There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Wizards of Buzz” wherein the WSJ profiled some of the top posters to Digg, Reddit, Netscape, and other social bookmarking sites. In talking about the trends related to these sites, the authors write
[it’s] giving rise to an obsessive subculture of ordinary but surprisingly influential people who, usually without pay and purely for the thrill of it, are trolling cyberspace for news and ideas to share with their network.
Also in the article are references to several Web sites who have seen their traffic levels spike since being Dugg or StumbledUpon, and the newfound success of these ventures. Ross Dawson, Webomatica, and Michael Arrington also covered the article, and Mike made the following observation:
For readers familiar with Digg and the others, the article won’t tell them anything they didn’t already know. For those unfamiliar, they may be left somewhat confused by the whole crazy ecosystem, and the fact that twelve year olds are now helping to define what “news” is. Interesting times we live in.
As a consultant doing influencer marketing campaigns for several clients, I find it particularly interesting how much of a challenge these sites can be to predict. Sometimes the most mundane or archaic news articles or Web sites find themselves being regurgitated on the front of Digg. The other issue here is really evaluating the real value of the traffic that comes via these sites. It seems fairly accepted that Digg and Netscape are more ‘guilty pleasures’ than genuine ‘news sources’.
For example, I was “Dugg” back in October which sent me a ton of traffic for about 48 hours. But in the grand scheme of my readership it was a tiny spike, and within a week my numbers were only a few percent above where they were before. In other words, despite tens of thousands of people becoming exposed to my blog, barely 1% of them found my writing compelling enough to come back regularly. Now I don’t take this too personally, because 99% of these people don’t care about what I write. Guess what, 99% of the population doesn’t care about what any given person writes!
You can actually see these results for yourself across multiple bloggers. Just review Alexa ranks of various blogs and trace traffic spikes to Digg articles. So in a long-term view, the so-called influencers on Digg, Reddit, etc aren’t really causing influence, they’re causing Web traffic. When I compare the value of inbound links from people like Robert Scoble and Dave Winer, they’ve caused a permanent increase in my traffic and subscribers. Why, you might ask? Well, they are both influencers in the general technology space, and I write a blog in the technology space. Easy one, eh?
As you think about your viral marketing programs, think about who your influencers are. Got a Web 2.0 company? It’s clearly Michael Arrington. Got a consumer electronics device? Get it to Ryan Block (well, and myself of course). Have a new DSLR digital camera or lens? Send it to Thomas Hawk. But if you have some cool new purse that you want to build buzz around, here’s a free tip: don’t send it to any of those guys, they don’t care, and nor do the people they influence! Need more advice? Get in touch.