Social Media Optimization Strategies ©2007 SEOmoz, LLC Introduction The Changing Landscape of Social Media Optimization Social media marketing, while its concept and fundamentals have been around for a while, has changed remarkably in the past six months. There was a time when a social media link building campaign was very easy. The big search engines valued domains like Squidoo and MySpace to the extent that your profiles could easily rank for targeted keywords. It should come as no surprise that this is no longer the case. Using social media as an effective link building tactic is still possible but it is no longer as easy as creating profiles, submitting content to social news sites and dominating search engine results pages. It is both fortunate and unfortunate that Google has severely toughened up its standards for sites like MySpace. For marketers, it means a lot more work. For users, it means far less noise and spam in their search results. Social media optimization is now a relatively delicate process. Traditional link building campaigns often involve blatantly asking for links, or simply buying them. In contrast, social media optimization is only effective if a marketer can convince others to link to material, not by asking, but by creating fantastic content. Most people’s accounts and profiles on social media websites are intrinsically attached to their offline self. Unlike people who run a website that includes a designated “Links” page, social media users are not likely to add a company’s profile as a “friend” or vote for a company’s content just because they’re asked to. The majority of people want their user history on sites like Digg and Reddit, and their friend lists on MySpace and Facebook to reflect something about their personalities. The less socially appealing and more exploited your industry is offline, the harder it will be for you to take advantage of online communities. The landscape of social media is constantly changing. There is no profile, site or community whose content does not change hourly or, at the most, daily. “Traditional” social media link building, in most respects, was solely spam. Marketers realized that they could get quick, easy non-nofollowed links out of domains whose authority had already been established. There was little need to build a community and, in actual fact, a company who created a spam profile for the sake of linking to their actual websites would not have wanted to attract a great deal of traffic to the profile itself. The primary goal was to have search engine spiders see the profile and the links, add the weight of the links to the authority of the company’s main website and improve the main website’s ranking. Search engines no longer lend any value whatsoever to links from areas like MySpace profiles. This is not to say, however, that MySpace and its peers are completely useless now; it just means that optimizing with these sites is no longer the simple process it was a few years ago. Search engines and social media website owners alike are aware that the point of social media is not to simply give marketers an easy collection of links. Marketers must now be prepared to contribute to the communities that can send them traffic. This article documents the procedures and practices that should be followed in order to enjoy the benefits of today’s largest social media entities. With the detailed instructions of how marketers can best optimize these sites, we have also included the quickest, easiest ways to create accounts and add links to other sites. We provide this not because we advocate creating profiles, adding links and not following up with the community in any way, but as a time-saving guide when one is faced with creating multiple profiles across different sites. Some General Rules 1. When dealing with social media, you may have to leave your political or moral beliefs behind. For some reason, a high percentage of users at the most popular social media outlets are of a liberal or libertarian persuasion and they tend to join groups and vote on stories accordingly. 2. In general, people are a lot more wary about social spam now than they were three years ago. Even legitimate yet misguided marketing efforts can be taken as spam by users. 3. The widespread adoption of the nofollow tag, which tells search engines not to put any value in tagged links, means that marketers need to appeal to communities as a whole instead of simply taking advantage of sites’ domain strength. 4. Buying votes to gain popularity for submissions on social media websites is even more frowned upon than is buying links in order to rank well in search engines. However, search marketers and webmasters ask their friends, acquaintances and business associates for links all the time. They ask total strangers for links via link submission forms and unsolicited emails. Asking for votes in social media is fine – people have the right to decide your content is not to their liking and not to vote for it. However, when someone has bought a link or a vote, there is no social discretion. Money should never change hands in the social media world. 5. Every community is different, even if the same people use a number of different communities. People do not behave the same way at LinkedIn as they do at MySpace; neither do they look for the same content at Del.icio.us as they do whilst browsing on StumbleUpon. Every social media effort has to take the intended audience into account. 6. Even if you have the most compelling content on the Internet, an ugly website, boring Blogspot layout or even a questionable color-scheme can hinder your success with social media. Search engines mightn’t be able to see an ugly background or a slow-loading image, but people can, and they take into account factors like these when deciding whether or not you get their vote. 7. People can be very mean. Social media is a popularity contest of sorts and people love to bring down things that are popular. When your content receives a lot of attention on a prominent website, there will be those who add nasty comments. Consider those comments as part of your success, because rarely do users bother commenting on content that is receiving no attention. 8. Timing can be important. When submitting content to sites like Reddit and Digg, it is not a good idea to do so when it is the middle of the night in the United States. The U.S. is the main source of traffic for sites like this and you will generally notice the best results if your content is gaining votes during the United States’ work day and Europe’s evening. Although good content can become popular at any time, a good rule to follow is that intellectual submissions that require a user to think are better off being posted on Monday through Wednesday night or Thursday-day. Less-thought provoking submissions can be posted on Thursday evening, Friday and during the weekend. We once recorded a phenomenal link bait success over a Friday-Saturday time period, but the post was just an interesting picture. Few users are in the mood for political or economic discussion at three in the afternoon on a Friday. Statistics about Featured Sites Service Page Inlinks Pages Rank indexed 8 31,962,158 79,199,655 Alexa Rank 6 Users Links Status 8 517,955 1,747166 15 * 8 4,014,308 1,475,089 95 6 61,371 501,616 518 189 million HTML formatting allowed / required; links are redirected and no longer carry any value 30 million Live; invisible to search engines; no HTML formatting allowed 1.2 million Live, no nofollow; no HTML formatting allowed 65,000 HTML formatting allowed / 9 1,006 336 8 16,464,501 1,063,138 7 1,709,000 1,983,000 8 7,000,000 57 million 7 2,843,000 20 million required; no nofollow 1 N/A Live, no HTML (Yahoo! formatting alone) allowed, links nofollowed 300 3 million (on site) Links live and nofollowed 889 Links to stories do not contain nofollow tag; undisclosed comment links do not contain nofollow tag 248 2 million Links to stories nofollowed; no live links or HTML allowed in notes 149 10 million No HTML formatting allowed; links out are live with your choice of anchor text and do not contain a nofollow, if marked as “Other” upon creation *While Facebook has a PageRank of eight, none of its internal pages (such as full profiles, groups, events and applications) are visible to search engines. Facebook is a “walled garden” for which members have to be signed in to view content. Marketing on Facebook is therefore less about traditional SEO and more about leveraging Facebook’s numerous applications. Indexed Facebook pages include members’ public profiles (which resemble a business card), affiliate pages and the service’s Help pages. MySpace Introduction It is a big claim to make that a previously powerful, influential, and popular service is dead or dying, but MySpace is no longer as viable a tool for the purposes of marketing as it once was. There are two reasons for MySpace’s demise: Firstly, the site is uniquely vulnerable to attack. Allowing users virtually limitless control over HTML, MySpace has long been a haven for both amateur and professional hackers, phishers and shysters. More and more legitimate users are deleting or abandoning their MySpace accounts in favor of services such as Facebook and Bebo that appear to be less easy to compromise. On a related note, the site crashes and refuses to load pages in a way that would cripple a company whose reputation and popularity were not already established. All MySpace users will have seen error notices such as “Server is too busy”, “Service is unavailable” and “Sorry! An unexpected error has occurred. This error has been forwarded to MySpace’s technical team.” The latter also annoys people who don’t like being lied to, which is approximately everyone. Similar aggravating errors include the below example, where MySpace refuses to accept that the “WA” in Seattle, WA means Washington and not Western Australia. The second reason why MySpace isn’t nearly the powerhouse it used to be is a direct result of the previously mentioned problems. A site simply cannot continue to present users with errors and security holes and expect that its users will not look elsewhere for a better service. The number of real people who are using MySpace as their preferred means of online social networking is decreasing. Data from Alexa, shown below, will tell a different story, but these raw numbers fail to take into account the massive number of spammers, phishers, wannabe celebrities and, frankly, misguided marketers who flock to the service daily. That MySpace’s traffic is shown as increasing at the same rate as that of Facebook actually means that Facebook is receiving far more genuine traffic. And, while a great many “real people” do still use MySpace, most of them are very tired and disillusioned with friend requests, messages and promotions from people and companies whom they do not actually know and from whom they do not wish to receive messages. Do not take the advice of SEOs who recommend that your social media profiles go around these sites sending friend requests to people whom you don’t know. You will develop a reputation as a spammer, which is a very tough label to shake. Instead, you must make people want to send you friend requests, or link to your social media content. Becoming a social media entity that receives, as opposed to sends, friend requests requires a fair amount of work. Some businesses will have an easier time with this than others: a museum or restaurant will attract more genuine friend requests than a mortgage company or law firm. In other words, the effort you will have to put in to your social media campaign is inversely related to the popularity and likeability of your industry. Our social media campaign for a contemporary art gallery had only just begun when we began receiving friend requests from “real