PR used to mean you did a lot of hard work with a very small number of people (writers and editorial staff)who had a huge amount of control over what was published or broadcast. But now a lot of marketing and PR for both online and offline businesses takes place on the Internet, and increasingly on "social news" sites, which are sites that allow their users to submit news stories and vote on them. The theory behind this is that the world at large can do a better job figuring out what news people want to read than a couple editors can. My personal experience is that these sites tend to devolve into a lowest common denominator of stories about celebrities and animal costumes, but nonetheless they are important to build links and traffic for your website in today's world. With some simple tips, you can exploit these websites for your benefit. For a great overview of these social news sites, their audiences and more, see this TechCrunch article Towards a Better Digg, and also see the end of this article which lists the major social news sites and some key statistics from Website Grader about each of them.
So, here are my Secrets to Marketing with Social News Sites:
1) Great headline required. You need a great headline to make your story stand out from all the rest of the others on the page to engage the other readers on the social news sites. The headline needs to be less factual and more enticing, sometimes mysterious. Think about what will make it most likely someone will click through to your article, usually telling them too much is a mistake. A great resource for creating good headlines is Copyblogger, he has 2 articles on this topic: 10 Sure-Fire Headline Formats that Work and 7 More Sure-Fire Headline Templates that Work. You can see I took one of his headline templates for this article.
2) Get your friends to help. While there are lots of posted rules about not "spamming" these sites, there is nothing wrong with emailing a link to your new story or blog article to your friends and asking them to submit it or vote for it if they like it. This will help you get a few initial votes (it also helps if they vote for your article at the same time, see #4 below). Plus, if they really are your friends, they probably are interested in what you wrote and will like it. Don't be shy.
3) Make it easy. For people who come to your site and read your article, the easier you make it for people to vote on it, the more likely they are to actually vote. Clicking your mouse once is easy. Clicking through to another website and then entering some infomation and then voting is not easy. An example of what I mean are the simple links to Digg this article and vote on Reddit at the top of this article.
4) Timing is everything. An article that gets 25 votes in 15 minutes will rise very quickly to the top page of most of these sites. An article that gets 100 votes over two days will not in most cases. So, not only do you want your friends to vote for your article, you also want them all to vote at the same time, and usually near the time that the article has been submitted. What this does it helps it rise in the rankings early on. Then if other people on the social news site like it, it will continue to rise or at least remain near the top for a longer time. Because most people never make it past the first or second page of these social news sites, you need to get to the top of the rankings quickly to have any chance of making it there at all. If you are on the 4th or 5th page of Digg or Reddit, it is very unlikely you will ever make it very high and get any meaningful traffic.
5) Remember you're buying lottery tickets, not government bonds. Remember, you are trying something that might work, but might not. If it does work, it can be extremely valuable. Being on the front page of Digg or Reddit can mean many thousands of visitors (or more) to your website in a single day, and you will also get a lot more links to your website, which helps you rise higher in search engine rankings. But, your efforts may not pay off at all. When marketing to social news sites, you are buying a lottery ticket - the price is low and the chances of winning slim, but the potential payoff is big - not a government bond where the payoff is certain, but much smaller. So, if it doesn't work the first time, try again and buy another ticket. It's not too hard.
6) Become an active community member. It is easy to just submit your own articles to the social news sites and not submit other articles and not vote on other articles. But you will be more successful if you are at least paritally engaged in these communties since you will gain a better understanding of what the community likes and dislikes. This will help you be more successful over time.
7) You cannot predict success. No matter how hard we have tried at Small Business Hub and HubSpot, we cannot predict which articles will be successful and which will not. I have also not found anyone who can predict this with enough accuracy as to be useful. My advice is stop trying to predict success (remember, you're buying lotttery tickets) and focus your mental cycles on writing more articles and submitting them.
8) Target the right sites. Perhaps most important of all, you need to focus on the social news sites where you will have the most success. There are enough of them around now that you can't really spend time trying to promote you content with all of them. You need to pick where you think your efforts will have the biggest payoff. My personal opinion is that the community at Digg is so big and so picky and so focused on a certain topic set (very techie and apple/design stuff) that for most businesses it is not worth doing. Especially when you are first getting started.
9) Use these stats for each social news site. These stats give you a sense of the and how valuable the link will be for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.
10) The best "arbitrage" opportunity is probably Netscape. Netscape still gets a ton of traffic from the days when they were a regular web portal, which came form the days when everyone used Netscape as a web browser and the default home page was netscape.com and most people did not bother or did not know how to change it.
Originally published Apr 17, 2007 12:48:00 PM, updated October 18 2015