Using Social Media to Grow Your Blog’s Readership

Blog-Promotion - Social MediaThis week we’re looking at five different methods that I’d use to find readership if I were starting a new blog. So far we’ve explored guest posting, advertising and networking – but today I want to turn our attention to the explosive and dynamic area of social media.

Social media sites have exploded onto the online publishing scene over the last couple of years and can generally be divided into two types of site:

  • Social Networking Sites – where the primary activity of the site is ‘connecting’ with others. Two of the most prominent sites in this space are Facebook and MySpace.
  • Social Bookmarking – where the primary activity is the finding and sharing of web content through different systems of ‘voting’ on sites. Two examples of this type of site are Digg and StumbleUpon.

The above two classifications of social media sites are fairly broad – in reality there are many different sites appearing every week, many of which have elements of both of the above as well as other features.

The point of this post is not to define social media but rather to look of it as an opportunity to find new readers for your blog. The reason that I include it in this series is that over the last year or two I’ve seen numerous blogs virtually launch themselves via social media sites.

The reason for their success is that social media sites are among the largest sites on the web at present (the volume of traffic that they do is mind boggling) but that by their very nature they are about helping people to discover new parts of the web (particularly social bookmarking sites) – and as a result they are used by people actively seeking web content.

As a result I would argue that social media sites are a logical place to position yourself as a blogger. Let me say it again:

Social media sites have a lot of traffic and they are used by people to find content – why wouldn’t you position yourself on them?

Qualification: let me qualify that last statement before going any further by saying that social media is not THE answer to finding readers for your blog. It is not enough just to promote your content on social sites – but it is one element that can help you find a lot of new readers.

9 Keys to Using Social Media to Find New Readers for Your Blog

Much has been written about using specific social media sites to drive traffic to a blog. I’ll include a few links to things I’ve written about specific sites below – however in this post I’d like to speak in a more general sense and share some principles of using social media to drive traffic.

1. Be an Active Participant – it is important to see these sites for what they are – they’re social sites which are designed for regular use and interactions between readers. They are not designed for people to come to to spam their own links and leave – they’re designed for ongoing, genuine and helpful interactions between people. As a result those who spend time using these sites are the ones who generally are rewarded for doing so over the long haul. While there is a temptation to only use these sites on occasion when it benefits yourself you’ll find them more fruitful paces to visit when you regularly participate and genuinely interact with others.

2. Learn the Rules and Culture – different social media sites have different rules, standards, cultures and acceptable behavior. This covers things like how you interact with others, the language you can use and importantly for this article – linking and promoting your own content. Some sites allow (and even encourage) you self promoting – others do not. Some might allow it officially but will have users who don’t like it and who will ‘bury’ your efforts if you do. The key is to participate, observe and learn from your experiences.

3. Find Key Players – one of the best ways to learn about social media is to find and get to know key players on the different sites. Who is using them well? What are they doing? What might they be able to teach you? How might you work with them for mutual benefit? Many social media sites make it easy to find these key players by producing lists of ‘top users’ – these can be strategic relationships to have.

4. Make Friends – extending upon this is the principle of be-friending others on social sites. This is a key part of what they are all about and many of these sites make you more powerful based upon the number of your connections. So get out there – make friends and interact with your network. From this can come many fruitful interactions. It’s also a great branding exercise to ‘connect’ with people in these ways.

I should say at this point that I see people using their ‘networks’ on social sites in two main ways either as natural influencers or in more concerted and coordinated ways. The first (influencers) is about building a network that you naturally interact with and who will take notice of what you do. This makes you a powerful user and both by the social site taking more note of you but also as others will do so also. The second is what some users have been doing for a while now – joining together to vote up each other’s content. DoshDosh has some great tips on making and interacting with friends in social sites (particularly Digg).

5. Don’t Be Self Centered – I’ve mentioned this already but it’s worth a point of it’s own. If your primary activities on social media sites is self centered then you’ll limit your own fruit from it. I know a number of top Digg users and in each case they are some of the most generous and ‘other serving’ people you’ll ever meet. They go out of their way to help others achieve their dreams. In doing so of course they themselves benefit – but it’s others first.

