The Internet is no longer a space for readers to simply consume content passively, it’s now a place where readers can actively engage with content and its author. Social media, in particular, are based on content sharing and discussion.
As a medium, blogs are different to news, books or academic literature. They are community-focused…but the content acts as a go-between for author–audience interactions, rather than a quod scripsi, scripsi contribution from the author. For bloggers, having a social media presence and not engaging with your social network is like going to a dinner party and sitting in the corner all night with your back to everyone.
Here’s an engagement tip not often mentioned in the ‘how to blog’ guides. Sharing other people’s posts is a positive and effective way to expand your network. So what are the best ways to share other people’s content without losing your own individual voice?
Like attracts Like
Many blog platforms have a ‘star’ or ‘like’ button option that can be included on blogs so readers can vote with their mouse. Some platforms also allow ‘likes’ on individual comments.
I use ‘like’ buttons a lot, because they help me share interesting content with my readers. Take a look at the right-hand column of my blog. Scroll until you see the box called ‘Recommended’. Every time I click the ‘like’ button on someone else’s blog post, a link to their post appears in this box. I only installed this widget late last year but, since then, over 5% of the clicks on my site have been to links in my Recommended list (this doesn’t include pingbacks).
Recently, I’ve found fewer blogs are including faving options on their posts. Perhaps the seedy underbelly of clickbaiting (buying likes or binge-liking other people’s posts to attract more traffic) has given ‘likes’ a bad name.
But not giving readers the option to ‘like’ your posts kind of defeats the purpose of social media. Of course, comments are better for engagement, but they aren’t always necessary. Likes are the digital equivalent of applause, hugs and genuine thanks, when no further comment is needed. There are no written words that can replace these interactions.
Find your inner editor
Content curation has moved on from robot aggregators and content farms. If done well, it’s a bona fide engagement strategy. You can use your blog to curate and share content, without relying on ‘reblog’ buttons, and potentially increase return traffic to your own blog.
Link collections allow you to bulk-recommend other posts, with a brief comment of your own, but these can lose their effectiveness when overdone. Writing constructive response posts to other people’s blogs is the best way to share individual posts, while also maintaining your own voice and attracting new readers.
Does this really work? Well, out of my top 10 most viewed posts of all time (6.5 years), seven were mentioned and linked to by at least one other blogger, and many of my referrals came from these posts. And my second-most viewed post of all time, written almost 3 years ago and still getting views, is Ecology vs. Math, written in response to Dynamic Ecology’s E. O. Wilson vs. math. But that’s all just correlation…
A lot of readers will share your posts via other social media, even if you don’t use those platforms yourself. There are a few tweaks you can do to make your blog share-friendly.
If you use Twitter, you’ve probably seen a tweet like this:
Don’t let your blog platform get all the credit for your work! If you have a Twitter handle, make sure to change your blog settings to automatically include your handle in every tweet people share from your site. You can do this in most blog platforms, but the settings may vary. In WordPress, you do it in Settings > Sharing. Enter your Twitter handle (without the @ sign) where it says ‘Twitter username to include in tweets…’. Then, whenever someone shares any page or post from your blog via the Twitter button, you will get the credit:
Twitter has also changed the way it shares links, which enhances the opportunity for visual communication. Images are powerful science communication tools, and they also attract more engagement when included in tweets.
With the new Twitter timeline, website links included in tweets are automatically converted into an attachment below the tweet. This means that the first image used in your blog post will be shown in the tweet attachment – if you don’t have an image in the post, a blank square will appear (unless you have set a default blog icon picture , which you can do in Settings). But including a relevant image on your blog post is an easy way to increase click-throughs whenever someone shares your post on Twitter.
And have you ever checked what your blog looks like on a mobile device? Depending on your platform, some content can disappear on mobile versions of blogs, and comment and sharing options can be removed. To make sure your blog is mobile-friendly, just tick the box under Appearance > Mobile (that’s for WordPress).
Do I need Twitter/Facebook/etc.?
Yes, if you don’t want to rely on other people to share your blogs. Because it’s open access, Twitter is an excellent complementary tool for bloggers, especially if you often blog about your research. If you have a group blog, or you don’t want to maintain a personal Twitter account, you can use Twitter to share new posts under your blog name (e.g. Dynamic Ecology, WildlifeSNPits, Small Pond Science).
Some studies have found that Twitter mentions of scientific papers can increase early citations and, therefore, their quantified ‘impact’. If you’re trying to decide whether to join Twitter, have a look at my previous post, including the links at the end.
I had been blogging for five years before I joined Twitter…and my annual blog audience increased 250% the year after I joined Twitter and started tweeting links to my posts regularly. But Ian Lunt’s excellent content curation site, Australia’s Best Nature & Ecology Blogs, also kicked off around the same time and started sharing my posts too…and because Twitter has now removed share counts from tweet buttons, I’m not sure how to separate those confounding factors.
I’ve focused mostly on WordPress and Twitter here, because that’s what I’m most familiar with. What are your most effective ways of sharing content?
© Manu Saunders 2016