Social Media for Wordpress: Build Communities, Engage Members and Promote Your Site

By Michael Kuhlmann
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  1. Share it the Easy Way

About this book

Social Media can help elect a U.S. President, transform the way we educate ourselves and drum up support for disaster relief. What lies beneath the two ominous buzzwords is not some secret game-changing technology but rather a new approach at forming relationships with your audience in real-time. Discover the power of online influence many already rely on.

Social Media for WordPress: A Quicker Way to Build Communities, Engage Members and Promote Your Site is a practical how-to guide on implementing social media marketing techniques to improve user retention and initiate engaging conversations. You’ll learn how to leverage third-party services like Twitter, Yahoo! Pipes and Google Analytics as well as popular WordPress extensions like FeedWordPress, bbPress and BuddyPress.

This book introduces you to the powerful combination of WordPress and social media through a variety of plugins and free third-party services.

You’ll learn how to create your own social network, utilize forums and rewards to stimulate interest. You’ll also learn how to automate many marketing activities, so you can spend more time connecting with your audience.

Comprised of easy-to-follow tutorials and supplemental website, you’ll understand how to implement social media strategies.

Publication date:
April 2012
Publisher
Packt
Pages
166
ISBN
9781847199805

 

Chapter 1. Share it the Easy Way

The process to make content easier to share and more engaging online doesn't have to be a complicated one. In fact, you don't even need the expertise of a professional web developer or a great amount of time for development. In a lot of instances, you can take existing components and mould them to your specific needs. You do, however, need to think creatively at times and be willing to stay persistent in learning how to accomplish your goals.

In this chapter, we shall:

  • Go over what you should already know prior to reading this book

  • Gain insight to social media and its benefits

  • Learn the fundamentals, misconceptions, and basic implementations of social media

  • Leverage WordPress's core features to drive more site engagement

  • Create a newsletter campaign using a keyword-based RSS feed

  • Explore ideas to build business relationships

So let's get on with it.

Before you read this book

This book assumes that you already have a fair understanding of WordPress, blogging, and social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter among others. It is not a book on how to build such networking sites but rather a primer on how you can provide your site visitors with similar site features, to drive more interactions with each other. Parts of this book will also rely on reputable third-party components and services to beef up your site.

You will also need to run a self-hosted version of WordPress that you can access on the backend, meaning that you can upload and modify files, which usually requires access to an FTP client, as well. Alternatively, you can easily get the same setup through services like ManageWP (http://managewp.com) or Pagely (http://page.ly), which bypass most of the technicalities. If you only understood half of the material thus far, you can brush up your knowledge through the resources listed below.

 

Before you read this book


This book assumes that you already have a fair understanding of WordPress, blogging, and social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter among others. It is not a book on how to build such networking sites but rather a primer on how you can provide your site visitors with similar site features, to drive more interactions with each other. Parts of this book will also rely on reputable third-party components and services to beef up your site.

You will also need to run a self-hosted version of WordPress that you can access on the backend, meaning that you can upload and modify files, which usually requires access to an FTP client, as well. Alternatively, you can easily get the same setup through services like ManageWP (http://managewp.com) or Pagely (http://page.ly), which bypass most of the technicalities. If you only understood half of the material thus far, you can brush up your knowledge through the resources listed below.

 

A brief overview of social media


Social media can spark a country's revolution, transform the way we educate ourselves, and drum up support for disaster relief. While there is no set definition shared by dictionaries, encyclopedias, or industry leaders, social media can be summarized as digital content that is cultivated online using mass communication applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress. There is room for granularity, of course, but attempting to break down the two ominous buzzwords is like defining the word music—it has so much scope and depth, and means different things to different people. Hence, social media is much easier to look at as a strategic game of prediction revolving around what tools to provide your audience for communicating and exchanging facts, figures, and other data. It is the answer to the question, how can I establish a meaningful dialog?

When Wael Ghonim set out to organize a revolution in Egypt, he was armed with a Facebook account and a plan. He launched Kullena Khaled Said (We Are All Khaled Said), a Facebook group, which solicited ideas for pro-democracy demonstrations and sought accountability for the unwrongful death of a 28 year old man who had been killed by the Egyptian security officials. The site gained so much momentum that former President Hosni Mubarak blocked the entire social networking site, thereby, sparking a revolution, which ultimately led to an uprising and his departure.

