Twespians Summer Party

On Friday, I popped along to the Lyric Hammersmith, venue for the Twespians Summer Party. It was good fun, and as usual it was great to reunite with old friends and make some new ones. And when the weather is fine, as it was on Friday, the Lyric’s roof garden is one of the most convivial theatre bar spaces going…

A selection of photos:

Off Cut Festival bloggers’ choice update

Last month, I wrote about being part of the Off Cut Festival’s new “bloggers’ choice panel”, selecting four 15-minute plays to be part of the 28-strong programme for the festival in October.

Earlier this week, the festival organisers mailed the bloggers’ panel to let us know that one of the 24 plays that were selected by them, not us, had had to drop out. And so, filling its place in the festival schedule was one of the plays which we heard as part of our selection process, but which didn’t make our final four.

That means that New Age comedy Skyclad (I’m afraid I don’t know the author’s name) has joined this year’s Off Cut Festival.

Continue reading “Off Cut Festival bloggers’ choice update”

Blogging for profit: #Twespians bloggers’ seminar (4 of 4)

Previously on Twespians: Luke gave a talk on blogging, Jason explored tips for SEO and Laura looked at a common-sense code for theatre bloggers.

The final talk was from Sian Meades, a freelance writer whose own venture, Domestic Sluttery, runs at a profit.

Paid blogging (@SianySianySiany)

  • Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City) has destroyed the image of the freelance ‘lifestyle’ writer, particularly women
  • Other speakers extolled the virtues of self-hosted WordPress over other platforms, especially Blogger/Blogspot. However, Domestic Sluttery runs on Blogger and she would avoid WordPress at all costs (she prefers MovableType)
  • It costs $10/year to run – and that’s for the domain name. It is possible on Blogger – but it does take a lot of time to get it working to satisfaction
  • In terms of sharing buttons, DS had a Tweet button on all their pages, but Facebook was generating much more traffic without a share button. Adding a Facebook button saw huge traffic increase. Look at your traffic and see what works for you.
  • If you’ve found a niche, be comfortable in it. Don’t feel that you have to branch out into other areas (e.g., using the keyword tips from Jason’s presentation) if you don’t want to
  • Get into a routine that works. If you write best at midnight in bed with your laptop, write then.
  • Bloggers are quite needy – strange beasts that stay away from the public, but at the same time to want grab attention
  • There are two types of blog ‘success’: your readership size, and your reputation within your chosen sector. Going after the former won’t necessarily get you the latter
  • Blogging can be a lot of fun, and open a lot of unexpected doors. Sian has had trips to the North Pole (in the Arctic Circle, rather than the pub in Greenwich) and an African safari as a direct result of her blogging
  • If you build a loyal readership, they will want you to do well. Don’t feel apologetic about your success if/when it happens
  • People buy into bloggers as people. If you write on lots of different, even controversial, themes, people will find your writing on those subjects. They might as well find them on your personal blog, where you can be in control of how you are perceived.
  • If people have an issue with you as a writer, they won’t be the sort of people likely to work with you anyway
  • Other bloggers will be better than you. Don’t worry. Don’t be threatened. Use it as an inspiration to improve.
  • You make all the decisions about what you blog. If it’s not working for you, do something different, whether it’s branching out into new topics, etc.
  • Domestic Sluttery makes money in a number of ways:
    • display advertising, through Handpicked Media’s ad sales network – paid for on a per-impression (CPM) basis
    • directly managed display advertising, charged for on a fixed monthly rate
    • Affiliate links, using Skimlinks
  • If taking direct sales, working with small companies can be beneficial (but may need hand holding in terms of working with bloggers) [And, in my experience, in terms of the concept of web advertising in general]
  • Affiliate links don’t make a living wage – display advertising does

And with that, we went off to the pub. I hope these four summaries have been useful for the people who weren’t able to make the event. The next Twespians meetup (a social event rather than a seminar evening)  is currently scheduled for March 15 – keep an eye on the Twespians website for details, or follow @Twespians on Twitter.

A blogger code of honour? #Twespians bloggers’ seminar (part 3 of 4)

And so to the third part of last night’s Twespians bloggers’ seminar, after Luke’s introductory talk and Jason’s tips on SEO. Third up was Twespians co-founder Laura Tosney, talking about a ‘blogger code of honour’. As ever, the sections in italics are my own thoughts, and the rest just my own (imperfect) summary of what was said.

Because the elements below are general rules of thumb, I found the individual points tend to overlap quite a bit. They are all branches of the single point: Don’t be a dick on the internet.

Update: Laura has written up her own notes (with the slides she used) on her own blog.

A blogger code of honour (@lauratosney)

  • Recent conflicts and disagreements between journalists, critics, bloggers, etc., with regard to theatre bloggers are neither new nor unique to this sector. Friction between companies, traditional media and social media has existed in other sectors too (here, she cites issues in the fashion blogging world)
  • What can help mend bridges, and build new ones, is an ongoing code of honour. This is not (self-)censorship, or a harsh ruleset, just a way to get along.

Transparency

Be transparent. If you’re writing a blog post after having seen a preview, say as much (rather than citing it as a ‘review’).

I’d also suggest that if you have been given tickets, say who gave them to you. If you paid for your tickets, say so. Organisations that work with bloggers will appreciate the shout out, and your readers will have all the facts when deciding how much to trust your word – the less transparent you are, the harder it will be for them to trust you.

