Close
Close

What Are The Unspoken Rules of Social Networks?

Bruce Simmons asks:

Social Network sites like Digg and StumbleUpon and what not seem to have unspoken rules about who can promote a blog. What I mean to say or ask is: OK, with Digg, one cannot submit their own blog. But Twitter, you can chest thump all day long.

Do have a list of what sites you can ‘chest thump’ on and other sites that you are reader dependent on?

What are social networking sites?

This is an interesting topic, and I feel that we should start with some very basic information. Contrary to what some people might think, social networks were not born online with Friendster and MySpace. Social network, in fact, is a very old term used to describe any social group where individuals and/or organizations form a specific structure with nodes and connections. Here is the Wikipedia definition:

A social network is a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as values, visions, idea, financial exchange, friends, kinship, dislike, conflict, trade, web links, sexual relations, disease transmission (epidemiology), or airline routes. The resulting structures are often very complex.

The Internet completely changed the way people used to communicate and interact, so it was a natural step to create virtual social networks, or social networking websites. Back in 1979 Usenet, a global Internet discussion system, was already attempting to accomplish this.

Then in 1995 you had perhaps the first online social network as we known them today, ClassMates.com, which the purpose was to allow school mates to connect.

What about social bookmarking sites?

While websites like Digg and StumbleUpon do have a social factor, I don’t think we can classify them on the same level as MySpace or Friendster. Mainly because they have different scopes: the first two aim to let people share and discover new websites and online stories; the second two aim to let people with similar interests connect online.

You could consider Digg and StumbleUpon a sub-category of social networking sites, for example. Social bookmarking sites is what I would call them, but you have many other definitions floating around, including community bookmarking sites and social news aggregators.

Centralized vs. Decentralized Social Networks

Now that we have a clear understanding of social networks and social bookmarking sites, let’s get back to the central question. What are the unspoken rules of these websites? When someone can promote his own content directly, and when one should refrain from doing so?

In order to draw the line that divides the accepted and unaccepted behaviors, I think that we need to classify those social networking sites under two different groups: centralized social networks and decentralized social networks.

Note: That is a classification that I came up with, so I am not sure if it has being used in the past or not, and if with the same meaning. Feel free to suggest other interpretations or to disagree with my theory in the comments below.

Centralized social networks are those where the actions of the single elements will inevitably affect the whole community. That is, all the actions flow to the center.

Digg is an example of a centralized social network. Every time you submit a story, digg or bury a story submitted from another user, ask for votes or try to manipulate the system in your favor, your actions are inevitably affecting the whole community.

Centralizednetwork

That is because all members of Digg use the front page of the different sections to stay updated with the hot stories around the website.

The same principle applies to StumbleUpon. The central part of their system is the “Stumble!” button on the toolbar. Virtually all the members use that button to discover new and interesting websites. As a consequence, whenever you give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to a particular story, and whenever you share the stories you liked with friends, you are affecting the experience of all the other members of the community.

Twitter, on the other, is a decentralized social network. There is no central or core location where the actions of the single elements flow to. The system allows you to create you own micro communities, and your actions inside those communities will not affect people outside of them.

Decentralizednetwork

That is, you can decide who you follow, and other people in turn will decide if they want to follow you back or not. Suppose someone starts using Twitter solely to promote his own website. Users that are not following that person will not even notice what he is doing, and the ones that are following him can simply remove the follow to stop receiving his messages if they find them annoying. Finally, if someone likes to receive the promotional messages about the website of this person, he can keep following him.

Now you might ask me: so are all social bookmarking sites like Digg or Reddit centralized, and all standard social networks like MySpace and Facebook decentralized?

That is a good rule of thumb, but it is not always the case. Most social bookmarking sites are centralized, including Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Mixx and Propeller. Some, however, are not. Del.icio.us is an example of a decentralized social bookmarking site. Provided you use the service to save your own bookmarks or to share them with friends, the actions of other users will not affect your experience.

As for standard social networking sites, I would say that most of them are indeed decentralized. Of course you have people trying to spam and manipulate those websites nonetheless, so the action of abusive users can end up affecting the whole community. But that is the exception and not the rule.

