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The isms of SM

The isms of SM
Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
Racism, sexism, religious intolerance, prejudice and bigotry of all kinds are alive and well in the SM sphere. For the past few months, I have been investigating the Social Media sites Digg and Reddit, in an attempt to learn more about how I might involve myself with these entities to better serve my clients. Up until this point, nearly all I had heard in the SEO/marketing industry about these places was how fabulous they are for gaining traffic and links for websites. Sounded good to me! But the absolutely antisocial atmopshere of the communities that fuel these two sites has taken me aback considerably. I felt that I needed to talk to some of the web industry folks whom I most respect in order to understand their personal takes on this very ugly side of Social Media.
Barry Schwartz, Sophie Wegat, Bill Slawski, Kim Krause Berg, and Matt McGee were kind enough to share their thoughts with me on this subject, and I hope you will find their insights helpful and thought-provoking about this little-discussed facet of the social media scene.
Me:
I am extremely disturbed by the rampant hate speech going on in the comments field of Digg and Reddit. Though some of the comments are benign, there is an ugly feeling in the atmosphere. Tragedies are met with laughter and sneering. Serious articles about religion receive incredibly hateful replies. Racist comments are everywhere. How do you feel about this element of Social Media? Does it shock you?

Bill: I agree completely about the tone and content that I’ve seen in comments on those sites, and in comments left on other sites from people visiting from those sites. I visit sometimes, and follow some of the links, but I don’t comment, and I don’t often read comments there.
Barry: My first experience with getting on the front page of Digg was totally not intentional. As you may have known, I proposed to my wife with the kind folks at Ask.com.
The news of this type of wedding proposal struck the Digg home page. Many of the comments were insulting and made me feel sick. In fact, I did what I could to hide the comments from my wife. Yes, it was upsetting. Yes, many comments related to personal feelings on topics such as weddings, religion, politics and controversy can get very childish – to say the least.
Kim:
To be honest, I view social media more as Anti-Social Media. I can’t find much to rejoice
about in the so-called “social” side because the online behavior is so unlike anything
I associate with off-line.
Everywhere I go, whether it be to the store to get food or walking in a parking lot
to get to my car or finding a seat in a movie theater, I know I’m being rated on my
looks, poise, manners, how much money I’m spending, what style of clothes I wear and
if I talk, what my voice sounds like. Data is being collected on me constantly and I’m
well aware of it, but I rarely hear the results.
With a SM site that offers ratings, feedback, opinions, pictures and videos, suddenly
the results are in plain view. There seems to be this sudden permission on the part of
site owners and members to voice their opinions in not so pleasant terms. The atmosphere
is hostile, but protected behind the veil of anonymity. If we don’t know the source of
the verbal abuse directed our way, we can’t go to their house and flatten their tires.
Matt: On a personal level, I’m not a fan of foul language, not a fan of rude and crude behavior, and so forth. For the most part, I don’t read the comments on Digg for the reasons you’ve mentioned. I don’t have time for all that noise. Life’s too short.
Sophie:
To be honest I’ve not done much in the way of social media. Having said that, the sorts of things you are encountering horrifies me. I’m not sure I could stomach that either and I wonder how necessary social media really is if that’s what you have to go through.
Me:
My clients are nice, pleasant small business owners. Having seen the racism, hate speech and extreme profanity that seems to be the norm of these sites, I would be concerned to expose my clients to the results of getting Dugg or Redd. Apart from the lack of professionalism this might reflect on me, I simply wouldn’t want my work to result in their feelings, beliefs, creed, ancestors, etc. being insulted by the SM communities. Do you use SM to promote yourself, your clients?

Bill: I don’t get involved in social sites on behalf of clients. While I’ll focus upon helping clients build quality content, create blogs, tweak and optimize pages, fix technical issues on their site,and provide strategies for linkbuilding and content creation for different audiences, any contact with sites like Digg or Reddit are only coincidental.
Barry: I do not consider myself a member of the Digg “community.” I simply focus on search topics within side that community and that is it. I leverage Digg for traffic, and Digg
leverages me for the content I produce as well as comment on. So it is a give and take relationship. But in no way do I consider myself to be part of the Digg community.
Why? Simply because of what you saw above and your feelings you mentioned.
Kim: I’ve largely ignored social media for any kind of promotion. My personal experiences so far have been negative. I don’t need it for usability work and I don’t use any SM tactics for my own sites. If a colleague Diggs something I wrote, I’m hopeful it will be met with maturity. I’ve had some pleasant experiences where an authority figure bookmarks something of mine and those bookmarks are available to the public. Those links have strong value to me.
Matt: Yeah, on a professional level, you have to do what’s right for your client. I don’t like all the junk that airs on TV, but I wouldn’t tell my client not to advertise on TV just because some of the programs are trash. So, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a Digg submission if my client had something that might be of interest to that audience. But I would make sure they know how it works, who that audience is, what’s likely to happen if the story gets popular, etc. You have to give the client all the necessary information so they can make an informed decision.
Sophie: To be honest link baiting has been around for eons it was just known as trying to get links. I find I have enough trouble explaining to clients what a link is let alone trying to make them understand that they should ignore comments from a SM site just to get the link. I think it would also be good to question the value of the link in terms of your client’s reputation -would it reflect on them? Is it worth it? Are there other methods of gaining links you could use instead which don’t come with such negative baggage?
Me:
Can you share anything else with me about your thoughts on Social Media that might shed a little further light on the subject?