people” who were fans of the gallery. Conversely, a social media campaign for a law firm was far more difficult. Available Applications and Services What follows is a list of the applications available to you at MySpace. A good way of building your profile’s visibility at MySpace without sending out dozens of spam messages and friend requests is to join MySpace Groups that are relevant to your business. The number of groups is astronomical and it’s highly likely that you will find some that are applicable to you. By joining these groups and participating in group discussions, you will attract the attention of the right people. Again, only add them as friends once you’ve established a relationship with them. To put it another way, you’d never invite someone you barely know to your home before you got to know them in a public environment. Once you have gathered a list of contacts (i.e., your MySpace friends), the best way of communicating with them en masse is via MySpace’s bulletin feature. When you are logged in to your MySpace account, a box on the left side of the page shows bulletin posts from your friends. While there is no guarantee that your friends will read what amounts to your mass emails, this is a decidedly less intrusive way of offering people information that they might be interested in. The alternative – composing individual messages with the same content to every one of your contacts – is pushier and usually not appreciated. For all the applications and functions available on MySpace, bulletins are the easiest and most effective to optimize. While most MySpace users post surveys and chain letters in bulletins, they are best used for viral marketing. You can include nifty images and links in bulletins; however the images have to be CSS driven, as <img> tags will not work. As is shown below, you can create nice looking badges that include a tidy little nonofollowed link to your desired URL. The sweetest thing about the bulletin feature is that if you create something cool enough with a neat enough badge, your contact list will spread if for you. Say you have 100 friends and just ten of them repost your content into a bulletin of their own. Assuming that those friends have around 75 friends of their own, ten percent of which also repost the content, your content will be displayed in front of hundreds of people without you having to send unsolicited messages to anyone. Discussion between people who are not necessarily acquaintances also takes place on MySpace’s Forums. In the same vein as MySpace’s groups, the forums are a place for people to converse on a wide range of topics. However, in typical MySpace fashion, the forums are full of idiotic discussion, spam and off-topic conversation. You will need to dig through forums whose content relates to your business in order to find a thread or discussion that you can legitimately join, and whose members may be interested in what you have to say. MySpace’s Events section only applies to your business if you run the type of events that MySpace users are interested in. Music festivals, sports events, art exhibits and concerts will go down well, and the majority of your marketing needs will not. MySpace already makes provisions for musicians, comedians and filmmakers, so if your business can fall into one of these categories, you can create a specialized account. For all other industries, your best practice summary should be: 1. Create regular MySpace profile (not a musician, filmmaker or comedian account). 2. Take part in discussions within groups and forums in order to establish relationships with potential contacts, customers and friends. 3. Only add people as friends with whom you have established a relationship. It would be preferable if these people added you instead. 4. Utilize bulletins to spread your brand, your news and your reputation. Invest some time and effort into creating interesting content and good-looking badges and images that can be spread easily via bulletins and which can be taken and embedded on people’s blogs and websites. Profile Options As far as maintaining a MySpace profiles goes, you must not abuse the service’s liberal HTML allowances. For the sake of branding, you may want to customize the colorscheme of your profile so that it matches that of your company, but do not copy and paste a layout template from a third party. Nearly all pre-formatted MySpace layouts are gaudy and tacky; many crash users’ browsers and some are far too wide for the average monitor. There are services that allow you to simply choose the colors of your borders, background, text etc, and although most will include a sneaky link to their site when you copy and paste the layout into your profile, it is easy to remove the link by searching for and deleting their <a href> tag. If in doubt, use MySpace’s default profile layout. It’s not really that bad. And never, under any circumstances, embed a music player on your profile. Ninety-nine percent of Internet users adamantly dislike embedded music players that have the tendency to blast music at visitors without their consent. And no matter how great your taste in music, there is a possibility that visitors may not agree with your choice. Don’t lose potential clients because they dislike your music. As for adding your own links, an href tag is all you’ll need in order to have a live link. Beware, however, that MySpace profiles lend no weight whatsoever to the sites to which they link due to their recent addition of a redirect, explained below. There are numerous examples of very popular MySpace profiles with high PageRank scores and many external links, but those are always exceedingly popular pages, usually belonging to celebrities or very well-known organizations. In most cases, they’re also quite old. Before the addition of the redirect to all outbound links, these popular pages would have lent weight to the pages to which they linked. The average MySpace page has no strength whatsoever, despite the heavy-weight domain it resides on. Path of Least Resistance Sign up: • At http://www.myspace.com/ , click the link marked SignUp in the top right hand corner of the page. • • • Fill out your profile information. MySpace requires that all fields be filled out and that the birth date given indicates that the user is older than 13 years of age. If the geographic location of your business is important or you are trying to target specific geographic audiences, provide the correct postal code of the location you are interested in optimizing for. Use a valid email address, as you will later be required to verify your account via an email send to the address you provide. You must access this email and click the link provided before you can interact with anyone on MySpace. Indicating that you are from a particular country will bring up different options for postal codes, regions, states and territories. You can also choose from 21 different language and international site options. Choosing an international setting will result in MySpace’s interface being tailored specifically for your language and region. 5. You will be presented with a CAPTCHA that you must fill out correctly in order to complete registration. Thankfully, Myspace recently changed their CAPTCHAs from undecipherable images to relatively tame, easy to read strings of letters. Having correctly filled out the CAPTCHA, you will be given the option to upload an image. It is a good idea to include an image on your profile; users rarely take seriously profiles that do not include an image, and since interacting with the community is a critical part of MySpace success, you will want to find a compelling yet relevant picture to display on your profile. Next, you will be asked to invite others to join MySpace. Although this looks like a requirement, it is not. If you do not wish to do this, click “Skip for now” at the bottom right of the invitation box. You will then be taken to your profile’s homepage, which includes your message inbox, received friend requests, event invitations and options to edit your profile. You cannot send messages, post comments, write bulletin posts or add friends until you verify your email address. From this page, you can customize your profile’s URL, which is integral to your MySpace campaign. Choose a URL that is relatively short, but that reflects your brand, company name or most desirable keyword. Given the scope of MySpace, many possible URLs are already taken, but try to avoid the temptation to add numbers or include spelling variations. This directly detracts from the professionalism of the branding and the worthiness of the keywords. Also remember that you cannot change the URL after it is set, so check carefully for potential branding problems, spelling errors and other concerns. MySpace will not allow dashes ( - ) in URLs, but it will permit underscores ( _ ). This said, search engines do not treat underscores as spaces in URLs (although Google’s chief engineer reports that the engine is “looking at” the issue), and you should therefore combine two words together (“myspace.com/firstnamelastname”) rather than separate the words with underscores (“myspace.com/firstname_lastname”). Our experience is that joining multiple words together in a URL is still a far better practice than separating them with an underscore. Add links out from your profile by following the Edit Profile link beside your profile picture. NOTE: MySpace have recently begun redirecting all outbound links so that any weight they may have lent is completely taken away. It is both strange and slightly amusing that MySpace has chosen to take this action, as the search engines already placed little value in MySpace links. They are also choosing a strange way in which to "nofollow" outbound links, and some may say they have addressed this problem about three years too late. However, the image below shows how to include an outbound link in a profile, as there still is a possibility that such a link could send the website traffic. All links have to be formatted with HTML in order to be live. The “About Me” section of MySpace is also where you’ll copy and paste any formatting HTML, but you can insert your links in any one of your profile’s sections. Conclusion MySpace is abused for a reason: it is easy to create profiles and include links, and the community is enormous. Approaching MySpace with the mindset that you will conduct your campaign professionally and at a level above the average marketer will put you ahead of most business-minded MySpace members. Musicians who utilize MySpace for their marketing usually do so in the right way, often because their MySpace profile is their only real web presence. They interact with their online friends, frequently update their MySpace blog and thus provide people with an incentive to return to their page in the future. You may find users who will blindly add you as a friend if you send them a request without ever having interacted with them. These members contribute nothing to your campaign but a tiny, virtually invisible link to your profile. Create relationships on MySpace before you add friends, as the people you actually interact with are those who are more likely to blog about you, visit your primary website and use your services. Facebook Introduction From a link-building point of view, Facebook is completely useless because everything on the site apart from the official blog, some About pages and the Help menu is hidden from search engines. Facebook is a “walled garden”, and the wall is topped with razor wire. You need a membership in order to see anyone’s profile, and you can only see the profiles of your friends and people within your networks who have not restricted their privacy settings. However, Facebook has a user-base that should make other social networking websites weak at the knees. Do not let the service’s