Using WordPress

This morning I gave a presentation to a group of communications directors from some of the NCI-designated cancer centers, about how we used WordPress to redesign the NCI Benchmarks website.  I also discussed the differences between WordPress.com, and WordPress.org, the latter being what we used in the office.

Here’s a copy of the presentation:

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My #SocialMedia New Year’s Resolutions

In addition to the traditional resolutions of a personal nature, the turn of the year is also a time for examining professional goals — or at least it is if you are a federal employee and (at least in HHS) required to participate in the Performance Management Appraisal Program (PMAP).  As I think about the things I’d like to learn in order to improve my job performance, productivity, yada yada, this year I’ve come up with this list of social media-related New Year’s resolutions.

1. Choose and commit to using a proper RSS reader

I use twitter, almost more than any other source, to get my information, and often come across tweets about useful blog posts regarding social media, public relations, and/or health news.  If the blog seems particularly interesting, I will bookmark it in my browser, but to be honest, I NEVER go back to those bookmarks.  I use google desktop, which has a “web clips” feature that pulls RSS feeds, someone randomly it seems sometimes, into the side bar, but it isn’t at all organized and it’s easy to miss things.  I’ve decided I really need to find a RSS reader and use it to organize all these great information sources that I come across and subsequently forget about.  I’m thinking I’ll use Google Reader, but let me know if you have a better one.

2. Conquer my fear of social bookmarks

StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg and the other social bookmarking communities are completely foreign to me.  They all have these intricate subcultures (David Harris said being popular on Digg was like being in a gang), and I find the whole thing overwhelming.  When they first started popping up, I was certain that they were a trend that would quickly fall away, so I didn’t bother learning much about them.  Well, clearly they are here to stay, so I feel that I must learn more about them — if for no other reason than to figure out how to use them to disseminate information/articles for my employer.

3. Become more active on LinkedIn

I know people who LOVE the site, but for me it still seems pretty useless.  I feel like it has potential, but I haven’t had the time (or desire) to truly explore it, other than finding people I know and posting my résumé.  I’ve joined a bunch of groups (probably too many), but I never actually read the postings.  This year, I need to explore the usefulness of that platform.  For now it just seems like Facebook, but way less fun.

4. Continue to share with and learn from others

Okay, maybe this one is cheating, but I always like to include a resolution that I know I can meet because I’ve already been doing it.  It makes the list seem more surmountable. In this case, I want to continue to seek out people who are doing exciting things in this area and learn from them.  At the same time I hope, through this blog, twitter, and the various other channels, that I can continue to be a resource to others who are learning along the way.  That is, after all, kind of the point of social media, isn’t it?

Happy New Year and Best wishes!

-Brooke

Great little slide show I “found”

I just came across this great little slide show by @cyberdad — great overview of Twitter for newbies, and no-so-new-bies.

Thanks Tom!

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New project at NCI

I’ve been so wrapped up in the new blog I’ve been creating at work, that I haven’t been able to post for a bit.  I’ve got a few drafts going though, so I should have new content shortly.  In the meantime, check out the other weblog I manage at http://benchmarks.cancer.gov.  It’s an example of a government site run on the wordpress.org platform. There’s also a YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/NCInews.  Did you know that YouTube offers free branding to government sites?  Or at least, I think they do.  I haven’t been able to find official confirmation of this, but I registered that channel using a .gov email address, and one day noticed that I had “Branding Options” which I hadn’t noticed before.  Branding Options usually cost thousands of dollars, from what I understand, but I had it free.  I saw a blogger say he was told that branding was now free for  government YouTube channels, but as I said, I haven’t seen anything official.  If you have seen official word, let me know in the comments.

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Utilizing Social Media

A while ago I did a presentation for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance on utilization of traditional and social media as it relates to media relations professionals.  Since then, I’ve received a few requests for the slides, so I decided to post them here:

If you have questions, feel free to submit them via the comments.

Science Writers 2009: Day 1

The first full day of the Science Writers 2009 conference will be hard to top.  I’m exhausted, but I feel like I am taking a lot of really excellent information away from the sessions I attended today.  After the morning plenary, which I missed because I was unpacking my previously-lost-by-United-Airlines bag, I attended two sessions on using video (one was a hands-on workshop) and a third on social media and journalism.

Using Video:

During the first session, “Why Science Writers Should Embrace Cheap Video Cameras, YouTube, and Final Cut Pro,” speaker, Andrew Revkin of the New York Time’s DotEarth blog, spoke about the value of adding video to print media.  He couldn’t attend the conference in person, so he gave his presentation via skype, standing in front of a chalkboard featuring some rather impressive looking calculations, which some audience members saw as reminiscent of CBS’s Big Bang Theory. Revkin said that, with video, you can reach people who might not read the article, but would search YouTube for information.  On his DotEarth blog, Revkin not only uses video to tell his stories, but also encourages readers to share their videos, and he incorporates them on the blog. Revkin feels that the fear of video journalism hurting traditional journalism is unfounded, in that video can sometimes tell a story much more vividly.  Revkin encouraged the audience to increase their video utilization, even going so far as to suggest that since videocameras are so small these days, there is really no reason not to keep one with you whenever you go out to work on a story (the Sanyo xacti and the Cannon G10, which is technically a still camera but shoots video, were offered as examples).  He encouraged the audience not to be afraid to get close to people when filming so you can get good sound and a better image.  Fellow Panelist, Craig Duff, director of Multimedia for TIME.com concurred adding that he sometimes he wishes he could break the zoom on people’s cameras so that they would stop relying on it.

