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Do You Think Teachers Should Blog?

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For a teacher, writing a blog can be very tricky. You can’t openly write about your students or there will be repercussions from parents. You can’t openly write about the staff or, well, you could get fired. So, should teachers blog and if so, how?

In this article, Amy Dominello says that teachers can and should blog so they can “build awareness about issues, share information and best practices with one another and bring about systemic change in education”.

But how do you blog without crossing any lines? Here are a few guidelines that were given during a panel at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Conference.

  • Blog as a group with other teachers
  • Make sure your boss is aware of your blog
  • Write about stories from other districts
  • Approach blogging as if it were a sermon, meaning focus on one point

Are you a teacher and do you blog? If so, what kinds of guidelines do you set for yourself and do you have advice for other teachers wanting to start a blog?

How Travel Bloggers Can Best Use Facebook & Twitter

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… by Jessica Spiegel

Once upon a time, posting high-quality writing or photos or videos on your travel blog was pretty much the first and only step to blogging. Now, unless it’s just your Aunt Jane who’s reading about your trip, there’s all sorts of social media marketing to think about. Whether Google+ (or any other new site popping up in the next three days) is a long-term threat to existing social media platforms remains to be seen, but for now the biggest players are Facebook and Twitter.

Travel bloggers, like bloggers in all genres, are – for the most part – engaged on both Facebook and Twitter, but in different ways and to different degrees. It’s not a science, and can involve quite a bit of trial-and-error, but here are some helpful hints before you dive into the deep end.

How are travel companies using Facebook and Twitter?

It’s not just travel bloggers who use social media – travel companies are, too. Wendy Perrin of Conde Nast Traveler asked a few travel industry pros how their companies use both Facebook and Twitter, and if you’re familiar with the two platforms then the answers aren’t exactly earth-shattering. Still, it’s interesting to hear that big companies like Virgin America and Travelocity not only understand that the platforms are different but also how to use each one in an effective way.

Both Travelocity and Virgin America acknowledge that while Facebook does better with “long-term engagement,” Twitter is better at handling customer service issues, often in real-time. Another perk about the immediacy of Twitter is the ability to generate sharp (albeit brief) peaks of interest, sometimes through promotions like freebies or travel deals. Because Facebook users tend to be on the site longer, that’s where conversations between users of a particular travel brand occur, alongside conversations with the brand itself. It’s a place where hotel or cruise ship guests – self-declared “fans” of a brand or product – can communicate with each other, strengthening brand loyalty and increasing word-of-mouth referrals.

While travel bloggers can learn a bit from the way big travel companies use social media, it’s impossible to keep up with their pace – jetBlue, for instance, has 17 people on staff just to handle the company’s Twitter account. Seventeen people just for Twitter. Can you even imagine what your travel blog’s Twitter account would look like with 17 handlers?

Travel bloggers can, however, engage in personal real-time conversations with readers on Twitter, work toward long-term “fan” cultivation on Facebook, participate in travel chats on Twitter to expand readership/community, and encourage Facebook fans to chat with each other to generate a sense of community. Take your cue from the travel companies – a big part of your time invested in social media is about being responsive.

Which is more valuable for travel bloggers, Facebook or Twitter?

Let’s assume from the outset that you’re going to be on both Facebook and Twitter. Which one deserves more of your time and energy?

As you can probably guess, there’s not a simple answer here. Most people will need to put a certain amount of time and energy into both Twitter and Facebook, but each blog’s readership will help dictate which venue produces the best results and proves most worthwhile. Not only that, the content you post to each platform also has the potential to determine how successful it is. There’s some evidence that Twitter users are more apt to hit the retweet button rather than click through and read something, whereas Facebook users are more likely to click through and read many more posts than they share. Again, tracking traffic will help you figure out what your audience is responding to most so you can adjust your posts accordingly.

Since you probably don’t have a staff of 17 to deal with your Twitter followers, you’ll need to be judicious about how much time you devote to social media. It’s a good idea to try out a few things and see what works for your audience, but here are a few important things to remember:

