Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Lesson in Health Literacy or Media Literacy?



Facebook members are currently sharing posts like this one, above, from July 31, which claim that baby shampoo and other cosmetic products manufactured by Johnson and Johnson contain cancer-causing chemicals “that may poison your baby.”

The embedded article from healthy-holistic-living.com (with no publication date) seems to report breaking news, which claims that Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo and other personal care products currently contain chemicals that are hazardous to human health.

Facebook members are sharing the news to warn others. Comments seem to indicate that many are tossing out their Johnson and Johnson shampoo and heading to the store to buy another brand.

Now, any responsible parent, relative, or citizen should be concerned about such reports, given the many examples of labels that hide or misrepresent unhealthy ingredients in products that we consume or put on our bodies. And words like “poison” in a headline and touching photos of a baby taking a bath will be sure to heighten concern.

In this case, however, consumers should focus their attention on the way that the content of the article – rather than the product label – is hiding or misrepresenting the facts. In fact, the article being shared across Facebook this week was originally published by Dr. Joseph Mercola on his popular health information Web site, mercola.com, on November 14, 2011 -- yes, nearly four years ago!

At first glance, Mercola's article, "Are You Using This Popular But Cancer-Causing Johnson & Johnson Shampoo?" looks like a legitimate account written by a medical expert and best-selling author. However, although his account may be accurate, Dr. Mercola's credibility may not be. Mercola has been accused by other medical doctors and watchdog sites like quackwatch.org of marketing controversial dietary supplements on his popular health information site.

According to Dr. Stephen Barrett in a September 2, 1014, Quackwatch report,
Many of Mercola's articles make unsubstantiated claims and clash with those of leading medical and public health organizations.” 
Dr. Barrett also reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered Dr. Mercola in 2005 to stop making false claims about products sold on his Web site.


The Mercola article reported information that was then cited or repeated verbatim in subsequent articles. This information came from an original report issued by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetic Products, issued in November 2011, which led the initial charge about toxic ingredients in Johnson and Johnson products. Click the cover page, titled "Baby's Tub Is Still Toxic," to read the report.

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetic Products, Johnson and Johnson responded almost immediately and pledged a campaign to phase out all harmful products. Read this copy of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’s November 16, 2011, press release about Johnson and Johnson’s response.

Over the years, other organizations, like healthy-holistic-living and change.org have reprinted Dr. Mercola’s November 14, 2011, article word-for-word without attribution or citing the original date of the article. This makes a four-year-old story written by an author with questionable credibility look like current news with timely and accurate information.

In fact, the article is far from timely or accurate. In response to consumer concerns, Johnson and Johnson removed the widely reported chemicals quaternium-15 (a formaldehyde-producing chemical) and another chemical, 1,4 dioxane, over a year ago. The company is also on track to fulfill its pledge to complete a reformulation of its shampoos and other products this year, to ensure consumer safety.

The New York Times reported on Johnson and Johnson’s progress in an article on January 17, 2014:
What’s different about the shampoo, and 100 other baby products sold by Johnson & Johnson, isn’t so much about what’s been added; it’s what’s missing. The products no longer contain two potentially harmful chemicals, formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, that have come under increasing scrutiny by consumers and environmental groups.
You can find additional facts about Johnson and Johnson's product reformulation and timeline on the company's "Reformulation for Trust" campaign Web site.

The rumor-busting snopes.com also reported on this issue in a post titled, “How Misplaced Fear of Formaldehyde Remade Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Shampoo.” The author of the post shared a link to an article published on March 2014 by health and science journalist Tara Haelle on slate.com.

In the article, Haelle warned consumers to be concerned about the ways that misleading, inaccurate, or even false reports can spread across social media like a virus, inflicting more widespread damage on consumer confidence and on companies who make consumer products.

The damage done to consumer confidence in products is as real and dangerous as that done by harmful consumer products to public health. And the motives behind such inaccurate and damaging articles can range from sloppy writing to unethical and even illegal (defamatory) attacks by commercial competitors or extremists who want consumers to stop buying a company’s products.

