Practical tips on using social media tools to share creative impulses
Don’t you love the community around your interests and enthusiasms that you find on the web? You can’t replicate the experience anywhere in real life: the variety of viewpoints, the excitement of sharing and the feeling of validation that comes from consorting with people who see the world from the same angle but who are squirreled away in remote corners of the globe. It is like living in a vibrant big city and having dozens of serendipitous conversations every day.
These connections and conversations rekindle the creative spirit for many of us. We like seeing the work that people share, we get caught up in the memes of the moment, make inside jokes, share interesting things that we have found — links to news articles, blog posts, YouTube videos, book reviews. You name it and you can share it. Every bit of sharing that you do adds value to the community that you are part of. That’s a good feeling.
What do you do, though, when you want to share something of your own? Suddenly you are faced with a host of questions that are much more complicated than setting up a digital identity on a service like Twitter or Facebook. Do you make a web site? Do you blog?
Here is a little primer on how to create a place on the web where you can share things that you’ve made. Remember — you don’t have to call yourself a writer, or a photographer, or an artist, or a videographer to want to share something that you’ve made and you’ve found interesting with a community of like-minded people who have demonstrated that they are interested in the things that you are interested in.
To start, you need to decide what you want your little piece of real estate on the web to do.
- Do you intend to publish content regularly? Do you want to build an audience? Do you want that audience to be able to find you easily through search engines?
- Do you primarily intend to share one kind of created content, or do you intend to share multiple types of content?
- Do you intend to have one dominant theme or a variety of themes that you share about?
- Do you want to have a significant amount of control over your look and feel, or are you comfortable with a standard template?
- Do you want the activity of creating and posting content to be almost fool-proof, or do you want to sacrifice simplicity for having more control over formatting and appearance?
Some basic options
The explosion of social media has put very easy tools to create and share content in the hands of anyone on the web. You have a wide array of choices to establish your sharing outpost from.
The most robust option is to create a blog. There are two services that will host your blog and are easy to set up: Blogger and WordPress. Neither one is significantly better than the other. If you want to host your own blog, which means having an address that you own and control, WordPress is a robust and easy-to-use platform that you can install on an independent hosting service.
A blog is the best platform to use for frequent publishing on highly composed work, for attracting a broad audience, and for accommodating different levels of content, such as multiple posts, categories and pages. Think of a blog as the kind of publishing platform that you would use to create a magazine of your own work. It can handle just about anything.
Blogs also give you a built-in commenting system that allows you to build a conversation around the things that you publish. One of the limitations of blog-oriented commenting is that every discussion is tied to one discrete piece of content. It doesn’t allow for the kind of free-form discussion that break out on Twitter or Facebook.
I use WordPress on a self-hosted server for this blog. I’m pretty comfortable with technology and I wanted a platform that I could use to publish assorted pieces of writing from. The set-up required a bit of work and the site requires some basic ongoing maintenance. I use a pretty simple template and customize it by editing the CSS files and some of the page templates. If none of that made sense, you really don’t need to fiddle around with a stand-alone blogging platform. It’s more juice than you need at the start.
The most powerful platforms for sharing things that you’ve created in short bursts and distributing that content to other social identities like Facebook and Twitter are Posterous and Tumblr, the leading micro logging services.
Both allow you to share any kind of digital content — a photo, text, a digital image. They allow for easy posting from mobile devices. They give you a place to have easy dialogue through comments. A lot of poole use them,
I’ve used both services and settled in on Tumblr for a photo blog. A deciding factor for me was the ease of posting, and I’ve been surprised at how robust and interactive the Tumblr community can be.
Right, Facebook. I surprised how few people realize that they can use Facebook as a basic content sharing platform. How? Set up a “page” for yourself separate from your Facebook profile. Then, whenever you have a photo at you want to share, or a web link that you want to comment on, or a short piece of writing that you want to publish, use the Facebook tools to distribute the content.
Like the other blogging and micro-blogging services, you can configure your Facebook page to share each of your posts with Twitter and to publish in your personal Facebook page. You will be able take advantage of your audience of friends and the connections that you’ve made in Twitter. The interface is incredibly easy to use, and Facebook is continually updating and improving the tools.
I use Facebook as a distribution channel for the content that I publish on this blog. There are about 700 people who follow the drmstream Facebook page. It can be a lively and engaged audience — commenting on Facebook is easier, and the dialogue can range far and wide.
Things to think about
In the end, you want to be able to be creative and participate in the online community that you are part of with as few problems as possible. The more complicated the implementation of your solution is, the more likely it is that you won’t get past the urge to try. That would be a real shame. If you are feeling the urge to create and the desire to share, you’ve got to respect and nurture it. It’s too easy to come up with reasons not to do it, but there’s a group of people that you a interacting with out there on the web that really want to hear what you have to say.
You want your creative platform to make you feel free and easy. Don’t worry about attracting an audience. You’re just sharing with the people that you know on on the social web, just like you’d share a new poem with a friend, or invite someone to look at some photographs that you are proud of.
So the choice isn’t about finding the perfect technology platform that provides you with every bell and whistle, or about getting the perfect logo or design. It’s about finding a way to make sharing easy, so you can get past your inhibitions, get feedback and satisfy that creative urge that’s bubbling inside you.
And remember, if you don’t like what you decided on as a platform, you can always take it down. It’s that easy.