November 25, 2008
/ by jay.krall
The social news site Digg has come a long way from its origins four years ago as a hub for tech geeks sharing news about gadgets and software releases. Now, the site has more than 1 million users, each day swapping thousands of links to intriguing blog posts and behind-the-headlines news reports on every topic, including food, the arts, cars, business, health and science, the environment and politics.
The way it works is simple: submit a link to an interesting item along with a short description, and your friends will “Digg” it if they find it interesting. The most popular items rise to the site’s front page and topic-specific pages. Dozens of top-tier journalists are known to comb the site for story ideas, and its most prolific users, tracked on socialblade.com, broadcast the most intriguing news articles, photos and videos they’ve found to thousands of fans and friends on the site. Is there a way to engage this influential, news-hungry audience without being dismissed as fluffy and self-promotional?
Many Digg users post information about their own companies or products, and many writers post their own articles, all in hopes of driving traffic to their sites. Nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s part of an interesting mix of content, says David Cohn, a veteran technology reporter who is ranked as Digg’s 57th most influential user and has “dugg” nearly 16,000 posts. Cohn starting using the site about two years ago to look for story ideas, which he pitched to his editors at Wired and Seed magazines. Eventually he started digging his own articles in an effort to drive readers to them.
What’s the etiquette for, say, digging a flattering article you landed in a media relations campaign? “If PR people get involved, all they have to do is participate a lot and they’re bound to get something on the front page, if it’s honest participation,” Cohn says. “You need to put yourself out there, submit links to other things, otherwise you have no value to me as another Digg user. Why would I ever follow you?”
Because Digg, which attracts more than 20 million unique visitors per month, allows you to become a fan of any member and follow that person’s diggs and submissions, regardless of whether they choose to return the favor and make you “mutual friends,” it’s easy to get a feel for what other users are interested in. The site encourages users to “Shout” their favorite stories to friends, as well as e-mail or automatically post the stories to a blog, making it easy to promote a particular link once you have developed a network of friends on the site.
Keep in mind that the site’s users have a taste for second-look news stories and quirky tidbits. Top headlines from major news sites generally get little play. But don’t be surprised if the link you submit gets picked up by traditional media. Katie Couric, for example, posted a video on YouTube soliciting questions from Digg users to ask of the presidential candidates at the nominating conventions.
From a media monitoring standpoint, landing a story on Digg’s front page can be considered a media hit in itself: Cohn says he no longer pitches editors with stories that have landed there, for fear they’ve already received too much exposure. (In addition to his blog, DigiDave, he is launching a site with a Knight Foundation grant, Spot.us, that takes members’ story ideas and “crowdfunds” their research by paid freelance journalists.)
As with any online social network, the rules of engagement for PR professionals on Digg are simple: discuss your brand in a larger context, and discuss interesting content that’s unrelated to your campaign. Lots of active news sharers are waiting to see what you have to offer.
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