  • There’s some overlap between Facebook and Twitter users, but it’s far from 100%. When, for instance, you publish something new on your blog, you’d be crazy not to post a link on both Twitter and Facebook. Yes, some people will get the link twice (more times if they subscribe via email), but they voluntarily signed up to receive those updates.
  • Some duplicate posting is fine (see above), but try not to duplicate everything. It can be annoying to think about keeping your blog, your Twitter stream, and your blog’s Facebook page updated on a regular basis without just auto-posting the same thing to each – but it’s a good idea to keep each venue unique. Otherwise, what reason does your audience have to visit? This can be as simple as sharing interesting/related links via Twitter and Facebook to sites other than your own that you think your readers would also enjoy, or doing giveaways that are Twitter- or Facebook-only.
  • There are tools that can make managing multiple social media platforms easier. Heavy Twitter users are likely already familiar with tools like TweetDeck and HootSuite, but did you know you can also update Facebook pages using those tools, too? I’ll confess that I’m a TweetDeck fan but have (as yet) been unable to set up my TweetDeck desktop account to post to my site’s Facebook page (there’s some sort of bug in there I can’t figure out). From HootSuite, however, I’m able to do it easily, including scheduling updates for later times. Having one tool to keep track of both Twitter and Facebook is a huge time-saver.
  • You can’t just be a megaphone – you have to listen and react, too. Posting your links (and other interesting links) to Twitter and Facebook is great, but the critical part of both of these platforms is the “social” part of social media. It’s a conversation, and in order to generate brand loyalty (where your travel blog is the brand) you need to put in the time conversing with your audience – through comments on your blog, Twitter @-replies, and Facebook comments on your page. If you’re not prepared to do that on one or the other of the social media platforms, you might as well not even be there.

You’ve got to go where the community is.

Back in the days of message boards and forums, community was everywhere – and nowhere. These days, the communities on Facebook and Twitter are huge, and any attempt to create a message board now would seem a little silly. The bottom line is that if you want to be in on the conversation, you have to go where the community is – you can’t expect them all to come to you. And for now, that means being involved to some degree with Facebook and Twitter.

>> What are your experiences using Facebook and Twitter to promote your travel blog?

Jessica Spiegel is a Portland-based travel writer with BootsnAll, the RTW travel experts, for whom she writes the WhyGo Italy travel guide. She also writes frequently about things like business travel and finding cheap airfare, and although she participates on both Facebook and Twitter she’s more of a Twitter fan. You’ll find her on WhyGo Italy’s Facebook page and on Twitter as @italylogue.

Image Source: SXC

ZipList Partners with Popular Southern Food Bloggers

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ZipList, the leader in online and mobile grocery list and recipe box management, has partnered with four popular Southern Food Bloggers. The four bloggers have integrated fully-branded recipe boxes and grocery shopping lists into their websites.

Here’s a brief description of ZipList:

ZipList is a free online service that makes managing your grocery shopping list easier than ever. With ZipList, you can create a shopping list which is always available to you online. You can add to or delete items from your list via the web, mobile phones, text messages, email or instant messaging. You can share your list with family members or friends so they can add or delete items as well — and they can even help you shop.

ZipList also has a universal recipe box, so you can save all your food recipes in a single place — whether they are your own or compiled from other online recipe web sites.

The four Southern Food Bloggers who have teamed up with ZipList are:

As you browse each site (which I did and it made this Southern girl very, very hungry) you’ll see the different ways they have integrated it on their blogs. Deep South has theirs a little more prominent with a link to ZipList on the sidebar. On the others, you can find it under their tabs labeled “Recipes” or “Recipe Box”.

Geoff Allen, Founder and CEO, ZipList, Inc. says “By adding fully-branded, seamless experiences to these Southern food blogs we’re helping their readers engage and act on the tasty comfort foods and Cajun creations they publish online. Our partners do a fantastic job of inspiring their readers and ZipList’s partner tools make it as easy as possible to take action on their wonderful content.”

Engaging your readers is the difference between a successful blog and a not-so-successful one. Congratulations to the four food bloggers who were chosen!

RoundUp: Fall Tourism Tech Conferences

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… by Sheila Scarborough

The fall conference season is always hopping, but the embarrassment of riches means that some tough decisions must be made about which events to attend (unless you have an unlimited budget and lots of people, so you can send someone to all of them. Right. We didn’t think so….)

Although we’re obviously biased towards the BlogWorld tourism track, we recognize that it may not work for everyone, so here’s our best effort to help you decide who to send where …

If you want maximum opportunity to connect with a wide variety of bloggers and other online publishers, plus attend focused educational panels and hear industry speakers on social media for tourism, then BlogWorld and New Media Expo West in Los Angeles, CA November 3-5 is your best bet.

Sessions will be intermediate level (with other tracks having beginner options) so #BWELA is the place to send your staff members who are somewhat new to the social Web (zero to 18 months.) We are also offering “speed dating” appointments between tourism/hospitality organizations and bloggers. There is at least one dedicated hospitality speaker for those who run resorts or other lodging.