Conclusion

By now you should already know the answer to the original question. Whenever we talk about decentralized social networks, you can use them in whatever way you desire (well, excerpt for spamming). You can promote your website, yourself, express your opinions and what not. You will create your own micro community on those sites, and your actions there should not affect the other members, so they will hardly care.

Consider Twitter again. There are people who use it as a micro blogging tool. Others use it as an instant messaging utility. Others yet use the tool to promote their websites, and some people are even trying to sell their Twitter accounts on eBay! It is all good though, because each user has the autonomy to decide who he will follow, who will be able to follow him, and what micro communities he will join.

As for centralized networks like Digg or StumbleUpon, you will need to play under the rules of the community. Usually these rules will encourage you to be active in the community and to actually help it grow. Self promotion and system manipulation are frowned upon.

Practically speaking, can you get away with the occasional submission of your own stories? Yes. Can you use it over and over again solely to promote your own stuff? No.

Over to you

Do you agree that some social networks are centralized, while others are not? Do you think people should avoid completely promoting their own content, or there are exceptions?

Daniel Scocco is the author of Daily Blog Tips. You can stay updated with his blog tips by subscribing to his RSS Feed.

Which Social Bookmarking Site Would You Prefer to Hit the Front Page Of?

Here’s a question that might provoke some interesting discussion over the weekend:

Which Social Bookmarking Site Would You Prefer to Hit the Front Page Of?

Would you prefer to hit the popular page on Digg, hit StumbleUpon’s buzz page, make it big on Delicious, Mixx or Reddit or is there some other social bookmarking page that you’d rather do well on?

Also – WHY did you choose the one you’ve chosen? Is it just about the raw numbers of readers, that it leads to secondary links, that it’s more focused and brings a higher quality of reader?

Now it’s over to you for your say….

Building Your Twitter Presence Part 3 – TweetBaiting

Twitterbaiting-1Last week in my 5 Tips to Grow Your Twitter Presence post John suggested that an additional strategy to grow your follower numbers in Twitter is to target bigger Twitter users for conversation.

The logic behind this is that if you can get them to reply to you and even have a multiple part conversation with you then you increase the chances of some of their followers following you also.

This is actually a strategy that works very well – however I didn’t include it in my previous post because it can also be a little risky and lead to two main problems as far as I can see.

Let me explain the risk of TweetBaiting

1. TweetStalking - The first problem with TweetBaiting a bigger Twitter user is the danger of putting them offside. I’ve had a few people target me for this type of thing in a way that I’ve found particularly annoying.

I do enjoy people engaging with me genuinely and attempt to reply to people but when it becomes more of a TweetStalking thing I tend to block people. I’ve even been tempted to call them out for it publicly (something I’ve seen others do). If you engage in spammy/annoying tactics in any medium you need to be prepared for the consequences.

The take home lesson is to engage Twitter users whether they be big or small in a way that adds value to their lives, is genuine and on topics that they’ll be interested in. If you do this you’ll find most are happy to engage in conversation.

2. Unfocused Followers - The other more subtle problem is that you can end up with followers who are less interested in what you’ve got to say. I’m going to talk more about this later in the post but I personally would prefer 500 followers who shared my interests and were focussed upon the things I talk about than 5000 followers who don’t really like what I’m talking about.

For example, lets just say I successfully TweetBaited Heather Armstrong from Dooce. Heather has 9111 followers at the moment so she’d be logical to attempt to engage in conversation however if you look over her Tweets they cover a real range of topics – just like her blog. As a result she’s attracted a followership who are interested in what she’s wearing, how much she pays for bourbon and what songs she hears on the radio. Now I personally enjoy Heather’s tweets and do follow her – however I’m not sure that her readers would necessarily be interested in my tweets on blogging, social media etc.

Sure there will be some overlap – but if you’re looking to effectively use Twitter to grow your profile in a niche then if you’re going to do a little TweetBaiting then you’ll want to target those you ‘bait’ carefully and preferably find those who would have a similarly focused group of followers to you.