When educator and Harvard MBA graduate Salman Khan posted math tutorials on YouTube, they gained so much momentum that they ultimately formed the basis for his non-profit Khan Academy (http://www.khanacademy.org), where his mini-lectures have logged more than six million views worldwide. This social media movement that changed the political regime and drove the free Ivy League education was also easily identifiable during the 8.9-magnitude Japan earthquake in 2011, which resulted in a global humanitarian relief effort. Once the public discovered the vast amount of damage through a barrage of Facebook updates, YouTube videos, tweets, and other outlets, this set in motion a collective need to provide donations. The emergence of such innovative ideas in utilizing social connections, to effect change all converge back to establishing a genuine dialog.

Social media is the new Web 2.0

On new year's eve 1999, there was ample news coverage of what the cumulative effect could be in anticipation of January 1, 2000. Disasters would strike and riots would ensue as computers would not be able to roll over to the new millennium. It was known as the Y2K bug. But programs were checked and updated, and life carried on with everyday normalcy. Fast-forward several years and the term Web 2.0 starts to gain traction. The buzzword trend continues with news and magazine outlets heralding headlines with Web 2.0 in them like it was the dawn of a new millennium. Yet in both the Y2K and Web 2.0 cases, there was no significant or drastic change in how people interacted with each other and there was no change in the content either.

Sure, social media and technologies have changed the delivery and rate, at which data transfers from point A to point B, but the protocol by which that occurs remains the same. A person has an intention of seeking or supplying information, or data, and determines the easiest path to carry out the action. These are the basics of any form of communication; social technology—web applications such as Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and so on have simply improved on this by providing more gateways to make this digital data more transferable.

Going social does not mean going viral

A common misconception is that adding social media gadgets, badges, and other gizmos to a site will equate a considerable increase in unique page views or guarantee content going viral. This logic is false. It is as accurate as assuming a car will drive twice as fast on premium gasoline than on regular gasoline. The increase in page views is dependent on the relevancy, frequency, and originality of your content much like the acceleration of a car is dependent on the make, model, and year.

Content is king goes the old adage, but that is also only a part of the equation, since content in the wrong context will not solely drive social connections online. The content that gets spotlighted, re-tweeted, re-purposed, pinged back, and otherwise magnified under the scope of a mass audience has to matter first. It's the catchy headline, the intriguing picture, and the stimulating story that leaves the audience salivating. The content can be high-brow or low-brow, scientific or salacious, and any other number of combinations, but the data has to matter to its audience. Your readers have to decide if your content is worth pushing the Like button, for example, in order to relay that data to the next person. Social media, in this aspect, merely means providing the necessary tools to facilitate this type of action.

There are a myriad ways of going social. No rule book exists for providing the necessary tools to establish a meaningful dialog. Different websites have different demographics and goals, so what may work on one site may not fare well on your own site. In most cases, starting off with the simplest approach is often the best. A hyper-local community website called yeah! Hackney (http://yeahhackney.com), for example, utilizes a WordPress plugin called BuddyPress (BP) to enable members to create profiles, where they can access and discuss information about exciting events and places in Hackney, London. The site enables members to post status updates, send private messages, update profiles, join and create groups and more. Suffice to say you will learn more about BP-powered sites in the next chapter.

 

The WordPress advantage


With WordPress now powering 14.7 million sites, or nearly 15 percent of the entire web, including CNN, The New York Times and Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG foundation (http://blog.livestrong.org), many site users and visitors have already become familiar with its native functions, even if they don't know what they're called. WordPress ships with three core functions, or capabilities that are native to the application, which allow your users and consumers to establish a dialog, based on the data that is provided. They include the following:

  • content syndication

  • content update services

  • a commenting system

It's easy to gloss over these basic features, as they have been part of the Content Management System (CMS) for a long time. There is a natural tendency to view social media as the lump sum of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn. The expectation is that photo tagging, @mentioning, or group discussions are the key to driving social interactions online. However, the main distinction is that they are generally the key once site have garnered repeat site vistors who actively community engage with the site.