According to Haelle, “Once fear is established, it’s hard to overcome.” Quoting University of Texas health literacy professor Mike Mackert, she also pointed out,
Once people latch onto a particular belief, sometimes hearing contradictory, though correct, information only strengthens an incorrect belief.
Haelle went on to explain that many advocacy groups and news reports also fail to explain the exact dosage of ingredients in personal care products or the exact nature of risks, choosing instead to sensationalize a story. In the case of quaternium-15, Haelle observed that the same levels of formaldehyde that were once found in the Johnson and Johnson shampoo are comparable to levels "when in the air and our food, and our exposures are so tiny as to be harmless.”

In the conclusion of the article, Haelle once again quoted Professor Mackert, as she pointed out the powerful, harmful, and deeply-entrenched effects of incorrect information on people’s belief systems:
Once people latch onto a particular belief, sometimes hearing contradictory, though correct, information only strengthens an incorrect belief.
So, without minimizing the threats posed by harmful consumer products and the need for consumers to improve their health literacy, isn’t it about time we became concerned about harmful news reports and the need to improve our media literacy?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Inserting Hyperlinked Documents and Images

This post demonstrates how to insert an image of a document (with a hyperlink) to add visual appeal to a Blogger portfolio page or blog post. This technique is much more effective then using only text with a hyperlink.
Images with key words in a caption also enhance search engine optimization and promote reader interaction. Images also break up large, monotonous blocks of text.
Follow these steps to insert the hyperlinked image. As you proceed through these steps, periodically click the "Save" button to the right-hand side of the page above the rich-text tool bar to save your work.
Step 1. Open your document and take a screen shot of the document's field. Make sure your original document is located in a publicly accessible location, not on your computer's hard drive, a private folder in iLearn, etc. I recommend saving your file to a folder in DropBoxGoogle Documents, or a similar cloud-based platform.
Step 2. Save or convert the image to a format accepted by Blogger (e.g., jpeg, gif, png).
Step 3. In the Blogger editing window, click on the "Insert Image" (the one that looks like a picture) along the rich-text editor tool bar. You may either upload the file by selecting it from your blog's image gallery, uploading a file from your computer or phone, or from your webcam or URL address. Depending on the layout and design of your post, align the image to the left, center, or right of your post, select the desired size, choose to add a caption if you wish, etc. To open the image properties box, left click on the image. See the image, below.

Step 4. Open your cloud-based file and copy the public link to the document. When you copy the link, make sure the settings allow anyone with the link to view it. Return to your blog post, left click on the document image, left click on the "Add or Remove Link" icon on the rich-text editor tool bar ("Link"), paste the link into the URL text box, choose your setting options, and select "OK." You can also hyperlink the image's caption or selected text in your blog post or page.
Step 5. Add your text, providing a description and background about the document. 
Step 6. Select the "Preview" option in the upper-right corner of the page to check your work. When you are satisfied, click "Publish."
That's it! You can use a similar technique to insert a hyperlinked image in a WordPress or Weebly post or page. You can also use this technique to insert hyperlinked screenshots of other tactics, like blog posts, Web pages, and even videos or audio files. See my WordPress Sandbox site for examples. 
NOTE: YouTube videos offer the option to copy and insert an "Embed" code in HTML language, instead of a hyperlink. By embedding the code, you will be able to insert an actual thumbnail in your post or page that plays the YouTube video when you click on it. 
To copy the embed code, select your YouTube video and click the "Share" icon below the video window. Select the "Embed" option and a window with the HTML code opens. See the image, below.



Copy the code. Return to your blog post and select Blogger's "HTML" editing mode instead of the "Compose" editing mode (upper-left corner of the page, above the rich-text editor toolbar). See the image, below.


