Decoding Digg Series Part 2: The Content

Content is huge. Especially if you don’t have a strong domain, content is one of the most important factors in whether or not you achieve social media traffic and link success. Although checking Digg regularly is the best way to see what content works, the general principles are just as important to acknowledge.

Articles meant for Digg, or most other social sites for that matter, tend to do well when adhering to a particular time-honoured equation. Actually, the same equation applies to just about all web content, and – y’know what? – just about anything else in the universe. I’m as serious as I am mysterious. Alright, a clue:

How about a more realistic clue? (nothing to do with Wal*Mart)

No help? Alright alright, here’s the deal:


Success is what you want. Digg success. Social success. Life success.

Success is traffic, links, branding, and excitement. This is your goal, which you achieve by messing with the other side of the equation.

Perceived Quality & Enjoyment

– This is the real content marker, defined and evaluated by the thoughts caused. How much did readers think happy thoughts? Happy thoughts (nostalgia, laughter, learning, astonishment) are key. People like thinking, and they like thinking good things. You should be generating at least 8-10 notable happy thoughts per article if you want a realistic shot at something like a Digg homepage.

– How much time and awesomeness do they think you put into it (and I really mean think)? Same basic principle applies in original pictures and videos. If something looks like it was the product of lost blood and limb, it might get more approval. In this regard, a mashup of YouTube videos had better be pretty frickin’ good if it’s going to go anywhere.

– More on the perception front – and this is especially the case with Diggers – they can be swayed by mass opinion. Dissenting voices can be heard, but it’s easy for a democratic majority to stamp out opposition, and even easier for “things to get ugly” with a negative stream of comments. The comments are part of the content, on Digg and on your site.

– Those who have tried to show Diggers their content have faced habitual harsh criticism. On this note, your content had better not smell like it was once touched by grubby marketing fingers.

– Attempts at a little humour can hurt you if you’re not funny. If you’re not pretty darn sure what you’re saying/doing/writing is hilarious, don’t bother. Not laughing is the opposite of laughing, identified earlier as a “happy thought”. On that note, if you’re indeed hilarious, but only to a particular class of folk, don’t bother. Unless the humour style is really attuned to the social media crowd you’re working within, you’re asking for trouble.

– Images. Use them. Images add value to your page as a piece of content. While you can’t easily take advantage of other peoples’ writing to improve your posts, you can take advantage of their skill in photography and illustration. And direction, production, and more, since the same goes for embedded YouTube videos (coming up in just a minute!). Get your favourite video plugin fired up and tapping the greatest untapped content reserve on the planet.

Time Taken to Enjoy

– Essentially, the content length: word count, clip length, number of photos. There are ways to bend this area, though. That’s right: you have to bend time to succeed at social media.

Not really.

What I’m trying to say is, break up your post with heading tagged subdivisions, and let users scan the content. Stay away from clever and witty headings, those attempts to lure a reader in with cryptic subtitles, unless the text that follows is still clearly summarized in the heading. If someone can enjoy your content enough with just the headings and pictures, you’ve effectively shortened your content, increasing your chances for success, without sacrificing the perception of hard work.

– Top ten lists are a great example of this scenario, and a great example of a quick to read yet potentially awesome post. Overuse of top tens by the submitting community reduces awesomeness for everyone. Oh well, can’t stop the herd, that collective behaviour that collapses civilizations and social media strategies. Buy now while supplies last!

– Shorter time is better, but remember that if the short time taken is a result of a lack of effort in the quality, the math ain’t workin’ in your favour. Basically, the equation above is the same as the equation for a good joke. A so-so joke that takes forever can be brutal, while an equally so-so joke that takes a second might result in more thumbs up. Just watch the late Mitch Hedberg, and watch how long it takes him to get to the punchline. Also note, his style lets people think as they fill in what he leaves out, making them feel smart as they laugh. Happy times.

Comedy is subtle, and sometimes delay and time manipulation can have strong effects, but the brevity rule works most of the time.

– Speaking of time taken, your site had better load properly. The site should load quickly anyway, but protecting your server during a traffic spike caused by something like a Digg home page is crucial to actually enjoying the results you worked hard to earn. Fail in this respect and what you lose in traffic and backlinks will be gained in mockery from the comments, and shame as mirrors of your content steal your visits.

– Don’t overdo the ads. No interstitial ads. None. Max 2 or 3 pages per article, and just 1 if you’re talking top ten list. Though this rule is broken and beaten, it is always done for short term pennies at the cost of long term people-with-websites-and-thus-backlinks resentment. Or, short term Digg ban. They don’t like having to click unnecessarily, and are smart enough to know when they’re being taken advantage of.

– You can save them voting time, too. Add a big juicy Digg button to the top and bottom of your post, alongside your favourite platforms if you so choose.

– If you don’t save Diggers time, they will make it for themselves. It’s smart: by trying to reduce their time, they need to enjoy it less to have the visit still worth their time. Especially at the sight of a large article, they scan diagonally across the page, and read less. At this point, any humour with any kind of subtlety risks going completely unnoticed. If your article’s too long, get ready to be criticized for not including stuff you actually included and other unjustified attacks.

– Images. Didn’t I already cover this? Not fully. If there’s any truth to a picture being worth a thousand words, then showing pictures is saving readers time. Images that express a lot of meaning are appreciated. That being said, be careful of videos that are too long, that can kill the pace of your post if you’re not careful. Be sure to deep linkwhenever appropriate.

Basic Usability Expectations

I’ve already gone on about how the equation is universal, but it’s really worth noting how much the principles above resemble basic usability standards. Get users to the content they want to see, and make it reasonable. Make it what they want to read, without too much text, and make the take-home points and messages clear.

Writing effective social site content isn’t easy, especially when you consider how much of the home page consists of the types of articles I’m trying to help with.

A lot of writing the right content is writing for the right platform, which will be covered later in the series. Another aspect is writing for the right category, which will be covered in the next article on Digg categories. Until then, be creative and willing to put in the time. The idea is to have content that carries itself, after all. If you don’t feel tempted to pass it to your friends, think about why, and re-think your content, getting back to basics.

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