Take Home Advice about TweetBaiting

While interacting with larger Twitter users can accelerate the growth of your own Twitter follower numbers it is something to approach with caution. I’ve never strategically done this. While I occasionally interact with a few of the bigger Twitter users I’ve only done it when it’s natural, on topic etc (as I would with any Twitter user). My advice would be just to use Twitter in a natural way. Interact with lots of Twitter users (big and small) and you’ll find that as you do your follower numbers will continue to grow.Have you TweetBaited anyone? Did it work? What would you add to my advice?

PS: there’s another type of TweetBaiting that I’ve seen also. It’s where you ‘bait’ interactions with other Twitter users based upon…. well getting them angry, personal attack, insulting people etc. Of course the risk associated with this is looking like a complete fool and/or getting blocked by those you go after.

Building Your Twitter Presence Part 2 – Pre-Prepared Tweets

Pre-Prepared-TwitterYesterday I wrote 5 tips to help increase your follower numbers on Twitter. Thanks to everyone for your comments and suggestions on the topic.

As I read over the comments I realized that there were a few more things that I’d been learning on how to use Twitter that might be worth sharing. So over the coming few days I’ll pick up a few threads of thought that your comments sparked for me on the topic of growing your Twitter Presence. Today I want to talk about a tactic that I’ve used a little lately that might help those of you who don’t live in parts of the world where the majority of your followers live.

Pre-Prepare Your Tweets

This one is going to probably rub some Twitter users up the wrong way because it is a medium which is very spontaneous and immediate – but I pre-prepare and plan a portion of my tweets.

This is something that I do with a minority of the things I do on Twitter but for two main reasons I find that it is helpful to have some Tweets that ‘I prepared earlier’.

1. My Time Zone – As mentioned in my earlier post, living in a time zone which is almost completely opposite to that of my followers can be frustrating. When I was in the US earlier in the year I realized just what I was missing out on when I suddenly was about to use Twitter in the same time zone.

For me the times that I am awake when my followers are awake are either when I first wake up (7am-9am) and just as I’m heading for bed (10pm onwards). The problem is that in these times I’m not really at my best. I tend to have more insightful things to say, better questions to ask and more value to add to conversations at mid morning here in Australia.

As a result if I think of something to Tweet during the day that is timeless (ie it’s not related to the here and now) then I sometimes save it to Tweet late at night or first thing in the morning.

2. Timing is Everything – Twitter is a medium where timing is very important. As already mentioned, if you Tweet something when your followers are asleep and it’ll go largely unread. However even in peak times if you tweet something profound just after you’ve tweeted 10 other things and it could go unnoticed – lost in the crowd of your own tweets. As a result I find that sometimes the best time to Tweet is after a pause in the conversation.

For example sometimes I might think of something new to Tweet in the middle of another Twitter Conversation but wait until everyone has had their say on the last topic before starting a new one. I find that if I do I have a lot better response rate than if I’m talking to three people about three things at once.

Tools for Pre-Tweeting - My Twitter followers will know that a month or two back I went on the hunt for tools that would allow me to ‘Pre-Tweet’ or schedule my Tweets to go off at particular times – just like most blog platforms allow you to set a post to go off at scheduled times. There are a couple of services that allow this – they are TweetLater and TweetAhead. I should point out that I’ve had mixed results with them – particularly TweetAhead which lost tweets and mistimed others. As they say on their site – they need more servers. TweetLater looks promising though, I’ve used it 5 times so far and it’s been perfect so far.

While these tools are useful – I tend to take a simpler approach. I have a text file open on my desktop where I keep my prepared tweets. It currently has a few questions to ask, a quote or two to share and a few links that I want to share also.

As mentioned above – I only pre-prepare a minority of my Tweets. I do like the medium for it’s spontenaity and fast flowing interaction and if all of your tweets were dryly pre-tweeted I think it’d reflect on your follower’s experience.

5 Tips to Grow Your Twitter Presence in 2012

Twitter has a stronghold on the blogosphere, yet sometimes, it’s hard to be heard. If you’re struggling to grow your Twitter following, you’re not alone.

I have more than 160,000 followers now, and quite a few readers have asked how I’ve grown my following. Here are my tips.

