mail_boxToday, we’re going to dip into the old Social Media Explorer mailbag, and answer a reader question.  

(Actually, we don’t have a mail bag.  We never get physical mail from readers, except the one time I got a box of Ginsu knives.  And the time someone mailed Jason a bunch of pedometers for starting Twit2Fit.  But mostly we never get real mail.  
A reader emailed this question to us, and we like throwing out Old West metaphors.  It makes this crazy mixed up digital world seem a little more human.  So try picturing us  with a big, heavy canvas mail bag that we pick up from the local train station and lug back to the office about once a week. See, isn’t that more fun?)  

From our friend T.W., Louisville, KY:  

Ok, one day I’m gonna have this blogging/social media thing down to a science, but that’s just not the case today.  I have several questions… I know you guys are swamped, so please don’t feel like you have to get this back to me anytime soon!
 
Wordpress.com or WordPress.org?  If you say WordPress.org, why?  How do I go about getting hosting?  Finding a theme, etc?
 
If it’s wordpress.com, how can I find a theme that I like or change out the header of a theme?  Should I get my own header created?

Where do you get pictures from to use in a blog post? And how do you give credit to the photographer?
 
Should I take a crash course in CSS, whatever that is?

Kat French

Kat French

An Answer from Kat:  

Hosting and Themes and Such Like:
If you’re just starting out, I would go with WordPress.com.  Find your writing style, your voice and your editorial focus first—it’s really easy to get caught up in tweaking designs and plug-ins and all that.  The posts themselves are the Main Thing—get a handle on that first, then it’s really dead easy to export it and then import it into a self-hosted (WordPress.org) blog later.  
 
If you go the WordPress.com route to start, once you set up your blog, go to My Dashboard for the blog.  The navigation is along the left. Go to “Appearance” and you should see the Available Themes.  There are about 50 or 60 themes to choose from, some of which you can customize to some degree.  I personally like PressRow, or any of Chris Pearson’s themes (he’s from Louisville originally.)  
 
If you insist on a self-hosted blog, though, go with just about any hosting company except GoDaddy. Besides their misogynistic Super Bowl advertising, their service is AWFUL.  

You usually get a free domain registration when you sign up for hosting, so there’s no need to do it separately (and that can also make things really more complicated and confusing than they need to be).
 
If your hosting has something called “Fantastico” you’re in good shape—you can install WordPress without having to do FTP or anything remotely scary. 
 
If you decide to go with a self-hosted blog, you’ll need to pick a theme.  There are probably millions of free WordPress themes out there.  Just Google “free wordpress themes.”  If you’d rather not wade through those millions, you could check out Smashing Magazine’s great list of 100 Excellent Free WP Themes.  

You’ll then have to install it. Basically, you’ll need to copy the files for the theme into the themes folder for your WordPress install.  It’ll be something like “yourdomain.com/wp-content/themes/.”   You can probably do that through your hosting company’s control panel.  Otherwise, you’ll have to use FTP.   Which is a little advanced for this response, although it’s not terribly complex.  
 
Then you’ll need to go to your Admin dashboard, to Appearance, and activate that theme.  
 
Pictures and Design-ish Stuff

There are several sources for non-copyrighted images on the web.  Do not use Google Image search—most of those images are copyrighted. If you’re on Flickr, go to Explore > Creative Commons to do a search.   Creative Commons photos are usually okay to use, as long as you attribute the source.  I usually attribute source by putting “images courtesy USERNAME on Flickr” at the bottom of the post, and link to the original image on Flickr.
 
Another good source for free images is Stock Exchange.  You have to register, but they’re good quality photos, and at most you’ll have to attribute source and post a comment or ask for permission.  (Each photo has usage instructions).  
 
If you need to edit photos, and don’t feel like shelling out for Photoshop, a couple of options:
 
GimpSHOP   – A freeware clone of Photoshop.  Not terribly user friendly if you’ve never used a photo editing software, but totally free.
 
PhotoPlus – Serif Software makes older versions of its software available for free.  Slightly more user-friendly than GimpSHOP, IMO.  Or you can pay about $10 for the most recent version.  
 
Aviary – An online suite of free photo editing tools.  Nice if you don’t have hard drive space or permission to install stuff on a shared computer (like at the library).  

As for CSS, like FTP, it’s not terribly complicated, but it’s too big a subject for a short response like this.  Very briefly, CSS is a styling language that allows you to control the colors, fonts, and other design elements for a website.  If you’d like to see how powerful CSS can be, check out CSS Zen Garden.  


My friend was so pleased with my response that I decided to use it as the basis for my post for today.  I hope some of you find it valuable.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the big picture, inside-baseball stuff here, I think it’s refreshing to post the occasional 101-level item.  

If you’re just getting started in social media, I don’t think you could find a better starting point than a blog.  If you’re starting your first blog, I think a no-cost hosted WordPress blog is a good choice.  This will get you up and running.  Be brave, make mistakes, learn fast.

