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.

How to Embed a Tweet in a Blog Post or Website

Finding and using a new feature on Twitter.com.

Twitter’s getting a facelift. In fact, as I write this, I’m one of a limited number of early adopters who have sped the arrival of the new version by installing and using the iPhone (in my case) or Android app.

The new Twitter is a dramatic change in the interface — one I plan to review in a video for Lynda.com soon. In the meantime, I’m picking out a few new features to explore in detail here in Maria’s Guides.

In this post, I’ll explore the new ability to embed a tweet — like the one shown here — within a blog post or web page.

  1. On Twitter.com, point to the tweet you want to embed and then click the Open link that appears to open it. (You could also simply double-click the tweet.)
    Open the Tweet
  2. Click the Details link to display the tweet in its own window.
    Click the Details Link
  3. Click the Embed this Tweet link.
    Click Embed this Tweet
  4. The Embed this Tweet pop-up window appears. It has three tabs:
    • HTML enables you to embed the tweet in a blog post or website using HTML. You select the alignment option you want by clicking a button and then copy and paste the code at the top of the tab. In this example, I’ve clicked Right because I want the tweet right aligned (as you see above).
      HTML Embed Code
    • Shortcode enables you to embed the tweet in a blog post on a blogging platform that supports short codes, such as WordPress. Again, set the alignment option you want by clicking a button and then copy and past the code at the top of the tab.
      Shortcode
    • Link displays a direct link to the tweet that you can copy and paste anywhere you like: email message, Facebook, Google+, comment form, or HTML editor to create your own link manually.
      Link

    In this example, I simply pasted the code in the HTML tab into the beginning of this blog post, which I wrote in HTML (I’m a bit old-fashioned that way). If you use WordPress and prefer Rich Text mode, you can do the same thing with the shortcode.

That’s all there is to it.

What’s handy about this is that not only does it display the tweet in its entirety with the tweeter’s profile picture and name, but it has live links to follow that person on Twitter, Reply, Retweet, and Favorite. Cool, no?

Let me teach you more about Twitter!

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

Comment Moderation: Fighting Spam and Trolls

A few tips from a long-time blogger.

As any blogger with even a slightly popular blog can tell you, good comment moderation is an absolute requirement to maintain a good, readable blog.

The way I see it, comment moderation serves two purposes:

  • It prevents your blog from being an advertising platform for people who don’t contribute real content. I’m not just talking about obvious spam here, either.
  • It prevents your blog from being a platform for offensive or abusive people who don’t contribute real content. And yes, I am talking about trolls here.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these two points.

Comments by Spammers

There are two kinds of comment spam.

One type — the most prevalent — is mostly automated spam posted by software commonly referred to as spambots. Once your blog gets on the radar (so to speak), automated spam can be quite significant. This blog, for example, attracts more than 500 automated spam comments a day.

This kind of spam is pretty easy to recognize. One type, for example, includes multiple links for things like online gambling, prescription medication, or pornography. The other type puts its link in the comment form’s URL field and then fills the comment field with text that may or may not make sense but has nothing to do with the content of the original post. Here’s an example from my post titled “Five Tips for Composing a More Effective Social Networking Bio“:

I precisely had to thank you so much all over again. I am not sure the things that I could possibly have accomplished in the absence of the entire tricks contributed by you on my problem. It truly was a very frightening case for me personally, nevertheless viewing your specialized manner you handled the issue forced me to leap over delight. I’m just happy for the assistance and believe you are aware of a great job that you’re getting into training other individuals via a site. More than likely you haven’t encountered any of us.

Huh? I get hundreds of comments like this every day.

It should be noted that a lot of this spam appears on posts that may be quite old. This particular one appeared on a post that was 2-1/2 years old. This is one reason why bloggers use plugins to automatically turn off the commenting feature on older posts.

Fortunately, spam prevention tools can detect and catch 99% of this kind of spam. I use Akismet on my WordPress site and it does a great job of catching and corralling this garbage so it never has a chance to appear on my blog. If you’re not using a spam prevention tool and are manually going through this crap, what are you waiting for? Don’t you have better things to do with your time?

The other kind of spam is more insidious. It’s posted by a real person and it looks like a legitimate comment. But its sole purpose is to promote a product, service, or Web site — not to engage you or other blog readers in a conversation about the original post’s topic.

In many cases, the spammer doesn’t put any real effort into his comment. It might contain a sentence or two that’s vaguely related to the post. The spam delivery is in the commenter’s name and URL. Rather than being something like “John” or “Mary Smith,” it’ll be something like “John’s Carpet Service” or “Discount Vitamin Shack.” The URL will be the URL for the site John or Mary want to promote. In most cases, the email address will be something that’s likely fake or never checked for incoming mail — usually a Gmail or Yahoo! account — but sometimes a legitimate-looking email account is included.

To me, this is a gray area — is it a legitimate comment or spam? Considering the content and purpose of the comment should guide you. Your site’s comment policy should help; I’ll get to that in a moment.