In Duff’s presentation, he shared his personal mantra for web videos, “Webby, Wiki, Sticky.”  He says all videos need to be webby, in that they need to be short and web appropriate, wiki, in that they should teach/inform the viewer, and sticky, in that the videos need to keep people engaged and not bore them.  He added that while going viral isn’t the goal, if something funny happens while you are filming a science story, by all means, put it up on YouTube. It is important to remember that there are multiple audiences out there, so not everything has to be cool/funny/etc.

Examples of how video can be used to make science seem cool came from Brian Manlow, the science comedian.

Marc Airhart, a science writer for the University of Texas, discussed the value of creating slideshows, with audio, for telling stories.  He uses a program called Soundslides, which is very easy to use.  In the next session, I went to a workshop on slideshows, where they taught us how to use Soundslides (via the free demo).  I didn’t love this program — I felt it had too many limitations for being a paid application.  However, the session was still valuable in its discussion of slideshows.  During the session, I made this one using Final Cut Express:

It really only took half an hour, and that included choosing pictures, figuring out what I was going to say, and recording the audio.

At the end of the session on using video, the presenters each shared a bit of parting advice, for those about to venture into the world of video journalism:

  • Have fun. It can be a lot of fun to present stories in different ways.
  • Pick something you are passionate about.
  • Show the audience something. If you can’t explain it, don’t shoot it.
  • Don’t be afraid — the more comfortable you get with the tools, the better your work will be.
  • When using zoom, remember that everything is amplified, including the shake of your hands. If you must use zoom, use a tripod.

Using Social Media:

The next big session I attended was called “The Secret Life of Social Media.”  In this session, David Harris, editor-in-chief of symmetry magazine and deputy communications director at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, provided an excellent breakdown of social bookmarking sites.  These sites, such as digg, slashdot, reddit and stumbleupon, are intended to crowd-source the selecting of good stories.  Theoretically, votes from users drive an article to the top of the list, and to the attention of other users.  However, it doesn’t always work that way.  Harris explained it thusly:

  • Digg is like a gang — it has a strong hierarchy, and the dominance of an idea depends on who it comes from. If you want success here, you must partner with the powerful.
  • Slashdot is like organized crime — a small, tight group controls the information. The key here is to post good stuff and get attention (working your way up).
  • Reddit is like an ADHD direct democracy — any story can get to the top, but to stay there, lots of people have to like it. You have to get people’s attention quickly here.
  • StumbleUpon is like a book club — the ideas don’t have to be fresh, and success is more closely linked to the quality of the work.

Harris shared his slides, which can be found here:

Alexis Madrigal, writer at wired.com, also talked about crowd sourcing of content selection, and the importance of being a “useful node in the network.”  This fits well with my personal mantra for social media, “Be Useful.” Alexis’ slides are available here:

My new diggs

Today I moved my blog to wordpress.com, so that it’s easier to update.  With iWeb, you have to be on the computer where you created the site in order to update the blog.  This isn’t exactly conducive to free flowing expression.  So I’m using wordpress.com for the blog, and leaving the other pages on iWeb, with links between the two. With WordPress, I can even upload the blog from my iPhone, if the mood strikes.

Ideally, I would have used the downloadable software available on wordpress.org for the blog, but my site is hosted on MobileMe, which isn’t compatible with wordpress.org.  So, for now I’ll use wordpress.com, and perhaps convert it later if a) Apple decides to cooperate or b) I get tired of the limitations and decide to switch to a more cooperative host.

What’s the difference between the .com and the .org, you ask?  Well, the .com offers free hosting, and doesn’t require any understanding of how the web works in order to get up and running.  In return for the free space and ease of use, WordPress will occasionally put ads on your page, and will not allow you to manipulate your page beyond it’s pre-set settings (that means you can’t change the CSS, or do much HTML), or put ads on your page that earn income for you.

The .org has software that you download, and install on your own hosting service.  You can buy hosting for as little as $7 a month, but you need a host that allows for MySQL and PHP (if you don’t know what those are, you should probably stick with the .com version, for now).  This is the problem with MobileMe is that it does not allow for these things.

I like Mobile Me.  It provides an email address, 10 GB of storage that you can access anywhere (even on my phone!) and for iPhone users, provides that wonderful new feature called “Find My Phone” which will track your phone using the internal GPS so that you can locate it if it’s lost, and if it’s stolen, you can send a signal to the phone to erase all of your private data, so at least the thief can’t get into all of your accounts.  If they would just allow for the MySQL and PHP support, it’d be perfect.

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