Doing more with core functions

Three key players of the tech world—Google, Apple Inc, and Microsoft, thought of seemingly brilliant ideas until they were lambasted as major flops. They included Google Wave, Ping, and the Zune. None of these projects were detrimental to the continued success of their respective companies.

WordPress has a similar weakness. Because of the sheer amount of extensions that are available to you, it's a simple system that you can make very bulky and complicated within a few mouse clicks. It's easy to get lost in a pool of plugins, because each one sounds better than the next, and with the web running at warp speed, it would seem beneficial to activate them all as soon as you can get your hands on them. However, a comment rating plugin, for example, isn't going to do much if hardly anybody leaves comments. A Real Simple Syndication(RSS) subscriber counter will look sad if only five people are subscribed to your site. You have to excel at the basics first to see your content thrive just like you need to have a firm understanding of WordPress before activating countless plugins

 

The karma of pingbacks and comments


Pingbacks and comments can work like little packs of karma. Using Ping-O-Matic natively, WordPress notifies you that your content has been linked to from another user on a different site. This typically happens in the form of a comment or post reply. You write an awesome post and a site visitor reads that post, prompting him or her to write a response and linking back to you. Plugins such as subscribe to comments can certainly add more engagement to let subscribers connect with you by getting notified every time there is a new comment on your awesome post, thereby, tempting them to write a new comment on your site. But it shouldn't stop there. You have to be proactive about your pingbacks and comments. Take the time to thank each commenter individually to let them know you care about his or her opinions regardless of whether they're good or bad. This is the equivalent of thanking guests for attending your party after they leave. It lets them feel more appreciated so they'll return. In contrast, deleting comments should also be discouraged, as it appears that your site is censoring or hiding content.

 

Food for thought: RSS feed basics


Content syndication can make a big difference. The beauty of WordPress is that it automatically produces a separate RSS feed for each category that you create (http://www.yourdomain.tld/category/category-name/feed/). Each site also has its main feed that includes all content (http://www.yourdomain.tld/feed/). Moreover, comments can be subscribed to just as easily (http://www.yourdomain.tld/comments/feed/). Even custom post types can have their individual feeds. This is important to remember, because each one of these feeds can be marketed as its own channel of information like a newsletter, without the extra effort. All mobile site visitors are able to use their feed readers, subscribe to a particular feed, and view the site content as if it was specifically tailored to them. You only need to provide your visitors with the feed link and a prominent wording for them to subscribe. The call to action is a simple yet crucial step, since they will not hunt down your RSS feeds by themselves; you have to spoon-feed your visitors.

 

Time for action—building an automated newsletter with a keyword-based RSS feed


Promoting your site content using RSS feeds is great, but what's even better is providing your site visitors with an easily accessible way to keep up with a particular trend or topic of your niche site. This allows your site visitors to skip a few steps by bypassing the search for the best RSS feed reader, the application installation itself, reading usage directions, and having to manually filter through a bunch of posts on a specific topic. Using a newsletter is more user-friendly, because it ensures your subscribers the delivery of relevant content by doing something they do on a regular basis such as checking the inbox. All your visitors have to do is fill out a form that subscribes them to your newsletter. Best of all, everything will be automated including the newsletter content aggregation, and delivery of the newsletter e-mails.

In this in-depth activity, you will learn how to provide your site visitors with information on the keyword Mullenweg. It contains three main parts:

  • creating a subscriber signup form

  • creating a keyword-based RSS feed

  • creating a custom MailChimp newsletter campaign

Let's get started.

Part 1—creating a subscriber signup form

We'll use a popular third-party Email Service Provider (ESP) called MailChimp to send out the newsletter, so log on to http://www.mailchimp.com and register for a free account, if you don't already have one.

  1. 1. In your MailChimp dashboard, click on create a subscriber list and fill out all the required fields and name the list Matt Mullenweg Newsletter or something that describes your newsletter's topic or keyword.

  2. 2. Now, create a form that let's your site visitors sign up for your newsletter by clicking on create a signup form. (You should see this option in the next step. If you don't, click on Dashboard | design signup forms.)