closed doors put you off exploring its network: You can consider Facebook to be a little Internet of its own where SEO can take place, but in a completely modified manner. Without a doubt, Facebook’s community is the more passionate about their online home than any other network of its size on the web. Facebook users tend to rebel en masse when they come across something that they do not like. They also tend to adopt features that they do like with fervent enthusiasm. When Facebook first launched, users needed a collegiate email account in order to register. This is no longer the case. However, up until June 2007, playing the social media game with Facebook was pretty similar to MySpace, minus the miniscule link value that a MySpace profile could provide. The great advantage of the Facebook was always its audience: the combination of the audience’s youth and its socio-economic status made it very valuable, as middle class college kids tend to be web-savvy and they tend to buy things. Even now that Facebook is open to the non-college-enrolled public, the audience has not drastically changed. The site invites intelligent contribution with its tidy layout, lack of HTML liberties and unwillingness to let users change their names to ridiculous taglines, which is a well-loved past-time at MySpace, Bebo and their ilk. In other words, Facebook subtly makes sure that its neighborhood is more professional and clean than those of its competitors. Thus, it is a great place to establish a professional presence. Facebook’s Application Platform http://developers.facebook.com/ The major change in the Facebook platform took place at the end of May 2007 with the introduction of Facebook Applications. This allows developers to create apps that do anything and everything. From a feed of Digg’s homepage to a widget showing a user’s celebrity look-alikes, most of these applications are typically useless. However, these applications are the online marketer’s first real gateway to the Facebook audience. Several established businesses are already using Facebook Apps to their advantage. iLike.com’s music discovery application has almost five million users. TravelPod.com’s “Traveler IQ Challenge” is being used by 12,000 people. Picnik, an online photo editing site that was featured in SEOmoz’s 2007 Web 2.0 Awards, has 205,000 users. However, there is so much potential for other businesses to develop applications. It takes a lot more work than simply making nice badges for MySpace bulletins, but the rewards are potentially a lot greater as well. The great thing about developing a Facebook Application is that you can be fairly sure that a) the reported number of people using your application is accurate, and b) that most if not all of those “people” are indeed real live human beings. MySpace’s numbers are always wildly inaccurate: when you are signed into the service, a box in the top right corner of the page will tell you how many people are in your “extended network”, which really indicates how many members MySpace has at that moment. Refresh the page. Watch the number go up or down by two-to-three thousand. Refreshing a Facebook Application page that shows numbers of users of that particular application will only change by a small amount, which seems to accurately reflect how often people add and remove applications. It is highly unlikely that 3,000 profiles are created / deleted at MySpace within seconds, over and over again. Facebook Applications are spread mainly through others’ friends lists. Users can invite their friends to add the applications that they are using, and quite often people simply notice that their friends are using an application that they’d like. Much like Digg, Facebook has three different ways in which users can search for applications. “Recently Popular” is like Digg’s homepage, “Most Users” would be akin to Digg’s “Top in 24 Hours” and “Newest” is like “Upcoming.” Thus, you have three main opportunities to have your new application seen by users. Your customized application page (which looks very similar to a Facebook Groups page) can contain a link to your main website, which is only good for driving traffic, as application pages are not visible to search engines. A curious and encouraging trend in the world of Facebook Apps is that the web’s traditional leaders in certain fields aren’t necessarily the leaders in their genres on Facebook. iLike trails Last.fm outside of Facebook, but dominates the music market within the service with 4,300,000 more users. YouTube is apparently not promoting an application (zu.com has developed an application that uses YouTube) and Netflix’s application is not particularly popular. This is great news for developers: the playing field is not sloped in favor of established organizations. As previously mentioned, different rules apply within Facebook. One man bands and small businesses can compete on equal ground with the like of PayPal, Flickr and Yahoo. Facebook Groups Facebook Groups have been around for about as long as the service has been operating, which is since early 2004. In much the same vein as MySpace groups, your optimization options with regular groups are limited to creating and / or joining groups whose subject matter pertains to your business’s content. Creating groups was not covered in the MySpace section of this document because of the overwhelming saturation of all MySpace’s applications and features. Facebook groups are also becoming as prolific as individual members’ accounts, but due to Facebook’s superior search features, it is more worthwhile to create groups on this service. The procedure for creating Facebook groups and acquiring members is not as delicate as that of acquiring social media friends. It is not the same violation of social networking etiquette to invite people to join a group as it is to randomly add strangers are friends. One method of finding people in your area (if you have geographical limitations) who may be interested in your Facebook group is to conduct an Advanced Search for people who share a common interest in your service or product. The drop-down menu in the top left of every Facebook page The limitation of this type of search is that Facebook will only return profiles that you are authorized to view. In most cases, this is limited to people in your networks. Your networks consist of specific geographical, educational or workplace networks that you’ve joined, and while you can join any regional network you like, you must have a official email address from a college in order to join its network. The same applies for companies that have Facebook networks. Of course, now that Facebook is open to the public and is not limited to people with .edu email addresses any longer, there is nothing stopping you creating several different accounts in the different geographical locations that interest your business. If you possess an email account from your former college or colleges, you can use that to your advantage. The good thing, however, about these restricted search results is that you can click through and view every profile that Facebook returns. Facebook will not return results for people who have limited their privacy settings so that those who are not their friends cannot view their profiles. You can access everyone’s page and assess whether or not they are potentially interested in your business. However, there is a catch. Facebook has disallowed inviting people to your groups who are not already your friends. While you can send messages to individuals, asking them if they’d like to join, you cannot send invitations from the group itself unless the people are your friends. The dangerous thing about these types of messages is that they will almost universally be deleted as spam. Thus, your path to gaining friends becomes very similar to the route at MySpace, where you’ll have to participate in existing groups (whose discussion boards are usually very active) until you build up relationships. Another alternative is to pay your way into the grouposphere. Initially, Facebook appeared rather choosey about who they allowed to create sponsored groups, but the number of paid groups is rising. Now, sponsored groups are presented to users when they log in. As the owner of a sponsored group, you choose what types of people you’d like your sponsored group’s advertisement to be shown to: Facebook bills sponsors by ad views, so your NASCAR group needn’t be pitching itself to fifteen year old girls from England. Surprisingly, Facebook users aren’t adverse to joining sponsored groups. One would expect that the Facebook demographic might balk at taking part in a large company’s advertising campaign, as the core group of Facebook members are young, Internet savvy and educated. However, the glaringly obvious example of Facebook advertising which is Apple’s sponsored group boasts 419,200 members. The groups even look like advertisements, as advertisers have far more control over the way they look than does the average group administrator. Companies can include their logos and templates, and can circumvent some of Facebook’s strict formatting rules. However, sponsoring Facebook groups is not cheap. Reports (although not official) indicate that it costs a company a minimum of $50,000 USD to become a group sponsor and that they should expect to spend $150,000 USD over three months. There are also CPM charges, as advertisements for sponsored groups appear in users' homepage news feeds. If your business is small enough that you can’t afford or don’t want to spend the money to advertise with Facebook, there are plenty regular groups, created for the purposes of marketing, that do well. What will prove difficult in marketing these groups is their relative invisibility to anyone who is not directly connected with your profile as a friend. Facebook Flyers Appearing as banner ads on users’ sidebars, Facebook’s flyers are relatively unassuming promotions for whatever the poster wishes to say. At a cost of $10 USD per 5,000 impressions, you can choose which types of users see your flyer, how long the flyer should be displayed for, whether the flyer links to a specific website or Facebook profile, and what images (if any) are displayed. The interface for creating a flyer is ridiculously easy to use, letting you add and remove networks you'd like to see the flyer at your discretion. However, once your flyer is live, you cannot change its content, nor any of its settings: The flyer is perhaps the most hassle-free way of conducting paid advertising on Facebook. While less people will take notice of a flyer than they will a swanky group, you are guaranteed exposure to thousands of people for the cost of as little as five dollars. Facebook Polls While not a viable way to drive traffic, Facebook polls are a good way of conducting market research. Paying for this research (and advertising, if you’re including some key brand phrases) is on a cost-per-click basis. Depending on how long you want your poll to run for and how visible you would like it to be, you can spend anywhere between $6 and $1001 USD. You can specify that your poll be shown to people of all ages, or limit its exposure by age, sex, location, interests, college major, favorite movies, books or music. So you could poll users about their favorite Classic Rock artists and limit respondents to those who have specified Classic Rock as a genre they enjoy. The polls appear in users’ news feeds and are the feature that Facebook users are least likely to realize is sponsored. The results of the polls you conduct are available on the polls page (when you are signed in), and include a relatively simplistic breakdown of the respondents’ answers based upon sex and age. While this mightn’t be the most in-depth polling or reporting application available to you, you are at least assured that the poll