All About Content

Using Social Media to Promote Social Media Promoting Crap About Nothing

Posted by Melanie Phung on Tuesday, July 8, 2008 at 1:39 pm

You don’t see me posting about “how to do social media” a lot because I think it’s one of those things that gets talked about to death by so-called social media marketers who seem to think their job is to win a popularity contest on the likes of Digg, Twitter, Sphinn, etc, as if that were the ends instead of the means. Anyone with profiles on these sites seems to think that having managed to drum up a few votes about some article somewhere somehow qualifies them to be a social media marketer, despite often having absolutely no idea what the “marketing” piece of the puzzle entails. As long as you can blah blah blah about using top 10 lists to get popular on Digg (usually just copying someone else’s blah blah blah), you’re somehow an expert.

Blah Blah Blah

One of the worst trends I’m seeing in social media is using social media sites to blatantly promote stuff on other social media site (which is usually promoting something else). Here’s a great example:

What’s going on here: Sphinn is a social media site devoted to online marketing stories – it votes up stories that are particularly interesting or educational on topics in that niche. Sphinn user BrentCsutoras submitted a page from Digg. Digg is a social media site where users vote on interesting stories on all manner of topics (with a lot of focus on odd humor, technology, politics — and it is known for being very unfriendly to SEOs). The page that was submitted on Digg (to the Travel section??) points to a Sphinn submission from user AnkitRawat – with this description: “Yes this is true .. Mozzers got there Webs2.0 page back into Google index !! Congratulations rand for this achievement.” This page (the one submitted to Digg) is a page on Sphinn, which happens to be a submission of a page on AnkitRawat’s own blog, which is a 3-sentence summary of a comment on an article on

Brent was pointing on the Digg page as an example of what not to do, so let’s cut that part of the equation out and dissect the rest:

AnkitRawat blogged about a post on, which is great if he thinks this is of value to his readers. Rather than repeating someone else’s post or talking at length about something to which there isn’t much to add, he writes a quick summary. So far, so good, except that he doesn’t link to the original.

Rather than simply going to Sphinn, seeing that the SEOmoz article was already submitted and voting for it and leaving it at that, the user then submits his own 3-sentence summary of the primary source to Sphinn. Not only do most social communities not like submissions of derivative work, showing a preference for the original source, but they really don’t like it if the derivative work doesn’t have any meat to it whatsoever.

Understandably, that Sphinn submission only got a few votes. Rather than take that as a sign that the community just isn’t that interested in the story, the author/submitter then goes to Digg to submit, not his original article, but the page showing his submission on Sphinn. Presumably the goal of submitting to Digg was not to drive up views on his own blog but to increase the vote count on the Sphinn community.

Social Media Moebius

The problem, of course, is several fold: People don’t like following a Mƶbius strip of links into a dizzying vortex of self-referential self-promotion, so it’s simply understood that you don’t submit links of social media submissions to other social media sites. Two, Digg users aren’t interested in the topic of whether some page they didn’t care about in the first place had its PageRank dropped and reinstated. Three, Digg users really don’t like SEOs, so any post that simply congratulates SEOs on managing to salvaging their Google PageRank is not just going to be of interest to no one, it’s probably also going to piss those users off.

So what did submitting a Sphinn submission of a 3-sentence summary of an update to someone else’s blog post to Digg actually accomplish (except maybe give more ammo to Digg users who already think SEOs are scummy spammers)?

Here’s what’s even crazier about that little story (and dare I use the word “ironic”) – if you take a look at the original article, it’s indirectly about the Web 2.0 awards, which were already the topic of a big “moral of the story” discussion regarding how Digg doesn’t like self-congratulatory SEOs, prompted by the failure of the Web 2.0 awards to make it big on Digg (the latter link is worth a read for actual technical SEO info).