  3. 3. MailChimp will automatically produce a basic Signup Form with a required e-mail field. This will be enough to get you started, so go ahead and press the save & exit button to finalize the form.

  4. 4. Next, we'll integrate MailChimp into your WordPress site by using the official MailChimp WordPress plugin. Log into your WordPress dashboard, navigate to Plugins | Add New and search for MailChimp.

  5. 5. Install the plugin labelled MailChimp List Subscribe Form by MailChimp and Crowd Favorite by clicking on the Install Now link located below the plugin name.

  6. 6. Connect your WordPress site with your MailChimp account through the plugin by navigating to Settings | MailChimp Setup and following the directions.

  7. 7. Select the Signup Form that you created in Step 2 from the drop-down selection and press the Update List button.

  8. 8. You'll be presented with several options, but for now, you can just uncheck the Monkey Rewards checkbox to remove the MailChimp branding and keep the remaining default settings as it is. Remember to press the Update Subscribe Form Settings button after you have made changes.

  9. 9. Embed the signup form into your site using the MailChimp Widget by navigating to Appearance | Widgets and dragging the widget wherever you want to display the form; you'll most likely want to consider your sidebar.

  10. 10. At this point, you should be able to see your newsletter subscription form on your website. Feel free to complete a test submission by filling out all the fields and pressing the Subscribe button. It should trigger a double opt-in notice, which means you will receive an e-mail that will require you to confirm the subscription.

  11. 11. Now, publish a test post titled Matt Mullenweg by navigating to Posts | Add New. You can write anything in the content area as long as it contains the word Mullenweg, as well. This will come in handy for Part 2.

    Note

    For further basic MailChimp training, be sure to register for a free webinar at http://mailchimp.com/support/online-training/. Also, be sure to check out their online resources at http://mailchimp.com/resources/.

Part 2—creating a keyword-specific RSS feed

Moving on to the second portion of this activity, a custom RSS feed that is based on a keyword. We'll accomplish this with the help of Yahoo! Pipes, so you will need to register for a free Yahoo! account, if you don't already have a Google or Facebook account.

  1. 1. Log onto http://pipes.yahoo.com/ and click on the prominent Create a pipe link located on the top navigation.

  2. 2. Drag the Fetch Feed module on the left window pane under the Sources header to workspace, which is the big, light-blue space located to the right. In the empty field, enter the name of your website's main RSS feed (http://www.yourdomain.com/feed/).

  3. 3. Click on the Operators header to reveal the Filter module. Drag the Filter module to the workspace. This will reveal a GUI for some basic if-then programming options.

  4. 4. Above the fields, make the following selections so that it reads Permit items that match any of the following.

  5. 5. In the left field of this module, select item.description from the drop-down selection.

  6. 6. Keep the default Contains option for the middle drop-down selection.

  7. 7. The right field is not a drop-down selection but rather a field for a specific value. In this case, the value is your keyword, so enter Mullenweg in this field.

  8. 8. Repeat Steps 4 through 6 by clicking on the +Rules button of the Feed Fetch module. However, select the item.title from the drop-down selection of the left field for this new rule.

  9. 9. Create a new rule that will ignore any content published prior to the date you've created this pipe, by selecting item.pubDate from the left field, selecting is after from the middle field and entering today's date in MM/DD/YYYY format in the right field (example: 10/11/2011 for October 10, 2011).

  10. 10. In your workspace, there should be a pipe connector represented by a circle centered above and/or below each pipe module. This is a where you can connect one module to another using a pipe. Connect your Fetch Feed module to the Filter module by click-holding on the bottom of the Fetch Feed module and then drawing (dragging) the pipe to the top of the Filter module.

  11. 11. Next, connect the Filter module to the Pipe Output module by click-holding on the bottom Filter pipe connector and drawing a pipe that leads to the Pipe Output connector.

  12. 12. You should now be able to view the output below the workspace in the gray area labelled Debugger. The output should display the test post from Step 11 of Part 1. You may need to press the Refresh link in the Debugger to view your content.

  13. 13. Click on the Save button located toward the top-left of your window and give it an appropriate name like Mullenweg.