6. Find what Works Best for Your Blog – a regular comment on posts where I write about the power of using social media is people saying that they’ve ‘tried it’ and it doesn’t work. When I unpack these comments with people I often find that what they mean is that they tried one social media site once or twice – and it didn’t have much impact. The mistakes with this kind of thinking are numerous (ie it takes time to get to know a social media site, get to know people etc) – but one main thing that I’d say is that not all social media sites work for every topic of blog. For example I find that StumbleUpon works really well here at ProBlogger – but that Digg works on some more technically focused sites that I have worked with. The other thing that I’d say is that sometimes the biggest social sites are not always the best ones to use – but rather smaller and more focused ones can have bigger benefits. Every week new social bookmarking sites appear around different niches – search them out and focus on them too.

7. Social Media as a Branding Exercise – while social media sites can send you a lot of traffic very very quickly they can also be excellent places to do branding. Every time a reader or potential reader comes across you on a social media site the more you reinforce your brand. Get active on a site like stumbleupon and promote the content that others publish and you could actually get on their radar and end up benefiting yourself in many ways.

8. Convert to Loyal Readers – one thing that many bloggers fail to do when they succeed in driving traffic to their blogs from social media sites is to convert them into loyal readers. Getting readers to your blog is just half of the challenge – getting them to return tomorrow and every day afterwards is the other half – it can be the difference between a one off traffic event and a blog with an ongoing growth in readership. I’ve written more on converting one off visitors into regular readers here (and also here).

9. It’s all about the Content – one factor that exponentially increases (or decreases) the impact of your efforts in social media is your actual content. Without content that engages social media users you are wasting your time as it will rarely capture their imaginations and inspire them to promote it. Writing great content is the focus of tomorrow’s last post in this series on growing blog readership – so I’ll say more then.

Further Reading at ProBlogger on using Social Media to Build Traffic to Your Blog:

4 Social Media Marketing Tips for Bloggers

My good friend Aaron Brazell from Technosailor asked me if I’d record a short video for a presentation he was giving on the topic of Social Media. He asked me to speak about marketing with Social Media sites. I thought I’d publish the video here also.

To summarize – I share 4 simple tips on marketing your blog with social media sites.

  1. Be an Active Participant
  2. Have a Consistent Presence on Different Social Media Sites
  3. Add Value to the Wider Community
  4. Let Others Sell You

Delicious Popular Page Posts Analyzed

Today I spent a little time looking at the popular page on delicious. Here’s a few of my scribbled notes looking at the headings (click to enlarge a little).


I find doing this type of analysis quite inspiring as I think about the type of posts and construction of titles that I might do in coming days.

How to Write Posts That Set StumbleUpon on Fire

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. Check out her new blog Anywired if you’re interested in earning an income online.

Since yesterday, StumbleUpon has sent me around 20,000 page views. It’s the single biggest referrer for both my blogs, despite one of them having been on the Digg front page three times! You could say that StumbleUpon traffic (and lots of it) is one of the main reasons I’ve been lucky enough to become a pro blogger.

In this post, I want to share all the trade secrets I’ve learned about how to craft posts that set StumbleUpon on fire. These are tips and ideas I use on a daily basis to get anywhere between a few hundred and a few thousand (or more) StumbleUpon visitors every day.

I should note before we start that, while StumbleUpon use is heavier in some niches than others, these principles should help you to tap into SU traffic regardless of whether you’re blogging about blogging or Mexican walking fish. SU is arguably the most powerful promotional tool niche bloggers can use.

Learn the new rules

Your efforts will be hampered if you try to write posts to appeal to social media ‘in general’. Each service likes certain types of content and dislikes others. Digg likes mass appeal. likes anything its users like, but an item won’t go popular unless the source page gets thousands of hits.

If you’re in a niche without mass appeal, SU can help you where the other services won’t. Digg’s categories are deliberately broad to avoid diluting its power to send waves of traffic. StumbleUpon’s categories can be much more specific. While the traffic is not always as targeted as you’d like, it’s still much more targeted than Digg’s.

This also fundamentally changes the way you approach ‘writing for social media’ when you’re writing for StumbleUpon. You no longer have to worry about pleasing everyone. In fact, sticking within the confines of your niche — even if it’s a small one — can mean the difference between badly targeted traffic vs. highly targeted traffic.

My first piece of advice on writing SU optimized content is to write posts for your target market, not for the many. This increases the chances that your post will be submitted to a more specific category yielding better targeted traffic.