Sample speakers: Caroline Bean from the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., Shanna Smith Snyder from the Abilene (TX) CVB, Brian Matson from the Fargo-Moorhead CVB and Doug Anweiler from Authentic Seacoast Resorts in Nova Scotia.

Who should go? BlogWorld is perfect for your staff networking/schmoozing fiend who is also getting really good at social media (or who wants to get to that level.) Don’t forget – discount pricing (50% off) ends on Thursday!

If you want to mix it up with tech- and social media-savvy tourism peers at a small conference of the very geekiest CVBs, DMOs and Tourist Boards, then the Symposium on Social Media in Tourism (SoMeT) in Tunica, MS November 9-12 would work for you. This is where your communications person goes who is WAY ahead of the rest of the office, and who needs to stay at his or her “A” game for the benefit of your destination.

Sessions are advanced and geared to those who execute your strategy. Very “inside baseball.” No significant hospitality component.

Sample speakers: Katie Cook from the Austin CVB, Tom Martin from Converse Digital and Anne Hornyak from Sparkloft Media.

Who should go? SoMeT is great for your geekiest staffer who was on Foursquare and slinging QR codes months before anyone else.

If you’re looking for high-level discussions of travel and tourism technology as a whole, consider the eTourism Summit in San Francisco, CA September 29-30. Lots of strategy and integration discussions. A bit more international flavor than the others, looking at technology beyond social media.

Sample speakers: Google Travel head Neil Coleman, empowerMINT Director Christine Shimasaki and Head of Consumer Engagement and Marketing for Tourism Ireland Bryan Harte.

Who should go? eTourism Summit is a good idea for your Director who is trying to keep that 30,000 foot, integrated marketing view amongst insanely rapid tech and social media changes.

So, divide and conquer if you must, but try to take advantage of as many fall learning opportunities as your budget will allow (and we sure hope that includes BlogWorld!)

This post is by Sheila Scarborough, co-founder with Becky McCray of Tourism Currents, online education in social media for tourism and hospitality. Together they are the track leaders for the BlogWorld tourism track.

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Why Should I Attend a Conference If I’m Just a Mom Blogger?

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Before I go any further, I need to clarify that no one is JUST a mom blogger. Regardless of what you blog about, you have a voice and we all have equal opportunity on the internet to share our voice. Now that we got that out of the way, why should you attend a blogging conference?

1. Because you are not alone.  You are not blogging in a vacuum. Having been to several conferences a year for the last 3 years, I know that meeting my blogging tribe in person has made a huge difference in my writing, my enthusiasm for blogging and in my own personal life. No matter how much social networking takes over our lives, there is no substitute for networking in person.

2. Because you will learn a lot. Every time I go to a conference, I learn so much, it would take years for me to implement it all. No matter how long you’ve been blogging, you do not know it all and you will learn from others at a conference.

3. Because you deserve a break. Attending a conference is an excellent excuse to get out of the house and away from your kids. I know you love your kids very much, but it is true, “distance makes the heart grow fonder.” That applies to children as well as spouses. I always come back from a conference feeling like I can take on the world. I know that my trips away have made me a better parent. It is also important for your kids to know that when you leave, you come back.

4. Because you will meet new friends. Some of my best friends I met online because of blogging. When you meet in person, there are none of those odd moments where you don’t know what to say. Regardless of how you met, you are friends and you have a history and you have a connection. You will also meet a lot of new friends and find new blogs to read. The more people you know, the more opportunities will come your way.

5. Because it will force you to get out from behind the computer. I am an introvert and quite shy, so I understand when someone says they are afraid to go to a conference. So am I. Every single time I go to a conference I am both excited and scared. But each time I go and I live through it, it’s another experience I survived and I’m stronger for it. I have even spoken at several conferences and I’ve loved it. You may surprise yourself.

Those 5 reasons are why I try to attend at a minimum 3 conferences every year. When I haven’t attended one in a few months, I get conference withdrawals. I now need to get out and connect with other bloggers.

If you are still unsure, try attending a smaller event near you and work your way up to a big conference like BlogWorld Expo. It is definitely worth the investment in time and money. If you give it your all, you won’t be disappointed. But remember, you get what you give.

Images from Microsoft Images. 