Offer a right of reply

When writing news stories, journalists will go to people involved in the stories for comment. For blogs, we often assume that leaving comments open will be enough – but not everybody wants to respond in a public forum like  that. To offer a right to reply properly requires thought.

Make it easy for people to find a way to contact you privately, either via a contact form on your website or by publishing an email address.

I’d also add:

  • Go for the contact form option if you can. If you include email addresses on your web pages, they’ll get ‘harvested’ by spammers.
  • If you get things wrong, make your corrections as quickly as possible. If somebody points out an error in a comment, publicly thank them (and consider crediting them in the amended copy if appropriate)

Continue reading “A blogger code of honour? #Twespians bloggers’ seminar (part 3 of 4)”

Six tips for great SEO: #Twespians bloggers’ seminar (part 2 of 4)

Continuing my series of short notes from last night’s Twespians bloggers’ seminar, following on from part 1 posted last night.  As I said in my previous post, the second session overlapped with the first in a lot of ways, but it’s all worth considering for bloggers, whether you’re writing about theatre or not. As before, the notes are generally from the speaker, with my own additions in italics.

Six tips for great SEO (@shadowdaddy)

SEO is about building readership, allowing new readers to find your content more easily by making your site show up higher in search engine results. It helps you avoid blogging into a vacuum.

The keys to SEO are:

  • Quality content
  • Inbound links
  • A good site structure (which common blog platforms help with)
  • Building a buzz – blogs are inherently social in nature, and about creating a conversation

Quality content is vital. There’s a reason why it’s top of the list above – all the semantic HTML in the world won’t help you if your content is rubbish. You’ll attract occasional visitors, but the only way they’ll stick around is if they enjoy reading your blog.

  • Traffic for blogs is cyclical, especially if you’re talking about current issues or reviewing shows. You will need to keep creating content to build an audience
  • Reviews of touring shows can retain interest longer term than shorter ones

Any incentive for bloggers to talk about regional and touring theatre is okay in my book. You’ll also find that long running West End shows can also generate traffic, but you’ll be competing against many, many other content sources.

  • Conversion for commercial websites = revenue. Conversion for bloggers = more readers & comments + status in a wider context. Both can lead to money w/ advertising, etc. in the long run

Tip 1: Get the tech right

  • This includes the right HTML metadata, from page title and descriptions, to well structured URLs and good links
  • Most blogging platforms go a long way to doing the heavy lifting for you
  • The words that are clickable in your links count for a lot. Making “Read my review of [title of show]” works far better than “click here”
  • When displaying page titles in search results, Google truncates them after 67 characters. So keep them short and to the point (and, if possible, put your site name at the end of your title rathe than the beginning)
  • Link back from your new blog posts to relevant old ones. Helps search engines traverse your blog and indicates that your older content is still relevant. Link out to other people as much as you can, too — they’ll be able to tell, and hopefully link back. And it builds out your network
  • Be careful with tagging your posts. Can be very useful, but make sure that clickable tag links lead to archives of your content rather than aggregated content from other users of your hosted platform (e.g., WordPress.com)
  • Some hosting platforms ‘fix’ problems that you need to be aware of if you’re self-hosting – e.g., if example.com, www.example.com and www.example.com/index.html display the same content under three URLs, search engines won’t know which to consider the real one

Tip 2: Get in early

  • The most contentious area when it comes to blogging about theatre getting your review up early (especially before the main print publications) can get you high traffic levels, but there are ethical issues re. press nights, etc.
  • People will disagree about whether the print critics should have gone en masse to review Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark even though its press night had been pushed back again
  • One possibility which can provide a better traffic/ethical balance:
    1. Write a preview post with some information (e.g., casting news, etc)
    2. Once you’ve seen the show, write a quick review ASAP
    3. Update with a full, considered review
    4. Make sure that your older posts get updated with a link to your most up-to-date review

Tip 3: Create controversy

  • Strong opinions get people talking (e.g., the West End Whingers)

This isn’t really SEO, although if people start linking to your coverage then those inbound links will help you. Writing deliberately provocative posts purely as ‘link bait’ can damage your personal brand, so be careful

Tip 4: Create longer-life topics based on reader research

  • Think outside just reviewing
  • Google’s AdWords keyword adviser and Search Insights tools can help show you what sort of phrases people are using to search for content in your field. These should inspire you to think about areas where you can provide useful information

Tip 5: Promote it

  • Think about auto-posting to Facebook, Twitter, Posterous, Tumblr, etc.
  • Provide tools to help your readers promote your content to their friends, e.g., Tweet Button, Facebook Like button.
  • FB’s Like button has just changed to give you greater control over how your posts appear on people’s walls. Greg Finn’s optimisation tips at SearchEngineLand can be useful here (expect to see blog Facebook button plugins updated to make this easier for non-techies)

Tip 6: Analyse your readers’ habits

  • Hosted platforms offer some analytics, and/or you can use Google Analytics
  • Can show you what keywords people are using to find you, what pages are providing the interest, etc.
  • Google’s webmaster tools will also help – can show you how your site places in the searches people are using

All of this is important, but it should be your guide, not keep you on a leash. Write about what interests you, and worry less about your readers want to read — but keep an eye on which terminology you use that can make your content easier to find

Coming in Part 3, Laura Tosney’s common sense ‘code of honour’ for theatre bloggers, and in Part 4, blogging for profit…

#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)