Kleefeld on Webcomics #43: Automation

By Sean Kleefeld

So you’ve created a new comic that you think is brilliant. You’ve worked out the major kinks and you’re ready to share it with the world. You’ve got your domain set up, pages designed, content in place and... what? Wait for people to just stumble across your site? Of course not! You start telling people about your new comic.

You send emails to folks who you think might be interested, you upsell it on all the social media outlets you belong to, you put a link to it in the tag line of all your online comments... you do all the stuff you’re supposed to do.

You realize, too, that it’s going to take a little time to get a really big audience, so you try to spread your personal hype machine out over the course of a few weeks. After a few weeks, you start to think, “Well, perhaps I was a bit overly ambitious. Realistically, it’ll probably take a few months to really get going.” So you keep doing what you’re doing: posting comics regularly and telling everybody every time you do.

That can get to be a bit tedious. After all, some people know you through Facebook, some through Twitter, some through your emails... it can take a while just to make sure you’ve got all those update notices in place. Week after week after week. Fortunately, though, your comic is on a computer and computers are really, really good and repetition.

One of the things you set up with your comic, of course, is an RSS feed. This is a file that gets updated every time you add a new installment of your comic. The idea is that readers can have their own RSS Reader grab your RSS feed and see when you update your comic without you having to actually track them down to tell them. But that’s also some you, as a creator, can use to post notices elsewhere online!

There are a number of free services available that not only monitor whatever feed you tell them to, but will take updates to that feed and re-publish them. The first one I came across several years ago was called Twitterfeed. Once you set up an account with them, you just plug in the location of your RSS feed and it will send out a tweet with every update to your feed, highlighting the title of your post and a link back to the original. It does require you to provide your Twitter account information, of course, to tweet in your name. They’ve since updated their software so that you can also post the same type of notices to Facebook, Hellotxt, LinkedIn and Statusnet. Dlvr.It, HootSuite and Ping.FM all provide similar services.

A relatively new service that expands on that idea is called ifttt, short for “if this, then that.” They take a somewhat broader approach by saying that updates don’t have to come exclusively from an RSS feed, and you can use any number of different types of updates to trigger different events. You could say that uploading a picture to Facebook automatically copies it over to Flickr. And an update to Flickr automatically gets posted in Tumblr. And an update to Tumblr fires off a new tweet. And every new tweet fires off an email. If this event happens, start this next event.

I see a lot of benefit to their service for two reasons. First, the triggers aren’t limited to the most basic events. You can activate an event by a tweet that only meets specific criteria, such as a certain hashtag or only ones from a friend that contain a link. Second, they’ve configured ifttt to work with a very wide array of online tools. Twitter and Facebook, obviously, but also things like Dropbox, Last.fm, Instagram and Evernote just to name a few. Which means that you can define where your updates get sent out to, but also how.

But then you can start getting clever with it. What about setting up a Google Alert to search for any new items with your or your comic’s name? It defaults to sending those links to an email address, but there’s an RSS feed for it as well. Which means that you could plug that feed in to ifttt and automatically post a new message with the appropriate links to Tumblr every time you’re mentioned online.

What about a Zootool bookmark on the site that mentions you? How about every time you’re tagged in a photo on Flickr, it gets a public bookmark in Delicious? How about an automatic re-tweet every time someone mentions your comic? You could send ifttt a text message from your phone containing just an email address, and it could automatically send out a thank you email to anyone who wrote nice things about you. The possibilities aren’t endless, but there’s definitely quite a lot you could set up.

And the reason you set that all that up is because those two or three months are, in reality, several years. You recall Rina Piccolo’s Velia, Dear that I talked about last month? She came to this with a decade of built-in audience from her print work, and almost two years in, she has 91 subscribers to her RSS feed in Google Reader. Compare that against the 5,600 for Least I Could Do or the 15,000 for Wondermark! Of course, Google Reader stats are hardly the end-all and be-all of measurements here, but my point is that even veteran comic creators can stand to take advantage of automation tools to spread the word about their work!

Related Posts:

Kleefeld on Webcomics #42: Review, "A History Of Webcomics"

Kleefeld On Webcomics #41: Frank Page Interview


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