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The Social Media Manual: Read Before You Play
I get so many questions from people about Digg, Propeller, Reddit, Stumbleupon, and other social news sites every day that I decided to write this little “manual” as something to read before you jump in head first into any social site, and to keep by your side as you progress through the ranks. It should not only help you succeed with your social media marketing efforts, but also help you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made.
1. Before you even think about signing up with a socially driven news site, consider this: Have you spent some time browsing the community (reading the content and the comments, learning about popular sources and players)? Do you understand how the site works and the niche it serves? If so, is the site for you?
While all socially driven sites have the same basic elements (reading, submitting, voting, and commenting), not all of them function the same way and they definitely don’t serve the same niche (remember, it is not a zero-sum game, and it is with good reason that so many socially driven sites have managed to not only co-exist but also grow at the same time). If you don’t invest time in determining whether a site is right for you from the start, all your subsequent hard work likely won’t pay off and you will have to switch to a different community at a future date.
2. Before you click the sign up button, consider this: You’ve looked at the site and determined that you would be a good fit among the other community members, but have you thought about your goals? Why do you want to sign up with the site and what will you accomplish by doing so?
Too many people look at the popularity of a Digg or a StumbleUpon and they think that they absolutely have to sign up for them to succeed. But if you plan on using a site strictly to promote your site or content or that of your clients, don’t sign up, because the social web is certainly not for you. You might be able to call in enough favors or spam enough people to get a few stories popular at first, but you’re going to lose in the long-run. The community will soon get sick of your constant spamming and singular purpose for being on the site and will either start ignoring you or call you out as a shill. Furthermore, and contrary to general assumptions, these sites have very robust systems in place that can over time detect unnatural participation activity and penalize it.
3. Consider the needs of other users. Sure, it’s a “social” news site and every community member is supposed to share content he or she finds interesting, but don’t forget that you also have to take into account the interests of the masses.
A singular opinion that has no crowd-backing will never be successful on a social news site. For example, if you want to share pictures of cute puppies and you’re participating in a technology-focused or politics-focused site, you shouldn’t expect to be too popular (though I bet there’s a site out there for waiting for you). On the other hand, if your interests are HDR photography, supercomputers, hot models, and Ron Paul, then you’re just the social media everyman the community needs. Keep your interests in mind, but judge them within the context of the community’s interests.
4. Assuming you have an intention of participating in the long run, don’t engage in any troll-like behavior (e.g., unnecessarily burying, sinking, down-voting/thumbing of content, posting negative or otherwise superfluous comments or spamming the threads, flaming other users for any reason, and so on).
5. Once you’re an ‘active’ user, you have bigger responsibilities. To make sure you don’t make a fool of yourself, start from the bottom and work your way up.
In the beginning, try to read as much “popular” content as you can, to get an idea of what kind of content people want shared with them (and vote on this content based on your opinions). Follow that by posting comments on these stories, making sure that you are being objective in your commentary. Subjective commentary can be interpreted as a personal attack or excessive fanboyism (depending on the slant), neither of which is good. Only post comments if you have something substantive to say, and don’t try to use comments to drive traffic to yourself or otherwise hijack a comment thread.
Once you’re completely comfortable with the site and understand the community dynamic, you’re ready to start hunting and submitting stories you think other people will enjoy, and start sharing them with others.
6. Try to submit and share in moderation. Start slow and slowly ramp it up (but not to the point that you’re taking opportunities away from other people). Always start with sources that are already popular with the community so that you can minimize errors in judgment and accidental submissions from less-respected sources.
Even when you try to stick to the basics, not every story you submit will be popular (nor should it). Furthermore, while it is okay to share a story that you’ve submitted with your friends by using on-site or off-site communication methods, if you overdo it, you will start losing friends fast. No one wants to read every single story you submit (so please only share your best picks of the week). In fact, unless you’re gaming the system, or were instrumental in programming a site’s content promotion algorithm, you will start by failing more than succeeding. Don’t let this get you down—it’s natural. Over time, if you’re sufficiently social with other users (reading, voting, commenting, and making friends), your profile and your submissions will gain more visibility.
7. Once your profile is visible and you’ve had some successes, you’ll have a small group of users taking note of your submissions and voting/commenting on them. You are developing a following, but beware: These friends can be fickle if you don’t reciprocate.
Befriend these like-minded community members that enjoy your content, and thank them for keeping an eye out for you. These are the people you should be networking with. It’s called social media for a reason: no one can do it alone. You need to make friends along the way to help give you that extra push. Make sure that you check out the content that these users are sharing and give it at least as much time as they’re giving your content. Nobody wants to be in a one-sided relationship, and everybody can learn something from a friend.
8. Once you become popular, remember that a social news site is not your personal playground and the content promotion algorithm is not your friend (in fact, in some cases it’s your worst enemy). Don’t expect every story to be universally loved and promoted, and don’t whine about the algorithm being specifically unfair to you. Don’t assume that the rules are different for you and don’t take your success for granted. After all, you may have a good eye for content but keep in mind the people that help you along. Specifically the content producer who wrote, published, and hosts the content, and all the social news site’s users that looked at the content, read it, voted on it, and commented on it.
I started participating in the social news sphere in late 2005, when it was still being referred to as social bookmarking (the jump from del.icio.us to Digg hadn’t been made and the differences between the two models were yet to become completely clear). Furthermore, as a result of the nascent stages in which the social web was at that time, most of the points covered here are things that I didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage of (since no one had thought about writing them up). That said, this is a great opportunity for you to learn from my mistakes and excel at social news. I would suggest bookmarking this ‘manual’ for future reference and sharing it with friends who might be interested in participating in the social news sphere.
Muhammad Saleem is a social media consultant and a top-ranked community member on multiple social news sites.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.