Ileane Smith: Blogging and Building Virtual Communities

Ileane Smith is the voice behind Basic Blog Tips, works as a promotions manager, and has created numerous Paper.lis such as The Young #Engineers’ Daily and The Black Social Media Heroes Daily.

She initially created her Paper.lis to give bloggers the recognition she felt they were missing out on. Now she is finding that her papers not only promote and connect people, but also act as the heart of virtual communities.

Tell us how The Black Social Media Heroes Daily (BSMH) originated.

It all came about because a friend, Mitch Mitchell, and I kept seeing lists like “top 100 bloggers” and “top 20 social media experts” — but there were absolutely no black people on them. After a while we felt really frustrated by this, as we knew there were many influential black voices.

One day, Mitch said: “What are we going to do about this?” I was already using Paper.li, so I decided to create a paper written by black bloggers. I set up a Twitter list of black people who I consider to be influential, then I published a Paper.li based on that list.

How did you choose people to include?

I based my choices on Klout scores (before they became controversial!). My criteria at that time was a score of 50 or above and a Twitter stream that I felt was promoting a positive message (rather than just chat). Mitch and I also decided to exclude celebrities and journalilsts, because the point was for us to shine the spotlight on people who might otherwise have been overlooked. Mitch did some blog posts that brought out the names of other influential black bloggers.

Who are your personal top black social media heroes and why?

I’ll give you a few.

Dr Mark Anthony Neal, Professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African and African-American Studies at Duke University in the US. He authors NewBlackMan and often retweets the Paper.li.

Fields Jackson, Founder and CEO of Racing Toward Diversity magazine and an adjunct professor teaching Entrepreneurial Sales and Marketing, at Chicago State University. I remember that on one occasion when he retweeted the paper, one of his friends tweeted back: “Hey, how do I get on that list?”

Brian Tippens, who leads Hewlett Packard’s Global Procurement Sustainability & Innovation organization, and is adjunct professor of Legal Studies at Kaplan University.

Torrey McGraw, who interviews entrepreneurs and thought leaders over on his blog at Grind&Thrive: I think he’s found some of his subjects through my Twitter list.

Melinda Emerson@SmallBizLady, who is from Philadelphia, as I am. She blogs with advice for small businesses, has a ton of followers, and is one of the people who made BSMH go viral.

Having influential guys and gals like them help spread the paper around is brilliant. And by the way, they’re very enthused about the title.

What do you see as the real value behind it?

That it brings people together. That it recognizes those that we all seem to think are influential, but weren’t getting the recognition they deserved. It’s a great model for how a community can begin, although, of course, it might not work in every case. To build a community there needs to be a shared passion, and people. BSMH has both, and Paper.li has been at the heart of bringing us together.

What do you do to keep the quality high?

Well, for a start I use the Publish it! tool on Paper.li all the time. This allows me to grab content from anywhere on the web, and I use it to make sure that certain people’s content is in there. It’s a fantastic addition.

Once the paper is published each day I edit it. I spend about half an hour before I actually distribute it — I look it over with a fine-tooth comb and I might promote a post to the top.

Most of the time I’ll edit out my own blog posts, even though the paper picks up my RSS feed. That’s because there are so many other people that need to be recognised. I don’t want people to say, “Ileane’s the top story again — this is like her personal Paper.li”.  If I wanted to do my own, I could! But that’s not the point. The point is to promote others.

Lastly, I monitor the retweets using tools like Crowdbooster, Tweetstats, Buffer and Timely.

You have several other papers on your newsstand…

Sure. I have different papers associated with my two Twitter accounts — @ileane and @basicblogtips. I use some of the papers in a very different way to The Black Social Media Heroes Daily. Some papers are simply curation tools just for myself. Again, I use Twitter lists and I gather information based on those lists: one example is Podcasters Daily (this list is associated with @ileane).

I may publish that paper every now and then, but for the most part I find that podcasters don’t always tweet about podcasting — so sometimes a paper can be totally off-topic.

