May 10 2007

Is Your Site Antisocial?

Done right, social media sites can boost Web site traffic.

Social media sites such as Digg.com, Delicious and Technorati are the darlings of online media. These sites, which aggregate content from various sources all over the Web, pushed user-submitted and user-rated content systems into the mainstream. The premise is simple: Submit a link to a Web page (such as a news release) and add a headline, link and description. Other users see that link and can vote to make it more (or less) popular. Those that get the most votes appear on the home page. What makes this significant to Web site owners is that having your content linked from one of these sites can send your Web site traffic from a trickle to a tsunami.

But before you jump in with both feet and post “Digg this” links all over your site, take a hard look at whether social media links are relevant for your site. At this time, social media users are predominantly young, tech-savvy early adopters of new media who tend to be high-volume Web surfers, although exceptions exist. Furthermore, the stuff that ranks high on social media is rarely business-to-business news. If you’re thinking your news release on your company’s new steel-manufacturing patent process is front-page news, think again.

del.icio.us displays the zeitgeist, showing the most popular items as chosen by millions of users.

If you feel there is a potential fit, here are some things to keep in mind:

Participate first: Always register with and participate in a social media site before posting your content there. Each site has its own flavor in terms of content preferences and audience type. Karim Yergaliyev, better known as supernova17, is one of digg.com’s most active users. The University of Maryland student has submitted more than 1,300 articles and voted for 36,000 articles in the past two years. He offers this advice: “Try to become very familiar with the community. Add friends to your network and interact with them outside of the Web site.”

Choose sites carefully: There are easily more than 200 social media sites online and this number is growing exponentially. With a field this big, you want to choose your targets carefully. The most common limiter is traffic — many just don’t get enough to send any traffic your way. Others are limited to certain topical areas. Start with the biggest players, such as digg.com, delicious, reddit.com, newsvine.com, stumbleupon.com, technorati, blinklist.com, furl.com, ma.gnolia.com and shadows.com.

Technorati tracks all content using tags. In this case, material tagged with “windows vista” is displayed.

Tag your content: Sites like delicious and Technorati are largely driven by tagging. Tags are one-word descriptors used to label a Web page. You can integrate your content with social media sites by submitting your tags to them. Here’s how it works: You publish on your Web site a press release about your company’s great new high-efficiency solar panels. You tag it with Technorati tags for “solar,” “panels” and “energy.” When a user visits Technorati’s page for “solar,” all articles that have been tagged in Technorati with that term will be available there, including yours.

As an indexing system, social bookmarking and tagging can be confusing and seemingly arbitrary, as people file similar material in different ways (picture collecting a million file folder names from different people and organizing them). Still, participating in the sites will help you get a feel for the common threads. Jory Des Jardins, one of the founders of Blogher, a network of women bloggers, recommends doing some research before you assign tags. “You might go to Technorati and see how similar items are tagged,” she says. “You need to have some kind of a shared methodology before you go tag your stories. If you want to have some prominence in a certain area, go to blogs you really love. See how they tag.”

Submitting content is easy (using the digg.com interface, in this case). Getting popular content is the real challenge.

Be original: Yergaliyev says the most common items he votes against (or “buries,” in digg.com terminology) are spam links and blog posts that copy and paste from traditional news sources. “Be original,” he advises. “Try to find unique content that is different from general news stories.”

Play by the rules: There have been, and continue to be, many efforts to “game” the social media systems with content of questionable value. Tactics such as having each company employee create an account and then Digg a news item might work initially, but such a method gets recognized when repeated, and then the community cries foul. Remember, social media users can as easily vote against your content as for it, so act with the good intention of helping others find your exciting material, and you’ll do fine.

Dan Skeen is director of search engine marketing for Quarry (www.quarry.com), a communications agency in Waterloo, Ontario.