Oh, and on a closing note, I still plan to post a Quick ‘n Dirty Guide to online privacy protection, but we have some other exciting things in the mix right now (which I’m not gonna discuss!) that have to take priority.

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About Kat French

Kat French

Kat French is the Digital Operations Manager at CafePress. An exceptional writer both on the web and in other genres, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in community management, SEO/PPC, social media strategy and program management. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, Optima Batteries and more.

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://thelostjacket.com Stuartfoster

    I know just enough CSS to horribly, horribly screw up a website and I've managed to do fine. The thing is back up your work, go slow and read as much as possible before jumping into the fray. You'll figure out a lot by commenting for 6 months and seeing what works and what doesn't within a niche. Didn't have a blog until September '08. But have been involved in social media since 1998.

    • KatFrench

      I agree with you totally on backing up your work and going slowly! You also make a good point that you learn a lot from commenting about the social dynamics of a blog. :)

  • http://thelostjacket.com Stuartfoster

    I know just enough CSS to horribly, horribly screw up a website and I've managed to do fine. The thing is back up your work, go slow and read as much as possible before jumping into the fray. You'll figure out a lot by commenting for 6 months and seeing what works and what doesn't within a niche. Didn't have a blog until September '08. But have been involved in social media since 1998.

  • vikdug

    I highly recommend that new bloggers start with Posterous. It has all the tools needed for video, audio, photos, and text. And all you need to start is email. I'm surprised it wasn't mentioned!

    Good luck T.W. and other SME readers! Keep up the great posts.

    • KatFrench

      I've played around a bit with Posterous, and it definitely is extremely user-friendly.

      But if you're even possibly considering going the pro-blogger route at some point, I think WordPress has the best capacity to expand to support that.

      Thanks for bringing it up though–Posterous might be a better choice for a lot of people.

  • vikdug

    I highly recommend that new bloggers start with Posterous. It has all the tools needed for video, audio, photos, and text. And all you need to start is email. I'm surprised it wasn't mentioned!

    Good luck T.W. and other SME readers! Keep up the great posts.

  • http://kevinmcintosh.com/ Kevin McIntosh

    Hey, I enjoyed the post, I will differ on one point however.

    My experience with GoDaddy service has always been exceptional. They have always answered my ?'s (granted maybe a 5-7 minute wait on the phone) and with maybe only 2 exceptions, been overly courteous. And I've called countless times (not because of problems with their service/products but just because of questions/technical stuff. I will say the repeated attempts during an online transaction to get you to upgrade your service can be annoying, but I'll take it for great service. And as a former ad agency guy who still has a moral compass, I'll agree their TV commercials should be kicked off the Internet.

    Thanks.

    • KatFrench

      Thanks for weighing in. Yours is the first positive experience I've heard of. They must be doing something right for some customers or they wouldn't be as successful as they are. I had a few bad experiences with them when I was doing freelance web development, and I've heard other people say they've had similar.

  • http://kevinmcintosh.com/ Kevin McIntosh

    Hey, I enjoyed the post, I will differ on one point however.

    My experience with GoDaddy service has always been exceptional. They have always answered my ?'s (granted maybe a 5-7 minute wait on the phone) and with maybe only 2 exceptions, been overly courteous. And I've called countless times (not because of problems with their service/products but just because of questions/technical stuff. I will say the repeated attempts during an online transaction to get you to upgrade your service can be annoying, but I'll take it for great service. And as a former ad agency guy who still has a moral compass, I'll agree their TV commercials should be kicked off the Internet.

    Thanks.

  • http://www.wherescarla.com/ Carla

    Great Instructions and very easy to follow. Excited about your stock photo link, I've been wondering where to find free images.

  • KatFrench

    I agree with you totally on backing up your work and going slowly! You also make a good point that you learn a lot from commenting about the social dynamics of a blog. :)

  • KatFrench

    I've played around a bit with Posterous, and it definitely is extremely user-friendly.

    But if you're even possibly considering going the pro-blogger route at some point, I think WordPress has the best capacity to expand to support that.

    Thanks for bringing it up though–Posterous might be a better choice for a lot of people.

  • KatFrench

    Thanks for weighing in. Yours is the first positive experience I've heard of. They must be doing something right for some customers or they wouldn't be as successful as they are. I had a few bad experiences with them when I was doing freelance web development, and I've heard other people say they've had similar.

  • http://www.offlinemarketingideas.com/ ross

    Awesome post. I like this site.

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  • http://www.blogerdesign.blogspot.com/ ricky

    wwwwwwwwoooooowwwww…. thanks for info brother…

  • huangqin
  • http://www.zoombits.co.uk/computer-accessories/ dvd rw

    You can start your own blog if you have some basic knowledge about computers but after start your blog you need some time to update information on your blog. You can take a help to anyone to make changes in your blog and you have to change css and html coding of your blog.