The thought of making the front page of Digg is something that divides most content-creators into three camps: those who want it and strive for it, those who want it but feel they don’t have a chance, and those who don’t want it at all.
The latter group usually believes (from experience) that Digg traffic is worthless traffic, though I think it has more to do with the combination of that blog with Digg’s audience, or that content with Digg’s audience, which determines whether the event of being on the front page will be worthwhile.
Having gained several hundred subscribers each time this blog has been Dugg, and having enjoyed the snowball effect of going popular on Del.icio.us and StumbleUpon as well, my own experience paints a much more positive picture.
The rapid rise of blogs like The Art of Manliness, which has gone from a few hundred to 5,000+ subscribers in a matter of weeks, mainly on the strength of Digg, demonstrates that brushing aside Digg users as fickle and commitment phobic might just be the easy (and certainly not the best way) out.
In this post, I want to talk about the most often overlooked aspect of what is required to write content with strong potential on Digg (and the same principle applies to StumbleUpon, Reddit, or any other social media service you can imagine).
What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
You can’t win a game without knowing the rules, without being able to see the playing field, and without any knowledge of what kind of play works.
The most common question I get from bloggers who want to know about getting Dugg is this: should I start using Digg — is that necessary?
It’s absolutely necessary. While it’s not essential that you actively participate, you do need to dedicate time to studying the service you want to leverage. If you want to know how to create content that works on Digg, watch what does work, and learn from it.
Being an active observer is the single smartest thing you can do when it comes to social media success.
Your Niche And Your Destination
To focus on the service as a whole would be too overwhelming and too time-consuming. Further, what works for one type of content won’t work for another. A headline formula which works well to propel politics content would likely fall flat when applied to sports content. They key is to narrow your focus on content within your niche — not just on content that performs well, but on good content that falls flat, or mediocre content that performs unusually well.
Good content that performs well will provide a lesson in what types of content are well-received and how to present them.
Good content that falls flat might cause you to examine other variables: what is it about the content that didn’t appeal to social media?
Mediocre content that performs unusually well should cause you to focus firmly on the way the piece was marketed to overcome its shortcomings, with a particular focus on its headline and introduction.
It’s worth subscribing to the feed for Digg’s front page, and the front page of the category most closely matching your niche (if there actually is one! If you can’t settle on one, it might be worth subscribing to a few). It’s also worth exploring a few content items that didn’t go anywhere, and asking why.
If you’re trying to learn more about what works on StumbleUpon, consider navigating to your categories page and only selecting categories covered by your blog or website. This will help you stumble with focus, rather than stumbling all over the place.
What To Look For
Search for commonalities in failure and success. What is common between content from your niche that doesn’t succeed, and what is common between content from your niche that does succeed? Over time you’ll see distinct patterns emerging.
Each content item propelled to fame by social media is, in a lot of ways, part of a testing process. Over time, we’ve learned that list posts work, resource posts work, and that people tend to like aspirational content, for example. Certain formulas seem to yield success over and over again, and you’d be surprised at how easy it is to borrow and adapt successful ideas to your own ends.
Consider 7 Can’t Miss Ways to Kick-Start the Writing Habit (680 Diggs). View this formula through a different lens, and see: # Can’t-Miss Ways to Kick-Start the _____ Habit.
- 10 Can’t Miss Ways to Kick-Start the Saving Habit.
- 5 Can’t Miss Ways to Kick-Start the Language Habit.
Create new variants, ie:
- 7 Can’t Miss Ways to Kick-Start Your Fitness Routine
If you’re unsure of how to create strong headlines, look at what is proven to work and adapt it to your own ends.
Don’t feel as if you’re stealing: all these formulas have been used in various forms again and again (and again!). They truly are public property.
A painful fact: you just don’t want your magnum opus resource list of 365 ways to change your life, one day at a time, to be submitted by someone who doesn’t get Digg.
If the submission looks like this, you can kiss your chances with that submission goodbye:
Change your life
Lots of ways to change your life for a year
(In that case, you’ve got to hope someone will brave the duplicate content waters to resubmit your post.)
It’s essential to observe the kinds of headlines and descriptive text that work well on Digg. It’s also essential to observe the formulas that don’t work. With those things in mind, enlist a few people you trust to submit your content — more specifically, people you trust to write quality headlines and descriptions. If you have any doubts, you can provide your ideal headline and description for them.
I should stress that these people don’t need to be movers and shakers on Digg — just ordinary users who have a solid understanding of what works.
Top Digg users have hundreds of followers who tend to swarm immediately around anything they submit. If you can attract the attention of a user with a following, your chances of success will increase considerably. Who tends to submit content that does well in your niche? You won’t know unless you observe.
While it’s tempting to try to get on the good side of the MrBabyFaces and msaleems of the world, it should be understood that a vast amount of attention is directed at the very top users. It might be worth collaborating with someone who may not necessarily be in Digg’s Top 10 users, but someone who has an appreciation of your niche, a genuine appreciation of your content, and a following to support that.
While the comment section of posts that go popular on Digg are renowned as scary places to be, there’s no better place to learn about what Digg users interested in your niche are looking for. While many criticisms are made in the hope of a few thumbs up and profile click-throughs, many of these criticisms actually do represent the uncensored truth: what a new visitor would say about your content if they were encouraged to do so, and without threat of conflict or reprisal (which is really what a Digg user actually is.)
Listening to the uncensored thoughts of ground-level users is one of the most powerful things you can do to truly understand who you’re writing for. I’m reminded of a post at Creative Briefing about what we can learn from celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and his reality TV show. In it, he uses honest (read: harsh) criticism to turn ailing restaurant businesses around. I’ve never seen it, but the post contains some very useful lessons.
It’s worth quoting Verne Ho’s write-up in detail:
One of the very first things Ramsay does when tackling a new failing business is to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly straight from the source: the customers. He takes the streets and talks with locals about what they’ve heard, what their experience has been, and what would make them go back to the restaurant in question.
This is almost 100% where Ramsay develops his strategy to turn the businesses around.
The lesson here is to listen to what your customers are saying – about your business, about the competition’s business, and about the industry as a whole. The easiest way to find out how you can better serve your customers is to let them tell you. Read and follow popular forums and communities that are relevant to your industry or speak to them directly. Any way you do it, your customers are sure to provide you with helpful and valuable insight.
Digg’s comments are where you will find first hand accounts of why a user chose to hit ‘bury’ instead of Digg, or what stuck out to them and made the post worth Digging. It will explain why seemingly good content didn’t make it, or why mediocre content performed surprisingly well.
You’ve Got To Get It
Writers who regularly succeed on Digg have on thing in common: they understand it. They’ve observed and interacted, they’ve experimented, they’ve listened. They’ve started to pick out patterns and formulas, and weave them into their own work. To learn a language, you’ve got to speak it. Without immersing yourself, you will only ever go so far.
One hour a week spent watching, analyzing and learning will teach you a lot more than I ever could — whether your focus is on Digg, StumbleUpon, or another service.
So get to it: watch and learn!