Let’s play a game. I will toss some buzzwords at you and you stop me when you come across something that interests you. Here we go… De.licio.us, Technorati, Digg, StumbleUpon, Web 2.0, social media… Anything yet? Chances are nothing in that sentence really grabbed you. If it did, you may be amongst the 5% that actually cares about the ubiquitous Web 2.0 format and the push for social media. For everyone else in the world, why should YOU care? Let’s explore that now…
If none of the aforementioned buzzwords spoke to you, you may not be excited about the boom in social networking (the above diagram explains it all – well, not really); that is, all the sites like MySpace, Facebook, CherryTap, Hi5, LinkedIn, and the like that are out there. These sites are all part of a great movement called “Web 2.0” by some, or immersive user-driven web design by others. The terminology changes around depending on whom you speak with. Those on the technical side will use more tech-speak while those more on the business or “soft side” of things will use more seller talk and marketing terms. In the end, Web 2.0, or whatever you call it, is about making the web useful to the average user again.
If you used the Internet before the dawn of the World Wide Web, you may recall Bulletin Board Systems (arguably the precursor to modern-day forums software such as YaBB, SMF, and PHPBB), Gopher, Usenet, Telnet, and other fun services that are now all but obsoleted. In these modern times where instant gratification is demanded by virtually everyone, people want things fast and their way. The savvy information seekers of the Digital Age know to use the Web to avoid what can otherwise be more noisy, crowded information channels (i.e. television and other well-established mediums). Web 2.0 comes along, as nothing more but a general idea, and says “the web is the vehicle for those adventurous, insiquisitive seekers – give them the keys to that vehicle.”
If Web 2.0 is about giving users nice little vehicles, social media tools are essentially private communities where only select people explore and can share information in a more tightly-knit environment, rather than venturing off on their own. These things go hand-in-hand and, for our purposes, are synonymous with this new vision for the WWW. The power in this is that, in a world of LOUD ADVERTISERS screaming at every turn (buy this, buy now, don’t miss out, you need this, come here, unique opportunity, business opportunity, best this, best that) and push marketing forcing messages down our throats, it’s nice to have places where the end-user is in control of content for once.
Today’s social media tools are good and plentiful, so there is something out there for everyone. You may notice I have included some buttons on my sidebar which feature the main tools I personally believe in. These tools are not necessarily the best but they are the ones that I find effective and feel comfortable with, even though these niche markets are slowly flooding into the mainstream as new users pour in. The lesser-known tools offer something that is really nice for those looking for niche markets: smaller, more attentive communities. You see, the big downside of social media tools is that they divide and conquer the web’s many users, rather than finding ways to bridge the gaps. Most people join one or two networking sites and perhaps employ a handful of social media tools, including handy-dandy widgets, and then decide they will not sign up for anything else, no matter how good it is.
The great news here is that these tools are all free (yes, FREE). Developers benefit because they get to collect data that can be sold to market research firms and advertisers alike. They also get to spread their respective brands. People love free things so the projects expand in a very organic manner, effectively expanding their networks and market outreach with little or no effort. That is where these tools show their inherent ability to create buzz, spread in a viral manner, and create exponential exposure, as I like to say. If you consider yourself a promoter, at any level, using these tools together can make a huge difference.
Before we get into the marketing power of social media tools and the Web 2.0 format, let’s go back to the greatest gain: the web is, once again, explorer-friendly. With billions of pages out there, it’s really hard to find worthwhile web sites like it was when the WWW was still young and mosaic browsers were still cool. As I mention all the time, we have an increasing amount of marketing noise generated from too many advertisers screaming louder and louder for more attention. Social media tools help sort out the mess that the Web has become but it can also be mis-used. I am here to give you some guidelines as part of the crash course.
All right, so we have some history and some terminology taken care of. Before I get into the uses and guidelines, let’s get back to why this should matter to every web surfer. Well, Digg and StumbleUpon alone really change the way we see the web. As I said, it’s all about giving the users control of their experience (at least more control than usual) so these tools bring you to more content that matters to you. While Digg focuses more on the news, StumbleUpon provides a complete multimedia experience. Together, these tools create a sort of kinetic energy that keeps the web alive. Both tools give web surfers the ability to search tagged items for content that will interest them. Digg is more of a press release channel of sorts whereas StumbleUpon can be best described as a social bookmarking tool.