Insert your embed code in the desired location and click "Save." Return to the "Compose" mode, complete your edits, click "Save" again, and check your Preview. If the YouTube video window is too wide for your blog post window, reenter the HTML editing mode and adjust the figures for "height" and "width" in the HTML code. When ready, click "Publish." See the example, below. Click on the window to play.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Blogging Tips For Media Relations Students

Marist College graduate students in my spring 2015 offering of COMG 503 Media Relations have just published blogs to display media materials that they will create for a team digital media kit. Meanwhile, they are also using their blogs to attract readership and promote engagement in the form of discussions about media relations.

Let me take this opportunity to offer a few tips about creating blog posts that will attract readers and enhance the search engine optimization (SEO) of a blog site. First, use headings and subheadings to clearly organize your content and guide the reader's eye.

Blog Post Best Practices


Use keywords. Use keywords that readers might look for when using search engines like Google or Bing. For instance, as I am writing this post, riots in Baltimore, Md. are capturing national and international headlines. This topic is "trending," in social media lingo. It's safe to assume that people interestied in knowing more about the riots might insert a term like "Baltimore riots" in a search engine. Other keywords might include popular figures like President Obama, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, or Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

For instance, if you want to blog about the riots, instead of writing simply, "The media have provided extensive coverage of rioting in Baltimore, Md.," try adding keywords like this: "News outlets like The New York Times has provided extensive coverage of rioting in Baltimore, Md. This coverage has included an analysis of statements by leaders like President Obama, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake."

Insert hyperlinks. Hyperlinks encourage audience engagement and provide readers with a direct source of information. You don't want to steer readers away from your blog, but you do want to provide them with an easy path to topics that you don't have room to elaborate on in your post. Also, linking your blog with reputable sites (e.g., well established news organizations) increases your SEO.

For example, rather than reporting in your blog, "The New York Times published an interesting article about the riots in Baltimore, Md.," identify the source by using a hyperlink to the original article: "The New York Times published an interesting article about the aftermath of the first night of rioting in Baltimore, Md."

Embed videos and still images. More and more, as the use of mobile devices grows, videos and images are driving content marketing on social media. You can also hyperlink videos and images to increase audience engagement. Just be careful to avoid using videos and images that are copyrighted. It's acceptable to use links that take a reader to a copyrighted source, but you cannot reproduce a video or image on your blog without the copyright holder's written permission. You may, however, use images from sources of free videos from sources like YouTube or images from public archives like the Flickr Commons. Read more about this on my blogpost, "The Court of Consumer Generated Content: Which Images Can We Use?"

Why use text when you can tell the same story in more vivid detail through images and videos? Instead of describing a riot scene in text, why not use an image like this photo from the Flickr Commons and add a caption?

Rioting in Baltimore, Md., April 27, 2015
Instead of writing about Governor Hogan's controversial remarks on the evening of April 27, tell the story through a publicly available video from YouTube. Simply find the video you want to use, click the share icon, and select the embed option. Copy the embed code and paste it into your blog. Depending on your blog platform you may need to switch editing modes. For instance, in Google's Blogger, you must switch from the Compose mode to the HTML editing mode before inserting the embed code into your post. Refer to the Help page or support center for your blog platform for instructions. Once you have embedded your video, readers can click the video thumbnail and the video will open and play.


Summary


So, keep these tips and other best practices in mind when creating your blog posts. Blogging is more than sitting down at your keyboard and banging out a stream of consciousness. Like most other forms or writing, before you start typing, you need to create an idea, conduct research, tailor your message to your audience, and use devices that add interest and appeal.

And don't forget to direct traffic back to your organization's main communication platforms. The COMG 503 Media Relations course is part of the M.A. in Communication offered by Marist College's School of Communication and the Arts.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Social Media: Increasing Reach, Promoting Engagement, and Measuring Results

Marist's Social Media Mark
I will conduct a "mini-lecture" during my February 18 office-hour session with graduate students in my COMI 500 Principles of IMC course (part of Marist's M.A. in IMC program). I'm sharing some of the material I will provide, which I adapted from another course that I teach in the IMC program: COMI 610 Social Media Strategies and Tactics.


