While social media news marketing benefits from a solid platform and voter support, content will ultimately decide whether or not the viral fire ignites. Creating content for social media news sites is therefore a tricky proposition — it must meet the needs of those who favor such sites, while also providing that spark that will send an item soaring to the top of the social media pile.
To illustrate techniques and methods of content creation in this space, Digg and StumbleUpon will be the primary examples. These two properties represent the greatest back-link and traffic spoils in this arena and — since success on one of those platforms strongly supports success on the other — this content guide mainly addresses the types of subject matter, style, format, media, and text their audiences enjoy and reward.
While StumbleUpon may not technically be a social news site, much of the same content that works on sites like Digg and Reddit (especially non-news content) can work there, too. StumbleUpon’s content tends to be more timeless, but it’s still affected by vote accumulation within a short (day or two) voting period and, as such, retains a social news site flavor in its mechanism.
What was once a very young and very tech-oriented social media audience has evolved and diversified. More than 60% of StumbleUpon’s visitors are aged 35 years and over, according to Quantcast estimates. Today’s social media users appreciate a wide variety of content, and are more unified by their interests than by their age group.
Overall, this lends itself to a lot of content possibilities. If it’s interesting, it has social media potential. But it’s worth noting that articles that are more male-oriented (or at least not heavily female-oriented) tend to perform better. While StumbleUpon is fairly split gender-wise, Digg’s audience is two-thirds male.
Success can come from a variety of subject matter, but some categories are more advantageous than others, especially for Digg. Articles geared toward technology, in particular those with an Apple focus, usually do well, even though the most successful ones are pure news.
Science, nature, and culture articles are also good subject areas, strongly helped by rich media, if you can find it. Articles covering environmental topics are popular, since the subject is current, important, and few defined content authority sites exist (as compared to technology, for example). Entertainment articles can succeed, especially if the post is about a hot or upcoming movie, game, or television show.
More generally, anything geeky that is well-done is still likely to have fantastic results. Anything particularly clever or funny will go further if it’s about Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, or other classic geek fare. It has to be done well, but when it is, the results can be huge.
While social media users appreciate a wide range of good writing styles, some general habits are worth spending time to develop.
Get to the point quickly. — Social news users read in a hurry, and often don’t have much patience for text that makes them work for the payoff. Make your introduction clear, and don’t waffle. Your audience are people who like to read a lot of stories, so respect their timeframe.
Don’t waste words. — The key to effective content is creating a continuous stream of short emotional bursts for readers, being mindful of the effects of every sentence. Be funny. If you’re not funny, be informative. If you’re not informative, try nostalgic. Or shocking. Or inspiring. A good article is one that makes you feel and think, and anything less simply won’t work. This obviously doesn’t apply only to social media users, but is important to remember when addressing a fickle audience that shifts your ROI in the wake of their opinions.
Be accurate. — Factual accuracy is extremely important. While the article needs to have substantial content to be interesting enough to obtain a vote, any misconception, exaggeration, or blatant mistake can damage the credibility of the article and in turn the push. This applies particularly if the mistake is called out early on the social site’s comment thread. Don’t be afraid of citation if the content warrants it.
Article Types To Consider
While there aren’t strict rules, general trends in article types should be considered, as some tend to work better than others. Some examples include:
1. News — These articles are being promoted on social media news sites, after all, and if the site being promoted is reputable as a news site and the story is relevant, they have a good chance for success.
2. Rants — If you manage to cover a topic that hasn’t been addressed recently or well, rants can bring great rewards. Complaining is an inherently social activity, and the right message, focused well, has great cathartic viral potential.
3. Guides/How-Tos — How-to articles have many advantages. They don’t require much creativity, in subject matter or style. They make for timeless, self-sustained content that is easy to research, easy to link to, and valuable even if the social push fails. The more it seems like a reference, the more it will be linked to as such. Guides do particularly well on StumbleUpon, especially if tailored to one of its interest groups.
4. Lists — “Top 10s,” “Things You Didn’t Know,” “Strange Facts About,” and other list-style articles have always performed, in large part because they are easy to read. This type of article breaks up the post into readable chunks. The list format can also work well for how-to posts (“10 Ways To …”) or rants (“Ten Things to Hate About …”), but be careful! An incomplete list (too short or missing essentials) may create resentment from social media users, and may amount to inaccuracy if you misrepresent a fact or claim. If it’s a “top” list, it really must be the top items. If you can’t be sure, err on the side of “Ten Things” instead of “Top Ten Things.”
5. Infographics — If you have graphic designers on hand, a little visual style can go a long way. Professional-looking content that blends art with information attracts social site support as well as links. The Boston Globe’s piece on napping (www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/naps/), for example, did very well on social media sites, and has brought in over 6,000 links to date. The dividends will, for the most part, justify the investment.
Page Layout And Headings
Try to divide the article into sections, and add informative heading tags for each. Even if readers decide to actually read the whole article, the headings break up the text into more-digestible, less-intimidating blocks. While headings may seem a good place to put a leading statement to incite interest in the paragraph to follow, it’s best to be as clear and literal as possible about what’s coming. This way, the reader legitimately has the option to read for more detail or take the summary in the heading and go.
Images and embedded videos are another great way to break up article text. When articles are submitted to Digg, their images can be used as thumbnails to accompany the submission title. Although article submissions don’t require them, thumbnail pictures draw a little extra attention and potentially a few more natural votes.
A picture might not be worth a full thousand words, but it can provide a lot of entertainment value in an extremely short amount of time. In seconds, the reader is rewarded for their click, which is why image-only submissions tend to perform quite well. By including images in your article, you not only draw more visual attention, but you give more pure content enjoyment for minimal extra time.
Embedded video is another fantastic way to spruce up an article. In fact, an article that simply explains and displays a great collection of YouTube content can be well-received on social news sites, as long as there is clear added value by the author. Never submit a page on your site with one single embedded YouTube video, unless there’s substantial and relevant content around it. Otherwise, users will expect you to have submitted the YouTube link itself. Also, if you plan on submitting to Digg, remember to make sure that your video-based article has at least one image to pull for the thumbnail.
Stick To What Works
One of the best ways to understand what type of content works on sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, and Reddit is to study the homepage (and past homepages). More importantly, aspiring social media marketers need to participate in the communities as active users. There are patterns to which the creative must adapt, and earned success on the horizon for those who pay attention. While having a well-known, authoritative website is important for everyone, for social news sites, a fantastic piece of content can go the distance just about anywhere.