How to NOT write your business blog: pictures, audio, video

Maybe the thought of putting pen to paper is putting you off blogging. Or maybe the things you want to share would work much better as something other than text. For some things, show is much better than tell.

Thanks to modern technology, it needn't be difficult or expensive to create pictures, audio and video. You can get going with just a smartphone and free or cheap software. Wait to invest in specialist tools when you’ve worked out which medium is right for you.

Blogging with pictures

Most blog posts need some sort of graphic, just to catch the reader’s eye. You’ll also want to include images for sharing on Twitter, Pinterest or Facebook. For these kinds of graphics, stock photos are fine most of the time. Unsplash, Death to the Stock Photo and Pixabay are all good places to get interesting images.

If you want to make pictures the heart of your post, you'll need to take your own. Then you can choose exactly how things look and how you want to use your images. Here are some ideas:

  • A long post made from a series of images, like this article from The Debrief.
  • A gallery with captions for each photo like Stylist.
  • A collage of images - great for a product collection like this one from Garance Dore

Images aren’t just a thing for fashion magazines. Data fans can create colourful charts, like this post from Paul Boag.

Some businesses use Instagram as well as, or instead of a blog. If you want to write long captions then Latergram lets you do your typing on your laptop, rather than on your phone. If you're into galleries, try Slideshare. It's a good way to turn text posts into image posts, like Mark Schaefer does.

Your picture toolkit:

Take pictures with your phone. If you get into photography, then you might want to invest in a DSLR and better lighting, especially if you're taking product shots. For smaller items you can create a DIY studio.

Edit pictures with Google Photos. There are also loads of editing apps for smartphones. If you want more control, the obvious next step is Adobe. Not everyone wants to get locked in to Creative Cloud, so here are some free alternatives. If you have a Mac, then Affinity Photo is worth a try.

Make graphics and add text to photos with PowerPoint, Keynote,Canva, or Snappa. Need more graphic wizardry? Try Adobe InDesign or Affinity Designer. For alternatives to graphs and pie charts, check out Information is Beautfiul.

Make photo collages using Layout for Instagram. It's currently iOS only, but this article has 14 alternatives. And there's always PowerPoint...

Need icons? Try FontAwesome or The Noun Project.

Blogging with audio

Or podcasting, as it's usually known.

Some people find it easier to chat to a microphone, than have to write something. (You can chat without podcasting, of course. Try Dragon Dictate or OSX Dictation.)

Some people prefer to listen than read, too. People with long commutes, for instance.

You’ll still need to do some writing. The podcast will need a description so people know what to expect. Most people add episode notes too. These can include links to more reading or tools mentioned in the episode. You may also want to add a transcript so that people with hearing difficulties aren't excluded. Transcribing does take a long time, though. It might be something you want to outsource.

Podcasts can be solo efforts, but many podcasters include interviews from time to time. Get used to the technology on your own before bringing in special guests. Double acts also need a microphone that can pick up both people clearly in the recording.

All podcasts need a bit of editing to remove mistakes, coughs and ‘umms’. You can improve the sound a bit too, but aim for a clean recording without too much background noise. It’s much easier than trying to get rid of the hum of the air conditioning afterwards. Noise cancelling microphones are your friend.

Editing will also be quicker if you’ve planned what you’re going to say, at least a little bit. It’s easy to cut things out, but moving whole paragraphs isn't so simple. Stopping and starting need planning in the most detail. It’s common to forget important things - like saying who you are! People also tend to go blank at the point where they need to ‘get off’ the podcast. Write these sections out longhand, at least till you've found a formula that works for you.

For a professional finish, add jingles to start and end the podcast. Remember to announce your podcast and episode, and introduce and guests. Sign off at the end with credits and maybe a reminder of your website. Then all you need to do is publish, syndicate it to iTunes, and you're done! (Writing doesn't seem so bad now, does it?)

Your podcasting toolkit

Record the episode on your phone or laptop to start with. You might find your phone works fine for what you need - especially if you have a headset for it. Your next step will be to invest in a microphone. Look for a noise cancelling USB microphone. I’ve heard good things about the Blue Yeti, although I’ve not tried it personally. If you want to record on the go, get a mic that plugs into the headphone jack of your phone.