Introduction


Many of my students view social media sites as channels for individual and group communication of a personal nature with friends and family members. And these students usually have a preferred social media account that they use to exchange personal information with their close-knit group. Other students refuse to establish a social media presence, fearing invasion of privacy and risks to personal identity information.

When I teach social media strategies and tactics from a public relations and marketing perspective, I stress the importance of treating social media as a business application. Social media provide a communication capability that can reach a variety of audiences and engage them in your business activities. As author Erik Qualman has described it in his best-selling book Socialnomics, "Social media transforms the way we live and do business."

Furthermore, social media activities require more than simply choosing your favorite site as a way to express yourself. It's about using digital influence networks, integrating a variety of social media channels, and coordinating your message in ways that 
  • extend your reach to many audiences, not just those following your Facebook page;
  • lead these audiences to your main site or message; and 
  • engage them in a two-way dialog that will develop long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships with your organization.


Example


I maintain a personal and an official digital presence on the World Wide Web through a variety of social media channels: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, Blogger, etc. My public relations news blog, powered by Google's Blogger, is one of my main sites for hosting conversations about the communication profession, teaching and learning, technology, and other business-related topics.



To illustrate how social media integration can improve reach and engagement, I will use a small-scale social media communication case that began on my blog. I chose the blog as my home base for this announcement, because a "web log" (blog) provides an ideal forum to release ample amounts of information, in posts that contain many useful hyperlinks and visually-appealing images, with a comment stream that allows for interaction. 

This case involved the announcement of a spring 2013 student internship opportunity for communication students in the School of Communication and the Arts at Marist College. This communication effort was designed to promote awareness of this opportunity to student, family, professional practitioner, and faculty audiences -- with a goal of generating applications. Click this link to read the actual blog announcement, which was published on Dec. 14, 2012.

I have a relatively small following on my blog. Therefore, limiting the internship announcement to my blog would prevent this message from reaching its intended audiences. So, I used other social media channels to extend the reach of my message to many other audiences on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

The Twitter Effect

Shortly after publishing my main blog post, I released a tweet that included the handle @MaristPRSSA, the Twitter identity for Marist's Red Foxes Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, a primary source of highly-qualified candidates for communication internships. Using a handle (@) to reply to or message someone directly on Twitter ensures that they will receive your tweet. 

To increase reach, I could also have included hashtags like #Marist or #PRSSA to extend the reach of this announcement to topic sites on Twitter where communication students might hang out. Hashtags often become popular trending topics on Twitter and they can be located by searching for a topic. 

A hashtag (the # symbol followed by a word or acronym) creates an active hyperlink in a tweet. Clicking the hashtag link takes you to a Twitter page that lists all other tweets that include the same hashtag. Hashtags, therefore, become a useful way to target your message to audiences that are clearly interested in that topic. Click the following link to learn more about #hashtags.

Monitoring my Twitter stream, I noticed that within two days my tweet had already reached influential opinion leaders (Jennie Donohue, a public relations faculty member at Marist, and the Marist PRSSA chapter) who used their own Twitter accounts to "retweet" my message to their followers.

I also received a "direct message" via Twitter from the president of the Marist PRSSA chapter, who indicated he would distribute the announcement to all Marist PRSSA members. The retweets and direct message (see below) represent "engagement" activities, or actions that go beyond merely reading a social media page. Think of engagement activities as the kinds of two-way dialog and interactions that you are seeking to achieve through social media.

A quick analysis of our two opinion leaders who "engaged" in my announcement will also reveal how the use of Twitter can increase reach as well as engagement. Jennie Donohue, professional lecturer in public relations at Marist, retweeted the message to a following of 139 other Twitter subscribers. The Marist PRSSA chapter has nearly 100 active members, and its Twitter stream is followed by nearly 500 other Twitter members.