  14. 14. To get the URL for this custom RSS feed, which you will use as material for your Mullenweg newsletter, click on the Back To My Pipes near the top to list your Yahoo! pipe. Click on the Publish link by hovering over your pipe to produce a publicly accessible RSS feed for this data.

  15. 15. Click on the orange RSS icon labelled Get as RSS to get the link to this feed and copy it somewhere, as you will need it for your MailChimp campaign.

    Note

    For detailed information on RSS-based e-mails, visit http://mailchimp.com/features/rss-to-email/.

Part 3—creating an automated newsletter campaign

In this last part of the tutorial, you will create a newsletter campaign that uses the custom RSS feed from Part 2 as newsletter material for your Mullenweg subscribers.

  1. 1. In your MailChimp dashboard, navigate to Campaigns in the top navigation.

  2. 2. Click on the large create campaign button and select RSS-driven campaign.

  3. 3. In the RSS feed URL field, paste the RSS feed link from Step 15 of Part 2 and select the appropriate mailing frequency for your Mullenweg newsletter campaign.

  4. 4. Click on Next to select the subscriber list that is associated with the subscriber form that you've created in Step 2 of Part 1. Do not send anything yet. Instead, click on Next.

  5. 5. Under the Campaign Info, give your newsletter campaign an appropriate name that corresponds to your newsletter.

  6. 6. Click on Next again to move on to the design portion of this campaign and select the basic (500px) e-mail template for your newsletter. Once you have made the selection, you'll be able to preview the e-mail with some sample copy.

  7. 7. To replace the sample copy with your custom RSS feed data, you will need to hover over the sample copy and click on the edit button to launch a text editor. Then, click on the source button to edit the html source code.

  8. 8. Replace everything with the following code:

    *|RSS:POSTS_HTML|*
    
  9. 9. Continue by clicking on Next and skip the plain text e-mail delivery options by clicking on Next again.

  10. 10. In the final step of the MailChimp newsletter campaign setup, you can send a test e-mail newsletter to yourself by clicking on the send a test link located at the bottom of the page. Alternatively, you can also start your automated newsletter mailing campaign by clicking on the start RSS campaign button:

    Note

    You will want to test everything to ensure proper delivery before going live. You may also want to revisit your MailChimp e-mail template through some image and CSS edits to match your branding. To download the e-mail template used in this example, visit http://socialmediaforwp.com/downloads/mailchimp-email-template/.

What just happened?

In the activity, we provided the readers with a newsletter that was automatically sent to them on a regular basis, using a double opt-in e-mailing method. The content for this newsletter was based on a RSS feed that was filtered by a keyword.

First, we created a place on your WordPress site where visitors could input their e-mail addresses to receive your newsletter, using a third-party ESP. The e-mail newsletter content was created using another third-party service that enabled you to pull certain RSS feeds and filter the content. A campaign was then initiated to automate the e-mail newsletter service.

Utilizing MailChimp and Yahoo! Pipes

There are several ESPs and RSS aggregator services online, but why did we use MailChimp and Yahoo! Pipes? The answer is simple: they are both reputable services that are not prone to shutting down like most other free services. Additionally, MailChimp has sponsored many WordCamps to empower the WordPress community with innovative e-mailing capabilities. Yahoo! Pipes, on the other hand, lets you visually create the flow of information, which means that you don't need to be a skilled programmer; you merely need to determine the source and presentation of the data and Pipes does the rest. Many RSS aggregators only mash feeds together, but they won't let you filter data by keywords, dates, or other criteria. Yahoo! Pipes fills that void by providing the extra flexibility. Both services excel at simplifying processes that would otherwise be unbearable.

Partnering and building sponsorship opportunities

Newsletters by themselves can sometimes still be boring pieces of data that hit your inbox on a regular basis. The key to driving more interest in your site is through content segmentation—splitting your content into multiple channels. It's not that they don't want to receive your news; they just don't want to receive all of it. Committing to a barrage of constant e-mails is no easy feat, especially if your only options are to subscribe or not to subscribe. You need to provide more gateways to make your content more accessible such as using social media sharing buttons, as you'll read in Chapter 7, so that your readers will want to share it with like-minded people.

