Getting sucked into the Social Media Tractor Beam — and Trying to Break Free

by Robert Nagle on 1/10/2014

in Art of Blogging

I am keenly aware of how over the past few years my blog posts have decreased while at the same time my posts on Facebook and Google Plus have soared.  It’s an odd situation — about 90% of my posts now  are AWAY FROM THIS BLOG.

The reason is simple: there are significantly more readers on these general social media networks than on my blog. Also, sharing on both platforms brings significant payoffs and Google Plus posts tend to be ranked high on search results.

Now  — mainly for lack of time — my blog is housing  infrequent long form content, while my social media posts houses my short content (which admittedly has a tendency to become long form). This is not an ideal situation.

A few months ago I made the transition from Facebook to Google Plus (for reasons I discuss in detail here).  That is mainly a lateral move and doesn’t completely solve the problem.

It is technically possible — through IFTTT recipes and WordPress plugins — to repost wordpress posts into social media platforms (though not entirely to my satisfaction — for example — how do you make sure that certain WordPress posts aren’t broadcast onto social media?) However, beneath that is another looming problem.  How do you create a blog  landing page which displays long form content with short form content without seeming to  drown a  blog in triviality?  How do you make sure that WordPress posts are formatted in a way optimized for the social media networks? How do you deal with perishable Youtube content which displays great on social media but takes up way too much real estate on a blog?

I’m sure there are WordPress themes which have implemented solutions to the problem, but I haven’t tried them out yet. (I will point out that as a matter of principle I try not to rely on plugins to solve my web design problems, but using themes to solve these problems  seems doable).   A separate issue which I have not yet addressed is choosing a theme suitable for both mobile and desktop browsers. I’m still happy with the WordPress platform, although I’m still experimenting with drupal for other projects.

As retro as it seems, I still love the style of making the blog home page a single long page.

For various reasons (mainly personal), I don’t normally link to my blog posts on Facebook or Google Plus. (Maybe I do 50% of the time).  This might seem strange to the typical blogger (who might view social media platforms as simply another opportunity for cross-promotion). But I pay attention to what kind of posts work for what audience; I often think that my WordPress posts are meant mainly for other bloggers (who are more comfortable with RSS readers) and people who are more interested in Robert the writer/geek than Robert the humorist/guy with an opinion about everything. Also, given that my type of work tends to be  contract/short term,  I don’t want my personal blog to feature anything which looks unpolished or controversial or off-color. A programmer/blogger friend of friend once used to make a lot of political posts on his blog until he became aware that an employer mentioned it in an interview — indicating some discomfort. My friend  quickly removed all the political posts and now posts exclusively about programming.

I probably wouldn’t go that far  (it is a writer’s job to be absolutely fearless and  let loose on occasion), but I’d like to do it knowingly and skillfully.  A public post which is opinionated does not worry me — as long  as it is well-thought out and contains good grammar. Accomplishing that is a lot harder than you might think — especially when your standards for what constitutes a “good post” rises over time.  Ten years ago, I would think aloud about any darn thing for a paragraph or two  and not think twice. But at this stage in my life I  worry less about how much I have covered  than whether  I have covered Topic X fully enough. Any verbose and prolific blogger  will inevitably find that spelling and grammar are everywhere — and each new post gives him more territory which he needs to police.  (I regularly correct grammar and style mistakes on old posts as a matter of habit).

To summarize: Now  it’s not a priority   to figure out a blog-to-social-media solution, but it’s definitely on my mind.  Perhaps I ought to make a blog post about it (Oops, I just did!)

Postscript: Someone needs to invent a WordPress plugin which auto-corrects your spelling of the word WordPress in posts. That’s one I would definitely install!

Afterward

I’m surprised that I didn’t mention a point which now seems obvious.

When you  use Facebook or Google Plus, you are basically handing over your content to a third party which exerts a lot of indirect control and derives benefits from hosting it. Obviously neither Facebook or Google Plus make a copyright claim over your content, but the content you post there becomes a draw for other people to use their services as well (which leads to more ad dollars and premium services, etc). I don’t really believe that either company has nefarious motives (other than simply wanting to make money), but ultimately a free service has no real obligation to restore content which may have been lost through no fault of your own. Sure, these companies perform customer service actions as a courtesy because it makes business sense. But what if it no longer makes business sense to do so?

I won’t deny that hosting your posts offloads a lot of the burden of trying to do so on your own. That is certainly a valuable service. Also Google’s embrace of  “data liberation”  is reassuring. But it matters a lot where the content creator creates something originally. In the ideal world, wouldn’t it be better to create  posts in your own  garden and then syndicate it elsewhere   than to create them in a remote garden and then somehow devise some way to export it back to your own garden? First, there is the matter of time. Manually cross-posting things adds time, and so does having to customize an  export process.

I’m starting to believe that this question of growing things first in your personal garden is more important than I originally believed. Perhaps it’s asking way too much for  WordPress — as good as an all-purpose tool as you can get — to export cleanly  and beautifully to all platforms.

After doing my research, I see that more recent versions of WordPress have started using “post formats” to differentiate between different kinds of posts. They even have custom fields to help you even further customize content.  That’s not quite at content types, but it’s very close.

But then again, a WP theme doesn’t need to display all published content on the front page. It could accept all kinds of content types, but only publish bloggy content on the blog. There’s no reason you couldn’t create content in a centralized CMS, publishing some content on the blog, some on the social network, etc…. I think Pressbooks came up with the idea of using WordPress not only as a publishing platform but for a storage platform.

Perhaps a company like WordPress or Google could be capable of handling and syndicating any kind of content, letting you decide easily where and how it ought to be published. If that is so, a financial relationship between content creator and company needs to exist where the individual’s identity is verified and the company has provided some service level agreement for backing up and retrieving data. That’s a service I would certainly pay for.

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