The Facebook Effect

Like Twitter, Facebook provides another large audience and smaller publics organized by Facebook pages and groups that represent special interest topics and organizations. The School of Communication and the Arts and its master's program in integrated marketing communication at Marist have their own Facebook pages. After publishing my blog post and tweet, I published a status update about the announcement on these Facebook pages, below.

Click here to read about the differences between a Facebook personal profile, a Facebook business page, and a Facebook community group. Click here to watch a short video that also explains these differences. And click here for a short video tutorial that explains how to set up a Facebook page. 

TIP: To use Blogger's "Statistics" tool to analyze a Facebook account, you must use a business page, not a personal profile.
Using Facebook's Insights or a program like Google Stats or Analytics, I was able to determine with little effort how the school's Facebook page post had increased my engagement. Within a few days of the Facebook post, three people "liked" (expressed approval of) and five people "talked about" (shared, commented on, etc.) the announcement. These are not big numbers in the broader context of the Facebook community; however, I use them to illustrate on a small scale how Facebook can increase reach and engagement.

TIP: Click here to review how Google's statistics and analytics programs can help you evaluate the performance of your social media sites and activities.
The LinkedIn Effect

Using the approach described above with Facebook, I also extended the reach of my blog post by publishing an announcement and discussion item on Marist College's Public Relations Alumni and Student LinkedIn Group at bit.ly/redfoxprgroup. This group has over 800 members, from senior practitioners to current students, which represents a valuable, strategic audience. Although there are no current LinkedIn group site statistics that indicate reach or engagement, subsequent analysis will demonstrate how referrals from this site resulted in traffic to the original blog post.

Other Potential Effects (Pinterest, etc.)

Again, this is a small-scale demonstration, using only a blog and three other social media sites. Professional social media programs can become much more complicated and involve dozens of communication channels. Consider, for instance, the popular image-sharing site, Pinterest. Following up on my original blog post for the purposes of this demonstration, I "pinned" an image of Marist College's campus with an update about the internship opportunity. This image in the pin contains a hyperlink that, when clicked, will take viewers directly to my original blog post.

Results


Using Facebook Analytics (you could also use Pages Statistics) to evaluate the results of my small, integrated social media burst, I obtained the following data, recorded between Dec. 10 and 20.

Reach

In the days immediately preceding publication of my blog post on December 16, my blog had been receiving an average of four to five visits per day. As the messages across Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn began to have an effect on December 16 and 17, visits to the site rose steadily to 16 on December 18. A total of 80 people visited the blog between Dec. 10 and 20, with the visits peaking on Dec. 18.

Traffic Sources

Evaluating the impact of the integrated communications across Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, it's important to note that 27.5% of traffic to the blog during this period came from searches (e.g., people finding the site through a Google search). 

Another 18.75% of the traffic came from direct visits, or people clicking directly to the blog (perhaps blog followers). The remaining 53.75% of the traffic came from referrals, or visitors who came to the blog directly from other sites. By identifying these sites, next, we can associate the referral sites with the publication of posts and tweets on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Referral Traffic

Data indicated that the majority of the traffic referrals (10) came from Google, which may indicate visitors who performed searches or who follow the blog and clicked on to the site from their Google accounts. Twitter (or t.co on the diagram, below) was the next most influential referral site, accounting for another eight visits. These are the other top referral sites:
  • Facebook (4)
  • Marist College (3)
  • LinkedIn (2)


Conclusion


In summary, more evidence would be needed to show a direct relationship between the integrated social media activities and corresponding effects on traffic to the blog site. However, the timing and source of traffic referrals represent a positive correlation between the activities on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter and the reach and engagement of audience members who read or acted on the original blog post about the communication internship. 

Feel free to offer a comment.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Marist Announces PAID Integrated Communication Intern Position For Fall 2014


Marist College has just announced a fall 2014 PAID integrated communication intern position with the global organization Sakai Project! The position offers important responsibilities and competitive hourly wages for up to 10 hours of work each week, September through early December. 


