Ask SME: How do I start a blog if I’m not a computer nerd?

by Kat French |

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! or  If you say, why?  How do I go about getting hosting?  Finding a theme, etc?
If it’s, 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  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 ( blog later.  
If you go the 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 “”   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.

About the Author

Kat French

Kat French is the Client Services and Content Manager at SME Digital. An exceptional writer, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in content strategy, copywriting, community management and social media marketing. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, CafePress and more.