Stumble no-go zones

Before I discuss the types of content that tend to do well on StumbleUpon, it’s worth outlining a few types of posts that rarely go popular on the service. I’m not suggesting that you cut out these content types, but it might be worth thinking about how you can make them more attractive to StumbleUpon.

  • Weekly link round-ups. One solution is to change your link round up to a weekly themed resource list.
  • News. Time-sensitive content is favored by Digg and Reddit, but StumbleUpon will generally only pick up timeless content. If it’s not going to be relevant in a month, it’s probably not going to get Stumbled much.
  • Posts that don’t make sense out of context. If your post doesn’t make sense without context it probably won’t get picked up by SU. Potential voters know that the visitors they send won’t ‘get’ your post.
  • Short, breezy posts. A short, value-packed post can do well on StumbleUpon, but breezy content without pithy tips is usually bypassed.
  • Posts that don’t sell themselves properly. New visitors don’t have much patience. If your mind-bending, life-changing post takes 500 words to really get going, your loyal readers will probably love it, but StumbleUpon will yawn. The value inside your post should be made clear as soon as possible.
  • Overly personal posts. Sorry personal bloggers, but this one is tough. If you’ve ever re-told a story about a friend to someone who doesn’t know them, you’ve probably noticed that the story doesn’t entertain them nearly as much as it entertained you. Highly personal content can be met with a fanatical response from readers who know you, but your average SU visitor won’t know why they should care.

Each of these content types may have a home on your blog and not everything can be optimized for StumbleUpon. The main reason I want to share these no-go zones is so you don’t pour unnecessary effort into one of these post types, only to find that it doesn’t send the traffic and potential readers you’d hoped.

StumbleUpon traffic.
Photo by swruler9284

Stumble-friendly post types

Just as there are certain content types that rarely sizzle with SU traffic, there are certain types of content that seem to be particularly well-loved by SU users.

  • Posts that look as if they took a long time to craft. SU users respect carefully crafted content. If your post is chock full of detail, examples, images, links or otherwise looks as if it took some time to put together, they’ll generally reward your efforts.
  • Unique how-to guides and advice posts. Certain topics have been done to death, but if you can tap into something people want to learn how to do but haven’t yet been told, SU will probably reward you.
  • Unique, novel and useful resource lists.
  • Pithy posts with poignant take-home points. If you can find the right words to say something important, or think of an apt metaphor, your post is likely to be popular even if it’s quite short.
  • Visually interesting posts. Captivating images can be a lot more gripping than a wall of text. I start each post I write on my blogs with an interesting image from Flickr and this always appears in the above-the-fold area of the screen. I think this might have a big part to play in my success with SU traffic. A gripping headline and a gripping image help to draw SU visitors into each post.
  • Treasure-trove content. Posts containing cool rarities and free stuff are usually highly popular.

There are other types of content that do well, but the above represents the most common formats for blog posts that fare well on StumbleUpon.

SUO: StumbleUpon Optimization

There are a few things you can do to optimize any post for StumbleUpon.

1. The Value/Curiosity headline formula. The two most effective ways to encourage someone to read your posts is to a) promise value that will make the time-investment worthwhile or b) make them curious. For option A, pick a headline that makes your post sound unmissable. For B, pick a headline that begs an explanation. For example: What’s the scariest fish in the Amazon? Hint: It’s not the Piranha. It’s far, far worse (source). Another simple hack is to make your headlines really big and eye-catching, so they gather more attention.

2. Start with an image. Our eyes are drawn to interesting images. Once you can bring a StumbleUpon visitor’s eyes down into your post, it’s a tiny step for them to make the move into your text.

3. Sell each post. Dedicate the first paragraph of each post to making it sound like something worth reading. Tell readers what they stand to get in return for their time investment.

Strategic tips

Having a core base of active SU users who read your blog is all you need to tap into a steady stream of SU traffic. If you haven’t yet developed this core base yet, here’s what you should do:

  1. Start using StumbleUpon and voting up content from other blogs and websites in your niche.
  2. Friend those who Stumble your articles and thank them. This will start a dialog that could turn them into a loyal reader of your blog.
  3. Write about SU and encourage readers to add you as a friend.
  4. Swap Stumbles with other bloggers.
  5. Link to your SU profile on your About page.
  6. Befriend active StumbleUpon users and stumble and review some of their content if they have a blog or website. Active users command more traffic and they’re more likely to repay the favor because they’re Stumbling all the time anyway!
  7. Add a Stumble button/link under each of your posts.
  8. Add a Stumble link to your Feedflare (find it in your Feedburner control panel).