This is also a valuable opportunity for learning and professional development – an excellent way to gain experience and skills needed for the communication career field.

Responsibilities include helping to develop and implement an integrated communication plan (public relations, marketing, advertising, social media, etc.) for Sakai, an international community that provides learning management systems to Marist College (known as iLearn) and more than 300 other institutions and 5.25 million students, worldwide.

Interns will work with senior Marist College communication faculty members and professional communication practitioners. Duties will be performed on Marist’s main campus or online, so no transportation or commuting is required.

APPLICATION DEADLINE: Wednesday, September 3, 2014. Application materials are being accepted now. Hiring decision to be made by second week of September.

Click this link to open the internship announcement and read additional details and application requirements. 

Send e-mail to mark.vandyke@marist.edu to submit application materials or request additional information.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Media Relations: Ethics, Principles, and Passion


Media Relations Experts Speak to Marist M.A. in Communication Graduate Students

The Marist College School of Communication and the Arts hosted a special M.A. in Communication speaker series event on the evening of May 7, 2014. The event, organized by graduate students in my COMG 503 Media Relations course, took place through a telephone conference call. During the call public relations executive Mr. Justin Meise, Hopewell Junction, N.Y., and veteran journalist and book author Mr. Ed Offley, Panama City Beach, Fla., joined COMG 503 students in an hour-long discussion of media relations ethics, principles, and practices.

Use this link to download and listen to a one-hour podcast of the entire event. This recording contains valuable knowledge, keys to success, and important principles of communication from the unique perspectives of a seasoned public relations practitioners and a veteran journalist. Contradictory to anecdotal stories about conflicts between spokespersons and journalists, Mr. Offley and Mr. Meise described two professions that were remarkably similar in terms of missions, measures of success, and principles.

Ed Offley and Justin Meise

Mr. Offley reported for the Norfolk Ledger-Star (sister paper to the Virginian-Pilot), the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and the News Herald; and he served as editor-in-chief of the online news magazine, DefenseWatch. He is also co-founder and director of the Military Reporters and Editors Association. He is currently employed full time as an accomplished book author, with several titles under his name: Pen and Sword, Scorpion Down, Turning the Tide, and Lifting the Fog of War. His most recent book, The Burning Shore, was just released in March and has already received positive reviews.  

Mr. Meise is principal partner with River Communications Inc., a public relations and marketing firm for clients in the financial sector, based in White Plains, N.Y.  He has provided strategic communications counsel to a diverse range of financial organizations like Citi, Merrill Lynch, Prudential Securities, iShares, and BNY Mellon’s Pershing division. Justin is also a seasoned crisis communications manager and media trainer. He is a Marist College alumnus, a member of Public Relations Society of America and its Counselors Academy, and a licensed private pilot.

Key Points

Mr. Offley urged participants in the conference call to follow norms of “human life,” or universal principles that unite rather than divide communication professions. He attributed success as “a military reporter dealing with an institution that by in large was suspicious of people like me” to remaining committed to “give and take, honesty, showing empathy for the other side of the story, even though the other side of the story was in a bad way.” Also, he “found that human connections were a lot more important than degrees or credentials [and] showing up was everything.”

In his closing remarks, Mr. Offley recommended, “Do what you love, know what … you are doing, study every day, study your client, study his products, study this chaos out there that we call social media…. and the big thing is this, that we are interacting, we’re trying to provide information, context … hopefully a winning argument; and you do it by knowing your subject and delivering whatever you deliver as honestly as you can.”

Mr. Meise offered similar advice. When relating with employers, clients, or journalists, let them “know that there is a real person there, that you are committed to whatever it is you are doing, and that you are passionate … that you care.” He also urged conference participants to “be easy to work with, be supportive of the people around you, find reasons to be enthusiastic about them, and give them reasons to be enthusiastic about you.”

In his closing remarks, Mr. Meise stressed the importance of being a voracious reader, approaching your field with an attitude that you will learn as much as you can, become an accomplished writer, and establish yourself as one of the leading experts and critical thinkers in your field.