I also publish The Guest Bloggers Daily. I owe a lot to the guest bloggers who contribute to Basic Blog Tips, so I do a daily paper for them maybe once or twice a month. I try to balance out the publication so people don’t feel they’re overdosed on Paper.lis.

Ileane Smith, Paper.li publisher, doing academic outreachI’d also like to mention The Young #Engineers’ Daily. I work as a promotions manager for a technical publishing company which gives scholarships to engineering students. That’s why I set it up. But it’s challenging, because it seems that engineering students don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter! And when they do, they don’t talk about engineering. So come on, you engineers!

But, you know, when I do academic outreach, I meet a lot of these young engineers and I find them quite inspirational.

When you’re not working as a promotions manager, you’re blogging. How did you get started?

 

It was because of my daughter Nikki, who is now grown up and lives in Los Angeles. My first blog, Ms Ileane Speaks, actually started by accident when I was trying to subscribe to Nikki’s blog on WordPress.com. You had to sign up… and I did so without realising. So of course, I decided to have a go myself.

Back then, there were no central step-by-step instructions for newbies. I spent a lot of time going back and forth to support and reading their blogs (since then they’ve created a whole “How to” guide).

I signed up for a course with Lynda.com and I couldn’t help thinking “Why don’t I share these tips with other people, because they’re probably in the same boat as me?”

What’s the first thing a new blogger should do?

The first step to establishing yourself online is – and perhaps this sounds a little crazy — get a Gravatar. You need to create your brand right from the start. Whatever you’re going to do online, whether it’s blogging, commenting on blogs, curating or publishing, you need a consistent image so people will always recognise you. So use that same image for your Google profile and all of your social networks.

Starting with an image can also help give you direction: sometimes, choosing an image can force you to think about which topics you want to get into.

What else contributes to our online brand?

An outstanding social profile. Your bio needs to grab people’s attention. You don’t want it to say the same thing that everybody else’s is saying. You’re different, you have something unique to say. It should also include keywords and links back to your blog.

And where should you go to blog?

My preferred platform is self-hosted WordPress. I love it because of its flexibility. You can use a huge variety of themes and plugins to customize your blog, and you don’t need to learn any coding. WordPress has many built-in SEO features that you don’t find on other blogging platforms and they send strong signals to search engines.

Blogger is owned by Google, so you might think it offers an advantage. But I don’t find that to be the case. I do use Blogger, but it’s not easy to customize with plugins and you need some coding skills in order to stand out from the crowd.

I’ve been using Tumblr since I started blogging, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it for a long time. I didn’t spend any time promoting it and as a result, I had no traffic. Recently, Tumblr made some upgrades and improvements and I took a second look. I started a new blog Pro Podcasting to curate content related to podcasting and I’m having fun with it. There’s a strong community on Tumblr. It has some unique and very attractive features for re-blogging and liking posts. It adds a level of engagement that you don’t find on other blogging platforms.

What happens if you’ve chosen your platform but you’re stumbling around, not knowing what to write…

Like I was in the beginning! It’s good to find a mentor — that can often help you to decide on your niche. Now, this person doesn’t have to know they’re your mentor — or maybe they will. The point is to pick someone who has integrity, a good reputation and is well-respected. Follow your mentor closely and you’ll be able to incorporate some of their strategies, and adapt them to fit your goals.

What are your top 10 blogging tips?

  1. Read and comment on other blogs.
  2. Learn as much as you can about your topic.
  3. Start establishing relationships with other bloggers.
  4. Join forums and social networks to help you establish those relationships.
  5. Use Google Analytics to track and analyse your blog traffic.
  6. Ask your readers what type of content they like getting from you best.
  7. Always bring your unique point of view to a given topic.
  8. Promote your content via a Paper.li and on other social media.
  9. Don’t stress yourself out over page rank or keywords — remember you just started blogging.
  10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

And tip n° 11: never use profanities!

How can we know our blog is a success?

Each of us has our own set of individual goals and benchmarks we use to determine what we mean by blogging success. You decide!

Do you publish a paper that gives voice to a community? We’d love to hear!

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