enter the address of your blog.  Press Next.  It will find any RSS or Atom feeds on the page.

If there are multiple feed choices for your site, choose the one that best fits your needs.  RSS will probably show plain text with no line breaks, formatting, or pictures, but could show escaped HTML, which is hard to read.  It does plain text in Blogger.  Atom will show images and formatting, depending on your blogging platform.  For more information on the differences, see Aaron Brazell's article on ProBlogger or the description in the Atom Wiki.  Press Next.

Entter the title you want for your feed (it will default to the title on your blog) and the path you want.  This is a URL path, so the simplest thing to do is stick to alphanumeric characters.  You can create sub-paths to organize your feeds if you want to, like i did in the example, though most people don't.  If the feed path is already taken, FeedBurner will give you an error.  Press Next.

Your feed has been created.  Press Next.

You can tell it to use more statistics.  This can be changed later.  Below are the settings I use.  After selecting what you want, press Next.

Your feed is ready.  There are many things you can do here, and I plan to cover more of them in other posts, but for now, let's look at Twitter.  Click on the Publicize tab.

Under Services, click Socialize.  The image below shows the options I use.

First, add a Twitter account to use if this is your first blog you are setting up.

You can include the title, the body, or both.  It will cut these off at a certain length.

Obviously you want to include a link, so people visit your blog.

Retweeting is when someone shares your Tweet with their followers.  Originally this was always done by adding "RT @originalposter " to the beginning where @originalposter is the person who posted the original post.  Now the Twitter website and many clients do this without taking up room using meta-tags, but some people still use the old method, plus you have to use the old method if you are going to add anything of your own to the Tweet.  Checking the box to allow room for retweets makes the Tweet shorter but makes it possible for people to do old-style retweets without deleting part of your content.

I talked about hash tags above.  The next set of options are to add these.  Using inline hash tags means FeedBurner will make words in your subject or body, depending on what you included, that match the labels or tags on your post into hash tags, rather than just putting hash tags at the end.  This will allow you to have more tags included, but can look a little tacky.  On the bottom of the image below, you will see examples of what I'm talking about.

Additional text is the part I was talking about above where you can add text to either the beginning or the end of every Tweet.

The final part allows you to filter which posts are sent to Twitter and how.  If you post a lot, or if your blog is a shared blog with a lot of people contributing, you might want the item limit higher, or you may risk missing some posts.  The date field is for if you post posts to your blog out of date/time order, to determine how this is handled.  The final fields allow you to filter which posts are sent to Twitter.

When you have everything configured, press Activate at the bottom, and you are ready to go.

Now, a few last things about feeds in FeedBurner.

You can view your feed by pressing the icon that looks like the one to the left.  The URL is the path in your address bar of your browser when you go to this page.

If you are using a blog platform that supports redirected feeds, you can paste the URL of your feed into the place for it in your software.

Once you are done, start posting, and watch your statistics to see what traffic comes your way.

Bethany Kennedy
IT Professional

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