Social Bookmarking sites aren’t a huge mystery. If you think there’s some “special formula” to the Digg and Reddit algorithms, for the most part: you’d be wrong. Sure, there’s an algorithm at work there, but before you make that attempt at the front page, you need to work on the 2 major pieces necessary for success: great content, and a network of users to help promote it.
The need for great content is self explanatory, and if you still need help with yours, there’s plenty of articles on the topic. But why is having a network so important? If you’re one of those people that thinks Digg power users hit the front page so often because their submissions “count” for more than others’, again: you’d be wrong. That success is based on a loyal following of literally thousands of users that follow their submissions and vote them up with and without being asked to.
Building a network goes far beyond finding and adding users to your friends list. You need to participate in a variety of ways that both gets your account noticed and shows you’re willing to reciprocate by voting for, spreading, and commenting on others user’s submissions. And believe me, it’s a lot of hard work that you need to keep up on.
Below is a basic guideline of some dos and don’ts roughly based on the regular habits of power users:
Do: Friend, IMvite, and Follow power Users
Don’t: Be a pest.
If there ever was a starting point to creating a network for social bookmarking sites, making friends with the power users would be it. They have hundreds (if not thousands) of followers & friends, and a vote from them can often turn into a number of additional votes from their faithful. Also, once you’re seen in their company, people will ideally start coming to you.
What you have to remember, however, is these people are super busy. They don’t have time to digg, vote, and retweet 100 links for you every day. They also don’t want to answer newb questions like: “How many diggs does it take to hit the front page?” Friend them, add them to your IM list, and follow them on twitter, but don’t ask too much of them. In fact, don’t ask a thing unless you’ve started giving first. Vote up their submissions, retweet for them on twitter, and if they IM you for a vote, make sure they know you got it for them. After a while, they’ll take notice, and before you know it, they’ll start voting up your subs without asking. If not, a simple IM request isn’t totally out of the question, but remember: once a day is plenty.
Do: Participate in the SOCIAL side of social bookmarking
Don’t: Be a Troll
Most social bookmarking sites allow comments…use them! Commenting and participating in the social conversation isn’t just about being funny or witty. It’s about being noticed and showing that you actually took the time to view a submission. Being the first to comment (hint: especially a power user’s submission) is a great way of being noticed. Making a great comment can even get you attention far beyond the person who submitted the post, too. Sometimes great early comments get up-voted as much as the story itself…you just need to know how to appeal to the community. Spend some time reading comments to find out what gets up-voted, and what gets buried.
While commenting is great way to network, here are some things to avoid: Don’t be too controversial (especially if you disagree with the article/submission) unless you’re sure the community agrees with your take..even then, your comment may end up buried. Don’t reply to comments to disagree…a flame war is not networking. Being funny is great, but remember not everyone has your sense of humor. Finally, don’t be offensive. In other words: don’t be a troll.
Do: Embrace Multiple Social Networks & Technologies
Don’t: Spread yourself too thin
Facebook, Twitter, Instant Messaging, Skype, and the thousands of additional social media networks out there can be your best friend. Finding power users and your closest, most loyal contacts on these networks is a great way to keep multiple lines of communication open. As you network and add new friends you’ll find while most people have accounts on a number of networks, many stick to their few favorites. Twitter is a no-brainer if you want to expand your social network, while Instant Messaging ranges from AOL, Yahoo!,G-chat, and more. Using a program like Digsby can help you consolidate multiple instant messaging accounts into one simple application. Just make sure you keep a separate account for your personal or business life. If you succeed in building a strong network, you’ll likely get hammered with IMs every time you sign on.
Another way to expand your reach is to join multiple social bookmarking sites. Digg and Reddit are great (and obviously the largest), but many (if not most) power users and users with larger networks are members of a number of the smaller sites as well. Being noticed on other networks (like Mixx, Propeller, and Stumble Upon) will really help you stand out, especially to users with large & powerful networks. Just be careful not to stretch yourself too thin. Maintaining a number of profiles on multiple social sites is a lot of work, so manage your time wisely.
*Quick tip: remember to list and/or interlink your other social profiles when you can, and keep your user name & avatar as consistent as possible.
