“A publishing presence is within everyone’s reach.”
A practical approach
Most education should not be too theoretical in the 21st century. With the aid of technology, we’re absorbing information faster. Mastering a new skill can effectively change your life, so we’re all in a hurry. And we should be.
I teach people how to write well online. Also, how to package their writing in a compelling way. As an instructor, I draw on 25 years of writing professionally. I’ve studied with the best. I’ve been paid to write on a national stage.
Now I teach college students, professionals, and sometimes even individuals how to gain an audience for their writing and ideas.
Show your authority
It isn’t easy. Right now, millions of words, pictures, and ideas are being posted online. It’s a lot of noise. A huge global audience is available today, to everyone. The goal is to get the right people to stop and pay attention to you. Marketing gurus have studied this problem. They tell us, it takes showing authority.
Authority sets you apart. Busy people will only exchange their time for something equally as valuable. If you can show mastery, they’ll listen.
To become experts ourselves, we must all become publishers.
A published book has always been a symbol of expertise. To become experts ourselves, we must all become publishers. Whether you post to Facebook, or to a website, you’re an online publisher. Still, most people are not experts at online publishing. They crib from everywhere. They’re faking it. And it shows.
I started writing in traditional (offline) media in New York, which is important. Back in the day, printed media cost a lot of money to create. It couldn’t be changed with the click of of a button. Television ads couldn’t be re-uploaded. They were physically sent to stations around the country.
Traditional media was printed in “permanent ink.” It made mass communication a weighty undertaking. It took strategy, research, and creativity to write for a limited, expensive space. Obviously, there was no “scrolling down” for the laundry list of ideas we couldn’t fit in.
I was an early adopter of online media in my field. Writing for the web is freeing. You can make mistakes. Change your mind. A/B test things. For these reasons, online media can be undisciplined. Creators who have come up in the internet age missed out on a rigorous era of creativity. It’s something that I teach, an attitude of limited resources and a serious vetting of creative ideas.
The Facebook mistake
You must show authority today. There’s too much competition. Too many distractions. If you’re serious about getting noticed for an idea, it takes adopting the mentality of an online publisher. You must be a pro at it.
The easy route is to create a business page on Facebook. Many talented people are posting their unique ideas, their life’s work, to a website they don’t own. On Medium and LinkedIn, entrepreneurs can get quick, free exposure. A built-in audience. They forget, the goal isn’t free exposure. The goal is authority.
They forget, the goal isn’t free exposure. The goal is authority.
It’s difficult to own your message on a social network. The problem is called digital sharecropping. It means, working in a borrowed space. You’re promoting some other company, blending into their site. Also, that network controls your experience. A new algorithm can bury your visibility. You can be flagged, censored, trolled. Your page could even disappear, overnight.
Go pro with WordPress
There’s a better way, and that’s WordPress. Not as quick as a Facebook page, WordPress is still pretty easy to set up. The best part is, WordPress puts you in charge of your message. It’s your site, 100% your story.
WordPress is a digital printing press. That air of authority you get when visiting a professional website is available to everyone. In fact, the medium and the message go hand in hand. That’s why I teach WordPress design skills as well as how to express ideas online. The end goal is to create a unique online destination. The web is a visual medium. Pictures get attention. Words deliver.
A true online presence is something that a) you own, and b) leads to a desired outcome. It’s not just a matter of getting likes. Your work should lead to a “sale.”
Online publishing elevates the pros from the hobbyists, using the following:
- graphic design
Learn best practices
Usually, a person will master one or two online publishing skills. The plan can be to hire someone on Fiverr to do the rest, but you’ll want to know how the process works. It’s what makes a classroom setting valuable.
Mastering online publishing starts with best practices. You can’t know which solution will work best in a given situation. It’s why we study the principles behind public success stories. I teach my course by emphasizing concepts over techniques. It’s a focus that gives students the ability to adapt to the future.
A hack can give fast results, but it can’t teach you when or why.
It means avoiding buzzwords and hacks. A hack can give fast results, but it can’t teach you when or why. A content creator who only mimics what has worked before is always one step behind.
Human interest is key
Tone is important. The internet is a clean, efficient place. No wonder, it runs on code sent to and from servers. This cold medium can put us in an analytical mood. Using computers to do everything, the online space is all right angles.
Best practices teach us, warmth and humanity are needed. Many of the top online practitioners are individuals. They became well-known by sharing their messy, creative lives, and weaved stories in with their products. They saw the internet as a way connect on a personal level. And yes, they did it efficiently.
The following sites use personality for engagement:
Ideally, an instructor should be creating his or her own online experiences. Not just teaching general concepts. This is a field that I’ve found myself teaching, as I’ve worked with every one of the above-mentioned skills. I’ve also shown memorable results. It gives me the ability to teach from experience, not a book.
Everyone who works in the online space is an idealist. We’re all one step away from recognition. It isn’t always true. Who will notice you depends on your publishing skills. You’ll only gain a following if your ideas are well-packaged.
Oregon Institute of Technology
WordPress tutorial website
Oregon Tech is the Pacific Northwest’s only technical college, located in southern Oregon. I developed a class for the school’s management department. I wrote the class and taught it for three terms, both on-campus and online.
MIS 225 gives management and marketing students hands-on learning with online business.
Online business requires a stellar website. Below is the front page of a tutorial website I built and wrote for students. I led the class in recreating this 16-page website from scratch, in WordPress. Project files were provided.
This online business is a fictitious spa on the Oregon coast. The spa’s unique message is told using online best practices. From the choice of the WordPress theme template, the site structure, writing, to the photography, all elements work together to give a high-end image, fitting the company’s luxury model.
Blog Practice website
A big aspect of online publishing is blogging. How to blog professionally is less obvious. While teaching MIS 225, I found that students needed blog practice.
The screenshot below is of a microsite that I created to give students a place to play. The site describes lesser-known concepts behind pro blogging. For example, the required length of a blog post is longer than you think. A successful topic will often take keyword research. A scannable format is mandatory.
Students were assigned to write a 1,200+ word blog post. For many, it was the longest post they’d ever written. Students were directed to topics where they had authority. Later, they were asked to comment on each other’s final posts.
WordPress Meetup sample website
I started a WordPress Meetup in a rural community. Those who signed up for the Meetup had little-to-no experience in WordPress. To help newcomers with some context, I created the following website as a tutorial. In our first meetings, I would lead the Meetup members to recreate the website from scratch.
This website is a directory of good pubs in a small town. Best practices include a custom logo. Original photography. Stylized images that give a cohesive look. A template was chosen that conveyed news value. It’s an example of a website that anyone can build, for free, on WordPress.com. With the right know-how.
Craig Simpson is author of Marble on a Table, a debut novel. He also runs The Writing Thing Group, a blogging network, as well as teaches communication at college and to individuals.
Discover the blogs of The Writing Thing Group.
Review Craig Simpson’s Curriculum Vitae.