1. Leverage your other “engagement media” profiles

Do you have an existing online profile somewhere outside of Twitter (big or small)? Use it to springboard into Twitter. If it’s a blog, mention that you’re using Twitter in a post, add Twitter sharing buttons to your home page and individual posts, and link to it from your profile and contact pages.

Tweet button

My posts all display a Tweet button

If you’re on Facebook, use one of the numerous tools or apps available to republish your tweets to Facebook. If you promote your blog on Google+, share your Tweets there. Using Pinterest? Cross-pollinate between those followers and your Twitter followers to maximize the return on the time you’re investing in social media.

It goes without saying that you should add Twitter, along with your other social media account details, to your email signature, business card, and so on. The same applies with any online (or even offline) presence that you have—link to your Twitter page and link to it often.

2. Tweet often—but leave space for engagement

The more active you are on Twitter, the more likely you are to have others find and follow you. However, tweet too frequently and you run the risk of losing followers. I try to stick to one topic at a time and create pauses between them to let others interact.

Striking the right balance takes time and experimentation. Watch who retweets your updates—and which updates they’re sharing—to get a sense of your strongest advocates.

And be sure to engage with those who share your updates and those who respond to you. Thank them, answer their questions, and ask them why they likes that tweet or this post. Consider this engagement part of your ongoing market research for your blog, and your social media strategy.

3. Get talking

The secret to building your follower list is interaction. I get most new followers on those days when I interact with other Twitter users_and over time, that’s grown to a massive number of people.

We call them @ replies but you can, of course, also use the @_name functionality to engage with people you don’t know or follow—and who don’t know or follow you.

Asking questions is perhaps the best way to get conversational on Twitter. Get ten people to answer a question you’ve tweeted and if even just one person retweets one of those ten replies (or your original question), you’ll have gained exposure to whole new rafts of potential followers.

Just as important is to participate in other people’s conversations. Reply to their questions and ideas as much as possible.

The key with Twitter really is shared interests. people will share your tweets with their followers if they think you share a common interest with them, and your tweet is relevant. So, be conversational about topics that will interest others. Be conversational in a way that encourages your followers to reach out to their own networks.

Sharable tweets

Make your tweets resonate with a broad audience

Finally, you might find your first few engagements on Twitter easiest if you’re not talking about yourself—I find I do better when I’m not talking about me! No one likes to hang around with people who just talk about themselves, so get the balance right between talking about yourself and talking about others and other topics of interest.

4. Provide optimal value

Tweeting on a personal level is fun and for many that’s as far as it goes, but if you’re interested in growing your Twitter influence, you need to provide your followers, and potential followers, with value.

It’s the same principle as growing a blog—if you help enhance people’s lives in some way they are more likely to want to track with you, read more of what you have to say, and share your ideas with others.

Make your conversations matter on some level. Sure you can throw in personal tweets and have some fun, but unless you’re providing something useful to people (information, entertainment, news, education, etc.) they probably won’t follow you for long, or share your content with their own networks.

5. Tweet in peak times

Last week I tracked when I had new Twitter followers add me, and found (as I expected) that the frequency of follows where made during business hours in the USA.

Tweeting at the times when your followers are online only increases the chances of their finding and adding you to their lists, and sharing your tweets—timing certainly affects sharing on Facebook, and if you look at your retweet stats, you’ll find it does on this network, too.

My being situated in Australia can have some positives and negatives, but one of the things I don’t enjoy about it is that I miss out on a lot of interaction with my followers who are on the other side of the world. While many social media management apps will let you schedule status updates and tweets, there’s no substitute for in-person, real-time interaction on Twitter.

Bonus tip: tweet from the heart

Don’t worry too much about how you “come across” on Twitter. Just be yourself and tweet form the heart. Don’t stress too much about the numbers—instead, use the platform to connect genuinely with the Twitter followers you already have, and let the rest take care of itself!

Top Twitter Blog Marketing Tips has more Twitter tips.

Oh, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the burden of social networks, read my post on how to beat the social media beast!

