First off, I do "Digg it" and I do "Slashdot it," I occasionally "Wiki," but Facebook and MySpace are not my favorite haunting grounds. However, "bidness is bidness" and I had little choice. I had to learn SMO and in this respect the website www.searchengineland.com was extremely helpful for learning how to build viral applications for community sites, or how to design them and have a programmer build them.
One thing I noticed way before I started reading the helpful columns in Search Engine Land (especially with Digg.com and Wikipedia) was the contempt they had for deliberate attempts to gerrymander their site. Most of the time Digg buried any Digg they felt was being manipulated. Even the "Tails" that wag the Digg dog were not safe as they set up systems to ensure that Digging was as democratic as possible.
I call this article "Before You Kill Yourself," since sometimes a foray into SMO leads to a figurative "death" if it fails. The SMO campaign just goes nowhere and you end up with 21 people "friending" you, 9 Diggs, and little or no idea how to "raise" your campaign from the dead. And activity does little to help. SEO seeks to manipulate an algorithm, while SMO seeks to do what advertisements do on television, which is manipulate (for want of a better word) real people. We will look at social media in general, then share specifics on Digg, Wikipedia, and Facebook.
Before You Begin
Do you know what the site is about? Have you studied the community website? Do you know the needs of the users or the major theme of the website? A restaurant website has little hope on Digg (which predominantly carries technology-related news).
Is there really any point in registering and applying optimization techniques in a community website? This is especially true for community driven "news aggregators," because all have the same modes of operation, but all the sites have different niches. You have to know whether you fit into the site or you will find yourself moving from community site to community site. Bungee jumping enthusiasts typically have no turf on tech sites — but niche community sites in other industries apart from technology and the Internet are slowly arising.
If all you want to do on the site is promote yourself and you have little to offer the users, you can be sure it has been tried before and that the website that has tried it is wallowing in obscurity (death?) with a limited profile in the website. The web and community web sites have a name for constant self promotion, its called "spam." Then you get to be some bodies medal of honor when they get tagged "top spam buster" (a coveted position in communities). Just avoid it and don’t sign up for the site if you have nothing to offer. All sites have mechanisms in place to detect and penalize spam.
Follow the Rules
All communities have a set of rules that ensure experience and participation in a healthy manner are rewarded. These rules are sometimes posted and sometimes not. Behaving like a troll is not a good idea. Just doing things to generate activity is generally not good. In fact, there are a lot of things that are not good.
Participate normally and build a reputation in the community so that when controversy arises, you are in a position to head it off. A lot of times controversies concerning a web site’s or product’s integrity are discussed in forum threads, and if the creator of the web site is a respected member of the community, his defense is more likely to be listened to and heard. Being a good member is very, very good and has limitless PR potential.
Gather a Following
Be a good member and participate honestly and before you know it, you will have a small network of other users who will follow and comment on your posts. Beware of the rule of reciprocity! If you do not reciprocate, you will (very rapidly) lose your following. Once you gather a following by posting and commenting (no spamming), stay consistent and don’t whine if your content does not always get high ratings or high visibility.
Getting Niche Community Sites
Last year, the blogger Andy Hagan gave a list of niche sites here. The list is below.
Without further adieu, here are 29 niche social media sites that actually seem to be gaining critical mass:
Care2 (Social Action)
Dissect Medicine (Health & Medicine)
Game Diggity (Game Videos)
Meme or Lame (Gadgets)
Pixel Groovy (Web Design)
Plant Change (Environment)
PlugIM (Online Marketing)
qoolsqool (Education Resources)
Small Business Brief (Business & Entrepreneurship)
Sphinn (Search Engines & Online Marketing)
TTiqq (Tips & Tutorials)
Tweako (Computers & Technology)
Check the stories and activity on the site to know the topics on which the site is based, then pick any that suit you. There are thousands of other social media sites; identifying them requires a modicum of work. The work involved in finding social media sites starts with identifying keywords that describe the website or product and then wading through lists (of which the above is a poor example). An exhaustive list can be found here. By doing competitive analysis and checking activity you should find a smaller set of sites to focus on.
Like every other field, there is a certain amount of dog work to be done in social media optimization. This dog work involves following the rules of the site and doing things that will get you accepted by the site’s members. The dog work is generally mundane, repetitive, and may actually need some real interest on your part or you may simply come to detest it.
The dog work is….to be a real person. You actually have to be a real person and relate with the others on the site. You have to instant message, contribute, research and read about other users, network online and offline, submit stories, and just get your points for good behavior.
Making Your Content Good Enough
If you thought writing SEO copy was technical, I can assure you that social media writing is more akin to blogging and forum writing than writing keyword rich copy. And for social news aggregator sites, the more current the piece, the more likely it is to be shaken for all its worth. Note that one-week-old news is extremely old news to a social news aggregator. The timeliness of content is extremely important. Rumors, speculation and hype are more likely to be heavily commented on (see the iPhone mania that reached feverish proportions a few months before its announcement).
Identify Your Market
The social media constitute a portion of who Martinez of seomoz.com calls "influencers." You must research them, their demographics, their interests, and you have to create content that appeals to them. The content has to be relevant to the demographics of the site. Now let’s look at the news aggregator, which have become increasingly hostile to self promotion, and which have caused the term "the Digg Effect" to be coined, to show the amount of traffic that is generated when a link is posted on the home page of a site.
Bury Effect: The Other "Digg Effect"
There is another effect that is literally death in social media. It is the opposite of the Digg Effect. Hopefully, it won’t take your traffic away (unless Digg blacklists you), but will just make your appearance on Digg a non-event.
Simply put, in 2007 Digg became a problem for websites. Several commentators noted that it was getting nigh impossible to get on the front page of Digg.com. Many noticed that instead of being "Dug up," they were being buried.
For those that don’t understand what I am getting at, there are two (actually three) important buttons when it comes to Digg users. One, which we all like, says "Digg it." The second, about which we can probably afford to be ambivalent, says "Comment on it." The last, which we definitely do not want to encourage others to use on our posts, says "Bury It." A buried piece never reaches the front page.
Before You Kill Yourself
So before you dash off to do social media optimization, let’s look at some reasons why pieces get buried in Digg and how you can keep from cutting your own throat (figuratively of course). The first is something that works in SEO and seems to fail in Digg; it is your domain name. If your domain name is key word rich, it is likely to be buried because it may be considered "spammy." There is little you can do about this particular factor, except to soldier on despite it; or would you rather damage your SEO for your SMO?
A piece might also get buried when its description sounds like PR. Finally, if there are several bad comments (I mean really mean, cutting comments), some voters won’t even bother reading the piece and will just bury it in haste to see it disappear.
Note that some voters vote before even reading the article (heck it’s a community), so expect some fickleness. However, some things can help you get on Digg’s home page. Chris Winfield of www.10e20.com (an SMO consultancy) says six types of content are more likely to make it to the homepage than others. They include:
Digg, like any other site (and all social media sites), needs to be studied and understood before it is used. Check back next week for the next part in this three-part series!