A few of the lessons I enumerated about that story, lessons that apparently bear reposting, included these:

  • Know your audience, what they like or dislike
  • News Flash: most regular social media consumers don’t like SEOs
  • Don’t go all “I’m part of the cool kids club and know the inside jokes”. It doesn’t make you look cool to strangers, it’s actually a big turn-off.
  • Practice what you preach – if you’re a social media professional who advises clients on how to engage with communities, be respectful in your non-client interactions with those communities as well

So what are the lessons that can be applied outside of the Sphinn community to the broader world of wanna-be social media practitioners?

  • Know your audience, what they like or dislike
  • People don’t like blatant marketing or self-promotion
  • Pulling the “I’m part of the cool kids club” routine doesn’t make you look cool to outsiders. Worse, if you’re not actually part of the cool kids club, the real members of the cool kids clique make fun of you too.
  • Know when to back off – you can only promote yourself (or promotions of promotions of yourself) so much. If no one bites, leave it alone.
  • Only submit actual stories to social media sites; don’t submit submissions of stories on other sites

In that same comment, I also pointed out:

There’s a tendency to operate in an echo chamber where everyone pats everyone else on the back for being part of the club. On the one hand, it’s great because it’s overall a very friendly and welcoming group. But it also has a tendency to be a little too self congratulatory. Every once in a while we need a wake up call that reminds us that SEO/sphinn/etc isn’t the “real world.

Certainly, this issue isn’t limited to the online marketing community; it happens in a lot of micro-communities. People forget that the just because their group cares passionately about something (even if it’s that they care about each other), the rest of the world doesn’t, nor should it have to. The greater irony is not only that we as marketers should know better, but also that we’re the first to point this out to our clients.

The reason it bothers me when this echo chamber pervades in my little world is that we spend so much time talking about marketing, and marketing marketing, and striving to dominate social media, that there’s no longer any there there.

Instead of trying to become great marketers, so many marketers fall all over themselves to become “A-list bloggers” – as if that were an end in and of itself.

Or as Gaping Void doodles so succinctly:

What happened to the products and services? What happened to substance? What happened to results and ROI? There are a lot of people for whom the whole concept of marketing on the Web isn’t actually proven yet — so let’s prove that we add value and that we’re not really just goofing off on the Web all day.

I, for one, welcome the day this unfortunate trend reverses and we get back to doing our jobs — in most cases that does not involve marketing social media platforms to other online marketers, or poking at our navels.

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Category: Social Media

Quote of the Week: Now Get Back to Work

Posted by Melanie Phung on Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 10:19 am

“Just ‘cos you work on the internet, and Twitter happens to be on the internet, does not mean Twitter is work.” – Matt Davies

From 21 Reasons Twitter is Bullshit. And I think I just killed a kitten.

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Category: Quote of the Week,Social Media

Context Is the Castle Vanguard

Posted by Melanie Phung on Friday, March 28, 2008 at 6:58 pm

If content is king, then context is the set of guards who protect the king’s castle. That’s a terribly tortured analogy, but my point is that one needs the other. What is content without context but just so much noise?

This week one of my coworkers wrote a post about another mutual colleague calling him a creepy old guy. [damn, there’s that word again]. The post enumerates reasons why the guy is creepy, including “he tries to be cool by writing a blog” and “He has been out of college for like 5 years”. I knew it was satire as soon as I glanced at it.

About half the commentators were outraged though. One writes “Is it really ethical to attack a fellow blogger without provocation?. He tries to be cool by writing a blog? Ummmm Does he really need your approval to write a blog? this is over the top.” Yes, it’s way over the top … clue #1. But the broader context in this case was the relationship between the people involved.

My office is a very friendly, laid back place and everyone enjoys joking, teasing and engaging in animated political arguments. Reading the post as an extension of their office interaction, I knew it was intended to be, and received as, a funny prank. (The author’s response to the first comment was another big clue.)

In a recent post on this very blog, I appear to berate a commentator for being a total hack Making fun of people who read your blog is a pretty dumb practice, and anyone who stumbles across that post without knowing the context would probably be less than impressed with my social skills. [ed. but he really does run the worst SEO blog ever, honest.]

