How to Level the Playing Field with Digg 288

If you haven’t noticed already, Digg is the most deeply gamed social media service on the planet.

‘Gaming’ social media is the act of using private networks and arrangements to propel your own content forward. Asking for votes is gaming, organizing submission by select individuals is gaming, and so on.

The argument against so-called ‘gaming’ is that it’s undemocratic, and it goes against the principle of a level playing field. At first glance, this objection sounds both fair and logical. The issue is made more complex by the truth: everybody does it. From top bloggers down to little minnows in the web ocean, people are trying to maximize their chances of success on Digg using both arranged submission and private networks.

For a second, though, let’s imagine if nobody did this. Small blogs and websites would be at a huge disadvantage, as they’d be unable to get more than a few Diggs from their modestly-sized regular readership. The chances of the Digg community picking up on a submission with 5 – 10 diggs in as many hours is miniscule at best, considering the huge number of submissions made every hour. At the opposite end of the spectrum, highly trafficked blogs and websites would utterly dominate the front page (more than they already do), because they could rely on their huge reserves of traffic to propel the stories forward.

The end result? You have a service that sends CNET, TechCrunch, NyTimes and the Huffington Post even more traffic, and entrenches the web media status quo.

Is it really a level playing field if content succeeds based on the size of its servers and advertising budget, rather than on the back of human creativity and endeavour alone?

A network of voters can give even a small website or blog the chance to hit the front page, by putting its content in a position to be judged by the Digg community, and then either propelling it success or burying it, depending on its merits. This networking stage is also one of the most social and enjoyable aspects of using Digg.

If you’re serious about playing the odds game on Digg, you need a network to push your best content forward. Here’s how you can build one, and benefit everyone involved.

Build a grassroots network

This is a network of contacts with Digg accounts who have reason to help you. They might be readers, friends or online acquaintances. Let me explain how to create such a network from the ground up.

  1. Start with the obvious. If you already have a network of friends on Digg, this is a logical starting-base for your network.
  2. Ask your readers. Write a quick post asking if your readers would be willing to offer occasional help with growing your blog through social media. Reassure them that you will never send more than one email in any seven day period. Tell readers who are willing to opt in to leave a comment on the post. You can extract their email from your comment and add it to your network.
  3. Ask other contacts. This could include other bloggers or other people you’ve had correspondence with, friends and online acquaintances, or people who might be interested in a mutual-help arrangement.
  4. Continue building your network and making it stronger. The effectiveness of your network will depend on several factors: its size, how much individual members care, what they get in return and how often you utilize it.
  5. Always look for new people to add to your network. You might make a post about it once every three months, for example, to add interested readers who’ve discovered your blog since the last time you asked. Being active on Digg will also allow you to naturally accrue friends. A larger network will help you succeed even if your conversion ratio is quite low (conversion ratio being the percentage of people you ask who actually vote).
  6. Build the quality of your network. Get to know its members better and help them to care more about you.
  7. Make it worthwhile. It’s easy to take, take and take, but your network will always be more effective if its members receive something in return. Make yourself available to reciprocate their social media votes with your own.
  8. Don’t utilize too much. I mentioned earlier that you shouldn’t ask for votes more than once in any seven day period. When a blogger does this to me, my conversion ratio plummets. Think of your network like a rechargeable battery. If you use it less often, you can extract the maximum amount of power from it each time. If you use it too much and too often, it will quickly become depleted and worn out. You don’t like to be interrupted, so make sure your requests don’t become an interruption for others.
  9. Communicate across multiple channels. If you ask less often, you can get away with being louder when you do so. I would suggest staggering vote requests across shouts, Email and Twitter, each about an hour apart.
  10. Capitalize on existing momentum. To use your network most efficiently, you only want to ask for its help with content that really does have a chance on Digg. I would suggest doing this by focusing on posts that have developed a little bit of traction on their own. The number of diggs your content initially receives will depend on whether it has at least one of the Idea or Execution elements, the size of your network, and your conversion ratio. With a network that is large enough and responsive enough, you can virtually guarantee up to 100 diggs on any given content item.

Make friends in high places

If you look at the profiles of top Digg power-users, you’ll see that the percentage of stories they submit that go popular are very high (as high as 66.8 percent). This is because they have a large network of followers and a keen understanding of what works and what doesn’t. If you’re lucky enough to have your content submitted by a Digg power-user, your chances of hitting the front page are drastically increased.

It’s no surprise that many bloggers try to form relationships with Digg power-users and co-ordinate the submission of articles with them. If you decide to travel this route, here are a few tips to help you:

  1. Pursue channels with the least competition. Everyone wants their articles to be submitted by Mr.BabyMan, msaleem or MakiMaki. This is exactly why your efforts are probably better spent elsewhere. Users in the top 10 – 20 are not far off in terms of percentage popular ratios, but they’re unlikely to receive anywhere near as much inbound communication. Having said that, Muhammad Saleem’s profile encourages you to call upon him for submissions.
  2. Understand their needs. Digg power-users are always looking to tap new sources of content that is well-optimized for Digg. If you can provide them with that, your relationship will be mutually beneficial. Understand, however, that a Digg power-user will never submit content unless they truly believe it has a good chance at going popular. Their reputation rides on it.
  3. Shape your publishing schedule around them. Don’t publish a post and then go looking for your power-user contact. They might not be around, and in the mean-time, someone with a weak profile might submit your post (with a crummy headline and summary text, to boot). Instead, let your contact know as soon as possible what day you are planning to publish your post. They can give you a time that works for them in return, and you can set your post to publish at the moment they specify. This ensures they will be waiting when your post goes live.
  4. Don’t take advantage of your contact. Only ask for a submission when you’re sure that your post is well-optimized for Digg. If they have to knock you back too often, it will add a negative tone to the relationship.
  5. Consider developing 2 – 3 contacts. If you’re relying on one power-user only, you have a single point of failure. They might not respond to your email, they might go on vacation, and so on. Once you have one relationship in place, think about developing another one. Just make sure option #2 is not an immediate threat to your first contact’s Digg ranking, or the partnership might out you in a difficult position.

An example strategy for reaching the Digg front page

  1. Read the previous post in the series on playing the odds game with Digg. There you’ll learn about the IEN formula.
  2. Draft a post concept with IEN, IN or EN qualities.
  3. Execute the post concept with care and attention to detail.
  4. Include images and clear formatting to add texture and interest.
  5. Take time to craft the best possible headline.
  6. Proofread thoroughly and check all links.
  7. Make sure your blog is Digg-proof (I use WP-Cache).
  8. Negotiate a publishing time with your power-user.
  9. When the time comes, check that your post has been submitted by the right person.
  10. Stagger contact with your network over shouts, Email and Twitter.

You may also wish to count the total amount of communications you’ve sent out and the total number of diggs from within your network, to tabulate your conversion ratio. Once you have a rough idea of what your conversion ratio is, you can work out how large your network needs to be to generate the desired number of initial diggs.

Bonus: extra tips from Digg power-user domfosnz (thank Dominic!)

“My extra tip would be to make your digg profile networkable. By this, I mean list all your network channels so that people can get in touch with you easily. e.g. Twitter, Gtalk, AIM, Plurk, Facebook, and all the other usual suspects.

Also (while on the topic of profiles) make sure to use and avatar. Friend requests from avatar-less users are a real turn off for a lot of diggers. Bonus points if you use the same avatar across multiple social sites so you stand out easily.”