Points to review

  • When writing for StumbleUpon, focus on writing value-packed posts for your target audience. Don’t try to accommodate everyone.
  • Be mindful of the post types that tend to receive little interest on SU.
  • Remember the post types that SU loves best.
  • Practice SUO.
  • Work hard at turning active SU users into loyal readers of your blog.

StumbleUpon – The Most Popular Social Bookmarking Site for (Pro)Bloggers

In the last ProBlogger reader poll I asked readers about their social bookmarking habits – more specifically to tell us about their favorite social bookmarking site.

Just under 1300 readers have voted to this point and the results look like this:


StumbleUpon wins quite convincingly with 31% of all responses (or if you subtract the ‘I don’t use any’ responses SU is a 38% slice of the total pie). I’ve included some reasons given by readers as to why they like StumbleUpon below.

Delicious and Digg were closer with 21% and 19% of the total vote.

What did surprise me a little was the 19% of those responding who don’t use social bookmarking. I guess it’s become such a normal and natural part of my own day that I forget that quite a few readers don’t get into it.

Lastly, on the ‘Other’ section of the pie – a few readers told us about their ‘other’ selections but none attracted more than 2 votes so I have not given them any category of their own. Those that did get the 2 votes were BloggingZoom, Sphinn and Sk*rt.

9 Reader Comments on StumbleUpon’s Popularity

Why did StumbleUpon win so convincingly? Here’s just some of the reasons that readers gave on the poll announcement post:

  1. supermom_in_ny – “I use StumbleUpon because I believe the playing field is more level than at digg. Your readers can stumble you and you can get lots of traffic very quickly. You don’t have to be part of an elite crowd like at Digg. StumbleUpon accepts a wider variety of topics as well as photos and videos. Digg users (voters) tend to enjoy more tech related articles and bizarre news stories.”
  2. How to Rule the World – “It seems to be the easiest way to get good traffic. People actually read the articles, sign up to my rss and come back again to visit my site. I also enjoy the ease of networking with other bloggers and the ability to chat and share ideas with others. Its not as secretive as digg…”
  3. Michael Martin – “StumbleUpon is my favorite because it’s the easiest way of finding new content.”
  4. UltraRob – “I really like StumbleUpon. I’ve found all sorts of cool things stumbling and I’ve made some good contacts from it too. I’ve also seen more traffic from it than other sites.”
  5. Ryan Oelke – “we find Stumble Upon generates the most traffic by far, which is one perspective on using bookmarking systems. Digg’s crowd is simply to tech oriented, even if they have multiple categories.”
  6. plonkee – “I love StumbleUpon. I’m a big fan of the randomness of it, especially if you have really disparate categories.”
  7. Michael – “Like many others, I look at most of them. But SU seems to have less junk and more of what I am looking for. And, from a blogger / webmaster’s side, it is the one that seems to work best for getting real traffic to my sites.”
  8. Cory – “I use StumbleUpon b/c it’s easy to use, and I feel like I won something when I get to be the one who discovers a new post.”
  9. Genesis – “I like StumbleUpon for several reasons. It sends me more traffic than any other social site. Many others, like Digg only count if you hit the front page and my blog isn´t really meant for Diggers. SU also has a variety of very useful content and I use it frequently to get ideas for blog posts and articles that I´m writing. It´s a great source of inspiration (and a good time waster, too, if you aren´t careful!).”

What is Your Favorite Social Bookmarking Site?

This week’s poll focuses upon social bookmarking sites.

Bloggers have a fascination with these sites – some because of the lure of avalanches of traffic, others because they find them to be sources of inspiration for posts and others because of the social interaction.

But which social bookmarking site do you like the most?

What is Your Favorite Social Bookmarking Site?
View Results

I’d love to hear why you choose the social bookmarking site that you do and if you choose ‘other’ what one you’d add to the list.

Thanks to sitemost on Twitter for the idea for this Poll.