The fun that web surfers can have with these tools is endless. While search engines are still very effective, Digg and StumbleUpon truly kick things up a few notches (BAM!). Anyone trying to share their favorite little gems or promote their “thing”, whatever that may be, has extra reason to enjoy both Digg and StumbleUpon. Before employing these tools, understanding how they work is imperative. Digg relies on votes to give the popular articles the most visibility, so active promotional efforts are often required to keep bumping items to the front page news. StumbleUpon, on the other hand, is a lot more dynamic and customizable so, really, the user can determine how wide or specific of a scope there is in their searches. This means that even the most obscure content has a chance of getting some limelight. For small businesses, freelancers, and starving artists alike, this is really great news.
I feel that StumbleUpon is a lot more intuitive, fun, and useful than Digg. It offers many different ways to share your favorites, nework with others, tag content, and discover new content. The process of tagging, as you may have encountered, is something that drives these new highly-interactive sites. It’s a simple concept, especially for SEO/SEM enthusiasts: tags are keywords that search engines give much value to. If your tags are deliberate, consistent, and well-positioned, people will find your content. Makes sense, right?
Digg is still very useful but it works best when coupled with StumbleUpon (SU) or a similar organic and/or community-driven promotion tool like Squidoo, Twitter, or Facebook. As I mentioned, SU allows for easy site discovering and tagging, so all you need to do is get the plug-in installed then visit your favorite sites. Once you are at your favorite pages, adding the site to SU’s database of hot content is as simple as right-clicking in whitespace or using the SU toolbar. If you are tagging a Digg abstract, you are driving that much more traffic to the Digg page and increasing your popularity. The sad part is that most people will just click the Digg headline and not bother to vote (Digg) because they are too busy to sign up/log in and click on the button. Apparently, no one can spare a minute any more! That being said, Digg is best used to create an additional portal to your key content rather than as primary promotional tool.
StumbleUpon has more legs which means people can find content by many more methods than with Digg. One particular method I like is searching for people that have similar interests as me then browsing their personal favorites/pages. Once I find people that have neat stumbles, I add them as a friend; more times than not, they add me as a friend as well. The more friends or fans you have viewing your stumbles, the more chances you have that your links will be clicked through. With both Digg and SU, the main issue becomes creating effective headlines to entice people to click. If you use cheap ploys such as “click here”, do not expect much traffic.
The downside to social media is the integrity and accuracy of data can be easily exploited. You’ll always have spammers and quick-fix advertisers that will try all sorts of unethical tricks to grab your attention. Here are some of the things they do that you should avoid as a social media promoter:
- Using unrelated tags and keywords, just to draw in mainstream crowds.
- Writing headlines that are deceptive (similar as the above).
- Using ineffective, undescriptive headlines such as “This is really cool!”
- Spamming your links on blogs, profiles, web boards/forums, and other public areas.
- Submitting your links to portal, top links, or “ring” sites.
The basic rule of thumb for online marketing is to avoid mass marketing and anything that can be considered spam. It is better to reach smaller audiences than it is going for mass appeal, simply because it is specific, deliberate marketing that gets you loyal and, sometimes, cult followings. The main reason I find people do not get this is because they get too caught-up in the technical details rather than the underlying principles.
I am actually astounded by the amount of people that have not been able to figure out Digg on their own. To me, the tool seems pretty intuitive but it just goes to show you that we all have different types of logic; what is natural for another may be foreign or awkward to another. That being said, one crucial thing to realize here is that, if you are using social media tools to promote yourself, you need to do it in a manner that also educates the least common denominator in your audience. Do not assume everyone has the same technical aptitude or knowledge. The tricky part is doing this without seeming snooty or condescending in any way.
The few times I try to get people to do any sort of vote, such as fun-filled Digg’s, I try to personalize the communication to each person I promote through. I say “promote through” because effective leveraging of your natural market means exciting those you know to pass along the urgency to those they know. When communicating en-masses, it’s a little trickier to put the extra touches, which is why you provide some simple directions and try to be as concise as possible. For Digg, the concept is simple: click on the Digg button (the badge displaying the number of Diggs to the left of the article abstract/description) and follow the instructions (log in or sign up). Registering on Digg is fast and easy so it is essentially monkey proof (no offense ot the monkies in the audience, I love you guys).
