Tuesday, May 26, 2009...1:48 pm

The power of social bookmarking

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With one bound, this blog has gone viral. (Well, kind of).

I’ve always been curious about social bookmarking, but never really explored it very much. Aside from signing up to StumbleUpon to see how it worked, I haven’t really used sites such as Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon and Del.icio.us to steer or filter my web use. Or indeed used them to try to boost traffic on Freelance Unbound.

This is probably a mistake, of course. One reader was amused enough by one of my posts on local newspaper headlines to send it to Reddit. And guess what? My traffic spiked dramatically (albeit from a lowish base). 

As this blog has limited plug-in capability, I don’t have an automatic “Share this”-type widget attached to every post.

There is a long-winded workaround that allows me to add social bookmarking links to the bottom of a post, but I have to do this individually for each post, and it’s a pain, frankly. 

So I’ve run “share this” links on only a few posts – the ones I thought might capture a reader’s attention and go, for want of a better term, viral. Needless to say, I’ve been completely wrong about the ones I chose, none of which has been shared. 

It’s fascinating to see how this works. I’ve mentioned before that this blog is partly a tool for learning about blogging – building an audience, understanding web metrics and seeing how it’s possible to make connections online that it would be difficult or impossible to achieve otherwise. This offers some valuable lessons about generating traffic – especially for student bloggers. 

  1. Be brief: Your posts don’t have to be long and/or worthy essays. Suddenly my 43-word post with illustration is the top viewed content here of the month. 
  2. Be amusing: People tend to spread light-hearted material around. There’s a lot of gloom in the world as it is. 
  3. Be open-minded: As mentioned above, I had no idea what would trigger the sharing response. Assume any post might do this. 
  4. Be wide-ranging: As a result, don’t restrict yourself to one style of post or topic. Sure – stick to a basic theme or two, but feel free to be creative within that. 

Having said all that, don’t restrict yourself to 50-word jokey posts. Those worthy and serious essays may well be what get your visitors to stick around to see what you have to say once they StumbleUpon your witty one-liner. 

As John Scalzi found on his venerable Whatever blog, his post about sticking bacon to his cat has generated an astonishing amount of traffic and become a meme. But it’s his long, impassioned and serious essay on Being Poor in the US that has been the single most important post on his site and ended up being syndicated in national news media…

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