6 Social Tools Every Parent Blog Should Have

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Blogging is not an island. When you write a blog post, you assume people are going to read it and hopefully share it. You need to set your blog up to make it easy for your readers to share and contact you. Check out these six social tools every parent blog should have on their site:

  1. Social Networking Site Profile Link. You do not have to include a link to every social network site you belong to, but you should include the ones where you are the most active.
  2. About Me Page. This is one of the most important pages on your blog. When people come to your blog and like what you write about, they want to know more about you. Tell your readers why they should read your blog. Let them get to know you!
  3. Contact Page. Make it real easy for your readers or anyone to contact you. If you are uncomfortable about putting your email on your blog, then using a contact page is perfect. If you have a WordPress blog, here is a great list of 18 contact page forms plugins.
  4. Sharing Buttons. So, now your readers have found you and they want to tell all their friends about how awesome your blog is and share your posts. You need to make it easy for them. I always put sharing buttons at the beginning and the end of every post. At the very least, have a Twitter and Facebook button. If you are unsure which sites to add, try using AddThis or ShareThis and your users can choose which sites to share on.
  5. RSS Feed and Email Subscriptions. The easiest way for your readers to know when you have updated your blog is to have an RSS feed or email subscriptions. The easiest way to do this is with a 3rd party service like Feedburner.
  6. Facebook Page. The best way to keep your personal and blogging accounts separate on Facebook is to create a Facebook Page for your blog.

The easier you make it to read your blog, the more likely your readers will return and share with their networks.

What other tools will help make a blog more social?

Image from Microsoft Images

If Only We Could Vote Via Facebook – Likester Analyzes Republican Presidential Debate

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I’ve said this for a while now … it’s too bad we can’t vote for politics the way we vote for American Idol contestants. I think a lot more people would show up to support their faves! But even though we can’t text our votes, people are definitely Liking their candidates on Facebook, as proven during the first Republican Presidential Debate featuring all of the candidates last night in New Hampshire.

Likester, a global popularity engine that analyzes Facebook “Likes”, kept a close eye on the event – where the seven candidates debated Medicare, the national debt, abortion, gay marriage, immigration, and more.

The site says their goal is to predict something “meaningful” – the 2012 Republican nominee – and they’re starting with an analysis of the debate results:

Winner: Mitt Romney. Prior to the debate, Romney had 936,090 likes. During and immediately after the debate he had 19,658 new likes, for a total of 955,748.

2nd Place: Michele Bachmann. Prior to the debate, Bachmann had 326,225 likes. During and immediately after the debate she had 9,232 new likes, for a total of 335,457.

3rd Place: Ron Paul. Prior to the debate, Paul had 382,228 likes. During and immediately after the debate he had 8,717 new likes, for a total of 390,945.

So, even though Paul is ahead in Likes, Likester gave Bachmann the second place slot because of her overall percentage gain.

The remaining candidates (in order) were Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum.

While Likester successfully predicted the winner of American Idol a full six weeks before the finale, I have to wonder if the same can be said for the presidential race. I think the AI audience is more vocal, and more involved with social media, than many of the political voters. What do you think? Will social media predict the winner?

Blogging in the Summer? Yes or No?

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Remember the end of the school year as a kid? The anticipation of summer and more importantly, no school. The lazy days of summer gave us time to dream, play and be free. Often, as the summer ended, there was a new excitement for the school year. The joy of purchasing new school supplies, seeing old friends and the structure of the school year are usually welcome come September.

As I watch this cycle every year repeat itself with my kids, I began to think about applying it to my blogging. The summer is a perfect time to take a break from blogging and be free. Taking the time to enjoy my family, read a few books or just enjoy the warmth of the summer day.

I’m a big believer that the best place to look for blog post ideas is your life. You need to give your brain a break to live and enjoy. Come September, when summer is over and you are back at your computer, you will feel refreshed and there will be a new joy for blogging.

Take A Blogging Break

So, how do you enjoy a summer break, without losing your blog? Let’s start with the math. If you decide to take two months off during the summer, that is eight weeks and at 3 – 4 posts per week, you need 24 – 32 posts to cover your break.  So, how do you come up with those extra posts?

1. Write one extra post. During the other 10 months of the year, write one extra post each week and you will have 40 posts. Even if you write one extra post every two weeks, you will have 20 posts.

2. Repurpose old posts. We all have posts that we wrote when we first started blogging that could be updated and revised. Find the 10 posts that have the lowest traffic and rewrite them.

3. Guest posts. If you have one guest post each week, that is another 8 posts.

Blogging with pen and paper

With these three idea, you could have 38 – 58 posts ready to post during your summer break. And if you are like me, you may get the urge to write during your break. Don’t let that stop you. Buy a journal and try writing with pen and paper and don’t worry about links or your readers. Write for yourself and see what you come up with. You may end up with a few more posts.

What ideas do you have for planning for a summer vacation from blogging?

Images from Microsoft Images.

Parent Bloggers, Do You Need a Niche?