The context in this case is a long-standing (well, long enough) history of being friendly snarky at each other on his blog. In fact, I remind him he’s a hack all over the internet like here and here, too. But there isn’t any hostility or malice behind it, and he knows that (I think, yes?). He’s even so kind as to find opportunities to link to me using really good anchor text, and I return the favor.

But understanding the context of a conversation, from which the content derives meaning, doesn’t have to be as difficult as researching everything about a person before leaving a comment on a blog. Sometimes you just need to pay attention or put your critical thinking cap on. A blog I’ve just started reading, has a warning label right across the top of the page and another one right below: “Best viewed at 1024×768 with a sense of humor.”

Lots of people pan stupid products and level large doses of sarcasm at their objects of scorn, but few go as far as the sucker who runs Take a look at the level of detail on that site/blog – that’s a PhotoShop license going to good use right there. If you spent just a few minutes looking around the site before leaving a comment, you wouldn’t make the mistake this commentator did:

Why are you such a loser dude? Seriously, if you think that Internet Marketing sucks then why do you blog about it in the first place? And just cause you have failed at Internet Marketing does that mean that everyone else should fail? I guess NOT! Why do you think conventions such as Affiliate Summit are organised? Because people are actually doing money off Internet Marketing! Duh! Bleh you and your blog suck!

So, the thing that all these examples have in common is … hm… that what you perceive as me being mean and nasty is actually me being very funny, so lighten up and get a sense of humor, will ya? … no, that wasn’t it. Ah, yes, what I mean is this: step back before you post a comment and make sure you actually understand what’s actually going on.

There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with leaving drive-by comments, but be aware that you are walking into someone else’s conversation. Unless you stop and listen for a minute, you might not have any idea what the conversation is really about*, and you risk making a fool of yourself.

I’ve done it plenty of times. New motto for this blog: I make mistakes so you don’t have to.

* Or you might understand the topic of the conversation perfectly fine, but not the people involved in it, leading to confusion, paranoia and possibly the need for restraining orders.


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Category: Social Media

2007 Search Statistics

Posted by Melanie Phung on Thursday, February 7, 2008 at 3:36 pm

ComScore’s Year in Review press release seems to underscore the principle that the rich keep getting richer: Google, of course, saw more gains, as did Wikipedia (which some conspiracy theorists seem to think is in cahoots with Google somehow) and Craigslist.

Facebook traffic jumped 81% year over year to 34.7 million visitors, now that registration is open to non-students (including quite a few pets, if Stewie’s ever growing circle of Facebook friends is any indication).

The release goes on to say that “the top-gaining site categories in 2007 reflected trends in both the online and offline worlds. The politics category grabbed the top position, gaining 35%, as the 2008 presidential election and primary season kicked into high gear.” Not to be outdone by current events of any gravity, sites devoted to celebrity entertainment news, “from Britney Spears’ meltdowns to Anna Nicole Smiths death,” kept up with an equally impressive 32% increase in visitors.

In total — including all searches for Britney, Anna Nicole and even “poop porn” — more than 113 billion core searches were conducted in the U.S. last year, with Google representing a 56% share of the market.

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Category: Data,Google,Social Media,User Behavior

Dude, Let’s Edit Fred Thompson’s Wikipedia Page

Posted by Melanie Phung on Monday, September 17, 2007 at 1:26 pm

Fred Thompson’s campaign has no love for Wikipedia editors. Explaining to the Washington Post why the Thompson campaign isn’t weighing in on whether the former senator should be listed as Freddie (his given name) or the more common Fred, Karen Hanretty scoffs:

“I’m pretty sure the people debating ‘Fred’ versus ‘Freddie’ are the same people who debate whether or not Britney Spears looked too fat at the MTV music awards. Seriously, how many hours do these editors spend on the site?”

Seriously, you’re basically calling Wikipedia editors losers? You realize that “the same people who debate whether or not Britney Spears looked fat” are also good ol’ Middle America voters, right?

Wait for it, wait for it… I think that’s the sound of thousands of editors adding to Thompson’s profile: Thompson is a pathetic, out of touch, old geezer.

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Category: Social Media