Posted by Bill Ferriter on Sunday, 06/22/2014
This post appears as part of a new metablogging series from CTQ bloggers featuring their tried-and-true tips and best practices. Join the Collaboratory and then sign up for the Communications Lab to continue the conversation and get tips for taking advantage of summer writing time!
One of the tips that I like to give new bloggers is don't forget to mix visual content into your posts.
Visual content is a nice change of pace for you AND your readers. It's interesting, engaging and easy to consume -- particularly for readers who are working on mobile devices. Better yet, if you are willing to share your final products under Creative Commons licenses, you can provide your readers with takeaways that they can use in the work that they do on a day-to-day basis. Whether your primary audience is classroom teachers, school leaders, or professional developers, provocative visuals for future presentations are ALWAYS appreciated.
The simple truth is that while I am a noted blogger and published author, I'm probably best known in social spaces for the visual content that I create and share. My images, which are all available for download in a public collection on Flickr, average 5,000 views -- far more than the average number of pageviews for posts on my blog. I see my slides being used in presentations and shared in social spaces all the time, generating additional entry points for new readers who may have never crossed paths with me here on the Radical.
Whipping up slides is probably WAY easier than you realize.
The first step is keeping your eyes open for -- and then finding a way to organize -- interesting quotes in the content that YOU are consuming. See a great Tweet come through your stream? Favorite it. Someone leave a neat comment on your blog? Save a link to it. Read something interesting in one of those old-fashioned paper book thingies that they still have in the teacher collection of your library? Take a picture of it. The quotes that I come across are all stored in a Slide This folder in Evernote.
Then, it's time to start creating.
My slide-making process is a bit clunky, but I like it: I start by searching the Flickr Creative Commons collection for images that (1). are free for use and can be modified and (2). fit the general theme of the quote I'm working to share. Then, I work in PowerPoint to finalize the slide, tinkering with the size of the image, the size of the text, and the fonts that convey the right tone. Most of the fonts that I use come from Dafont.com -- a site with a ton fonts that are more interesting than the stock fonts loaded on your computer.
From beginning to end, designing a slide tends to take me about 60-90 minutes. Between finding the right image, tinkering with font sizes and types, working on the transparency of the backgrounds, and using colors to emphasize individual words and/or concepts can take some time. I find myself constantly flipping my PowerPoint into "Slide View" so I can see what my image will look like when it is finished.
If you are new to creating visual content for your blog -- or if you just don't have the time to spend 60-90 minutes on one image -- I'd recommend that you explore Canva.
Started by Cliff Obrecht -- an Aussie intent on making engaging visual design approachable for everyone -- Canva provides users with access to a TON of engaging templates and images that can be easily dragged and dropped into impressive final products in minutes. The Canva team has also created a series of really approachable tutorials called Mini-Challenges that introduce users to the basics of visual design and the features of their tool. Together, all of these resources can help you to become a pro at generating visual content for your blog in no time.
Canva operates on a freemium model -- giving users tons of free images and templates to play with, but then providing access to premium content that can cost users $1.00. Most of the time, I find everything that I need in Canva's free collection. I do, however, buy access to premium images -- particularly when I'm in a hurry and don't want to search for similar content in Flickr's Creative Commons collection. The way I figure, $1.00 is a fair trade when I can find a great image in five minutes.
Need a sample of what's possible with Canva? Here's an image that I just created:
(enlarge, download and view citations on Flickr here)
It took me 20 minutes to make and cost me $1.00.
That's at LEAST 3 times faster than I would have been able to create the same slide on my own. The time saving comes from the fact that I purchased the image from Canva's premium collection and I didn't have to obsessively poke through the 200+ fonts that I have installed on my computer. Instead, I chose from the 20 interesting fonts that Canva gives users access to.
In the end, I don't care HOW you create your visual content. Just be sure to start slipping slides into your posts.
Doing so will give you a chance to experiment with visual persuasion -- a skill that is becoming more and more important in today's world. Doing so will also give your readers a final product that they can enjoy, appreciate and use in their own work -- which is essential if you want to continue to grow your audience.
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