It Takes a Gathering to Build a Crowd

In this guest post Steven Snell (who writes about social media at Traffikd) examines the topic of generating readership for your blog through social media.

gathering-crowd.jpg
Image by shoothead

If you spend much time on social media websites, I’m sure you’ve noticed that you tend to see many of the same websites and blogs on the front page receiving the most exposure. A few months ago I wrote a post at Daily Blog Tips that posed the question Do Small Bloggers Have a Chance with Digg? Through my observations and through the comments from many readers, it’s clear that large websites and blogs have a distinct advantage over smaller blogs when it comes to social media. Obviously, this can be frustrating to new bloggers who are looking to get some much-needed exposure from social media, as it seems to be the rich just getting richer.

One question that needs to be addressed is, what is the most significant factor that leads to the success of these large websites with social media? Is their content just that much better than smaller blogs? In my opinion, many times this isn’t the case. Is it because they have a larger existing audience? I’d say this is often a bigger factor than the quality issue. Very popular blogs tend to do well with social media, and with their incredibly large subscriber bases, they have a distinct advantage.

Take for example the front page of Delicious. Typically it takes about 100 bookmarks within 24 hours or so to get to the front page. It seems like almost every day there is a post from Smashing Magazine or Zen Habits on the front page. With over 60,000 and 50,000 readers respectively, a small percentage of subscribers can easily put these posts on the front page with a bookmark. On the other hand, a smaller blog with only 100 subscribers would need one bookmark per subscriber to make the front page.

So how does this affect smaller bloggers who want to get better results from social media? Essentially it shows that great content alone is usually not enough. It takes a gathering to build a crowd. Meaning, your gathering of existing readers and your network of friends can help to result in a bigger crowd that comes from social media sites.

New bloggers that are targeting social media, or those who have just been disappointed with their results to this point need to focus on building the gathering before the crowd will come. Networking is probably the most significant activity for bloggers in terms of gaining social media traffic. A blogger’s network includes readers and subscribers as well as friends and contacts who are bloggers themselves. Members of your network will be much more likely to vote for you on social media sites, plus you can openly ask for their help when you need it the most.

There are several different ways to get social media votes:

1 – Visitors of social media sites can see your link at the social media site and vote there (example, a Digg user visits the upcoming page, clicks through to your link, returns to Digg and votes for your post).

2 – Visitors of your blog can vote by using a button, widget, or link on your blog.

3 – Visitors can use a toolbar to vote (examples, StumbleUpon and Delicious toolbars).

4 – Social media users can share your post with their friends (example, the shout feature at Digg).

5 – Bloggers can email (or IM) others in their network to request a vote.

The only one of these that is not affected by the existing “crowd” of a blog is #1. Getting votes from the upcoming page is not really affected by how many readers you have at your blog, rather it is affected by how many people see the item on the upcoming page, the quality of the title (in terms of attracting clicks), the quality of the content once people click-through, etc. Certainly there are some small blogs that have success this way without a network, but this seems to be the minority.

All of the other four are affected by how many people are seeing the page and how many people are in the blogger’s network. Let’s quickly look at each one. For #2, the more visitors a page has (which is impacted by the number of subscribers), the more opportunities it has to get votes through a button. If a post only gets 5 visitors, the most votes it can possibly get through a “Digg This” button is five. On the other hand, if the post gets 5,000 visitors, its potential for votes just multiplied by 1,000. The situation in #3, visitors voting using a toolbar, is exactly the same scenario.

Item numbers 4 and 5 are both impacted by the blogger’s network of friends and contacts. If you have a large existing network and you’re willing to ask them for some help occasionally, you can get some quick and easy votes. Whether you’re using a share feature at a social media site or simply sending a private email, your success will depend on the quality and quantity of connections you have made in addition to the quality of the content itself.

I Don’t Have a Crowd. What Can I Do?

Understanding how all of this works is good, but if you’re a new blogger with a limited network and a small base of subscribers it doesn’t help you very much, yet. If you’re looking to improve your results with social media, do what you can to get one step closer to blogs that have a bigger reach than you. Work on building your network and send as much traffic as possible to your posts.