is being seen by one of the most coveted audiences on the web. Industry specific questions may well confirm or blatantly negate what your business believes to be true about public preferences or opinions. For example, as a software developer, you may want to know which browser Facebook users prefer. Rather than attempting to come up with numbers from pre-existing data, you can create a poll that asks the users themselves. Path of Least Resistance Depending on how you want to present yourself on Facebook, you have some options as to how you sign up. If you have an email account from your college or alma mater and you’d like to be part of that network, you can use it to sign up. The advantage of signing up with a collegiate email address is that you have access to the groups, events and profiles of everyone else from that network. If you belong to a company that is large enough to have a network of its own on Facebook, you can join with your work email account also. You are not limited to joining only one of these networks; if you want to join both a collegiate and professional network, you can add email addresses after you’ve sign up. If you don’t have an email account that immediately associates you with a work or college network, check the “none of the above” option. You can still join a regional network. Joining a regional network gives you access to all the profiles of people in that network, provided that the profile’s owners have not restricted their privacy setting. Similarly, everyone in your network or networks can see your profile unless you specify otherwise, which isn’t a good idea if you’re attempting to spread your brand amongst the community. Once you are a member, you can customize your profile to reflect the image you wish to portray. Several notable websites and companies now sport Facebook profiles. Conclusion Although Facebook pages are invisible to search engines, the service is the hottest commodity in the social networking world at present. That the service was initially U.S. and Canada specific does not matter anymore, as foreigners have been flocking to the site since before it opened to the public in 2006. Of all social media and social networking websites, Facebook is probably the one that you have to be the most respectful of. Its community takes the integrity, cleanliness and lack of spam very seriously; MySpace users simply delete and deny messages and friend requests that appear to be spam because they’re used to receiving them. Facebook users won’t be so tolerant of your uninvited requests. Make sure to establish a brand and a relationship before attempting to build a following on Facebook. Digg Introduction Unlike Facebook, MySpace and YouTube, very few people outside of technology and marketing world know about Digg. Its immense popularity begins and ends with a crowd are both more web-savvy and less educated than the average website’s audience, and who categorically hate marketing, SEO and every other type of web-based promotion. They’ll not click on your Adsense. They’ll smear your comments with misspelled diatribes against you, your content and other posters. They’ll bury your good content in favor of a picture of a Windows error screen displayed on a MacBook with an Xbox 360 in the background. Editors will pull your content and continue to insist that Digg’s results and rankings are completely democratic. There will be nothing you can do about it. However, if you are willing to put up with the immense frustration that is the result of dealing with Digg, the traffic results can be astronomical. Below are the web stats for a very low-profile, industry specific blog that had one of its posts make the homepage of Digg. The content that made Digg’s homepage was nothing more than an interesting photograph. It received 2151 diggs and 213 comments. Getting Dugg The process of submitting content to Digg is easy; however, any interesting content more than a couple of days old has usually already been submitted. Thankfully, Digg will not allow the same URL to be submitted more than once. It is not so good at blocking modified URLs or stolen content. Both the administration and audience of Digg are supposedly strictly against people posting content that they themselves authored. As previously stated, they are vehemently against anything that looks like promotion, self or otherwise. If enough of them “bury” your story, it will disappear from Digg feeds such as “Upcoming” and “Popular”, thus killing your exposure. However, posts and content submitted by the contents’ authors make Digg’s homepage all the time. Rather than being the democratic haven that Digg’s administrators make it out to be, the coveted fifteen places on Digg’s homepage is the playing field of the cleverest, best connected user, rather than the user with the best content. This said, content that appeals to Diggers usually falls into one of several categories. Sometimes, stories reach the front page that are abnormal in subject matter or style, but on any given day, the top fifteen will usually comprise of the following: 1. A weird, cool or amusing picture, marked with [PIC], [image] or [picture] in order to get more click-throughs. 2. An article about how awful President Bush, Dick Cheney or various U.S. government agencies are. 3. An article whose title contains the words “Linux” or “Ubuntu.” 4. Something to do with sex. 5. An article whose title contains the word “iPhone”. 6. Mundane “news” about video games. Digg also has an on-again / off-again love with the following genres: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Worst / Best lists. Top 10 lists. How-To guides. Tragically awful / ugly websites. Quiz-type applications. While basic quizzes are no longer popular, variations on the theme can still become popular. This example made the home page and is little more than a quiz / test. There are also several key elements to having a submission become popular: Submissions' Titles The title you give your post is not nearly as important as that which you give its Digg submission. Your actual post could have no title at all: Diggers will not consider it when deciding whether to vote for your story. However, they will put a lot of emphasis on the title that your post was given on Digg. Again using the above example, the quiz’s actual title is “Online Identity Calculator.” The submission to Digg was titled “Are You An Internet Micro-Celebrity? Find Out!” Your title needs to be sensational without seeming desperate or childish. This said, posts with phrases like “omg” and “really cool!” have been known to make the homepage. If your post is a picture, use [pic] to let Diggers know as much. For all the categories Digg offers, Pictures is not one of them. People are also very keen to click through to see a picture, as digesting photographs requires no effort or time and is thus perfect for this particular audience. You are also required to add a description of the submission that appears underneath its title. While this part of the process is not nearly as important as the title itself (in fact, some descriptions are absolutely abysmal), they should generally not exceed three sentences. If you can say all that’s needed about the submission in one sentence, go for it. The descriptions are rarely what makes people click through to the story. Sometimes, the worst possible description doesn't stop a story from reaching the home page. Initial Interest When you submit a story to Digg, it goes into the site’s Upcoming list. Depending on the rate of submissions (which is usually very high), your story won’t be on the front page of this list for very long. Although it will still be available on subsequent “Upcoming” pages (which really means, “submitted but not going anywhere”), few people click back very far past the first few pages. There are various rumors surrounding how to be successful on Digg, and one of them is that you’re better off having “a good account.” “Good” accounts are those whose content is often made popular. One story as to how you can strengthen your account is by being amongst the first people to digg stories that eventually become popular. This may or may not be true, but it means that people often digg stories speculatively, trawling through new submissions for content that they think might get a lot of attention. If you’re a marketer, however, you don’t want to leave your submissions to chance. A great title and diggable content is far from enough to ensure success. What you really need is a network. The following is considered highly unethical by the core Digg community. The idea of having a group of people who’ll digg your content for you in order to take it from 1 digg (yours) to 10-20 diggs in a short period of time is thought to be the height of spam. The silly thing about this assumption is that awful content that gets 20 diggs from the submitter’s friends will not get dugg by any other users. Most mediocre content that gets between 20 and 40 diggs and proceeds to die has been promoted in such a manner. The initial boost achieves nothing, because there is no real content for the wider community to enjoy. Submitters should not feel bad about taking part in this practice. It is safe to assume that hardly anything makes it to the homepage of Digg without some help from either the posts’ authors, the submitters or both. Assuming that your content is good enough to be enjoyed by a large number of people, this influx of voting in the first hour after the post is submitted ensures only that the content will become visible. Don’t overdo the initial voting (100 diggs in the first ten minutes and you’ll be buried for spam), but you can safely work at the rate of about 30 diggs in the first hour. Content that received a good number of votes directly after being submitted goes into a queue on the side of the “Upcoming” page named “Hot in All Topics.” These fifteen stories are almost homepage worthy: while we don’t know how Digg’s algorithm (or editorial process) decides which stories get promoted to the homepage and which do not, having a story in Hot in All Topics means that it is on the verge of stardom. Some stories make the homepage with only thirty or forty votes; others have 100 votes and are still waiting in the queue. However, you need to exercise extreme caution when having friends digg your material. Digg’s obsession with democracy has prompted the site’s developers to closely monitor where diggs come from. Therefore, do not have all your colleagues digg an article from your office, as multiple diggs from the same IP address will result in both the story being automatically buried as spam and in your workmates’ accounts being “disabled due to misuse.” And by disabled, they mean “terminated.” Thus, you need to have friends at different locations to vote on content. It is not known if Digg keeps tabs on who regularly votes on whose content, but it is a good idea not to add your core group of diggers as “friends” of your user account. Referrals Many sites include a large yellow “Digg this” button on posts. That’s all posts. There is not one website online that consistently produces diggable content and thus, most of these yellow buttons have a zero where the number of diggs goes. It looks simply horrible; to a reader who does not know what Digg is, the zeros make the site look awfully unpopular. But there is an even better reason not to include links straight from a post to its corresponding Digg page. The rumor that Digg monitors referrals does appear to be true. Digg takes notice of where users come from when they digg an article. The reason for this is Digg’s manic insistence that all stories be voted on by people who’ve come across the stories on Digg itself. They do not like the idea that established fans of a website are digging content or that the content producers are actively seeking