On the flipside, you will want to create automated e-mail campaigns like this, because it opens up the door to partnering and sponsorship opportunities. For example, you could embed ads in your newsletters or post links to your partners. Using Yahoo! Pipes, you're also able to fetch your partners' or sponsors' RSS feeds, if you don't have the resources to produce content yourself.

Exploring more applications to this tutorial

The three-part tutorial extends itself to more areas than an automated newsletter. The first part really introduced you to lead generation—the process in which you collect information from prospective customers on whether they are interested in your content. MailChimp even rates your subscribers, based on how they interact with your e-mails and signup forms. The ability to tie this functionality into WordPress only empowers your site to grow, because you can use the same process for white papers or other valuable information that you'd like to exchange for site visitor information. The clearer the picture you can paint of your visitors, the better you'll be able to produce content that they will want to talk about and share with others.

Part 2 of the tutorial allowed you to peek into the concept of content aggregation, meaning that you're gathering website material for your own site that has already been published elsewhere. MailChimp does not require you to use a customized RSS feed like you learned in the activity. In fact, you can use WordPress category feeds to create your newsletter or whatever you want to send out. Going through the process and fine-tuning the content, however, has taught you to look at it in a different light.

Pop quiz—understanding key terms and key concepts

  1. 1. An ESP allows you to connect RSS feeds together.

    • a. True

    • b. False

  2. 2. You can only use one RSS feed source at a time when building a Yahoo! Pipe.

    • a. True

    • b. False

  3. 3. Ping-O-Matic allows you to collect subscriber information for mailing campaigns.

    • a. True

    • b. False

  4. 4. The process in which you collect information from prospective customers on whether they are interested in your content is called lead generation.

    • a. True

    • b. False

  5. 5. You can use Yahoo! Pipes to customize any and all of your WordPress RSS feeds.

    • a. True

    • b. False

Have a go hero

You can think about your WordPress site as just a blog or simple content management system, but what if it could evoke a feeling of unity and belonging? What if your content was powerful enough for your visitors to keep coming back to it and what if you could provide them with enough content channels for them to stay engaged? Your site could change the way a soccer league stays in contact, or how a local restaurant can retain its customers with a food menu newsletter. It all has to do with the flow of data and what you do with it to enable your site visitors, users, and followers to connect with one another.

 

Summary


This chapter introduced you to several concepts and ideas that will help you make the most of your site, without getting too heavy on customizing WordPress itself.

Specifically, we covered the following:

  • Social media can have historical impacts as long as it is about building a meaningful dialog with your audience

  • WordPress has three powerful core functions that help you promote social sharing

  • Segmenting your content is key to lead generation and content aggregation.

  • Third-party services such as MailChimp and Yahoo! Pipes can be tremendously helpful in lead generation and content aggregation

  • You don't need to be a skilled programmer with a completely customized WordPress theme to get more interaction out of your site

  • We also discussed how building e-mail campaigns can lend themselves to partnering and sponsorship opportunities, which will undoubtedly help you with your return on investment

Now that we've learned about the basic aspect of social media, we're ready to get our hands dirty with two big plugins called BuddyPress and WP Symposium, which are commonly referred to as Facebook in a box.

About the Author

  • Michael Kuhlmann

    Michael Kuhlmann is a writer, entrepreneur and web designer who specializes in WordPress and BuddyPress development. He has worked nearly 10 years in the publishing industry and has written a handful of tutorials spanning topics from print design to web design. To date, his BuddyPress themes have been downloaded more than 100,000 times. He serves as the director of web design for Thompson Media Group, a publishing company, where he oversees seven brands and their respective web properties and marketing collateral. In 2008, he co-founded AvenueK9.com, a pet site catering to canine lovers and their furry friends, which garnered the attention of The Huffington Post and Perez Hilton. His latest offering comes in the form of a WordPress hosting service JoinEVO.com, which simplifies the process of running a self-hosted WordPress site. Prior to becoming a web designer, he served as managing and news editor for a San Diego newspaper. His work has been published in The New York Times, The San Diego Business Journal and The San Diego Union-Tribune among other notable publications.

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