Deciding Whether to Include a Twitter Feed on Your Blog

Should you do it? And why?

I got an interesting question on Twitter today from someone who learned how to use Twitter from my Twitter Essential Training course on Lynda.com. He asked:

Do you feel that there is a benefit to having a Twitter feed on a blog?

Twitter FeedI have my Twitter feed on my blog. It’s at the bottom of every page — a place that isn’t “in your face” but is persistent. The solution I use — the WordPress plugin HL Twitter — shows all of my Tweets, including @replies, and can show the tweets for as many accounts as I like. It also offers the option to archive tweets on your blog and tweet new blog posts. I don’t use either of those features, but they’re there. and, of course, there are other solutions that’ll put tweets on your blog or website.

My response was as lengthy as Twitter’s 140 characters allow:

Yes, but it depend on what you tweet about and what your blog is about. Should be similar or compatible. Nice question, BTW!

It is a good question. One that’s worth discussing here.

Why Your Might Put a Twitter Feed on Your Blog

Think about your blog for a moment. What is it like?

Is it a personal blog where you share your thoughts and opinions and personal news? My blog, An Eclectic Mind, is like that.

Or is it a business blog that you created primarily to provide additional information for existing and potential customers or clients? This blog-based site, Maria’s Guides, and the site I maintain for my helicopter charter business, Flying M Air, are like that.

Now think about the things you tweet about. Are those things complementary or compatible with your blog?

Examples

In my personal blog, I write about everything. On my personal Twitter account, I tweet about everything.

In my personal blog, I’m not afraid to voice my strong opinions on politics and religion. In Twitter, I often share links that support my opinions on politics and religion.

In my personal blog, I occasionally use foul language. On my personal Twitter account, I occasionally use foul language.

Obviously, my personal blog and my Twitter stream are a good match.

My Flying M Air site’s “blog” entries normally consist of company news and special offers. Even though Flying M Air is actually me — I am the sole owner/operator of the business — my personal tweets about everything under the sun would simply not be appropriate to display on Flying M Air’s site. Not only that, but my strong views about politics and religion and my occasional off-color language could seriously turn off some potential clients who have conflicting strong views and don’t like to read language like that.

As a result, I wouldn’t dream of listing my tweets on Flying M Air’s site.

As you can see, this isn’t the kind of question you can answer with a simple yes or no. You need to look at it on a case-by-case basis.

The Benefit

Of course, the original question focused on the benefit of including tweets on a blog. Once you decide whether it’s appropriate, you might still want to determine whether there’s a real benefit to doing this.

I think this depends a lot on whether your Twitter stream adds anything to your blog.

I’ll be honest with you — I don’t know if it adds anything to my blog. No one has ever commented on it. I don’t know if it’s gotten more more Twitter followers — which might be a good motive for including it. It certainly helps make me look more active in social networking circles. But is that a good thing? Who knows?

Your blog design has a lot to do with it, too. Do you have room to include a Twitter stream? Will the format you can display it in match the rest of your site. (Aesthetics is important!)

And why do you think it might benefit you? Do your perceived benefits outweigh your perceived drawbacks?

I’m not sure how helpful this is. I guess my point is, you need to think about it and, if you decide to go forward, try to determine how it helps or hurts you.

Remember, it’s always easy to remove if things don’t work out.

Lynda LogoLet me teach you more about Twitter!

You can watch seven videos from my Twitter Essential Training course for free. Click here to get started.

Photos from Facebook

Use your Facebook photo galleries on your WordPress-based site.

This past summer, I built a simple WordPress-based website for a friend of mine’s business. A designer/developer wanted $8K to build the site and he just couldn’t see spending that much money. While I know that the site I built for him isn’t nearly as polished as what the designers would have created, it certainly meets his primary needs: to provide basic information about his business to people who need it. You can see and judge for yourself here.

WordPress is an excellent tool for building Web sites. What I like about it is that once the site has been set up with the design and features needed, anyone with Admin access can modify its contents. That means that when he has a price change or hours change or some other change, he can go in and change it for himself. No need to bug me or wait for me to get around to it.

But what’s even better than that is the multitude of plugins available to add or enhance content.

Here’s an example. My friend has had a Facebook presence for some time now and his company is “liked” by a considerable number of people. They frequently check in to see what’s new. Yesterday, I helped him add about 10 photos of some work he’s been doing. The photos on Facebook were a big hit with his Facebook friends. I wanted to add the photos to his website. I poked around the plugin directory at WordPress.org and found one called Facebook Page Photo Gallery. This was even better than I’d hoped: it would take the photos I’d already uploaded to Facebook and present them on his WordPress-based site.

I decided to test it here before I went live on his site. I soon discovered that it works only with public photo galleries on Facebook — which meant it would not work with my personal Wall photos. (It probably would if I could figure out how to tweak the settings on Facebook, but I really don’t think it’s worth the bother.) It would, however, work with the Wall photos for Flying M Air‘s Facebook page. And it worked very well, as you can see here:

[fbphotos id=427099432352 limit=12 rand=1]

Did you notice that when you point to an image, it displays the caption?

This is a huge time-saver for me. Rather than have to re-upload and arrange the photos on the website, I can enter a WordPress shortcode with a few variables and a wonderful image display is created automatically. What else could I ask for?

Turning Off a Plugin’s Update Reminder

Hacking it might be better than ignoring it.