Here are a few tips:
1 – Still focus on content

In order to build your crowd you’ll need to give them a reason to consistently read your blog. Publishing high-quality content is the best way to do this. Although I said earlier that the existing audience is often more important than the content itself for social media success, the content still needs to be of a certain standard of quality.

2 – Dedicate time to networking

Most bloggers network casually whenever it happens. This is fine, but you can step up your network by making it a priority. Use social media sites and other blogs as opportunities to connect with other bloggers and get to know others who share some of your interests. Be active on blogs in your niche and make an effort to get to know those bloggers. Don’t limit your involvement with just A-list bloggers. Make an effort to get to know other bloggers who are at the same stage in the blogging lifecycle as you. In this case you’ll be able to help each other as you both grow your blogs.

3 – Funnel traffic

Most bloggers create posts from time-to-time that they expect to draw some attention from social media. When you have a post that you want to get some exposure, don’t just focus on getting Diggs or Stumbles. You can use smaller social media sites and niche social media sites to funnel traffic to the post. As visitors come from other social media sites they may also Digg or Stumble your post. If you have some other way to get traffic to these posts, such as getting a link from a friend or from a community website, do so. The more visitors you can get to the page, the better your chances will be of getting some votes.

4 – Don’t be afraid to ask for a vote

Some bloggers and social media users don’t like to ask others for a vote. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, I’ve found that other social media users who are legitimately your friends (not just someone you added as a friend at Digg) will be happy to give you a vote if your content is worthy, and you can return the favor for them as well. I get a decent number of requests each week, and as long as it’s from someone I know and not just a spam request, I’m happy to at least consider the vote.

After The Gathering is Built

Once you have built a gathering of subscribers and those in your network, drawing the crowd from social media will be incredibly more realistic. Not only will it be more realistic, but it will happen more frequently, as you can observe from the larger blogs mentioned at the beginning of this post.

What’s Your Approach?

How do you go about getting votes for social media? Is your success with social media impacted by your network?

Steven Snell covers a variety of topics related to social media and blog promotion at Traffikd. You can subscribe to his feed for more on these topics.

Tips For Social Media Toddlers

Tips for Social Media ToddlersI don’t do many guest posts on other people’s blogs these days but this week I was asked to do one that I couldn’t resist. Kristen from Social Media Mom asked me to write something on Social Media and being a Dad.

My first thought was that it was all too hard – but I decided to take the challenge and the post that emerged was one of the favorite things I’ve written of late. It’s called:

4 Tips for Social Media Toddlers

The post takes a look at 4 lessons that I’ve learned from my son (that’s he and I pictured left) and what they teach me about social media (Twitter particularly). I hope you enjoy it!

Why I Love Twitter

Two days ago I asked my followers on Twitter why they loved Twitter.

There were over 100 responses within 2 hours and some of them were really good – I wasn’t sure what to do with them all but just yesterday I’d seen a video with a whole lot of screen caps of Tweets at Rocketboom. The idea was still fresh in my mind so I decided to make my own with the responses from readers.

The above video is a compilation of the responses from followers. I hope I got them all!

You can see a full sized version of it on it’s YouTube page or a slightly better quality one at Revver.

How to Target the Right Social Media Sites

This is a guest post on targeting Social Media Sites is from Steven Snell. Steven writes about social media marketing at Traffikd.

Social-Media.jpgMost bloggers recognize the incredible potential that exists with social media marketing. Many want to maximize the traffic they receive from social media, so they add a Digg button to their posts or sign up for an account at StumbleUpon. What too many bloggers overlook is that Digg and StumbleUpon are just two of the hundreds of available options, and they may not be the best fit for every blogger.

In order to get the most out of social media traffic you’ll need to put some thought into choosing the social media sites that are the most appropriate for your blog and your audience. Unfortunately, none of us have the time to be an active member on more than just a few social media sites, and trying to target too many of them by adding countless buttons and widgets to your blog will only make it cluttered and ineffective.

Among social media sites there is a huge variety of audiences, types of content that is popular, amount of traffic that is sent to popular links, etc. I think most of us would agree that quality traffic is more important than quantity of traffic. The quality of traffic that you receive from social media will be largely dependent upon finding the right fit for your blog. You’ve probably read that social media traffic is very low quality. From my experience, this is not always the case. Traffic from poorly-targeted social media sites will be low quality.

