Interviewing Melissa Austin-Weeks, Blogger Extraordinaire
CLICK HERE or on the image above to go to Melissa’s blog. The first time you go there, a pop-up will invite you to subscribe to her MailChimp “RSS to Email” feed. DO SIGN UP, so you can see how that works.
In early 2016, Melissa Austin-Weeks contacted JBH Communications about moving her Blogger blog over to a new WordPress website. Melissa already had another web development firm engaged to do this, but they were not getting the job done, and were not communicating effectively with her. She remembered a friend’s Facebook post about his good experience with JBH Communications, and decided to give me a try.
We got Melissa’s new WordPress site going within a few weeks and it was not long before her new site was one of the busiest of the 80 WordPress sites that I maintain. The number of unique visits (new visitors) to her site is currently hovering at about 1,600 per month, and page views at 2,500 per month.
Melissa has kindly accepted to share some of her experience working with her WordPress blog (www.homewithatwist.com):
Q. Your full time job title is “Coordinator of Senior Adult Programming at TCU Alumni Relations.” What do you do in that job, and does it have any relationship to your blogging?
I work with alumni who graduated from TCU 30 or more years ago. This involves planning events — social, educational, cultural, and community service to actively engage our alumni in the life of the University. As an event producer, this requires extensive research on the latest trends regarding food, table decor, and visual presentation affording our guests with such a positive experience at a TCU alumni event, that they want to come back again and again. As a result, the research I do, mostly through social media outlets such as Pinterest and Instagram, inspires me to share it in some way with my Home with a Twist readers.
Q. Melissa, how do you view the relationship between your WordPress blog and your various social media channels?
In order for a blog to be successful, you have to rely on “cross promotion” across a variety of social media channels. But to do this, you must have a blog that is professional, visually appealing, easy to navigate and current. You cannot just rely on people finding your blog without sharing your content on social media. You might think as your blog as the “central depository” for your posts — it’s the ultimate goal where you want people to land. You have to entice readers to land on your blog by teasing the reader elsewhere. My two favorite places to promote my blog are Instagram and Facebook. I also use Twitter, but I find that more traffic comes to my blog through FB and IG.
Q. You began your blog in Google’s “Blogger” and then switched over to WordPress a little over one year ago. Do you recall why you made the move? Has it panned out as you expected?
When I first started blogging about 8 years ago, it was more like a journal. I wasn’t as interested in how it looked. But, as my content evolved and I refined what I wanted to represent, I felt that Blogger was limiting. Since Blogger doesn’t offer as much customization as I wanted I started to look at other options. Using WordPress, with a slight learning curve and a lot of assistance from Brad Hepp, I have been able to design a website that represents my personality.
Q. I assume you have a sense of which blog posts and other social media posts generate the most interest, right?
The big point here is that you must stay consistent with posting. I know when I am researching new blogs to follow, if I find one that has a great post, I look to see how often they post. If it’s on a regular basis, I might subscribe; if they only post every few months, I am no longer interested in following them. I want to follow someone who treats their blogging more like a professional rather than a hobbyist. Bearing that in mind, I keep my readers engaged with consistent content. I might take a week off for vacation or if I am busy with my “day job,” but I always let the reader know when I will be back.
Q. Have you seen a pattern to which posts your own readers like the most? Is it simply the subject matter, or is there something else, like the degree to which you “get personal?”
Blogging is an interesting beast. I may spend a lot of time on a story that I think will be off-the-charts-popular only to get minimal interest. Yet, when I post a personal story that reminds me simply of two people talking, I get the most comments and feedback. That and anything nostalgic…. To this day, the single most popular post from my old blog (Buzz In Around the Hive) to now is a story I did on Stir-n-Frost cake and my memories of eating them at slumber parties! I have attended several blogging conferences over the last few years and every single panelist says readers want authenticity — someone real they can relate to.
Q. It looks like you publish new blog posts up to four or five times per week. And the content and writing is high quality. I’d assume writing is second nature for you. But what are some disciplines that you’d recommend for others who want to keep up a good output of blog posts?
I use a variety of techniques to stay organized with my blogging. I have a calendar and I write down ideas on certain dates. I keep a running list of story ideas and I also have several books (642 Things to Write About; The 52 Lists Project) that I use to inspire me if my creativity needs a push. I also use National Calendar Day as a way to generate ideas. Of course you can use the seasons and holidays for inspiration. Another thing I have learned at conferences is to write about what I am interested in, not what I think the reader will want to know. There are times I will write to inform my readers, but mostly I just write about things I like. Do that, and people will follow your interests.
Q. Where is all this blogging going? Is it simply an outlet for your creative energy, or do you have an interest in monetizing the blog?
My dream would be to be able to take Home with a Twist to a full time job. But for right now, since I have a job and a profession that I enjoy, blogging is an outlet for my creativity. I like teaching people new things and sharing my story and talents.
Q. I have noticed that you post some remarkably good photos. Are you shooting with a smartphone? Do you use an app to enhance the photos?
Here are some of Melissa’s excellent photos. You can click on any image to view the slide show larger. But do not gaze too long on the food shots!
I don’t have time to learn how to use a digital camera, so I just rely on my smart phone. I will say when I started seriously blogging it was time for a phone upgrade. I had an iPhone at the time, and the phone store associate told me that if I wanted superior quality photos, I needed to shoot with a Samsung. I switched from iPhone to Samsung about 6 years ago and never looked back. My phone takes such crisp, detailed photos! I have learned which light works best, to always shoot outdoors and not in direct sun. There are certain spots in my home that are ideal for food photography. And I use Pic Monkey, SnapSeed and Phonto edit my photos.
The popup on Melissa’s website. Same signup is available at all times in the sidebar. GO THERE AND SIGN UP SO YOU CAN SEE HOW THIS WORKS (you can always unsubscribe).
Q. We placed a pop-up as well as static invitation on your site for visitors to sign up to receive your blog posts automatically via MailChimp’s “RSS to email” function. Thus far, it looks like you have about 80 subscribers, which is DWARFED by the number of new visitors your site routinely gets. Have you had any thoughts about why the subscription form has not generated more subscribers?
I am not sure why I am not generating more followers on my email subscription. Maybe it’s because people don’t want to take the time to do it? I have signed up for an on-line class to learn how to create my own printables to incentivize people to sign up. For example, if you sign up to receive my blog in your inbox, you will get a set of my favorite recipes.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?
Stick with it. It is very easy to get overwhelmed, and ask why you don’t have more followers?! We get into the comparison mode. Just stay true to yourself, your message and your goals. If blogging were easy, everyone would do it.
The only reason I have a successful product that I am happy with is because I found Brad. He has listened to my ideas, with a true interest in my success, and has implemented them for me so that in most cases an idea I present to him one day is ready for the public the next. Having a blog that looks like mine has been a dream come true and Brad helped make that happen for me!
Brad: Melissa, thanks for your kind words, and for putting so much thought into your answers. You gave us all several valuable, practical suggestions along with guiding principles.