Bill: there are other social sites out there, and many of them are more mature. There are many business and industry related forums where people behave politely and respectfully, and clients getting involved in some of those can be beneficial to them. Here are some social sites, where social is a positive thing:
Linked In
Stumbleupon
Del.icio.us
Flickr
Zaadz
Groklaw
43Things
Care2
My social media site most often tends to be Cre8asite forums.
Barry: As a marketer, SEO, SEM or whatever you want to label yourself, you can look at Digg or Reddit as pure business. It is a great tool for link building and viral marketing. Disassociate yourself from the community and consider it business. There is no reason that you feel you need to comment on topics that are likely to get heated. I choose not to, so can you.
Kim: I don’t subscribe to censorship of hate speech because I believe that we’re expected to be responsible for ourselves. That means we each have the huge responsibility of making our own choices and decisions. Some of these decisions will land people in jail, or they’ll find themselves despised. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what they created and they have to live with the consequences.
As for the poison that hate speech and bigotry leak out on the web by people with no concept of self control or the right of everyone to life, liberty and happiness, no matter who they are, social media sites have given these people a one way ticket to misery in their lives. Any satisfaction they get from degrading other people is short-lived and honestly, there’s a lot of comfort in being stupid and hanging around like-minded ignorant people.
Social media sites that uphold high standards for integrity, fairness, cooperation, respect and the value of sharing with no attachments to ego are sorely needed.
Matt: I understand and agree with you about the low level of commentary on some of these sites. At the same time, it’s out of your control and out of your client’s control. Just by publishing on the Web, the chance exists that someone else will find the content and submit it here. To my knowledge, there’s no way to block your site/domain from being submitted to Digg or Reddit.
What you can control, of course, is whether you use those sites to promote your clients. And if your clients wouldn’t be comfortable being talked about on those sites, don’t submit. You might make some screenshots to show clients why you think it’s not in their best interest … but you should also tell them someone else might uncover that cool article on their site and post it.
If you’re looking for a higher level of discussion, I’d suggest NewsVine. Not perfect by any means, but it’s a different audience so you have a better shot at reading intelligent commentary. It’s also a much more controlled environment, and not much of a marketing tool at all.
Sophie: Maybe I’m jaded but I guess I’ve been around for a long time and seen fads come and go.I prefer to focus on designing user friendly sites that achieve client’s goals. We make them search friendly as par for the course and do work on links but I don’t know whether I’d even call myself an SEO these days. IMHO a lot of the fads are just that. Even if they work, is it worth it to compromise yourself?
In conclusion:
As a web designer, I put a lot of pressure on myself to figure out the but-everybody’s-doing-it stuff so that I don’t miss out on important trends. At the same time, as a human being, I have a tendency to be the person who asks, “but WHY is everybody doing it? And are they really all doing it?” My conclusion from absorbing the helpful comments above is that NOT everyone is doing the Social Media thing, for themselves, or for their clients. And, apparently, not one of the people with whom I spoke is heavily involving themselves in the commenting, social aspect of SM. The Digg and Reddit communities are apparently no one’s idea of a nice party, judging by the views of my honored peers.
One of the difficulties of running a small firm like mine is that I only have so much time to learn new things, and the feeling that I’ve been missing out on SM has been the proverbial raspberry seed in my wisdom tooth since the beginning of 2006. I feel somewhat better after digesting the above, but I can also see that Matt and Barry must be getting enough return on their investments of time to make leveraging SM worth their clients’ whiles.
I am having better luck with Flickr where the atmopshere around the photo sharing seems much brighter, and Bill’s list is sure to have some good things on it, worth checking out. I believe the key for me here is going to be to set Digg and Reddit aside and keep my eyes open for more niche-oriented SM sites, which I hope will crop up. I am vastly relieved to know that reading people’s comments is not considered an essential part of these types of entities, but my bold hope would be for an SM site with such smart readers, that reading the comments becomes a further source of education and opportunity. Will this be possible in the near future? I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
Many thanks to all of the contributors to this post. I really appreciated everyone’s well-thought-out feedback!
I’d like to keep this conversation going and welcome any further comments about your experiences with Social Media and the subjects above.