diggs. Once a story becomes popular and hits the homepage, it seems to be okay to link to the Digg page from the original content; however, before the story has a significant amount of popularity, avoid displaying such a prominent link. The penalties for sending traffic from your post to its submission on Digg are unclear, but it appears to be harder to advance from Upcoming to Popular when you’re “caught” linking in this way. Secondly, the way in which your friends arrive at your story’s Digg page should be monitored. The easiest way to let people know that you’d like them to digg something for you is to send them an instant message or an email. You’ll undoubtedly have sent people a link to a Digg page. If they simply click through from your IM or email, the referral will give away your digging strategy. When digging content for others or getting them to digg it for you, have people copy and paste the URL rather than just clicking through, or link to a different Digg page, such as your user account, and request that they go through two or three clicks before actually digging the story. It’s not known whether or not this final (and strangely obvious) piece of advice makes much of a difference, although you’d think it should: Make sure that people actually click through and view the story. Digg surely notices if a story has been dugg twenty times but has only been viewed twice. Digg Comments Links from Digg comments are live and are not no-followed, but are dangerous to add for a number of reasons. In a best case scenario, adding a link to a page you own from a Digg comment will send you some targeted traffic. In a worst-case scenario, Digg’s community will cry foul on your link, accuse you of spamming the comments and bombard the site you link to in any way they can. Which includes but is probably not limited to sending you barrages of emails, making prank phone calls (didn’t list phone numbers on your site? They’ll look for your site’s registration details or resort to the White Pages if the urge becomes them) and reposting your contact information on other forums and comments so that others will take up the harassment case as well. While this worst case scenario is very rare, it has happened to a number of unwitting commenters, most of whom did not realize that their actions were so frowned upon or that their link was considered “blogspam.” The end result of adding a relevant link to a comment thread and being “dugg up” for it (that is, having Digg members vote for your comment) results in a mini-digg of your site. A very popular comment link can attract more traffic than some mediocre stories. However, people are likely to spend even less time on your site if they’re arrived there from the comments than if the page in question was actually the one being dugg. And that adds up to very little time at all, since diggers’ attention spans are notoriously short. When the submission that’s being commented on is yours, the best piece of advice is not to read the comments at all. It is unclear whether Digg takes into account the number of comments a story is getting when determining if the story should make the front page, so you may want to add a comment or two if your story is in Upcoming and you feel it needs a boost. However, once the story hits the homepage, reading the comments is a masochistic task. You’ll puzzle over the fact that your story has been dugg by hundreds or thousands of people, and yet you’ve somehow accumulated 142 comments from people who all hate your submission, have buried your story and who have resorted to calling you names. Where are the comments from the hundreds of people who appreciated the link? On Digg, it seems to be the case that people only comment if they have something negative to say. Those who liked your piece often remain silent. Despite the negativity throughout this particular comment thread, the submission received around 800 diggs. Agonizing over Digg comments is like crying over political blogs where the writers don’t subscribe to your point of view. You will never change the fact that some people are hateful and like to bring down others’ work. The most infuriating type of Digg comment is that which is completely misguided, false or by someone who obviously didn’t read your article in full. Replying to such comments is completely pointless, as Digg does not notify people when their comments have received replies. Even if the person reads your response, you will not change their IQ, their level of tolerance, or even their opinion. As tough as it may be to ignore negative comments, try not to read them. The only instance in which nonconstructive negative comments may help you out is if they point out a genuine problem with your site that you’d be best to look into. However, since you’re more than likely to work this out for yourself or be told about it in a more civilized manner, a comment along the lines of “omg lol its broken” is not going to help. Unfortunately, putting your content (or someone else’s content, for that matter) out there for all to see means that sometimes the unsavory comments migrate to your website or blog. If you have comments enabled on the post you’ve submitted, Diggers aren’t shy about posting their comments twice. If you’re planning to get an article on Digg, enable comment moderation in advance. These comments appeared on the same post as is mentioned above. It is very unfortunate that people with positive responses post fewer comments than those whose views are negative. A thick skin is necessary when dealing with Digg’s community: don’t take to heart what they have to say. Console yourself with the fact that they’re sending traffic to your site, increasing its likelihood of receiving links and heightening its visibility to search engines, all for the minimal fee of nothing at all. You should also be pleased that you managed to “bait” a community that loathes all forms of marketing, especially that of the SEO variety. The Digg Effect The phenomenon known as the Digg effect occurs when Digg sends too much traffic to a website for its server to handle. Obviously, Digg is not the sole service that can cause this to happen, but its huge audience means that it cripples a large number of sites that make its front page. There isn’t much you can do to prepare for this if you don’t know that you’re doing to be dugg, but a structured attempt at making Digg’s homepage should also come with a plan. If the page that you have submitted to Digg is dynamic, try to cache as much data as you can. Limit the number of database queries / connections to as few as possible and offload large images to sites like Flickr so that they support the bandwidth. As a backup, have a static HTML page ready and 301 the dynamic page to the static page if the load is extremely high. Conclusion If Digg was not so good at sending large amounts of traffic, it would be worth staying away from. Marketers who spend a lot of time dealing with its community are usually tired of the inane insults, the “bury brigade” who like to bury stories randomly without even reading them, and the feeling that there is much more editorial input to which stories become popular than Digg staffers are willing to admit. But a story that is dugg 1000 times can result in increased signups, more returning visitors and greater exposure to search engines. Not all 1000 visitors will return – far from it, in fact. But stories that get popular at Digg are usually submitted to Reddit, StumbleUpon and other social media services, many of which have a more educated, more respectable audience. Squidoo Introduction A notable example of websites that were once useful for SEO purposes but are now less valuable is that of Squidoo. In Social Media Marketing Tactics, I wrote about how Squidoo liked to show off their prominent placements in search results: Squidoo actually promotes the addition of external links to lenses. In fact, in their FAQs, they specifically show off their link lovability, stating that Squidoo lenses have "huge credibility" with search engines, and briefly explaining how this can help the sites you link to rise up Google searches. It was not a good idea for Squidoo to advertise this search-engine friendliness so openly. Its strength has fallen significantly and now Squidoo “lenses” do not rank for the terms that they once did. They will only rank for uncompetitive terms, and quite often, their pages will be virtually unmovable from the Supplemental index. That they ever did so well in search rankings is surprising to begin with, as anyone can make a Squidoo page about anything. Content is moderated and ranked according to its quality and popularity however, unpopular pages ranked highly for their terms in the past. Now, only extremely popular pages rank for their keywords. Other pages that “rank well” are doing so for keywords that are usually on the long-end of long-tail. What Squidoo calls a “lens” is what the rest of us call a web page. Members of the site can create as many lenses as they wish on any topic. Lenses receive film-like ratings, such as G, R and X, meaning that yes, you can create lenses that contain “nudity, graphic images and language.” Currently, there are around 125,000 lenses on the site. Your options for content are quite broad. Called “modules”, you can add sections to your pages that allow you to do any number of things, such as display Flickr photos, write content, include links, import an RSS feed, maintain a guest book and show off your Del.icio.us bookmarks. Squidoo Royalties “Lensmasters” also have the opportunity to earn money through the service. Royalties from on-site advertising can either be paid to the owner of the lens or donated to charity. However, small-to-medium lenses earn next to nothing. Of course, the more you promote and work on your lens' content, the more money you are likely to earn. The amount of money earned by sixteen lenses in seven months. Squidoo’s LensRank Squidoo ranks its lenses according to its own algorithm, or “LensRank.” According to their Frequently Asked Questions page, LensRank takes “community ratings, lensmaster reputation, click-through rates, frequency of updates, inbound and outbound links, revenue generated, and lots of other factors” into account when ranking its pages. The ranking system also takes into account the age of a lens, but not in the same way that search engines do: old lenses that were once active and popular but are now being updated less and less will fall in the rankings. Thus, there is no advantage to owning an old page. Conclusion Out of all the metrics Squidoo supposedly uses to rank lenses, the one you should pay the most attention to is how often you update your page or pages. Due to the importance of fresh content in Squidoo’s ranking system, nothing will kill a lens quicker than a lack of editorial action. You cannot get away with simply moving things around, adding some feeds or maps and calling it good, either. Squidoo’s freshness metric is an obvious attempt to have lenses act as functioning websites as opposed to pages where people can dump keywords and links. In order to make your content visible and to get around Google’s apparently tougher standards for Squidoo lenses, you need to put the same amount of effort into the lens as you would a regular website. The great thing about Squidoo is the ease with which you can create an informative page. The service acts as a brilliantly simple template for people to work with: virtually no web experience is required and, as opposed to a Blogspot or WordPress blog, Squidoo provides you with ready-made modules. Several businesses are currently using Squidoo to their advantage, promoting and selling their wares through their lens. For these companies, Squidoo acts as a free and thoroughly worthwhile host. Reddit Introduction It has been said that Reddit