One of the biggest outstanding questions regarding the conceptualization of social network content sharers as network gatekeepers is how to identify those network gatekeepers who will be most beneficial to marketers of academic monographs. This question is easiest to answer in the context of Digg.com. Because a front page story on Digg.com can result in an increase of at least 12 to 15 thousand visitors to the site of the news outlet that produced the story, Digg.com buttons have become ubiquitous in online news and social networking environments. Since developing a custom widget that ranks the top five most dug stories on its website, Time Magazine’s online version has seen its presence on the Digg.com homepage increase more than twofold and its Digg-driven clicks increase from 500,000 to 1.3 million. The site has caused similar traffic increases for Newsweek.com and Wired.com.
On the site, a small number of users is responsible for the vast majority of content that makes it to the front page, often with little or no consideration for what that content actually is. Many of the social bookmarking specialists I have interviewed reported that very rarely do they critically or analytically read the content that other specialists ask them to “digg.” Rather, they adhere to bonds formed through networking, not content sharing. Most users invite requests for diggs by displaying their email addresses and geographical whereabouts on their profiles for all other users to see. They then become mutual and habitual “diggers.” Many of the Digg users I interviewed only agreed to the interview if I dugg their content in return.
While the hierarchical structure that results from this networking makes Digg of little value as a forum for political activism and engagement, it can be very valuable for social media marketers who manage Digg accounts for their companies. Marketers should reach out to and network with the small number of influential Digg users can become influential themselves, increasing page views for their company’s websites. They should go beyond the affordances of the site itself and network with other users through email and whatever other contact information they make available on their profiles. The transitory audiences of academic monographs could be more easily targeted on Digg using this method. Below are descriptions of two network gatekeepers on Digg.com that can be very attractive to social media marketers in general and the digital marketing efforts of university presses in particular.
Nathan (pseudonym) is a search engine optimization and social bookmarking specialist in Kansas City, Missouri who has been using Digg “all day, every day” for the past four and a half years. While he said the Digg front page used to be more communal and a good way to get publicity for front page stories, lately it has been “inexperienced spammers just posting random shenanigans trying to do offsite search engine optimization for their junk.” However, because they have revived many of the previously discontinued features, Nathan generally likes the new version of Digg. After sifting through informational, technological, humorous and resource blogs, he posts stories related to the 4,000 U.S. colleges he works with as well as humorous and technological stories to promote his own blog. Top five lists, stories about innovative technologies and, lately, those making fun of Digg typically receive the most feedback. Because the Digg front page often features those users with the most followers or contacts rather than the “best news,” he consider Diggs a credible news source only “in a sense.” When referring to the best news, he means stories about global catastrophes with far-reaching implications, such as the recent B.P. oil spill which he said was on the front page of Digg for months. He does not use Digg much for personal use, but when he does, it is mostly for entertainment.
Andy (pseudonym) is a social media entrepreneur in Auckland, New Zealand. He operates a website about weight loss and muscle building and uses Digg to drive traffic to his website. He has only recently become an active Digg user, but praises the site’s power to drive traffic and create status and trust among users. He mainly uses Digg to promote his own website and to accumulate an “army of people” who will “get your content to the top.” He said that users build trust with other users by following the links they provide and digging them if they deserve a good rating. He typically gives good ratings to anything “interesting, weird, breaking news, funny or educationally-benefiting.” When asked if he considers Digg a credible news source, he said that the site is most effective at spreading news quickly, and that the credibility of the site lies in the original sources of the articles. Unlike some of the other Digg users who were interviewed, Andy critically reads the articles his friends submit, only digging them after validating their original sources. He mostly submits his own blog posts and other informative, interesting information that will most likely receive good feedback. He said that although he has not submitted a large enough sample to accurately test, what seems to get the most feedback and attention on Digg are rumors, controversies and “stories relating to moronic gadgets.” He attributes the success of these types of stories to their immediacy. He believes that although some people enjoy reading and promoting stories, most have selfish motives, uploading stories even if they are “crap.”
In my next post, I will theorize about the applicability of these concepts to the marketing of academic monographs and lay the groundwork for a comprehensive social media marketing strategy for the Penn State University Press.