Gavin Wray

What do people talk about at social media surgeries?

It’s been almost a year since I first went to a social media surgery for voluntary and community groups in Birmingham. The surgeries are thriving and it’s great to see new surgeries sprouting in Lozells, Acocks Green and Solihull.

Two people talking at central Birmingham social media surgery in Fazeley Studios

Photo by Kasper Sorenson

One thing I love about these surgeries is that I never know who I’m going to meet or what topics will come up. The randomness is refreshing; it keeps me on my toes. Meeting motivated folk who want to improve their communities is good for the soul.

This social media lark is wide. Those who come to the surgeries for advice may want to talk about anything from how to start a blog, attract more readers to their website or make new contacts using the social web. And that’s just the start.

So, what really happens? What do we talk about?

Here’s a summary of a chat from a surgery in Fazeley Studios on 19 August between Esther Boyd, Paul Hadley and I.

Esther writes about environmental and sustainability issues on her Lighter Footprints blogs. Esther came to the surgery with specific questions (I hope my notes and memory are up to scratch, I’m writing this some time after the event):

  • how can she use keywords to increase her blog’s ranking in search engines
  • how can she get more comments on her posts
  • how can she get more people to visit her blog?

Keywords and search engine rankings

Spending time worrying about the words to use in the keywords meta tag is not worth it. (There’s typically a keywords box you can fill out when writing a blog. We looked at this on Esther’s blog, which runs on Movable Type).

Google ignores the keywords meta tag in determining the order of its search results. Don’t just take my word for it though:

While Google ignores the keywords meta tag, this doesn’t mean that all search engines do. Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing may do their own thing. With Google being so dominant though, there’s little point in spending much time on the keywords meta tag.

Is there anything to make sure you do to help your blog do well in search engine rankings?

Personally, I regard much of SEO as an unwelcome diversion from the real job of writing good web content that other people might be interested in reading.

Whether you’re new to writing a blog or a veteran of the interwebs, the basics hold true:

  1. Write interesting content regularly
  2. Use appropriate, relevant keywords in the title of your post
  3. Use sub-headings in the body content
  4. Link to other people’s sites

(I realise I don’t always practice what I preach, particularly writing regularly!)

Encourage more comments

Esther was pleased that her posts attracted comments, such as this post on community recycling champions. She wanted to increase the number of comments though.

The first thing we mentioned was for Esther to add replies to comments. When someone has taken the time to read the post and add a considered comment, thanking that person shows that you’re listening.

Also, when Esther replies as the author, she has the opportunity to develop the discussion. As well as reacting to the comments, she can lead discussion to new areas.

On the technical side, we discussed ideas to improve the blog’s layout. There’s a list of recent comments on the home page’s sidebar, which demonstrates an active site and a nice community feel:

Screenshot of recent comments in sidebar of Esther's blog

However, the list of recent comments is not shown on any of the other page templates in Esther’s blog (post, search results or archived by category). Not all visitors will land on the blog via the home page. In fact, if the visitor arrives via a web search, it’s more likely that person will land on a single post.

Changing the page layout to show recent comments on every page template is more complex as the blog layout is locked down in a pre-defined template. One for whoever runs the Birmingham Mail blogs.

Using Twitter to build a network

The last part of our chat came about through Esther asking how she could get more people to visit her blog. We talked about social networking, specifically Twitter and Facebook, to let other people know when Esther had written a new post or to highlight interesting comments.

While at the surgery, Esther:

  • registered on Twitter @estherboyd
  • discovered people in her existing network who are already on Twitter
  • updated her profile with a description and a link to her blog

Blimey, that feels like a lot after writing it down.

These are some examples of what people talk about at a social media surgery. It could be something completely different next time.

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