is Digg for adults. While Digg’s homepage is often overrun with inane “tech” news, puerile humor and poorly-spelled, grammatically horrifying comments, Reddit’s top stories are usually a little meatier. However, if you think that Digg’s hierarchy of submitters / diggers / buriers is infuriating, wait until you have to deal with Reddit. No one seems to know the “trick” to Reddit and one might argue that there isn’t one. Submit good content and your fellow Reddit community members will begin to recognize your username, check your profile and “up-mod” your posts. While Digg values the submissions and votes of active, successful members, Reddit assigns “karma” points to members when others vote for their stories. I’ve known members to submit countless appealing, high-quality stories to the site, only to see them flounder and fail, never seeing more than the one point that they received upon submission. The better community at Reddit may well be simply due to its smaller size. There is no mob-rule mentality and although there is the occasional flame-war in a comment thread, users generally debate real topics, as oppose to calling each others’ mothers names. That said, Reddit houses its share of hateful, juvenile members: there are just far less of them and they are outweighed by a more mature majority. Getting Noticed Having a story getting popular at Reddit is just as good as if it gets exposure at Digg, but for different reasons. While the traffic sent by Digg is usually larger, Reddit readers are more likely to take time on your site, actually read what you wrote and make some constructive comments about your content. Reddit’s readers do not turn on people, post contact details and launch wars against each other. They are also more likely to own blogs and websites where they might reference or link to your content. The general rule when submitting to Reddit is that their community is harder to fool. A skilled link-baiter can decide that they would like to get a website popular on Digg. They will be able to create content that they know appeals to Digg’s audience, either submit it themselves or have the “right” person do it for them, let their online friends and acquaintances know about the submission and be almost certain that their content will make it to the front page in a matter of hours. Success of Reddit is far less guaranteed, but the end result of this is that Reddit is a far better resource where success is far more satisfying. Submissions Reddit only allows users to submit a title for their submissions, so if you wish to briefly describe what the content of the piece is, you’ll have to do it via the title. Lacking the ability to accurately describe what you’ve submitted, however, you can opt to use a title that is bait in and of itself, telling users little about what the content is, but enticing them to click through. The submitter of the following post chose a seventy-three word title. At Digg, this would have been severely frowned upon. At Reddit, everyone is too interested in the content to care that the title contains three separate sentences. Whereas Digg will fall for blatant marketing ploys, appealing to Reddit is a far tougher ask. Sometimes, silly pictures and lists can top its homepage, but your path to success is far less guaranteed. However, if you’ve crafted a long, well-thought-out article that requires readers take time to read and consider the contents, skip Digg altogether and post the content at Reddit. As with Digg, newly submitted articles go into the category marked “new.” Next to “new”, the “browse” tag will show the top stories from the last few days. Commenting and Replying Reddit’s comment system encourages chat between users. When someone replies to a comment you’ve made, a little envelope-like icon at the top of the page turns from gray to red. Although this can send comment threads a little off-track when users debate or discuss a topic together, comments are generally civil. Links out from comments do not contain a nofollow tag, but it is never a good idea to partake in comment spam. The same linking rules apply for Reddit comments as they do for comments at Digg: make sure the link is relevant to either the comment you’re replying to, or the original post. Conclusion Reddit is not the type of community that will fall for Top-10 lists or Guitar Hero news. The homepage stories here are usually either very simple (a photo on Flickr; a strange part of a government website) or long, complex articles. Thus, you cannot follow a formula in order to garner Reddit success. A general rule, however, is that content usually has to engage users and make them think. Yahoo! Answers Introduction An initial inspection of a service that invites members of Yahoo’s massive community to answer each other’s questions reveals a service that is overrun with bad, poorly worded advice. Browsing the answers at is like listening to the roar of the crowd in a busy public market. There is no order, no filtering and no chance of constructive opinions and advice getting through. However, there is room to work within Yahoo Answers. Amazingly, very few questions go unanswered, even though thousands of questions are submitted daily. One reason for this may be Answers’ points system where asking a question costs a user points, but answering one adds points. Once users have 250 points to their name, they advance to a higher level and can rate answers in a Digg-like fashion. There are seven levels and each improved level comes with a greater number of privileges. Answering Questions Many questions get a lot of ridiculous answers, but the author of every question has the option to choose the question’s best answer after four hours. While many people do not bother to come back and choose a best answer, those who ask intelligent questions often do take the time to read users’ replies. If the question’s author does not choose an answer as best, then the votes of the community will count instead and the answer with the most votes will be displayed with the question. The massive community at Yahoo actually makes having the best answer easier. Most people seem concerned with answering questions quickly so as to have their answers displayed higher up on the page. Take the time to craft a well-thought-out reply, as opposed to a very quick one. Having your answer chosen as the best means that, if a user arrives at the question later, yours is the only answer immediately displayed. Links left in both questions and answers contain a nofollow tag but can drive traffic if they really are relevant to the question. Yahoo has made it very easy for users to report spam, so be wary of adding links that aren’t wholly relevant. However, people who ask sensible questions are genuinely interested in sensible answers, and will appreciate a good link under the “Know your source? List it here” section of the answer. In our experience, people who visit your site from Yahoo Answers tend to stay on the site for quite some time. If the link we left to our site was very specific and helpful, people did not only visit the site but clicked around, reading content to which we didn’t specifically link. Asking Questions While answering questions and establishing yourself as an authority on your chosen subjects is the best marketing technique, you can also pitch questions of your own to the community. It can be hard to pose questions that contain mentions of products or brands, or drop links, that don’t subsequently appear to be spam. When asking questions, however, you can conduct some useful market research. While you will receive responses that are rather useless, the number of quality responses can be quite surprising if you’ve asked an intelligent question. Additional Features Because being successful in Yahoo Answers requires a high level of participation and quality, the dashboard provided with your user profile is a helpful addition. On this dashboard, you can view your ratio of best answers to number of questions answered, all of the questions you’ve asked, all you’ve answered, those you’ve “starred” (tagged as being good) and those you’ve tagged as questions to “watch”. You also have the option to add a link to your website underneath your name and avatar, although the link is nofollowed. Yahoo! Answers' dashboard. You can save questions to your Del.icio.us account and to Yahoo’s My Web service on any question's page. The RSS feed of a particular question will automatically show you the question’s latest answers. This application is especially useful if you’ve chosen to ask a question for the purpose of market research and answers are not exactly flooding in. Rather than checking back every few hours to view the responses, just temporarily add the RSS feed to your feed reader. Search for questions relevant to your business by using the detailed, extensive categorization feature on the left side of Yahoo Answers pages. Categories run deep often two or three layers deeper than those which are shown on main pages. It's highly likely that you will be able to find questions that are directly related to your industry. Conclusion Companies with enough man-power can sometimes afford to have a person constantly monitoring the questions at Yahoo Answers in search of opportunities to give helpful advice and insert an appropriate link. While not everyone can task someone with monitoring categories or feeds at this service, checking in a couple of times a day can help drive targeted, interested traffic. Marketers and business owners often report good results from Answers' audience. StumbleUpon Introduction Do not be fooled by StumbleUpon’s low Alexa ranking. StumbleUpon rarely requires its users to visit its domain, which is the service’s premier advantage. Other sites, such as Reddit, Digg and Technorati have widgets and feeds where users can see what is currently popular at each service, and there are hundreds of social tagging sites where people can add pages that they like to their bookmarks, but StumbleUpon is the only service that allows users to both save the sites they like, add new sites to the directory and mindlessly surf sites that StumbleUpon thinks they’ll like, based upon their previous activity. Although StumbleUpon has a website that includes the usual “Recently Popular” feed, list of top users and the ability to send messages to other users, its most-used feature is nothing more than a button, embedded in users’ toolbars. The button invites users to “Stumble.” When users create an account, they pick from a variety of tags, letting StumbleUpon know what they’re interested in. Clicking “Stumble” takes users to sites that they’ll probably like. If you do indeed like the site you’ve been served, and would like to see similar sites in the future, click the thumbs up icon next to the Stumble button. If you’re not pleased with the selection StumbleUpon has made for you, click the thumbs down icon instead. Very rarely does StumbleUpon get it wrong and take users to sites that they don’t like, so traffic arriving at your site from this service is highly likely to enjoy what you’re offering. Submitting Content Submitting a website to StumbleUpon’s index is remarkably easy. Click the thumbs up button when viewing the page you wish to submit and StumbleUpon will provide a popup window whereby you can enter the page’s details. StumbleUpon's submission form The topic you assign to a site and what you tag the submission with are very important, as these are the primary criteria that the service will take into account when choosing who would like to see your content. The topics StumbleUpon lets you assign to a site are almost limitless so it’s unlikely that you’ll fail to find an appropriate category. Do not use a topic tag that describes the site itself (for example, if you’re submitting link bait for an insurance company and the link