When you are evaluating social media sites pay attention to these factors. Find 2 or 3 that are a good fit for you and get the most you can out of them.

What type of audience? General or niche?

With so many different social media sites out there, the audience will vary greatly from one to another. Obviously, there are a number of general news sites, like Digg, but there are a growing number of excellent sites that focus on a specific niche. These sites typically will not send as much traffic as the major players, but the traffic will generally be of much higher quality and greater networking opportunities may be possible. If you’re looking for niche social media sites in your industry, check the categorized list of social media sites that I compiled.

What type of content does well?

One of the main things you’re going to want to study is the results of different types of content. Visit the front page every day for several days and look for patterns or habits that you can identify. Most social media sites will have an audience that generally prefers a few specific types of content. Learn whatever you can from the popular items, and try to create your own content that will have some of the same appeal to users. For example, if you see resource lists constantly on the front page, you may want to create your own resource list. Or, if you see controversial articles covering current news topics, try to go that route. Of course, whatever content you create should also appeal to your regular readers and subscribers.

What type of content does not do well?

At the same time you are looking for types of content that routinely draw results, also pay attention to what types of content you are not seeing on the front page, or what is drawing a negative response from readers. Just like each audience has its own likes, each will also have its own dislikes. Trying to promote the wrong type of content at a specific social media site is a waste of time.

Do users submit their own content?

If you are planning to target a specific social media site you will definitely want to know if there are any written or unwritten rules about submitting your own content. If so, you’ll need to rely on your readers to submit it, or ask friends to do so.

How many votes does it take to be popular?

Some sites, like Digg, can take over 100 votes (and more in recent months) to make it to the front page, whereas smaller social media sites may only require a few votes. Obviously, the larger sites also tend to have more users, so in some ways it can be easier to get votes. Still, this is something that you should consider. For my primary blog I target Design Float, a niche site for designers. One of the great things about promoting content at Design Float is that it only takes about 3 votes to get to the front page. Although it takes just 3 votes, popular submissions can easily receive a few hundred visitors in a day.

Are there tools/widgets that you can use on your site

I’m sure you’re familiar with voting buttons and widgets. The Digg button is very popular, and several others are also common. There are some widgets and plugins that allow users to vote at just about any site they want, and there are others that are specific to a particular site. If available, consider whether or not you should use voting buttons on your site. My opinion is that voting buttons can be very effective if you don’t use too many of them and if you choose social media sites that a decent number of your regular readers use themselves.

How much traffic do popular submissions typically receive?

Of course, you will want to have an idea of what type of traffic you can expect if your content becomes popular. There are so many social media sites out there that many of them send next to no traffic at all. Don’t necessarily write off a particular site because it doesn’t send thousands of visitors, but you also don’t want to waste your time chasing after 10 visitors.

Is the profile of the submitter important?

Some social media sites, especially Digg, will be impacted by who submits the link. Certain “power users” have hundreds or thousands of friends that follow their submissions and vote them up. On other sites the profile of the submitter has very little or no impact. This is important for a few reasons. First, if the profile of the submitter does play a large role in the success of the submission, you’ll need to either find influential users to submit your content or build a strong profile yourself to submit your own content (which can be frowned upon). Second, sites that don’t favor particular users will place more value on the quality of the content rather than the network of the user.

What are the demographics of the users?

Ideally, you’ll want to find a social media site that has similar demographics to your target audience. For obvious reasons this will improve the quality of traffic that you receive. Some social media sites tend to have users that are in a particular age bracket, a specific sex, or from a specific geographical location. To determine these items you may have to spend some time on the site and visit the profiles of a lot of users. See what you can find out about them.

What views prevail?

The audience of different social media sites tend to have varying views on different issues, and some audiences can be very passionate about certain things. This can either help or hurt you. Cater your content to fit in with popular opinions and you could see impressive results. Write a post that goes against the majority view and you could see some backlash, depending on the site. This really can apply to just about any topic. For example, Apple vs. Microsoft, or conservative vs. liberal views.

What formats are accepted?

