I’m intentionally misquoting William Daniels’ line from the ‘The Graduate’ - “The future is plastic.” Plastic not in the sense of synthetic polymers, more in its original definition – malleable, pliable, flexible. As a 21st century genealogist, we need to be plastic.
Our world keeps changing and we need to change with it. Our lives continue to become increasingly technological and more social. The next generation has different expectations on how they will consume their family histories and what is important to them.
Step 1: Blog
Your genealogy is more than names and dates. There are hundreds of stories waiting to be told about your ancestors. You should be blogging. Before you say I can’t write or that blogging is evil, I’ll point out that you don’t have to be a Pulitzer Prize winning writer. Blogging doesn’t have to be every day or 1,000 words in every post. A blog can be a few short lines about an ancestor or a query or what you were stuck on today or just a photo. The bottom line is that we are starting a conversation.
That conversation starter will go out to your extended family, family you never knew you had and the greater genealogical community. You’ll be surprised what you’ll get in return; connections to new cousins, the interest of the next generation of genealogists and answers to break down your brick walls.
Pick a blogging site that gets plenty of search engine coverage. As an example, Google owns Blogger. Don’t forget to use keywords – they are like candy for the search engines – yum.
Step 2: Be graphic
Never just post words. They get lonely. Always add an image. It can be a photo, a map, a vital record or even a word cloud. Word cloud? You’ve probably seen one. It’s a jumbled collection of words in different sizes and colors that represent what your blog post is about. The size of the word usually means it was used more often. A word cloud can quickly tell someone what your article is about. Here is the word cloud for this article –
An image may not add a thousand words to your post, but it does make your article warmer and more enticing.
Step 3: Network
Networking is not new. The variety of networks is new and changing constantly. You need to build your networks (note the use of the plural form). Build many social networks. Use Facebook. OMG, not Facebook. If you already use Facebook, skip to the next paragraph. If you don’t use Facebook, you should, but in a very narrowly focused way. Just create connections – ‘Friend’ – other genealogist and close family. You don’t have to play Facebook games and you don’t have to accept every invitation to be someone’s buddy.
Build your Facebook network with the intention that they will be the audience for your blog. Your friend list is not your only avenue. Across Facebook there are hundreds of groups and many will allow you to post a link to your blog. If your story is about an Italian family member, find an Italian group to post on. When you post on your own space consider posting publicly, there are over 845 million users waiting for you.
There are dozens of networks you could and should build. I recommend Google+, Twitter, Alltop, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Paper.li and a variety of social bookmarking sites. Each is valuable in its own way.
Step 4: Timing
I know of two different types of bloggers. The first type writes all their blogs well in advance and then schedules them to appear during the week. The other type posts their blogs as soon as they finish on some irregular schedule. Either way, blogs should be posted in the morning. Think about it as that newspaper that arrives on your doorstep in the morning just before you sit down to drink your coffee. The most popular time to read a blog is around lunch. There are also spikes around breakfast and after dinner. I seem to get quite a few readers overnight.
The most popular day of the week to read a blog is on Monday. Folks are wondering what they missed over the weekend. If I only have time for one blog per week, I try to get it out on Monday and then I promote it the rest of the week.
Step 5: Promoting
Unless you are famous, people are not going to seek you out. You have to market and promote your blogs.
Here is what I do for a typical blog post. First, I have to finish writing it. That’s usually the hardest part. Then I find a nice photo from my private collection or I create a graphic. I make sure I have good keywords or labels. I find the easiest way to identify your keywords is to run the blog text through a word cloud generator and it makes all the important words big and easy to read. Next, I schedule it to post, usually sometime in the early AM (which for me is typically a few minutes after I’m done writing). This gives any blog subscribers a chance to read it at their leisure.
I don’t do any promoting until the morning the post comes out. First, I’ll tweet about it. For you folks that are already twits, don’t forget to add hashtags to your tweets (just another form of keyword). Your tweet will go to all your followers and the hashtags are viewable by the entire twitosphere. Then I +1 on Google+ so that all my circles can see my post. Again, don’t forget the hashtags.
I have a Facebook page specifically for my blog. Most good blog sites will have all the little social networking icons below your published posts. This makes it easy to post directly to Facebook. So, I post to my blog Facebook page and then I post to special interest groups. Never abuse your channels. It will make you look like a spammer. Make sure that your topic applies to the group you are posting on. Even if you are blogging every day, don’t post on the same group every day. If they really liked you, then they will come looking.
Social bookmarking is another way to get your message out there. You recommend your post out to a collection of recommendations. The biggest bookmarking sites are Digg, Stumbleupon, reddit and del.icio.us.
Every evening my personalized newspaper comes out from Paper.li. Paper.li is a blog aggregator that you can customize to present your views. My paper focuses on genealogy and DNA. If I posted something that day then I am the headline. The results from the aggregation can be very random. If I like the way the paper came together I will tweet about it and include the Twitter account names of folks whose articles also made the paper. More than likely, they will appreciate that you are promoting their article and they will retweet to their network.
The dream of every blogger is for their post to go viral. This happens when there is so much interest that many readers share and retweet to their own networks. This broadens the reach of your article so that it’s shared and retweeted repeatedly until all the social networks are saturated.
Step 6: Follow up
If someone leaves a comment on your blog or a response to your Facebook post, try to reply. Remember, you started a conversation with your blog. Your audience appreciates it when they feel they are being listened to.
The other way that you can see how your readers are responding is to check the view count for each of your posts. If you write a variety of blog styles, your numbers will indicate which ones are working.
Step 7: Do it again tomorrow
Be ready for whatever comes along next. One thing is guaranteed – change.
None of what I have written is a big secret. All of these tools are readily available and free. Care and feeding of your networks takes time. Learning all these tools is easy and again takes time. Getting your genealogy stories out is exciting and worth taking the time. If your ancestors’ lives are in a box under your bed, do they really exist?
What are you waiting for? Get out there and blog, network, promote and follow-up.
© Mike Maglio 2012
Mike Maglio is the author of Deep into DNA, a monthly column in The In-Depth Genealogist which focuses on the use of DNA in genealogical research. Mike can be found blogging atOriginHunters.