The trick to getting your message to become viral, self-propelled, is to create a story that others will want to share. For example, if you Digg and article that cites undeniable proof that eating water lillies increases the strength of your individual strands of hair, giving your hair full body and luster, then you need to share a story that will add to the authenticity of the account and, again, the urgency. With Digg, I find that more people read the articles than those that bother to comment, let alone vote. As I mentioned, it seems that no one can spare a minute these days so it may take some persistence to get the more busy/lazy folks to Digg your piece. As a promoter, your best bet is always to ask influencers if they have a thing they want promoted and help each other.
For a more dynamic effect, I like to stumble my Digg articles so that my current audience as well as passers-by may come across them. This does not get rid of the leg work but definitely helps out. I’ve seen more than half of my article reads coming from stumblers; unfortunately, only around 5% of those readers are ever converted into Diggs. Hopefully, this article will show people while doing their part matters.
Overall, I see the social media movement as a way to show web surfers that they can shape the Web into what they want it to be. If everyone does the little things to take an active role in promoting the best content out there, we can have more quality and less kicking-and-screaming, as we currently see. Slowly but surely, people are learning how Digg, StumbleUpon, De.licio.us (also great for giving those Digg’s more visibility), and the many other tools out there work so those that leverage these tools, on every level, will become the pioneers and reap the greatest benefits. What is keeping you from joining in on the fun? If you say that you are too busy, I have to wonder if you have adopted special excretory methodology such as that seen in Dune. All jokes aside, if I haven’t convinced you yet, check back for more discussions on SEO/SEM, copywriting, blogging, social media, and much, much more!
Share Your Thoughts: What social media tools do you use? What have your encounters been? Which are your favorite? Is there any tool you like better than Digg and/or StumbleUpon? Why? What are you peeves/dislikes regarding social media? I’m curious to see what you all have to say out there. There’s no doubt that the Web is becoming a more powerful information medium than ever so let’s share that information!
IN RETROSPECT: Revisiting a lot of my old posts, it’s interesting to see how trends change so easily. I was excited about Digg at first but the good news tends to get buried; thus, you need to dig things up to keep it on top. I guess it is aptly-named!
Organic is the key word here. The best promotion tools provide natural, persistent growth for the best content. Community is key as well. Cultivating and engaging your very own dedicated audience is tough.
Content is king. You hear it all the time but the sad truth is that around 70% of web traffic goes to 1% of the sites out there yet the best, most unique content often resides in the remaining 99% of the web. That means millions of web pages are competing for 1-30% of the total traffic out there. CRAZY!
Now Google has once again changed their extensive page ranking algorithm in the new “Panda” update. Things are going to be more competitive than ever. Creating competitive content will always matter but getting it in front of the right people is tricky.
The issue here is that most web surfers are too pre-occupied, impatient, or just plain lazy to leave comments. They are too busy enjoying other entertainment or trying to promote their own “thing”. As promoters and entrepreneurs, we have our work cut out for us now more than ever.
Tools and trends change constantly so choose the things that match your style, principles, and interests. Digg may very well be yesterday’s news. Squidoo may be a passing fad. Heck, maybe even Facebook will be replaced. As it stands, Google may have some competition very soon, thanks to the Bing-Yahoo merger and Facebook Search plans. It’s a whole new Internet, a whole new Web!
My advice: don’t get caught up in the online marketing hype. Tools may ease the work but you still got to be persistent (and put in the work). If you make warm connections (make friends everywhere) and share your passion (do the things you truly believe in), support will soon follow. Stay on the grind, fellow geeks!
For more on Social Media, Inbound Marketing, SEO, and growing your audience/business (let’s call that all attract and engage for short), check out my Unbounce.com article on how you can attract people to your online content without being a robot/spammer using Social Media and SEO! If you really dig what I have to share there, please click the magical sharing buttons and pass the message along. Together, we can restore some sanity to the business world and create a world where people don’t run away from you when they know you are in business for yourself (cause you know that’s what happens sometimes LOL).