bait is about learning disorders, tag the page with “learning disorders,” not “insurance”! StumbleUpon's inventory of categories StumbleUpon can be used to submit homepages and sites’ internal pages, but seems to work best for internal articles, tools, pictures are similar content. Rarely will the service take you to the New York Times’ homepage, but you will often be presented with interesting NYT pieces. The advantage of StumbleUpon is that while link bait and interesting internal content is more popular, homepages of neat sites do have a chance of becoming popular and being sent a lot of traffic. Rarely will homepages do well at either Reddit or Digg. StumbleUpon Groups StumbleUpon includes fourteen group categories, ranging from History to Tech, Sports to Music. Groups include a forum feature and an area displaying related sites. All the links out to related sites are nofollowed. As is the case with groups on every social media site, joining and becoming an active community member in groups relevant to your business is in your best interests. At StumbleUpon, users can befriend others and can subscribe to the pages they thumb up. Make StumbleUpon friends by contributing to the discussion in the groups you join: these people are likely to subscribe to the pages you thumb up, as their primary purpose on StumbleUpon is to discover new content. You can only create new groups if you are a StumbleUpon sponsor, meaning that you have paid for a one year membership, costing $20 USD. Sponsors also enjoy a few other benefits, such as the ability to turn off sponsored stumbles (that is, avoid pages that have paid to be included in the service) and the ability to see pages they’ve thumbed up while searching with Yahoo and Google. Becoming Influential According to StumbleUpon’s website, becoming a becoming a “Top Stumbler” is this easy: “Our most active and helpful members. To become a Top Stumbler, simply use the toolbar on a frequent basis, clicking I-like-it at any page other members would like to stumble upon.” What this statement most likely means is that becoming a Top Stumbler (whose contributions and votes matter more to the success or failure of sites) requires that a person submit good content on a regular basis. This means that you’ll have to actually find interesting, cool, creative, engaging content on a regular basis. This will involve submitting more than just what you want to promote for your own companies, and despite the scope of the Internet, it is quite a task to find neat things that haven’t already been stumbled. There is a huge cross-over between users of Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon and other social sites. Many people maintain active accounts across the board. Keeping tabs on popular sites and blogs that are known for creating “stumbleable” content (for example, Something Awful, Crooks and Liars) is one way to ensure you’re the first to submit new content, but StumbleUpon’s most popular submissions often comes from unassuming places. Maintain a high level of activity online and making sure to thumb-up everything that appeals to you and that you think others will enjoy. Never assume that because something is hosted in an obscure place, is just a photo on Flickr, is on a MySpace blog, or seems otherwise pointless that it couldn’t “go viral.” This said, do not submit useless content; use your discretion. Promoting your Content Content will be served to more StumbleUpon users depending on the frequency with which people thumb up the page. Having friends promote the content for you is easy: once they have installed the StumbleUpon toolbar, all they have to do is go to your page and click one button. There is no logging in, forgetting passwords, filling out descriptions or adding comments, which ups the likelihood that your busy acquaintances will actually take the minimal amount of time to do it. Digg pages often take a while to load; Reddit is sometimes infuriatingly vague about how many points a story has and where it lays in the queue of popular entries. StumbleUpon is fantastic in that users do not have to visit its site in order to tell it about the content they like. On the flip side, there is the thumbs down button which will kill your exposure if people click it often enough when viewing your site. The good news is that people click the thumbs down button far less often then they do the thumbs up. When not using StumbleUpon, people coming across a site they don’t like are unlikely to thumb it down out of spite, whereas they’re likely to thumb up a good page, even when they weren’t using the service to surf at that particular moment. The good thing about the thumbs down button is that it is very good at eliminating spam. Assuming that spam gets past the StumbleUpon team, useless content will only be shown to a few users (at best) before their thumbs-down votes bury it, à la Digg. StumbleUpon Traffic Because StumbleUpon users click a button in order to arrive at your page, rather than click through from a detailed entry on another site, your popularity within the service often goes unnoticed until you look at your analytics. You are likely to notice a Digg or Reddit entry: you may visit those sites on a daily basis, or maybe you’ll just notice the sudden influx of traffic when your content hits Digg’s homepage. StumbleUpon is a quieter, more polite visitor. It does not send fickle, angry traffic that leaves nasty comments, and it sends consistent traffic, rather than directing 50,000 people to your site in one day and sending virtually nothing one week later. The volume of traffic sent by StumbleUpon can get rather large. Referrals are not limited by time (popular Digg submissions are only highly active for a few days), so during the times between link bait efforts, you may well see that StumbleUpon is your top referrer. Monthly referral statistics for a site whose link bait efforts appealed to Stumblers In the above example, none of the traffic came to the site’s homepage. Seventy-three percent of the 40,290 visitors were sent to one piece of link bait. The likelihood of StumbleUpon traffic returning to your site is about as low as it is for other social media visitors, but your StumbleUpon visitors are inherently more likely to appreciate your content. The service is very good at picking content for its users based upon their assertions of what they like and their past stumbling actions. Users can review your page when they come across it, and those reviews are available on the StumbleUpon website itself. A relatively easy way to find reviews is shown below. http://www.stumbleupon.com/url/drivl.com/posts/view/851 This URL shows the reviews for http://www.drivl.com/posts/view/851. These review pages will also show how many people have thumbed up your submission, showing you their username and avatar. You can also ask for a change to the category in which the site is listed, subscribe to a feed that shows you updates to the page’s reviews and find similarly tagged pages. Paid Inclusion Paying for your site to appear in StumbleUpon’s index is another way to get into the service. Those with keen eyes will often be able to decipher which content is sponsored and which is organic: homepages of companies are a dead give-away. In addition, a green button appears when the service has presented the user with a sponsored page. However, sponsoring a page from within your site will make its status as an ad harder to spot. The majority of users are not on the look-out for the green button, and most don’t notice it when it appears on a sponsored page. The cost of such advertising begins at five centers per targeted visitor. As is the case with organic content, the pages will be served more often if users vote “thumbs up.” You can also pause your campaigns at any time. StumbleUpon will provide you with statistics that show you an analysis of how many times your site has been given good and bad ratings as well as how many visitors it has sent to your page or pages. While your own server logs can show you how many people arrived at the site from StumbleUpon, the biggest marketing advantage is being able to see how people are rating your content. This is a feature to which the average marketer and webmaster do not have access. Conclusion StumbleUpon is very quiet. It works in a behind-the-scenes manner and sends quiet traffic, but it is a giant in the world of social media. Appealing to StumbleUpon is the gift that keeps on giving. While submitting your site or content to StumbleUpon does not guarantee traffic any more than does submitting a piece to Reddit, the service can often turn into a site’s top referrer. Reviews are easy to find and they do not tend to be inflammatory or juvenile. Del.icio.us Introduction Del.icio.us is more concerned with bookmarking good content than it is with promotion, but the site does feature a popular stories section. As with Digg, the popular stories are promoted to the front page based upon how many people have saved the stories as favorites. The wonderful thing about Del.icio.us is that there is no way to vote stories down, no way to vote comments down and thus no childish behavior. Users can add notes to their bookmarks, but these notes are more like personal reminders as to what the link is about. There is no bickering and name calling in these notes and people who do not save the link as a bookmark cannot add notes. Users also add their own tags to each new link they save. The system is tailored to help users find good content in the future: it does not promote the mob-rule mentality that Digg’s format encourages. While Del.icio.us’s homepage shows stories that have received a lot of votes, its Popular page shows which stories are being actively voted on at present. This way, you can get a good idea of what a lot of people have bookmarked, and what people are currently discovering. Tags done right Web 2.0 is well-known for abusing tags. Tags are one or two word labels that people attach to stories in order to classify them. Most of the time, tags are pretty useless; the “tag cloud” is fast becoming a cliché and will soon date websites. However, Del.icio.us uses tags in the correct manner: an unobtrusive list of popular tags (or related tags, depending on which page you are looking at) sits to the right hand side of the screen. Clicking on one of the tags will show you a history of popular links that include the tag you chose. In order to find something you bookmarked in the past, you can use tags to search your own bookmarks as well. This system is far better than that at Reddit and Digg, where coming across a post you liked from weeks or months ago can be quite difficult. Content Del.icio.us content is usually tech-oriented. However, this is not always true: the only real rule about content submission at Del.icio.us is that its audience appreciates intelligent, useful posts. There are no “I’m with stupid” pictures making it big here; in fact, silly images, cartoons and jokes are not Del.icio.us fodder at all. If you submit technological content, don’t be afraid to give your post a title that the non-tech-savvy would not understand. Typical posts and tags featured on Del.icio.us' homepage While Reddit adores political outrage, Digg likes video games, amateur hacking and puerile jokes, Del.icio.us is the home of people who save content with tags like “jquery” and “c++”. You do not need to pander to people’s short attention spans or worry about their teenaged-boy senses of humor. As opposed to Digg, the title you give your submission is not nearly as important as the content itself. Networking and sharing While other social news and bookmarking sites also let users add “friends”, Del.icio.us calls this a network and lets you take full advantage of coming across others’ good content. As a marketer, this is especially valid: Del.icio.us users