Plugin Needs UpdatingOne of the cool features of the Dashboard and administration panels in the current version of WordPress is its reminders of comments awaiting modification and plugins requiring update. You’ll see the reminders as numbers inside red circles. The one shown here, for example, is telling me that one of my installed plugins has an update available.

Clicking the Plugins button on the administration panel’s navigation bar displays the details. In this case, it’s a list of plugins, with a yellow bar indicating the available update:
Update Available

If you’ve been following the posts about WordPress on this site, you might recall that I had a problem with this particular plugin, Landing Sites. In fact, I’d already updated it on my blog and discovered that the update didn’t work. So I’d reinstalled the older version. As a result, WordPress is no nagging me to update to a version I don’t want to use.

A stronger person would simply ignore the update flag. But why do that if you can turn the flag off for this plugin?

Here’s the trick.

  1. Use WordPress’s built-in plugin editor to open the plugin file you don’t want to update for the current version.
  2. Locate the line near the beginning that begins with the word Version: and includes the current version number. Here’s what it looks like for the plugin I’m hacking:
    Edit Plugin
  3. Replace the version number with the current version number. So, in this example, I’d replace 1.3 with 1.4.1.
  4. You can then get a bit fancy and modify the Description area to note the real version number, just in case you forget. This information will appear on the Manage Plugins administration panel as a reminder. Here’s what my fully edited Description and Version look like:
    Edit Plugin
  5. Click the Update File button to save your changes.

Manage PluginsIf you did all of this right and didn’t edit something you shouldn’t have, WordPress will think you have the current version of the plugin installed and the reminder icon will go away. As shown here, the version number and description in the Manage Plugins administration panel will reflect your changes.

Best of all, if another update comes out, WordPress will still notify you about it.

Why WordPress Plugin Updates Aren’t Always a Good Thing

When updates go wrong.

Way back in 2006, I wrote an article titled “Reader Engagement Site Improvements.” In it, I detailed a number of plugins I’d installed to help keep visitors around a while longer, looking at new content on my site.

Landing Sites in ActionOne of these plugins is called Landing Sites. Its job is to check to see if a visitor has arrived (or “landed”) on your blog from a search engine it knows. If it has, it displays a custom message with links to possibly related posts. The idea is that if a visitor has come to your site because he was searching for something, maybe one of your other related posts might meet his needs. Here’s what it looks like on my blog, with some customization.

I used the plugin on both my main blog, An Eclectic Mind, and this Maria’s Guides site. It worked like a charm. My blog was even commended by another blogger for the use of this feature. (Wish I could find the link, but I can’t. Sorry.)

Then, I made a fatal error. When WordPress notified me that the Landing Sites plugin had been updated from version 1.3 to 1.4.1, I allowed it to automatically install the update. I didn’t realize until I updated my blog to WordPress 2.7 and changed the theme that Landing Sites had stopped working. Instead of showing a list of related posts, it was show some raw and ugly PHP code.

I figured the problem was with WordPress 2.7, so I just disabled it on my blog. I posted a comment in a WordPress.org support thread and waited for a response. The author of the plugin subsequently posted instructions for a fix, but it didn’t work for me or for others.

Today, Lorelle (of Lorelle on WordPress fame) e-mailed me to point out that the plugin wasn’t working on this site. (I admit it: I’m lazy and still have this site set up on WordPress 2.6.5.) That surprised me. I went into action, beginning the troubleshooting process.

No fix worked. But I was able to track down the old version of the plugin. I disabled the current version and deleted it. Then I reinstalled the old version (1.3) and activated it. The result: problem solved.

I then went to my blog, which is running WordPress 2.7, and installed the old version there. As you can see from the screenshot above, it works.

What does this mean to self-hosted WordPress users? Unfortunately, it means that plugin updates don’t always make things work better — or even right. In this instance, the plugin author “broke” the plugin by trying to fix it and releasing an update. I don’t know if the new version works for everyone else, but I know it doesn’t work for me. I don’t know why, and frankly, I don’t care. I’m just glad that reinstalling the old version fixed the problem.

I like the plugin and am glad to have it fully functional on my blogs.

A big thanks to Lorelle for contacting me when she found the problem. Since I never reach my blogs via a search engine, I probably never would have found the problem on my own.

Upgrade WordPress Plugins Automatically

One of the great new features of WordPress 2.5.

One of the challenges of keeping a WordPress blog running smoothly is making sure all installed plugins are updated promptly when new versions become available. WordPress 2.5 makes this easier than ever by adding an Automatic Upgrade feature.

As shown in the following illustration, the a note in the Plugin Management administration panel indicates that the Bad Behavior plugin (which I rely on to keep the spambots off my blogs) has been updated.

Plugin Management

I have two options for bringing my blog up to date:

  • Download version takes me to the Bad Behavior page on the WordPress.org’s Plugin Directory so I can read about and download the update. This functionality has been around for a while — at least since WordPress 2.3 — with all plugins that support it.
  • Upgrading a PluginUpgrade automatically takes the update process a step further. When I click this link, WordPress automatically downloads, uncompresses and installs the new version of the plugin for me. It displays its progress as it works, as shown here, and confirms that the upgrade has been successful.

I’ve been using this new feature for a few weeks now and it’s worked like a charm. It’s a heck of a lot easier than upgrading the old fashioned way.