----------

NOTE: Mr. Offley recently spoke about his latest book, The Burning Shore, to an audience at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. The cable channel C-Span will rebroadcast Mr. Offley’s presentation on Saturday, May 10, at 9:20 p.m., and again on Sunday, May 11, at 2:00 p.m. Check C-Span listings for a schedule of future broadcasts and streaming video of this presentation.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Go Forth: Build Your Web Site or Blog

I often assign projects in my courses at Marist College that require students to create a website or blog. Students have a wide range of options to choose from when selecting a platform to host these social media sites.


It’s nice to have a variety of options to consider, but deciding on which one to choose can be confusing. 

For instance, I am currently teaching COMG 503 Media Relations, one of the courses in the M.A. in Communication program offered by pur School of Communication and the Arts. Student teams in the course must complete a final project that consists of a communication plan and digital portfolio (e.g., “media kit”) for a mass media campaign to support a “client” organization’s strategic goals and initiatives.

Digital News Rooms & Team Portfolio Sites


Each student will construct a digital news room to display his or her individual work; and each student team will construct a digital portfolio site to display team members’ collective work, or digital media kit. There are many ways to produce a blog or website. To help students narrow their choices, I suggest that they consider using either Blogger, WordPress, or Weebly. Each site has its own pros and cons, which I will address here.

Weebly, Blogger, and WordPress are all free and easy to use, even for novices; yet they are powerful enough to support most intermediate and even some advanced online communication projects.
  • Weebly offers a variety of user friendly, intuitive, drag-and-drop tools for creating sites that look more like Web pages than blogs; but authors have to pay for more advanced tools. 
  • Blogger offers a wide variety of pre-made templates, themes, colors and gadgets that allow users to create professional-looking and very interactive blogs. 
  • WordPress also offers templates, themes, colors and other tools; and it offers options to customize the site for use as a blog, a Web site, and even a digital portfolio.


Sub-domains & Domains


Weebly (ad supported), Blogger, and WordPress all offer free hosting on sub-domains of the weebly.com, blogspot.com, or wordpress.com domains. A sub-domain is a subset of a larger domain. For instance, Marist has its own domain: marist.edu. It also has sub-domains like iLearn, its online teaching and learning platform (ilearn.marist.edu), and Notes, its e-mail system (notes.marist.edu).

Marist students and faculty also have an option to set up their own sub-domain and “drop box” in the marist.edu domain, where you can store files, host a blog and website, etc. The Marist HELP Desk provides information and support for these kinds of academic technology services.

To illustrate the concepts of sub-domain and domain, let’s say you publish a blog on Blogger (blogspot.com) called “Red Fox Tales” and you use something like redfoxtales in your Web address, or Universal Resource Locator (URL). Your Blogger site would now have a sub-domain name of redfoxtales and a domain name of redfoxtales.blogspot.com (preceded by http://www or https://www).

Academic vs. Professional Sites


For my academic assignments, students are welcome to use either Weebly, Blogger, or WordPress to build and host  host their site on one of the respective company domains. However, authors who seek to build a site that reflects a less commercial, more professional, and personalized brand -- not associated with someone else’s domain -- should consider paying for their own domain-hosting service. There are numerous secure domain hosts and most are affordable even on a small budget. 

For example, the ubiquitous Go Daddy hosting service (famous for its television ads) advertises that it can provide a domain name for less than $1.00 and Web hosting services for less than $3.00 per month. This Mashable article provides an excellent definition of sub-domains, domains, and Web hosting services for WordPress. Here’s another Mashable article that reviews Web hosting alternatives to Go Daddy.

Not to complicate your decision about Web services and hosting, but don’t limit your considerations to just Weebly, Blogger, or WordPress. There are other fine site builders out there. For example, consider Google Sites, another free Web site builder that offers free hosting on its sites.google.com domain. 

OK, go forth and build!