7 Tips To Win The Social News Beauty Pageant
How can you increase your chances of appealing to an average Digger, Stumbler, or other social media user, and actually get them to vote for your content? Consider this quote from John Maynard Keynes, British born economist responsible for Keynesian economics, who explains how markets work by making an analogy to a beauty contest:
“It is not a case of choosing those [faces] which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practise the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.” (Keynes, General Theory of Employment Interest and Money, 1936).
What he means is that people don’t make objective choices based on their own judgment. Rather, they choose what they think the average person is going to agree with as being the right choice. The same principle applies to social news sites. People mostly submit and vote for content not because they objectively think the content is good, but because they think that the community in general is going to find the content to be good. To illustrate this point, let’s look at the following news submission to Digg and break down the things that people look at as they anticipate the community’s verdict:
1. Play the field
As the community at Digg grows, the site is becoming less and less about technology news (where it was focused initially) and more about ‘world news and business’ and ‘offbeat’ content. To be on top of the social news pile, you have to keep an eye on the site’s ever-changing demographic and user preferences. This doesn’t mean that the same content that was popular before cannot be popular again. What this means is that you have to find a new framework (angle) in which to present your content.
There are several ways of playing the categories on Digg:
You can you can create content purely for the more popular categories (like business and finance), in which case there will be significantly more competition, but if you’re successful the payoff will be much higher.
You can create content for a relatively less popular categories (like sports), in which case the competition will not be as tough but the payoff won’t be as high.
Or, you can create content that is about a more popular category, but applicable to a less popular category. This way, you can get the best results with the least amount of competition. A great example of this is a post I recently read, titled 4 Ways Technology is Changing Sports Officiating. The post is great because it is about technology (hot category) and how it is changing sports (not-so-hot category). Therefore, it can be submitted to the sports category and be made popular easily, but still drive the traffic of a story from a popular category. (There are other reasons for the fact that this particular submission wasn’t significantly promoted, but the principle remains true.)
2. Obsess over your titles
There was a time when sensationalism ruled the social news space. As the space matures (ever so slowly), there is a backlash brewing against sensationalism, and using that age-old trick can will actually make the community go out of its way to bury you. The good thing is that this actually makes our job easier because it requires much less imagination to get attention. While writing your title, take note of the following:
Stick with regular formatting. Don’t use special characters, capital letters throughout, or excessive punctuation. Make sure there are no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors (the audience can be vicious if this is the case).
Try to use trigger words when possible, without overdoing it. If you’ve been on the site long enough, you start living its culture. If you’re writing about a popular meme, be sure to use buzz words that will get people’s attention.
Don’t give it all away. You want people to know what you’re writing about without actually telling them what you wrote.
3. Summarize, and don’t state the obvious
There’s no better way to sabotage any chances you have than to write “Title says it all,” “Enough said,” or something to that effect, for your summary. As a submitter that’s the easy approach—just don’t do it. As a content producer wanting to ensure submissions from your site aren’t botched, it’s in your best interest to present a summary of your content at the very top, before the actual article. Again, as with the title, a summary shouldn’t include any spoilers, but should make promises that you can deliver on.
Think of the summary as your chance to pitch the story. Answer the reader’s question: “Why should I click through to read this? Please tell me in 150 characters or less.”
4. Make it “picture perfect”
Not to be confused with the pictures section on Digg (though that warrants an entire post of its own), this refers to the use of thumbnails. The Digg submission process automatically picks up the images used on your page and allows a submitter to use one of them as a representative thumbnail next to the submission. With a title, summary, and now a thumbnail, a social news submission is the best summarized representation of your content, and you should take advantage of it. With every other submission carrying a thumbnail next to it, being the odd one out in this case is not a good thing.
Make sure that the images are relevant but provocative.
5. Take advantage of network effects
Making friends on social media sites is good simply because it helps you immediately get exposure to a much larger direct audience and helps you much more accurately asses what the middle of the road submission is (one that would appeal to the masses and help you win the beauty pageant). There is an equally important secondary effect, however, that a lot of people don’t give much thought to. A submission that is Dugg by one of your friends is indicated with a green sash, and no matter how poorly a submission is doing on the rest of the points mentioned in this post, if it has a green sash, one feels compelled to check it out.
This secondary effect is pretty much boundless: If you have 100 friends on Digg who have 10 unique friends each, even if 10% of your friends Digg something, that submission is ‘green-sashed’ for 200 people (100 of your friends, and 10 friends each for the 10 people that actually Dugg the story).
6. Woo the power users
Though it’s not a make-or-break scenario, if your content is submitted by a power user, it has a much higher chance of getting promoted, regardless of the algorithmic bias against these users. Part of the reason for this is because of the branding that these users have—there is implicit trust that most community members place in submissions from these users (and most often it is easy to ignore everything else and take a chance on something just because a power user endorses it). Not to forget that the “green-sash effect” is also that much more extensive for power users.
Though it’s very easy to get in touch with a power user, don’t do it unless you plan on pitching only your best.
7. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk
There is no doubt about the impact of comments on the success of a social news submission. First of all, on a very basic level, if a story is in the upcoming section with 100 Diggs and absolutely no discussion, people are bound to think something fishy is going on. In addition to that, there are several exposure-related benefits of contributing comments:
Every time someone makes a comment, it adds to the “hotness” of a story. A combination of the quality, quantity, and time of Diggs and comments on a story is what it takes to push a story from just the queue to the “hot in all topics” category and eventually to the Digg home page.
Also, every time someone makes a comment, the activity is recorded and can be shown in Digg/Spy, as well as users’ activity pages. Comments breed more comments, which ultimately means more visibility.
Winning the pageant
There are two schools of thought for achieving success on social news networks. The first is to write something provocative and incite emotion, and the second is to appeal to the masses and pander to the middle of the road. Both can be equally successful if you can manage to find out who your audience is. For example, if you’re going to be writing about technology, anything about Microsoft is going to be provocative but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be successful (simply because the Apple camp is stronger). In situations where you can’t judge which camp in your audience is stronger, targeting the average can be well worth it.
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