Using StumbleUpon to Get on the Radar of Other Bloggers

Here’s a quick tip if you’re looking to get on the radar of another blogger (big or small).

Bookmark their work using StumbleUpon.

Two quick stories:

Story 1

The other day I got an email from a blogger that I’d never had direct contact with before. The message was simply a thank you for submitting one of their posts to SU. To be honest I barely remember stumbling their post – but I was the first one to do it and so my profile photo was featured as the one who discovered it. The result was that when they went to see where traffic was coming from at StumbleUpon they saw my profile and tracked me down at my blog.

Their email was a thank you and to let me know that they’d just subscribed to my two blogs (which are listed on my SU profile).

Story 2

Picture 2-13This morning I noticed some nice traffic coming into StumbleUpon from this post. When I went to its StumbleUpon page to see how it was going I noticed a familiar face as the person who discovered the page – TheNanny612.

The reason that her face is familiar is that TheNanny612 (Shana) has stumbled/discovered my posts before (on at least one occasion). Of course in seeing who was behind the profile I discovered her blogs including Social Desire (a blog about social media). Shana is now on my radar (and in my news aggregator as i just subscribed to her blog).

Now in both of these cases I and Shana only got ourselves one extra reader by being active on StumbleUpon – but you just never know whose ‘radar’ might might end up on and what might result in that.

For me it illustrates the power of being a good active citizen of online communities.

PS One More Example

As I’m about to his publish on this post I’m reminded of another illustration of this same principle – this time from Digg.

It must have been over a year back now but I still remember the day where a Digg User popped up on my radar – his name was Muhammad Saleem. These days he’s become something of a social media celebrity – but Muhammad has become quite well known (and known as a social media expert) over the last year or two. One of the reasons for his rise to social media stardom is that he has been a prolific user of social media sites – including Digg. He managed to become one of Digg’s top users and in doing so got on the radar of many bloggers.

Managing Facebook Friends

I was just over at Facebook and noticed that the option to create Friends Lists had been activated. Now you can organize your friends by type (handy). Now I’ve just got to find a spare 4 hours to sort through them all (feel free to befriend me here).


Speaking of Facebook – Mark Cuban has written about his new Facebook Strategy now that he’s hit the 5000 friend limit. I think we’ll see more and more people begin to hit this ceiling and grapple with what to do.

Blogging vs Social Networking

Hugh McLeod writes:

“So that’s why I have a blog, I suppose. I like the control. I write something, I post it, it gets read, hopefully good things happen as a result, somewhere on this small blue planet of ours. Unlike a book or a movie or a TV commercial, there’s no waiting around for somebody else to greenlight it. The only light is the greenlight….

I guess my point is, if you’re one of these people considering giving up on blogging in exchange for paying more attention to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and MySpace, or whatever they throw at us mere mortals, bear in mind you are giving up on something rather unique and wonderful.’

Hugh’s onto something with this. I chatted with an ex-blogger recently who lamented that he ended his blog 12 months ago to spend more time exploring social networking. His words still ring in my ears (paraphrased):

“I was offered a job through my blog….
I have 9000 ‘friends’ at facebook and myspace….
I used to know most of my readers by name and knew that they all knew mine – even though there were only 200 a day….
I know a lot more people see my profile on facebook – but most of them just are hunting for friend bait….
I used to spend hours writing things that meant something on my blog….
I now spend hours updating people on the lattes I drink and people I meet on Twitter….
I had a brand of my own on and on my own property on my blog….
I now have a brand on someone else’s property….”

His ultimate reflection was to wonder what he could have achieved if he’d invested the amount of time and energy into this blog as the time and energy he invested into his social networking.

My own opinion with social networks is that they’re not all bad (and you don’t need to choose between blogging and social media) – but that I see them as a secondary and supportive strategy to support my primary activities – those being my blogs. Social networks have been useful as ‘straws’ in the overall ‘nest’ of my brand.

Social networks (as well as other social media and web 2.0 sites) have the ability to reinforce your brand, drive traffic, introduce you to new audiences and open up new networks – but in my own business the primary vehicle that I use at present to drive forward what I do remains my blog.

Further Reading – Blog Bloke wrote on a similar topic a few days back. I don’t know that social networking will die – as he does – but rather think we’ll see it gradually integrate more with blogging and hopefully see the pendulum swing back to a more balanced view of these types of sites.