One of the best parts about my job is that I get to talk to a lot of the top users over at Digg. This is important because the Digg algorithm is always in a constant state of tweak (a statement that can be construed properly several different ways). It changes as fast as, if not faster than, Google and other search engines. Two questions always pop up with either me asking top users or other users asking me:
“What does it take to get to the front page?”
The answer has two parts: time and tools. We can go into the time issue later, but for now, let’s assume that you have the time. The second question is:
“What are the right tools?”
There are dozens of lists of Digg tools out there. Most of them are nice and quaint, but do top users really use them. Normally, no. Here are the tools that they do use. Some are obviously loose interpretations of the word “tools” but anything that helps to achieve the goal of hitting the front page often should be listed.
Bottom line, some sources hit more easily than others. It’s an unfair social media world, but a story posted on sites like HuffPo, Cracked, and ArsTechnica will have a better chance of hitting the front page of Digg than the same exact story posted on SERM Experiment. Use DI66 and their list of top sources in the last 7 and 30 days to find out what’s been hitting lately. Check it often – you’ll find some sources that hit often one month, especially new sources, mysteriously stop hitting altogether the next month (but remember, Kevin and Jay say autobury doesn’t exist).
It isn’t easy to get stories from the top sites. Many users sit on these sites, ready to pounce as soon as the next story is posted. Some sources post around the same time every day, which is why around 9pm PST you’ll see one, two, or even three duplicate submissions of the Astronomy Picture of the Day and a mad dash around 5am PST for the latest posting on Cracked. Find sites on the list that you’re interested in that hit often. Sometimes, the best sources aren’t even in the top 20.
RSS Feed Reader
Once you have a list of sources, you need to monitor them for new stories. Open up 50 windows on Internet Explorer and then…
Wow, that statement failed in so many ways. No, you don’t have to refresh the websites every few seconds. All you need is a great feed reader. You need one that pings your sources constantly. That’s the key. Having a feed reader that pings every 10 minutes won’t help you land the top sources. You need something that’s always working for you.
Sadly, I wish I could divulge the best one, but I promised multiple users that I would not. It’s not a coincidence that many of them are using the same one, simply because it is the Johnny on the Spot of RSS Feed Readers. But, to keep pointers away from the “close” button on on the tab or window that contains this story, I’ll at least give a hint…
As feed readers go, it’s a spicy one that does not appear on the list supplied on my Feedburner (which may be why top submitters don’t post from here).
Good IM List
The art of using IMs for getting Diggs and comments is a slippery slope. Does it work? If done properly, yes. Is it annoying? Yes, even if done right. Is it necessary? No, but it sure helps sometimes.
If you use IM to promote your submissions, there is a whole blog post or two that could describe what to do and what not to do, but here are the basics:
- Don’t send out too many. Once a week should be fine. Once every couple of days and you might start losing people, but not many. Once a day – annoying, but again, there are a ton of people who do it, so you should be fine. Once you start getting into multiple IMs a day asking for Diggs, you better be a really friendly and likeable person who is quick with the return requests.
- In case you didn’t know, Digg knows the source of the Digg as well as the path that visitors took to get to the source (illustrated well with last month’s ban-parties). Sending people straight to the submission is about as effective as shouting. Mix it up. Send some people to the source if it has a nice Digg button on it. Send them to the upcoming page with the title of the story. Send a couple to your profile and ask them to Digg your top favorite. They have their algorithm geared towards detecting artificially inflated Digg counts. Make it natural.
- IM all at once or spread it out. Nothing in between. There are two strategies: quick bursts of IMs either in the beginning or as soon as it hits the upcoming “Hot in (sub-category)” section is one strategy that works well, but at a certain point you lose the diversity factor. The other strategy is to sprinkle Diggs throughout the 24 life of the submission. Get it some quick ones in the beginning to get the ball rolling, then add a few more every hour or couple of hours.
- Be polite. Make friends. Real friends. If all you do is ask for Diggs every day with nary a “hello” and “thank you” you will be removed from many lists. You might be surprised that there are people on the other end.
The above-noted DI66 is a strong tool for getting a basic overview of what’s hitting, but if you have the time, there are better tools for analysis. Social Blade, for example, compiles the front page like DI66, but it goes into more line-item detail about the stories that are hitting. Look at the data and get a feel for what is happening with the algorithm. How quickly are stories hitting? How many stories do front page submitters Digg in the 24 hours prior to it hitting. How many friends vs. non-friends Dugg the stories? How many Diggs did it take? How many comments?
For those who really want to get down to the nuts and bolts and analyze what is happening to the front page, Social Blade is the best. Another useful tool is Digg Explorer. It shows visually what has been happening with the last 500 front page submissions. While it doesn’t have as much useful data as Social Blade, it has its uses and is definitely more visually stimulating.
Digg I Mean Tech Podcast
Even though it is a tech show, The Drill Down seems to have a tendancy of discussing Digg a lot. Perhaps it’s the presence of the top 3 Diggers of all time (well, top 2, then number 4, since MakiMaki recently passed the banned Zaibatsu) as the hosts that keeps the chat room, post-show discussion, and occasionally the show itself talking about Digg.
If you miss the show at 8:30 PST Friday nights live on Ustream, you can catch it on their website, but sometimes the best digg-discussion comes from the chat room and post-show.
It will be an entirely different blog post that discusses ways to minimize the time required to do well on Digg, but know this: now that scripts are outlawed and blind digging gets the “Whoa Cowboy” message, users have to find ways to Digg often. Regardless of the intentions of the site or the desires of the masses of users, the front page is about the style and participation of the submitters. Quality has something to do with it — you can’t make it without at least a little quality in your submissions — but as I’ve said before, an inactive user and a weak source can post pictures of Jimmy Hoffa on a beach with Elvis Presley and Kurt Cobain and it probably wouldn’t hit the front page (until it was re-submitted by a strong user or from a strong source later).
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Read more about Digg on this and other social media marketing blogs.