Many of the major social media sites are accepting pictures and video in addition to just standard links. Some social media sites even have specific sections or categories for different types of content (Mixx does this very well). As video continues to become more and more common, more social media sites will add specific elements to accommodate video submissions. For now, you’ll want to take this into consideration to determine if your content would be a good fit for a specific site.

How can you network with other users?

One of the basic elements of social media is networking with other users. Regardless of what site you are targeting, having a strong network of other active users will be extremely valuable. Not only will it improve your chances of getting traffic, but you can also make some great connections and help others along the way. Some social media sites offer much better networking opportunities than others. StumbleUpon is one of my favorites for networking. Being able to send messages, share links, and review other users all right from the toolbar make the networking on StumbleUpon hard to beat. If one of your goals is to improve your network through social media, make sure that you spend your time on sites that will make networking easy.

Are there specific sub-groups?

Social media sites that allow you to start your own group can improve your ability to meet others that share your interests. Again, this is something that Mixx does very well. Users can start a group or join and existing one, and group members can invite other users to join. If you’re looking to do some networking with others that fit into a specific niche, this may be something to consider.

Are the users connected to other social media sites?

Almost all social media users are active at more than just one social media site. If you can identify the relationships between various social media sites you may be able to use this to your advantage. For example, many popular submissions at Digg wind up on the front page of Delicious after a bunch of Digg users have bookmarked the page. Maybe you would like to target Delicious, but only a small percentage of your readers use Delicious. If it’s easier for you to get to the Digg front page, you may be able to create something worth bookmarking and transfer that Digg traffic into a spot on the Delicious front page.

Another effective approach is to use smaller, niche sites to send a smaller rush of traffic and try to convert that traffic into Diggs, Stumbles or Delicious bookmarks. Making the front page of a niche site is typically easier than hitting the front page of the major sites. Maybe you can take a small step towards a popular submission at a niche site that will allow you to take a bigger step towards success at a major social media site. Several months ago I wrote a more detailed explanation of this approach, How to Set Up a Domino Effect of Traffic.

How long does the traffic last?

Social media sites are notorious for sending a quick rush of traffic, and then nothing at all. With most social media sites, popularity doesn’t last long. StumbleUpon is one of the few exceptions. With SU you can still be getting trickles of traffic for several months or longer. You should consider whether or not sustained traffic to your submissions is important to you. In order to get a consistently high level of traffic from most social media sites you’ll need to be hitting the front page every couple of days, which in most cases isn’t realistic.

How many links can be generated?

Link building is a priority for many social media marketers. If you fall into this category, take some time to research how many links popular items are getting from different social media sites. You can do this by going back through items that were popular a few days ago and do a Technorati search for the specific URL of the page. This will allow you to see all of the links that Technorati is tracking to that page. One thing to remember here is that not all of the links you see will have been a result of popularity on a specific social media site. If an item was popular in one place, chances are it was popular somewhere else too. Still, if you check several different items you can get a good idea of the link building power this way.

Is there a feature/option to share submissions with friends?

If you have an established network of friends, you may want to ocassionally share some of your links with them. Each social media site has its own way of allowing this. StumbleUpon’s can be done straight from the toolbar without ever leaving the page. Digg uses the shout system to send email notifications, and many other sites have their own versions. If you want to be able to share your links and ask your friends for votes, this is important to consider. If you don’t want to share your links and you don’t want to be bothered by other users sharing links with you, these features may be more of a negative (although you can turn them off on many networks).

Is having friends important?

Social networking obviously involves being social. Most social media sites have a system that allows you to add other users as your friends, and for other users to add you as a friend. At some social media sites this is more critical than at others. The number and quality of friends can sometimes have a significant effect on the traffic that you receive. This is important to know before targeting a specific site, because it may mean that you’ll need to spend a lot of time networking and gaining friends.

Conclusion:

My opinion is that the ideal strategy will involve targeting 2 or 3 different social media sites. That is enough to get some results, but not too many to spread yourself thin. If possible, be an active user of at least one major social media site and at least one niche site, although not every niche will have an effective social media site. If you have other things that you look for, please leave a comment.