keep an eye on their network’s posts in order to find more posts to bookmark. By consistently submitting and saving good content and befriending people who appear to have an interest in the same things as you, you can have people bookmark your content without you having to ask. Rumors abound from Digg users, recounting Digg editors burying stories and banning members for digging the same content as their friends; Del.icio.us actually encourages members to check out each other’s content. As a whole, Del.icio.us is far more trusting of its members and far more tolerant of their actions. While Digg blindly penalizes sites that send traffic via a large “Digg this!” button, Del.icio.us blogs about how TypePad users can now embed a “Save to del.icio.us” link in their footer. While this is more common for bookmarking sites than for social news, remember that most people find new content on the site via its two Popular sections. The trusting, tolerant atmosphere at Del.icio.us makes it a far more desirable and far less irritating service. Profile Options Your user profile can contain a link to your personal website. The “real name” you provide in your profile will act the link’s anchor text, although the link is nofollowed. You can also subscribe to certain Del.icio.us features, such as tags. By subscribing to a tag, you will be shown all bookmarks that are tagged with that word; you can also limit your subscriptions to tags from a certain member. Ideally, you will be the member to whom people subscribe. Subscribing to tags will show you both the level of interest in certain subjects as well as what type of submissions people generally mark with certain tags. By doing this, you can develop a sense of the exact tags people use to categorize your type of material. By following users, you’ll also get a good idea of how their interests overlap and how you can craft content that will be highly appealing to the most number of people. You can share content with people in your network by clicking on their usernames when you are bookmarking a new link for yourself. Although this will effectively send the person your link, do not abuse this function. The highlighted username under "your network" will receive notification about the link you've recommended. Ideally, you’ll share content only with people who will really appreciate it. You also need to mix up the content you share: you will be noticed if you solely share content from your own domains. Don’t share links too often and be sure to mix up content from which you have something to gain with content that you simply find interesting. Conclusion Del.icio.us should be your first stop if you’re writing about highly technical issues or are trying to appeal to a mature, technically-minded crowd who aren’t also highly political. Although Del.icio.us has a politics section, it is hardly the center of the site’s attention. Del.icio.us is not overrun with news about video games and submissions marked with phrases like “amazing photo!” The idea behind Del.icio.us submissions is that they should be interesting and useful enough for people to want to reference them in the future. Del.icio.us is far less of a popularity contest than it is a social bookmarking service. Members do not care if a site’s content is not in English – if they admire something on a site that they can read or view, they will not be hesitate to bookmark it anyway. LinkedIn Introduction LinkedIn is a professional, rather than social, networking site that allows users to connect with business associates, their classmates, potential clients and friends. As opposed to most networking services (which tend to focus on the social side of people’s lives as opposed to the professional), LinkedIn will not require that you give it a relationship status, political and religious preference or even a photograph. The service has often been referred to as Facebook for professionals. The architecture of LinkedIn profiles is not quite as easy to navigate as is Facebook’s, but it provides users the opportunity to fill in as many pieces of information about their business lives as they would ever need. Depending on which option you choose, outgoing URLs’ anchor-text is customized by LinkedIn (your will be called “My Website”, “My Blog”, etc). However, the link will be live and will not contain a nofollow tag. The trick is to select “Other” when listing your website, as you will then be able to add a link and choose its anchor-text. How to get a live link from LinkedIn with the right anchor text and no nofollow tag. Profile Options As long as your desired user-name has not already been taken, you can customize the URL of your profile to reflect your name, business or brand. Your customized URL is very clean and can rank well in search engines for its keywords: it will appear as http://www.linkedin.com/in/yourname. A sample LinkedIn public profile The information included in LinkedIn profiles can be extensive, acting as a very large business card or a small resume. Profiles can also include past positions, recommendations given to you by other LinkedIn users, your interests, groups, associations, honors and awards. Not all the Contact Settings shown above are mandatory: you can add or remove things that you’d like to be contacted about, where and how you’re willing to take projects or opportunities, and leave a note for people who wish to contact you. Networking LinkedIn’s search feature is one of its strengths. Like Facebook and unlike Myspace, typing in someone’s full name elicits nearly a 100% chance that the service will find his or her profile. The site will also show how closely connected you are to the person or people for whom you've searched. The above symbols show the degrees of separation I (the user) am away from the person whose name I've entered which, in this case, is two. The thumbs-up symbol indicates that this person has received one recommendation; the third symbol shows that the person has 113 LinkedIn contacts. Whether you are connected with a person, and to what degree of separation, can also indicate that you are members of the same LinkedIn group or that you are a friend of their friend. Adding people whom you do not know, while still not totally encouraged, is far less problematic at LinkedIn. People will be far more receptive to contact requests at a professional networking service than they will on a site where they’re interested in keeping up with their friends. Find people who work in your industry, in similar industries and people you’ve come across in your professional life. Of course, there is nothing stopping you from adding your friends to you LinkedIn network as well. You never know where your next client, positive recommendation or job opportunity may come from: someone searching for your services may be more likely to click through to your profile and contact you if they see that you are closely connected to them through a mutual friend. Employment and Hiring Opportunities LinkedIn provides opportunity for people to search for new employees through the network. It seems that most job seekers and job posters on LinkedIn are involved in technical fields, such as web development: a search for “engineer” does not find jobs for mechanical or chemical engineers, but rather software engineers. However, non-technical jobs are posted and searched for here and there is no harm in advertising such jobs for LinkedIn’s audience. Posting job openings is also easy and is similar to the services provides at sites like Monster.com. However, it is not free to post a LinkedIn job: the price is $145 USD. Answers Service LinkedIn has recently released an Answers service akin to that of Yahoo. However, as would be expected on a network like LinkedIn, the quality, subject matter and style of answers is at a higher level than it is at Yahoo. The advice that applies to Yahoo’s Answers site can also be put towards LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s Answers pages to not tend to rank particularly well for the terms they contain, but they provide a professional forum where people will take the time to compose intelligent answers to you questions. A sample question on LinkedIn Answers Optimizing LinkedIn LinkedIn profiles lend some traditional weight to the links that they contain and the customized URL you give your profile can rank well for its contents. LinkedIn contains virtually no social functions and thus is a fantastic place to establish a professional web presence outside of your primary blog or website. Establishing connections and receiving recommendations via LinkedIn rather than (or in addition to) Facebook or MySpace presents a very positive professional face to your online clients and customers. Be sure to fill out your profile to the highest level available. LinkedIn will show you how complete it thinks your profile is: the service will prompt you to add educational information, websites and summaries of your experience. Finally, adding past positions will increase the level of your profile’s completeness. LinkedIn Groups LinkedIn normally provides the option for users to create professionally-minded groups on the site, but the site is not accepting group submissions as of the date of publication. Currently available groups include groups like a UCLA Alumni group, a French-speaking executives group and the “Ex-Mozilla” group for people who used to work for Netscape and Mosaic Communications. Conclusion Of all the networking sites, LinkedIn may contain the least features, but a membership and presence at the site commands the most respect of all the popular networking opportunities available to you online. Although there are other professional networking websites that achieve similar things as does LinkedIn, this site is most popular with techoriented businesspeople. The option to select your own anchor text for an outbound link also improves LinkedIn’s potential for helping you out with search engine rankings. Be sure to link out to all of your blogs and websites as well as to fill out your profile and add relevant contacts. Conclusion to Social Media Optimization Guide Social media optimization is part of the future of online marketing. It isn’t the sole practice you should focus on when building an online reputation, but done right, it is a great way to build presence and status. It is also a great way to ruin your reputation, have other users cast you as a spammer and force some very bad press onto your brand. For the most part, you are dealing with people during their “social” time online as opposed to their professional time. As such, you deal with their personalities, their tastes and their uncensored opinions. This guide covers nine of the most valuable social media services available to marketers. There are other sites where businesses, causes and individuals can build a reputation and a presence and the above tactics can be applied to other services as well. Be aware of changes to the above websites, both in terms of their composition and allowances, such as whether they add nofollow tags at some point in the future or if they restrict search engines from spidering certain content. Also keep an eye on how well pages from each service seem to be doing in the search results. Periodically, the search engines will change their algorithms. However, if you have taken the time to construct a strong presence on any one of these sites, overhauls such as the recent MySpace and Squidoo changes (where content on both sites stopped ranking well) will not affect you in an adverse manner. The top MySpace and Squidoo pages still rank for their keywords because their authors put a lot of effort into appealing to the community and treating their social media optimization as a job, not just as an addition to their traditional SEO efforts.
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