Do: Submit content from community favorite sites
Don’t: Submit commercial content
As a member of a community, like Digg or Reddit, you’re likely to notice a trend when it comes to certain sites that produce front page content on a regular basis. It’s largely because they consistently break news or produce killer articles/videos/images/etc., and as a result, a large number of users regularly check these sites to submit and/or vote up their content. Being the first to submit breaking news or great new content from these sites is a sure-fire way to get noticed. It’ll also help build your profile with a fast track to hitting the front page (social networking pay-dirt). Be sure to add these sites to an RSS reader that you check regularly.
On the other side of the coin, one of the quickest ways to fail in the social bookmarking world is to submit content that has no place in the community you are in. Commercial content, marketing (and yes SEO) articles, and poorly written content not only won’t achieve results, it will diminish your networking efforts. Just remember: most people hate marketers. (GASP!) They’ll down vote you, remove you as a friend, block you and even report you as a spammer. So do yourself a favor and make sure everything you’re trying to promote is WORTHY of the votes. Because even if you’ve built a strong enough network to push just about anything to the front page, it probably won’t last, and if you’re really careless, you even risk losing your account.
Do: Submit content from a variety of sites
Don’t: Consistently Submit content from a single site or short list of sites
This concept may seem obvious to most, but you’d be surprised how many users submit their own content and nothing else. Oh sure, they’ll vote for other stuff every now and then, but their intentions are pretty clear: they’re in it for the marketing. In other words: you need to make sure you don’t LOOK like a marketer. The best way to do this is to submit content from a variety of sources. That way, when other users visit your profile (say, to add you as a friend) they don’t only see a single site* (or short list of sites) that you’re trying to promote.
*This is especially true of Stumble Upon where one of the goals is to attract subscribers of your discoveries and up votes. Seeing the same site over and over on SU creates a bad user experience for your subscribers, and as a result, you’ll likely lose them.
Do: Sign in, Vote up, Retweet, and Comment regularly
Don’t: Leave huge lapses of activity in your accounts
Even power users can’t afford to be away for too long…perhaps ESPECIALLY them, but I digress. If you take too much time away from social bookmarking activity, you’ll soon find that all the hard work you’ve done networking will start to go to waste. It’s not that you can’t take a week or two vacation if you like, but the more inactivity you have, the more you’ll find your influence dwindling. Basically, the more available you are (or at least appear to be) to vote and spread the submissions of your network & friends, the more influence you’ll have with them to push your own.
Do: Perform favors (like submitting content) for friends in your network
Don’t: Ask too much of your friends & contacts without giving back
It’s a karma thing: the more you do for others, the more they’ll be willing to do for you. Don’t be afraid to submit content for others (as long as it’s appropriate and worthy of votes). Vote up your friend’s submissions without being asked, retweet it, and be a regular commenter of their stuff even when they simply asked for a vote. Go out of your way for them and they’ll go out of their way for you.
If you start asking too much of someone, they’ll probably avoid you or simply ignore your requests from then on. So what’s asking too much? Basically asking anything of someone that isn’t a simple vote request (unless they’ve offered otherwise or owe you a favor) can be considered too much. So if you need someone to submit something for you, make sure that A) you’ve built a strong enough relationship with this person first, and B) it’s TOP quality content. Otherwise, you may never hear from them again.
Do: Be a human being
Don’t: Be anti-social or a computer
What’s the point of “social” media if you’re not going to be social? If you want a network of “friends” or followers to fulfill some ego driven goal based on a number, by all means, automate as much as you can. But if you’re looking for contacts and friends who will be willing to do favors for you and can help you consistently reach the front page of your favorite social bookmarking sites, then you need to act like a human. Be friendly and don’t be afraid to have conversations once in a while. If the only IM-ing you do is “Can you digg this for me? Thx!” and “Dugg, can you hit this for me?”, then you’re missing a vital part of social media, and your networking efforts will probably suffer as a result.
Do: Keep at it
Don’t: Give up
This list isn’t some secret sauce that will put you on the fast track to success. Building a network for social bookmarking sites takes a lot of work. This is simply a starting point and guideline for you to succeed and (frankly) not waste your own time. And while it’s a lot of work, the good news is you don’t need to spend all day every day on social media in order to be successful. You just need to find a rhythm that you’re comfortable with and stick to it. Persistence is everything.
Todd Heim is CEO, co-founder, and SEO manager of Essential Internet Marketing, LLC, an SEM and Social Media Marketing company based in Albany, NY. You can find Todd on twitter at: http://twitter.com/ToddHeim/