WEBSITES: THE MYSTERY HOUSE WAY!
At Border Town Comic Con this Spring we were offered the chance to prepare and present our very first panel! The subject? "Promoting Comics Locally." Periodically, I've been pulling chapters out of that panel to present to you here on the blog. We've already covered social media in posts about Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and we even broke down the idea and production of Press Kits as well as the planning of local events and creating business partnerships. This week we'll take a quick second to examine one of those basic tools for promotion that sometimes gets overlooked: YOUR WEBSITE!
We put off our website for about a year after we’d established our LLC. We knew we needed one but it just didn’t seem that urgent. We were busy building our presence on Facebook, then Twitter, then Instagram. With all of those outlets, what did we really need a website for anyway?
Then along came my brother-in-law, Oscar. He was going to school for all that computer sciency stuff I don’t understand. He pushed and pressed and prodded us to get a website. It was very important. I just didn’t know where to begin. I have no tech skills, I didn’t know anyone who did, and I didn’t have any money to hire someone. It just so happened we were in luck. Oscar would need to work on a website outside of school for his resume so he’d set-up, design and teach us to maintain ours for free if we’d be patient with his learning curve.
Our site was a step I was hesitant to take. I had no idea what it should be or what it could do for us. Now I spend a good deal of my time thinking up new things the website needs, tweaking its presentation, and producing new content to fill it.
What I learned during the process of designing and redesigning is that our website isn’t just another outlet like Twitter or Instagram, but they do have an interesting relationship. MysteryHouseComics.com is our home base. Social media is fleeting. You make a post, it’s in someone’s feed for a day or so, then it’s replaced with a bunch of other stuff. The website is always there, and you control what people see when they get there, not an algorithm.
There are a couple metaphors we toss around behind the scenes at MHC. The one I like is that our website is the body of our promotion. It’s where we want people to wind up. If we draw them there because they’re interested in aspect A (body hair) they have a good chance of sticking around and exploring, discovering B (dandruff) or C (let’s say… belly button). We have to get them there though. So we use Periscope, Facebook and Twitter like fingers. We advertise for A (that pesky body hair) using social media outlets, let people know it’s there, and hope they get caught up wandering… around… our… bodies…
I’m starting to see why Oscar has his own analogy. He thinks of the website as our storefront. It’s great to have one place with all our product and content, but no one will check out our store if they don’t know it’s there. That’s where Instagram, Periscope, and Twitter come in handy. Think of them as signs pointing people to your store and letting them know what the address is and what they’ll find there.
A lot of people get their website established and then boom, that’s it. It sits there, untouched and unloved. With time the information becomes outdated so it’s no longer even representing the work they do, but hey, they got a website right?
Our website is an organism (hey, we’re back in favor of my “body” metaphor). It’s always growing and changing. It responds to what we have going on at any given time. A lot of that is thanks to Zoomla, the platform with which Oscar built our site. Behind the scenes the structure of the site is a series of articles. All the content that goes up on the site looks identical behind the scenes and we go through the same process to get it posted. We don’t need Oscar’s help most of the time, because the system is that well-established. This allows us the flexibility to create CONTENT.
Just like we’ve shouted when talking about social media it’s important to be generating CONTENT. It isn’t enough to use your platforms to simply advertise. Give people a real reason to come to your site. Every once in awhile, out of curiosity, they will be curious about your news enough to go looking for it, but you should give people something to enjoy. Hopefully they’ll stick around long enough to click on that news you’re so excited about.
This brings us to Mystery House Comments. I’ve been avoiding this subject the whole time because I’m worried about how it will make the blog seem. BUT… one of our mission statements is full transparency in process, so…
The blog was Oscar’s idea. He wanted me regularly producing content that would draw people to the site, and would improve our ranking on Google. I was given a list of keywords related to who we were and what our mission was: “local,” “Treasure Valley,” “comic books,” “publisher.” This was simple enough because these are part of our daily dialogue anyway.
What Oscar didn’t count on was creating a monster. I love this blog. They say “writers write everyday” and having a piece of writing that is scheduled to go up every week at a certain time helps to keep that mantra present and active in my brain all the time. I don’t really think about the logistics of Oscar’s initial mandate anymore. I have four or five vague concepts I rotate between which helps to keep my bases covered and stops me from getting too carried away in self-indulgence. There are posts like this one, breaking down the nitty gritty of one aspect of the publishing process (I refer to them as “education”), countdowns (I’ve written top ten lists since my days on my high school newspaper staff and as Oscar says, “People love a countdown”), behind-the-scenes material (things like original scripts for people to dissect independently), event debriefs (featuring photos), and personal stories about my connection to comics books and creativity. The latter is my favorite and often turns out to be the most popular when we analyze the statistics behind-the-scenes. Those pieces have become part of my repertoire of “real writing” reappearing when I’m asked to do a public reading or in printed form.
There are other great perks to our website. I mentioned statistics. It’s good to know what people like and don’t. We can see where people found the site, and by comparing it to the date we can figure out which Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts were the most interesting to people. We can schedule articles to self-regulate, appearing and disappearing at scheduled times so we aren’t perched in front of the computer waiting for that sweet noon hour. A lot of this stuff, though, would be better explained in Oscar’s hands. It’s technical. I’m trying to address the broad idea of a website and help you build a mission statement for yours.
I plan to do more posts about self-promotion, similar to this one. I'm going to end them all the same way though, by stressing a point we've learned time and again. I know it's hard to put yourself out there. You're an artist. You're conjuring a piece of what's inside you into the physical world, and that makes you feel vulnerable. It's scary. Plus, you have all sorts of feelings of doubt about your work. You've finished this piece, and you're already focused on the next one; the one you'll do better. You still need to promote your current work. If it feels unnatural, that's normal. You just have to separate yourself from it. Create two "you's." "You the Artist" and "You the Promoter." Here it is in one sentence:
You don't need to tell people it's good or bad. You just need to tell people it's there.