Facebook and Twitter are both highly useful tools when it comes to chatting with friends, saying what's on your mind, and even advertising your particular line of work. There is, however, one other avenue of Net-based proportions that should not be forgotten when it comes to self-promotion and getting the word out on just about everything that's important to you. No, not websites. Welcome to the world of blogging. Some people will tell you that the aforementioned Facebook and Twitter are the only ways ahead and that the blog is a dying breed. Not so: as of 2011, there were more than 150 million blogs in existence, and the number is still growing. And, unlike with a website, when it comes to blogs there are no yearly charges for the likes of domain names. So, what are you waiting for?
"A blog is a personal diary. A daily pulpit. A collaborative space. A political soapbox. A breaking-news outlet. A collection of links. Your own private thoughts. Memos to the world."
Blogger.com, one of the world's biggest blog-provider services
Blogging: getting started
Quite understandably, on the matter of creating a blog, many people assume the entire process to be a daunting one. After all, we're talking about templates, layout, formatting, maintaining a "Comments" section and more. Doesn't creating and using a blog to its maximum potential require a lot of Internet skills and complex programs of the type that are often essential when constructing the ultimate website? No, it does not! The distinction might seem slight to those not versed in such matters, but there's a world of difference between setting up a website and getting into the realm of blogging.
The first thing to do is choose which company you want to go with. There are plenty of them, including the hugely popular Blogger and WordPress. Be selective: while most blog-providers advertise a similar service, ensuring you pick one that is relevant to your needs is vital.
Blogger, for example, offers a wide and varied number of very different templates and layouts that will allow you to create and customise your blog as you see fit, as well as giving you the opportunity to make use of one of their many background images that will give your blog much-needed colour, style and eye-catching imagery.
So, with your company chosen, it's onto the next step: creating the blog, which is incredibly easy. It simply involves setting up an account, following a few on-screen instructions which will direct you through the process of naming your blog and then, with just a push of a button, it will appear on screen.
Granted, at this initial stage, your blog will appear pretty rudimentary and bland. So, it's time to click on "Design" and get your new online outlet looking good. Don't be afraid to play around with different templates. And, if you're not keen on this one or that one, well, you can switch around as you see fit and until you find the right one. The same goes for fonts, typeface-size and colouring.
Then, when you're happy with all that, it's time for the most important thing of all: let's get blogging!
Choosing your subject
Even the most cursory of Internet searches will quickly demonstrate that people blog on subjects that are as many as they are varied. Maybe your blog is devoted to the daily adventures of your pet cat. Perhaps your thing is getting your picture taken with the stars of TV. Or, you have a passion for restoring old furniture. Whatever floats your boat, your blog will allow you to talk about it until you are blue in the face.
While many people create a blog designed strictly to entertain themselves, their family, friends and anyone else who might care to take a look at the antics of Sally the talking spaniel, that battered old car you turned into the ultimate dream-machine, or how to make the perfect pint of home-brew, a significant number of people use blogs to promote their careers - and particularly so the self-employed.
Let's say you run the local flower shop in town and last week you provided all the floral decorations for the wedding of the mayor's daughter. Well, tell everyone. Ensure you get photos of the happy event, post a couple to your blog (with permission, of course!), and add a few hundred words of text about how great the day was, and how everyone loved your display. Then, send your post-link to the editor of the nearest newspaper and, before you know it, they will be doing a feature on you.
But, there's one other thing: you don't want people to forget you or your company. So, keep pumping out those posts, ensure that your audience keeps coming back for more, and make business boom.
In other words, make your blog work for you. There's nothing, at all, wrong with the entertainment value of blogging. But as a means to get your line of business noticed, in the public eye, and talked about, the realm of blogging offers a big advantage.
As you become more and more conversant with the blogging world, you'll soon learn that most blogs have a lot of built-in extras that, depending on what you intend using your blog for, can be extremely valuable.
Given the worldwide nature of blogging, some companies are now providing a service that allows you to translate your blog-posts into foreign languages. Readers can subscribe to your latest posts via email-alerts. You can check out the hit-statistics of your blog, determine which posts were most popular, and figure out how many other blogs and sites have linked to your work. Visitors can share your links on Google+. And you can even earn money by placing ads on your blog via, for example, Blogger's AdSense.
Being careful when blogging
Are there any disadvantages to blogging? Well, that very much depends on what you are blogging about. If you're pounding out posts on looking after a newborn baby, which Harry Potter film was the best, or the key to baking the perfect Christmas cake, that's fine. But some people have caught a cropper from blogging. Sackings and reprimands have become more and more prevalent in recent years, particularly as a result of employees blogging adversely about their employers. Politically, the subject can be a dicey one, too. In 2008, a Burmese blogger named Nay Phone Latt received a 20-year jail sentence for uploading to his blog a cartoon of the country's General Than Shwe and calling him "foolish with power". Speak your mind at your blog, but don't lose your job or your freedom over it.