Leveraging Social News Websites

Usually, on this blog, I try to write about things I’m good at, or subjects I know well — or I quote people who know more than I do.  This is a case where I really do know how to leverage social news websites — but you can’t prove it by this blog.

That’s because my personal blog is a lot like the poor barefoot children who went barefoot because their father, the cobbler, was so busy making shoes for other people.  So let’s start with the obvious:  gaining visibility ont he Internet is a daunting task, even for SEO experts who know the web inside and out.

For an individual or small business owner, nothing beats the benefits of becoming popular on one of the social news websites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Delicious or Reddit.  I know this — but I simply haven’t had the time (or perhaps it would be better to say I haven’t taken the time) to leverage these websites properly for this blog in the four or five months I’ve been publishing it.  (I’ve done a much better job with my business blog, which started the same week, which explains why that one has several hundred thousand readers and about a thousand subscribers a week.) 

How social websites work

Social news platforms let readers vote on articles submitted by users.  Articles that receive more votes are listed higher, and the ones with the most votes are featured on the front page.  The more votes you get, the more visibility your story gets — which gives you more chances of getting more votes.

Getting featured on the main page of a social news platform is the goal of every website and blog that participates in the process.  I have known more than one person who had to upgrade their hosting service to handle the influx of traffic that resulted from being on the front page of Digg.com or Reddit.com.  It’s the social media equivalent of getting your story picked up by a major television network, magazine, or newspaper, which was the ultimate prize for PR people for decades.  (Don’t get me wrong:  that still works.  A post on my business blog back in June got picked up by PC World, BNET, and a number of smaller publications — and 117,000 new readers paid The Distributed Marketing Blog a visit over the next week.  Almost two months later, they’re still coming from those sites, at the rate of 10-75 per day.  But about a third that many still arrive at the site every day from one of the social news sites, too.  And trust someone who’s been in PR longer than I care to admit:  it’s a LOT easier to get your content ranked on one of the social news sites than it is to get it into a major publication!)

How do you get your stuff on social news sites?

Social media platforms let you post almost anything — pictures, videos, and articles.  Including some form of multimedia will help capture reader attention.  Funny or catchy videos often perform best — and the social platforms form the launch pad for many of the “viral videos” that sweep through the Internet.

All major social news platforms require users to create an account ont he website before making a submission.  You submit a link, and add a summary.  Interesting, pithy, catchy summaries are the key.  Catchy titles are crucial, too.

You can only post your URL once — but other users can add their own links or comments.  That’s why you see those nifty social media sharing buttons at the bottom of this post, and every post on most blogs.  It’s because people like me are praying that nice people like you who read the article will also click on the buttons and recommend it to others.

Five Tips to Getting Votes on Social News Sites

  1. Catchy title.  Why click on a link with a dull title when you could click on one that sounds cool? The one that worked best for me personally was, Who Owns Your LinkedIn Profile?  (Hint: It might not be you.)  Others that have done relatively well included 70-year Old Grandmother Fights Porn Download Charge, John Lennon and the Copyright Troll and Led Zeppelin’s Social Media Compliance Lessons. That said, one of the highest scoring blog posts I’ve ever written, was submitted with the not-so-catchy title, Building Loyalty Among Infrequent Customers: A Casket Salesman’s Story.
  2. Controversial & spicy stories sell.  That’s probably clear from the examples I provided in the first point, but let me make it even clearer.  Readers on the Internet have the attention span of a hyperactive gnat.  I should know — I’m one of them.  I click from site to site, story to story, faster than I push buttons on a remote control as soon as a commercial comes on.  That is, unless you grab my attention. The blog post I mentioned above — the one that drew 117,000 readers — had a conventional title when the story was posted on my blog.  It had to:  my business blog can’t afford to tick off readers or potential customers.  The title I used on the social news sites, however, focused on one aspect of the overall story:  a claim by federal regulators that the LinkedIn profiles of certain employees who work in the financial services industry are actually owned by their employers and require advance consent and approval. And, in case you think that the 117,000 readers who came to the blog to read the story with the controversial title were turned off when they found a fact-based piece instead of a gossipy controversy, let me add some additional statistics.  Over a third of the people who came to the blog stayed on the site for more than 30 minutes — and over half of them read at least three other posts while they were there.  28% have been back at least once since their initial visit. It’s the same for the blog posts that include celebrity photos.  If they’re well written, people might come for the vintage Led Zeppelin photo or the great cartoons, but stick around for the actual text.
  3. Get votes.  That’s easier said that done.  Your story only stands a chance of making it to the front page of a social news website if it can gain a certain number of votes.  You need to make your entire story interesting and engaging to ensure that readers vote for it after they finish reading it.  Most of all, you have to ASK them to vote for you.  Ask your readers, by putting buttons on your blog.  (Most social sites have free widgets you can install.)  Ask your friends and family — spouses, teenagers, anyone who’s an Internet user and may be willing to help.  Ask your co-workers, if it’s a corporate story.  Make it easy for people to vote for you.
  4. Use compelling images.  Pictures are good to make your pages look better, but they can also immediately get attention from readers.  Many of the social media websites allow you to add a thumbnail image along with your post.   (A caveat here:  make sure you have the rights you need to distribute the image.  If you didn’t take it yourself, purchase specific rights, or get a Creative Commons license, don’t use it on your blog or website — and if you do use it there, don’t make the mistake of using it on someone else’s website.  A pirated photo on Reddit or Digg or Delicious will get noticed a lot faster than a pirated photo on a low-traffic blog or website.)
  5. Keep it Relevant — Be sure to post your articles on websites that are in line with the theme of your story.  A number of social news platforms focus on technology, so articles on breeding tropical fish might not get much traction there. 

Each of these five tips will help you get attention for your content — but the only way to get real momentum is to spend the time to promote it yourself using all of the tools you have available.  This is where I fall short.  With a busy household, a job, a couple of books, volunteer work, and two 3X per week blogs, I have enough trouble finding time to go to the gym or walk the dog, let alone finding time to promote my blog the way it deserves. 

So I am relying on the kindness of friends and family and readers who find value in what I post, and asking nicely:  if you like any of the articles on this blog, please click on one (or more) of the social media sharing icons at the end of the post.  Thanks!

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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2 Responses to Leveraging Social News Websites

  1. Enzo says:

    You should add http://www.subbmitt.com to the list. It is a social news site and it doesn’t require a user account to post articles or to comment. Also as long as your article isn’t obvious spam, it will make the front page. It is my new favorite site.

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