Trolls

A far worse problem these days is what many people refer to as trolls. Trolls are people who post offensive or controversial commentary on blogs or discussion forums. Their goal is apparently to make themselves look smart or superior at the expensive of you or other commenters. By posting comments, they’re “trolling” for an argument — much like a fisherman might go trolling to catch fish.

This is where good comment moderation is vital to your blog.

You see, if you allow offensive commentary — including personal attacks on yourself or blog commenters — you do two things:

  • You discourage legitimate commenters from sharing their thoughts. After all, they could be the victim of the next troll attack.
  • You encourage more trolling activity by current and future trolls. After all, you let one offensive comment out there, you’re likely to allow others. They see your blog as a good place to troll for new victims.

Is that something you really want?

I have seen too many blogs and forums completely devastated by the comments posted by trolls and the offensive and defensive comments posted in response. Back in the early days of the Internet and newsgroups, we used to refer to this as “flame wars.” There’s nothing useful or productive about the comments by trolls or the resulting flame wars. Why allow them on your blog?

The Freedom of Speech Argument

The biggest defense against firm moderation that would prevent trolling activities is that it’s “censorship” and that you’re violating the commenter’s “freedom of speech.” They often use the phrase “First Amendment Rights.”

Let’s look briefly at the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [emphasis added]

Where exactly does it say that I have to put up with offensive commentary on my blog? All it says is that the government can’t make a law abridging the freedom of speech. I’m not the government, I’m not making a law.

So I don’t think “free speech” is a valid argument. After all, should anyone have the right to say anything they want — no matter how offensive — on your blog?

If people want to spout hate and offensive commentary, they can do it on their own blog.

Creating a Comment Policy

One way to fight back against spammers and trolls is to create and uphold a site comment policy. This policy should clearly state what is and/or isn’t allowed in the comments on your blog. Linking to this policy in an obvious place — or even placing a short version of it right above or below the comment form — will make it clear that you don’t tolerate spam or bad behavior.

Want some examples of good comment policies? Here are a few to give you ideas:

  • An Eclectic Mind. This is the comment policy for my personal blog. It’s a bit wordy — what do you expect from me? — but it does cover all the bases. You might also be interested in another post on my blog, “I Love Blog Comments Here.”
  • Stonekettle Station. Jim Wright doesn’t put up with crap either. That’s the short version of his comment policy. The long version, which address trolls and free speech, can be found here.
  • Whatever. John Scalzi’s comment policy. Simple and to-the-point.
  • Lorelle on WordPress. Lorelle knows more about WordPress blogging than I ever will. Here’s her site’s comment policy. You might also be interested in another post on her blog, “Comments on Comments.”

This topic was also addressed back in 2007 by Lorelle VanFossen in The Blog Herald.

Do you have a site comment policy you want to share with readers here? Post it in the comments for this post.

Maintaining Order

Creating a policy isn’t enough. You also have to maintain it. That means objectively reviewing every comment on your site and deleting the ones that violate the policy.

Yes, deleting them.

My advice is not to edit them, or allow them but reply with a warning, or do anything else. If a comment violates your policy, just delete it.

Don’t even send the commenter an email message telling them that you’ve deleted their message and why. If a commenter lacks the courtesy to be civil and follow your established rules on your blog, does he deserve any courtesy from you?

More important than that is the entire concept of “feeding the trolls.” When you respond in any way to a troll, you encourage more trolling activity. You see, these people just can’t let it go. They see any response as having a victim on the hook and they keep up their trolling behavior.

Ignore them and they will go away. Really.

You need to keep this in mind no matter where you see trolls. If you can’t delete their offensive crap, just ignore it. (Or, if it’s offensive enough, contact the site owner directly and tell him/her what you think and how it makes you feel about their blog/site/forum. A responsible site owner will take care of the problem.)

And if the whole concept of trolls is new to you, I urge you to read the entire “Troll (Internet)” entry on Wikipedia. It’s excellent and it clearly shows how bad these people can be for an Internet community like a blog.

Steps to Take

To sum up, I want to review the steps you might want to take to moderate and control the comments on your blog.

  1. Install and use spam prevention tools. Akismet is the best one (in my opinion) for a WordPress blog. It’s free.
  2. Write and post a site comment policy. Use the ones linked to above to give you ideas.
  3. Set up your blog to require moderation of all comments. On a WordPress blog, you do this in Discussion Settings.
  4. Regularly check for and approve (or delete) new comments. I’ve created a bookmark in my browser to quickly go to the comment moderation panel for each of my sites. I check for comments every morning and sometimes during the day so few comments are ever held in moderation for long.
  5. Resist the urge to respond to trolls on your blog. Don’t respond in comments or in email. You will regret it.
  6. Ignore the comments posted by trolls on other sites and in online forums. Don’t feed the trolls.

Please use the comments for this post to share your thoughts, experiences, and questions about this topic.

Category Feeds Being Removed

As part of the site revision process, I’ve decided to do away with the category-specific feeds. These feeds, which cover Excel, Mac OS, Word, and WordPress content, are being utilized by less than 100 people. If you’re reading this message in your feed reader, YOU might be one of them.

Within a month or so, these feeds will simply not work. Delete them from your reader.

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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?