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As soon as I decided that blogging was going to be more than just a “way to keep relatives informed,” everyone wanted to know my niche. What do I blog about? Well, just about everything that I like. But that isn’t a very good niche. I resisted for a long time narrowing down my blog to a particular niche.

When you blog about your life, it is very difficult to narrow it down to a quick one sentence tag line or elevator pitch. And I’m going to go against what all the “experts” say. I’m telling you that you don’t need to pick your niche…..right away! I have been blogging since before there was the word, blog. I created websites in Microsoft FrontPage and I always wrote about whatever I wanted and put up lots of pictures of my kids. In 2007, I realized I had readers that weren’t related to me and that was when I made the switch to being a blogger for business.

That is when the trouble began. I went to conferences and everyone wanted to know what I blogged about. My answer was different for each person because it depended on what I had written about that day. I read over and over that I needed to have a niche, I needed to know what I wanted to do with my blog, I needed to have a goal and a plan. I didn’t have any of those. I just continued to write.

The more I blogged, the more I realized I enjoyed blogging about technology and social media. I wrote about those subjects more and more and less about what my kids were doing. I continued to write and now four years later, I finally figured out my niche.

Did I just waste four years writing about something that wasn’t my niche? Not at all. I spent four years experimenting and improving my writing. Now, I have an elevator pitch, a niche and I’m working on a formal mission statement, goals and a plan.

Clues to Your Niche

Here are a few things to pay attention to that may help you find your niche.

  1. What do you like writing about the most?
  2. Look at the types of blogs you choose to read on a daily basis?
  3. Look at your tags on your blog. Which ones are used the most?

My point here being, if you enjoy blogging and you have no idea what your niche is, don’t worry about it. Keep writing and it will come, even if it takes four years!

Image from Microsoft Image Gallery.

Travel & the Consumer-Driven Power of the Internet

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… by Alisha Miranda

Remember the days when planning a vacation involved sitting at a travel agency researching budget-friendly destinations months ahead of that precious two-week time off? Say goodbye to that, now travel planning is at your fingertips and easier than ever.

Enter: the Internet. Unfortunately for travel agencies, today the rise of social media has given way to more inspiring, informative, and independent platforms to help travelers get on the road the way they want, at any time, with any budget. We’ve come a long way from sitting in those chairs listening to typical tour packages like the Caribbean and Europe being thrown at us. Now, traveling the world is not only possible but also very much tangible and it’s all thanks to the World Wide Web.

As the barrier to entry gets lower, travel partners – which encompasses tourism boards and websites, guidebook companies, community and forum boards, and now travel bloggers – are leading the way in providing free travel tips, shared content, points of interests, and the ever-so-present deals for regular folks to book their own dream trips. Additionally, it seems anyone who has successfully traveled abroad and returned to share his or her stories can be considered a professional traveler. There are endless searches for personalized tips and itineraries to make one’s travel experience that more memorable as people seek out individual interests, preferences in lodging, and unique cultures. Another contributing factor online is niche travel groups, which has formed close-knit communities that foster a global exchange, such as the RTW travelers or ‘round the world travelers, backpackers (not just college students anymore!), career breakers, gap year students, and solo travelers. Easily found via Twitter chats and Facebook fan pages, these niches have grown to become the new “go to” reps for the latest in travel planning, advice, and promotions.

So how does one go about ditching their trusty travel agent and picking up a travel planning 101 guide? Well, for one, content is king. Stay away from the SEO noise, and go for the unique stories and articles that resonate with your desired trip. It takes some digging, but discovering reputable resources such as Matador Network, BootsnAll, and Lonely Planet will provide local insight and value to your research. Also, join a forum online like Twitter’s popularly used #TravelTuesday theme day to ask questions, connect with like-minded travelers, and find helpful articles. You can also find generic sites that discuss how to pack for a trip (whether it’s long term or short term), how to create a budget and stick to it, the best smartphone apps to accompany you on the road, and alternative cost-friendly lodging options such as hostels. The key to online travel is interaction: be an observer at first, then engage others.

To a large part of the world, this “do it yourself” movement may seem intimidating but the fact is we’re evolving, and at an alarming rate. It’s the incredible tool that is the Internet that is allowing us to travel the way we want, even carving the path for “digital nomads” or “location independent” workers. The power has shifted from the top-down, to bottom-up and its time to take advantage of this new era before being left behind.

Won’t you join us?

Alisha Miranda is a Freelance Writer and Social Media Manager based in New York City. Dubbed a proud Travel Geek, she has become known as an ambassador for young travelers, especially solo female travelers, and representing beloved travel communities through each journey. When she’s not settled in at home in Brooklyn, she’s daydreaming of her next trip abroad.

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