Record interviews using telephone or web conferencing software. This article explains how to record a Skype call, and shares a clever trick for editing the levels if one person has come out a bit quiet. The call recorder software in the article is Mac only, but you can Google for Windows alternatives. If you plan to do interviews where you’re physically in the same room, you need a bi-directional USB microphone.

Edit your episode with Audacity. If you have a Mac, you could also try GarageBand. When you’ve done editing, export your finished episode as an MP3.

Find jingles via Google. You can start with free ones like these. You can also find jingles in GarageBand, if you’re a Mac user. You might want to get your own jingles made if you decide podcasting is going to be an important part of your blogging strategy.

Publish your podcast on your blog. Check your content manager help for instructions on how to do this for your site. Wordpress and Squarespace both make this fairly straightforward: they handle the audio storage, create the RSS feed (so people can subscribe) and submit your podcast to iTunes.

Blogging with video

Don't write off video posts just because you’re camera shy. They don’t have to be videos of you. Video doesn't work for all customers, all of the time, but for some things it's the perfect medium.

If you’re demonstrating something, only your hands might be in shot. Video is brilliant for instructional content. Or you could create a voiceover for slides, a screen capture, or animations.

If you run webinars for your customers, you can record these to create a movie you can share later. Or you can create slides and record an audio track separately, and use iMovie or Windows Movie Maker to put them together.

Video is trickier to edit than audio, so you need to plan with a bit more detail. For podcasts, I’ve been able to cut and move paragraphs as well as individual words, without anyone being able to see the join. That’s not the case for videos. When you cut something the join will show, and you may need to smooth it over with a fade.

Bear in mind that most of your viewers will be super impressed that you managed to make a video at all. They won't be judging you as hard as you will be judging yourself. Try not to be too perfectionist, and have faith that both recording and editing get easier with practice.

Your video toolkit

Film yourself or others with a smartphone, or your laptop camera. If you’re using your laptop, try to get the camera level with your face so you aren’t looking down. Raising it up on books will do the trick. For smartphone filming, get a mount like the Gorilla Grip to hold it steady. You might need help to set the shot up, if you're filming yourself.

Record sound using the microphone in your laptop or phone - at least to start with. When you come to upgrade, you can use a USB mic for your laptop or an external mic for your phone. See the podcasting section above, and also look for lapel mics that won't show so much on camera. Amazon has a huge selection.

Edit your video with Windows Movie Maker or iMovie. You’re not John Ford, you just need to be able to cut the bloopers and add titles and maybe music. (Don’t use music unless you know it’s okay from a licensing perspective, though.)

Create titles and captions in your video editor. Use presentation software if you want something fancier.

Make slides and simple animations using whatever presentation software you feel comfortable with. PowerPoint and Keynote are reliable choices, and Prezi is great if you’re feeling adventurous. Bear in mind that all the zooming in Prezi can induce motion sickness in some viewers. Don’t go crazy with it! There are more sophisticated packages out there if you find this style of video works for you.

Stream live video with Youtube live, and post an archive of the event on your blog. You can spend a bit more for extra features with a dedicated webinar tool. This post covers the main options. I will admit to more heart-stopping moments with live webinar software than any other product. And it’s not just me - CopyBlogger use really top end software for their live classes, and even they have issues sometimes. If bad things happen, don’t beat up on yourself - it's probably not your fault. Try a few different services if you can, to find one that you like and that seems reliable. And be prepared to change as the market evolves.

Record your screen to use as a demo with CamStudio for Windows, or Quicktime Player on Mac. For screen capture, I find I need to do more prep and rehearsal than any other kind of video. It’s easy to go blank and not know what you’re supposed to click on next.

If you find you (or your customers) enjoy multimedia blogging, then there are all kinds of gadgets and apps you can invest in to make things easier. I’ve focused on free or cheap things in this post, so you can try different options out and see what works for you. If you have more tips for budget tools and tech, please leave a note in the comments so I can update the post.

Next week, we’ll turn back to conventional blogging, and I'll share the tools I use to make researching, outlining, drafting and editing posts a bit easier.

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