Jonathan Colman is one of the Nature Conservancy’s secret weapons.  And he’s a generous one at that.  The following has been posted on Care2s Frogloop blog (which by the way has a sketchy email sign-up process) and on the Progressive Exchange E-list.  It’s a great primer on using Digg to build buzz and traffic.

He has inspired me to keep Digging for a while!

I recently made a post on Digg that became “popular” (in Digg parlance) and was elevated to the Digg homepage earlier this week.  I want to deconstruct that effort a bit, share some tips on using Digg for online marketing, and ask a few questions of the list.  For those who want to start the weekend early by jumping right to the good stuff, scroll all the way down to the list of “Related URLs” at the bottom of this note.  🙂

So: I’ve been using Digg on and off for about six months or so and have been frustrated at the difficulty of submitting a news story that became popular enough to be placed on the Digg homepage and drive traffic to my org’s site.  I’d managed to post stories to similar (and smaller) social news outlets that gained a lot of attention and generated site traffic — the Care2 News Network, Hugg, Newsvine, etc. — but not Digg.  In fact, as of last December, I was about to write Digg off of my list of social news network sites in which I post content for my organization.

But then a funny thing happened: my posts were promoted to the Digg homepage.  Twice over a three-week period.

The most recent time was when I submitted a story linking to a recent Care2 Frogloop blog post about how one of their members scooped the mainstream media by posting a breaking story to the Care2 News Network (Care2’s social news service).  When I read the story on Frogloop, I thought it was just the sort of inspiring experience that proves the value of web 2.0/social media and deserved more attention.

So I posted the story to Digg last weekend with a link pointing to Frogloop and informed Justin Perkins that I’d done so.  In fact, I even asked him if he could have Care2 staff digg the story so that it would receive more attention.  Care2 decided not to pursue this for fear that it would look like they were “gaming the system”.  Digg and the people who run it are smart enough to recognize multiple diggs coming from a single IP, new users who sign up to digg just a single story, and people digging a story who have never dugg in the past.  It’s commonly accepted that engaging in these practices will *not* make a story popular.

Over its first two days, the Digg post averaged about 1 digg/hour, but then activity became stagnant.  The post disappeared from the “Upcoming stories” list for its category and although it had about 35 diggs or so, I’d nearly forgotten about it.

Until it suddenly became “popular” last Monday evening, was promoted to the Digg homepage, gained hundreds of diggs over the course of a few hours, and directed thousands of visitors over to Frogloop.

Best Practices: Here’s what I did to make this happen:
1) Every time I visit digg (which is about 2-3 times a week, for about 5 mins. or so/visit), I connect to at least 3-5 other diggers.  I try to target active diggers who submit and digg stories in my sector (science, environment).  The more connections you have, the more likely it is that your story will be seen by others.

2) I go through my “friends” list regularly to see who has connected to me; if I haven’t already connected to them, I do so.

3) Every time I visit digg, I digg at least a story or two that I feel are valuable, again focusing on my sector.

4) When I submit a new story to Digg, I try to write a catchy title: one that will convey meaning (whether it be controversy, inspiration, action, etc.) when viewed apart from the story’s summary.  This is important because a lot of folks keep up with Digg content via RSS, where they’ll only see a story’s title, but not its summary.  Not to mention my suspicion that many folks who digg stories don’t read anything but the title.  So your title is the single most important aspect of your post.

5) I made the new submission my “#1” story; this brings it to an extra level of prominence apart from my other submissions/diggs.  Anyone who visits my profile will see this story separated from all the other content with which I’ve interacted.

Questions: This success story leads me to ask:
– What’s the value of visitors from digg and other social news outlets?  Do they view a single page and then leave?  Do they click on calls-to-action?  How do they perform as members over time?  Do they share their personal information with your org, sign up for your marketing vehicles, and donate to you?  I’d guess that — in most cases — the “digg effect” provides a lot of visitors to your site, but not much more.

– Look at the commentary on my digg submission; it’s largely negative. How much does this impact a given visitor’s feelings about the landing page/organization?

– While I’m sure that digg homepage placement is effective in improving an org’s general findability, what’s the long-term SEO value for a digg post that becomes “popular”?  Will the target landing page receive good ranking for any keywords used, or are search engines smart enough to know that social news outlets can be “gamed”?  I see digg submissions in Google regularly, but would they ever outrank or even compete with, say, an org’s homepage?

– Is the ROI from engaging in social news outlets great enough to merit nonprofits engaging in them when time and resources are limited?

– What metrics can/should we use to measure success on social networks/”Web 2.0″.  Do the traditional membership and web site traffic metrics suffice?

That’s it.  Congratulations to Hatef Yamini at Care2, who wrote the article on that made the digg homepage.

Related URLs:
1. My Digg post linking to Care2’s Frogloop:

2. Care2 Frogloop blog post:

3. “Dave C.”‘s original Care2 News Network post, scooping the mainstream media:

4. USA Today citing the Care2 News Network/”Dave C.”‘s post as breaking the mail snooping story:

5. Screen capture of the Digg homepage after this story became “popular”:

6. “How to Use Digg, The Unofficial Strategy Guide”: