Online publishing for the cheap and lazy

How to succeed in social media and online publishing without really trying -- or paying

'm a lazy cheapskate. And I'm often on the move. But as a columnist, I'm also interested in exposing as many readers as possible to my brilliant insights - which means I should engage in social media and online publishing.

What to do?

I've finally figured out how to publish just about everywhere online - social media, a blog and a newsletter - at very low cost and with almost no effort.

I've been blogging since 1997, the same year the word "blog" was coined by Peter Merholz. I also started publishing an online newsletter that year. Believe me when I tell you we did it the hard way back then. The HTML editor of choice was Notepad and the publishing platform was FTP.

I've occasionally upgraded my methods and service providers for publishing my blog, The Raw Feed, and my newsletter, Mike's List, but both were still complex and time-consuming -- especially the newsletter.

I didn't mind the work -- that is, until the social Web hit. Like a lot of people, I started posting stuff on Digg. Then Delicious. Then Twitter. Then Plaxo. Then LinkedIn. Then Facebook, FriendFeed, Brightkit, Tumblr, Plurk and Glorp. (OK, I made up "Glorp.")

Posting links and comments on these new social services is easy, but because of the sheer number of sites, time-consuming. As a result, I experienced something a lot of online publishers did -- blog fatigue and newsletter burnout. Why make the effort to post a real blog item or send a real newsletter when I can just shoot off a link on Twitter?

It got so bad that my blog postings dropped to one or two a day, and I stopped publishing my newsletter altogether.

Unfortunately, blogs are way stickier and better for personal branding than any social media, and e-mail newsletters are the stickiest electronic media out there.

And there's another reality to contend with. Publishing on a wide range of social sites used to feel like a luxury, but it has become a necessity for reaching a broad audience. People don't come to you anymore. You have to go to them. And people are everywhere.

So for the past two months, I've been experimenting and researching easier ways to publish.

I'm now using one low-cost service for publishing my newsletter, and another free service for blogging and all social media. These services are so easy to use that I'm now publishing more on my blog and more frequently with my newsletter than ever before -- all with a fraction of the time.

Here are the services I'm now using -- and how I'm using them.

Posterous

There's a lot of hype about Posterous these days. But I've discovered that the praise is justified. This is a great service. Why? Because it's the easiest way to get anything published online, but lurking beneath the simplicity is incredible power.

I use Posterous now to publish to my blog, Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, Dlicious, Jaiku and Plurk. Here's how I do it.

Posterous lets you publish on the Web site, but also via e-mail. When I want to publish to my blog, I simply open e-mail, type the "headline" into the Subject, and the body of the post in the body of the e-mail, links and all. If there's a picture to go with it, I just attach it. Within a minute, the item is posted on my blog, formatted with the picture in the right place and resized perfectly. Posterous also automatically alerts my Twitter followers, and links them to the post, as well as my Facebook friends and people who follow me on all the other networks.

For blog posting and promoting that post, Posterous turns a 20-step process into a three-step process (type entry, attach photo or video, press "Send" button). No picture re-sizing. No HTML code. No posting links on social sites. Nothing. Just send an e-mail.

If I want to send just to Twitter, or just to Facebook, Posterous provides dedicated e-mail addresses for those (or for combinations of services). I choose where to post based on the e-mail address I select.

What's miraculous about Posterous is that it grabs whatever code or attachments you add to the e-mail associated with video (or sound or images), and formats and posts them perfectly. So if I want my blog post to feature a YouTube video, I just start the post with the video's URL. If I want to post a personal video taken with my iPhone on Facebook, I just attach the file to the message.

All this posting-by-e-mail business makes publishing from my cell phone brain-dead easy. Two months ago I would not have dared to post on my blog from my iPhone in a moving Taxi, or while standing in line at a coffee joint.

I use Posterous because it's easy, free and powerful. But a side benefit is that everything I post anywhere is also posted in a single location as a lifestream -- on Posterous itself. Here's my Posterous lifestream.

MailChimp

The bigger challenge was how to publish an e-mail newsletter without the incredible time suck it always involved. In the past, I kept a detailed checklist of steps to go through to build the HTML file for the newsletter, upload it to a list host service, test it, update the archives page and a long list of other items.

Sending an issue of Mike's List used to take about 10 hours. Now it takes me fewer than two hours.

MailChimp is free if you have fewer than 500 subscribers. But if you have more, the prices are reasonable, and you pay a single set price no matter how many issues you send per month. (My old list host used to clobber me with additional charges each time I sent an issue -- another disincentive.)

I created a template using their easy online tools and uploaded my list in Excel format. MailChimp both hosts, and gives you the code so you can host, things like published issues, Subscribe and Unsubscribe features and all the rest.

Sending Mike's List via MailChimp is so easy that I don't need a checklist anymore. It's kind of like a wizard, where the site holds your hand through the whole thing. MailChimp detects when an address is no longer valid, and removes them automatically from your list.

After publishing, MailChimp gives you great online reports, telling you how many people opened the issue, who clicked on what links, and just about anything else you'd like to know.

Posterous and MailChimp have radically transformed the entire online publishing proposition for me. I can now publish more often in more places at a fraction of the time or cost.

If you ever post anything anywhere, you should try doing it via Posterous. The benefits will become clear after you try it. And if you ever want to publish via e-mail, MailChimp is the cheap-and-easy way to go.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. Contact Mike at mike.elgan@elgan.com, follow him on Twitter or his blog, The Raw Feed.

Tags blogssocial media

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Mike Elgan

Computerworld (US)

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