#Twespians bloggers’ seminar (part 1 of 4)

I’ve been going to Twespians meet ups (or, in the more practical parlance, ‘piss ups’) for some time now. As the name suggests, the meetings are generally for people involved in the performing arts industry who use Twitter. Tonight saw the first of a planned series of events that focusses more seriously on a given topic. And only then goes down the pub.

The theme for the evening was ‘theatre blogging’. Unfortunately, struggles in finding a venue for the serious part meant that this event had to be rescheduled at fairly short notice, so attendance was well down on the initial estimates. However, the four short sessions are potentially interesting to a number of people, so my notes (based on the live tweeting I was doing while others were listening more intently), along with some of my own commentary in italics, are below. (Parts 2 to 4 will follow)

Session 1: The many faces of blogging (@lurkmoophy)

  • Bloggers are becoming as important as ‘traditional’ press in terms of media.
  • Why blog? Amplification of voice, community, inspiration, shared learning, expanding horizons, etc.
  • Differing opinions of theatre bloggers from mainstream critics: “Bloggers don’t have the restraints theatre critics do” (Gardner) vs. “I’m not aware of bloggers championing the important, the new or the unexpected” (Coveney).

Personally I think it’s a bit rich for press critics to imply that they’re the only ones who promote new work. Just as theatre bloggers are incredibly diverse in what they cover rather than being a homogenous mass, many critics rarely go outside the narrow confines of the National and the West End, while others cast their net far wider…

  • Theatre bloggers can broadly be split into three groups: reviewers, those giving opinion & commentary, and theatre companies (with some having a foot in two or three groups rather than just one)
  • Some self-marketing tips: when you’ve posted a new blog entry, as well as publicising links on your Facebook and Twitter feeds, consider a Posterous and/or Tumblr account too. No need to post the whole thing – a short summary and a link will help.
  • If reviewing, absolutely essential that the title of the show and the venue appears in your HTML page title – and ideally the word “review”, too
  • Good semantic markup will help a lot. Not only using <h1>, <h2>, etc., for headings, but microformats, RDFa markup and/or HTML5 microdata. Google’s Rich Snippets – which provide more detailed, structured information in the basic search results – use such markup to discover and track structured information. See Luke’s article on Ubelly.com – “An Introduction to RDFa and the semantic web”

This is a huge subject in itself and is one for the people who enjoy getting their HTML hands dirty. In brief, all three systems referenced above are ways to give search engines additional context for the text you have on your page, from “this string of numbers is a phone number” to “I am giving this production a rating of 4 out of 5”. Microformats markup text using CSS class names, RDFa uses XML attributes, while HTML5 has defined specific new attributes to hold contextual information in a structured way.

  • Where you host your blog can help or harm your credibility. A blog that is created as a subdomain of blogspot.com or wordpress.com can have a harder time gaining credibility than one that has its own domain name
  • When going for a design, nice and/or simple always works best
  • Build a network by intelligently commenting on other people’s blogs

These days, your site will most likely not get any boost to its ranking in search engines purely as a result of you linking to it from your comments elsewhere (so don’t indulge in comment spam!). But those comments will help other humans find your blog, and if they then link to it, those links will help your ranking

  • Be consistent. Consider making yourself a writing template for your reviews – e.g., opening paragraph of context, two paras of talking about the cast, two paras on your personal opinion, conclusion. Your readers will expect a consistency of tone and structure

If you do go for a template approach like this, it goes without saying it should be one that works for you. If nothing else, giving yourself a word count to work to, and relentlessly subediting your work until it fits that word count, will help your writing get much tighter

  • An editor is essential. If you can’t get somebody else to look over your work, you’ll have to wear that hat as well. It can be easier to switch roles if you take a break of half an hour or more between writing your work and then editing it.
  • If you want to be a thought leader in your field, blogging can be extremely useful. For example, @MarcusRomer of Pilot Theatre has done this very effectively
  • For theatre companies, blogging tends to be a value add rather than a solution in its own right. It probably won’t drive ticket sales on its own, but can support other networks and reinforce existing marketing messages
  • Place some thought as to what blogging platform is best for you.
    • Blogger possibly easiest (and tends to rank highly in Google, which owns it), but is the most limited
    • WordPress.com blogs have more modern look, you get more features in the back end, and the option of premium upgrades (although these can mount up)
    • Self-hosted WordPress-powered blogs offer immense flexibility, can be a fully-fledged CMS if need be, but can be a lot more work as you do need to know what you’re doing
    • Posterous and Tumblr have great organic search & virality, but their simplicity can be a downside. They work well as supplements to more fully-functioned blogs
  • When it comes to social media, don’t just join a network (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) because you can. Go where your existing & potential audience is
  • Twitter is for communication & conversation rather than just pushing out notifications. Obey the 80/20 rule – spend 80% of the time conversing & engaging, and people will accept the other 20% being self-promotion
  • Some tools for Twitter include Tweetdeck for managing & monitoring multiple accounts, CoTweet for allowing multiple people access to the same accounts, The Archivist for analysing brand performance, and bit.ly for tracking links and clickthroughs

Session 2 was primarily about SEO, but overlapped with the above points in several places. But that’s for another post. (Update: read part 2, Six tips for great SEO)