October 21, 2014

Guide to Networking for Social Media Marketers

I write frequently about the need for a strong network with social media marketing and blogging, however, I haven’t done much in terms of a detailed guide for why, how, and when to network. There’s plenty of available information online about networking for bloggers, but in general I feel that there is a lack of quality information about networking as it’s related to social media marketing.

My opinion is that this lack of information exists for a few specific reasons:

1. When it comes to networking, there is not a right or wrong way. It’s difficult to write a blueprint for networking because of the personal interaction and involvement. Simply following a blueprint from some “expert” would make networking robotic and quite possibly ineffective.

2. On the subject of networking for the purpose of social media marketing , some people feel that this is gaming the system (which I think it clearly can be in some situations) so they avoid talking about it, even if networking is a large part of their success with social media, for fear of being considered a spammer.

3. Some practices are frowned upon by social media sites and breaking their rules of etiquette have led to some users being banned in the past. Because the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable is very gray, many social media users are hesitant to write about their own practices for fear that there will be repercussions from specific social media sites.

It’s a shame that a fear of being considered a spammer and being banned from social media sites prevents very knowledgeable people from sharing information that could be useful to so many others. However, because we all have differing opinions of what’s acceptable , and some people have pretty strong opinions on the matter, I think it’s understandable why most people hold back in this area.

I’ll try to be as open as possible in order to make this post a resource that can actually help you in your own social media marketing. On some points you may agree with me, and others you may disagree. Some readers may feel that these recommendations are promoting spam, and it’s fine to have that opinion. I’m pretty certain that I don’t do anything to violate the terms of service or anything unethical in my marketing, but I can live with others not sharing my opinions.

How Networking Can Help With Social Media Marketing

From my experience over the past year with social media marketing, I have seen two factors that stand head and shoulders above everything else in terms of contributing to the level of success with social media optimization/marketing: 1) the quality of the content, and 2) the quality of the network.

It’s pretty obvious why content is critical, but networking can be more of a mystery. A natural thought is “Benefiting from your network through social media is spam.” I’d like to present a more complete picture of the subject.

1. Friends

Those who are in your network are your friends (or they become your friends over time). Friends like to see each other do well, so they are more likely to vote for you even without any prompting.

2. Submissions

You may have a contact with others that have a strong presence at particular social media sites. If so, your content may have a better chance for success if they submit it for you. It’s fairly common to have friends submit items.

3. Official Share Features

Most social media sites have official features for sharing a link with friends, such as Digg’s shout system and StumbleUpon’s share feature. Although overusing these items is a bad idea, occasionally using them to share your best work with your friends is generally accepted (and sharing your content with those who you really don’t know is generally not acceptable).

4. Unofficial Requests

It’s fairly common for bloggers and social media users to make requests of their friends via email or IM. This can be more effective than using an official share feature since the social media sites can’t track your email and they cannot account for your request in the algorithm. Use this approach with caution. I feel that it’s fine to send a request when others are ok with receiving your request, but otherwise it’s best avoided. This really depends on your individual relationship with the other person. For more on this subject, see Why I Won’t F’in Digg or Stumble that Page for You at Shoemoney.

5. Last Minute Push

Most social media sites are time-sensitive. For example, with Digg you have roughly 24 hours (give or take a few) to get promoted before the submission disappears from the upcoming page. If you have a network of other users that you’re in contact with, you may have the option to ask for some last minute help if you’re close but you just need a little push.

6. Help to Build Your Profile

The more active you are and the stronger your network is, the more likely you are to build a “power profile.” Those who have a large network of other active users tend to have more influence themselves.

7. Transferable

Building a network or a strong profile will allow you to market just about anything you want. Want to start a new website or blog? You’ll have some existing connections that can help you get off the ground quickly . Want to help a friend get some exposure or promote your guest posts or freelance blogging? That’s possible too.

With the right network even mediocre content can draw impressive results with social media. Of course, in order to get the best results and to have long-term success you’ll also need high-quality content, but it’s nice to know that you have a powerful network surrounding you.

What is Generally Accepted and What is Not?

Because there are so many differing opinions on the matter, it’s hard to know what is safe and what can make you look like a self-centered spammer. Generally speaking, there are a few rules that I live by:

1. Don’t do anything that you would consider to be inappropriate for others. If you think others would be unethical or spammy if they did something, stay away from doing it yourself.

2. Be willing to reciprocate anything you ask of others. I’m not suggesting you should vote for anything that someone sends to you, but if you’re asking for votes from others you should be willing to take the time to receive requests and consider voting if you think it deserves the vote.

3. Gauge the other person. Generally, those who are actively involved with social media and are interested in getting more exposure for their submissions or for their site will be open to ethical requests.

4. Don’t do anything that can get you banned. If you rely on social media traffic, treat it with respect and make sure you play by the rules. If you’re willing to break the terms of service, be willing to accept the consequences if you get caught.

5. Take a genuine interest in helping others. Although I write a lot about how you can maximize the amount of traffic you get through social media, it’s important to realize that it’s all about collaborating and sharing content with each other. If you’re able to create something that catches on with other people, great. But that’s not the reason social media exists.

6. Don’t be afraid of making legitimate requests. If you get shouts or requests from others asking for your help, don’t be afraid to make your own request when you have something worth sharing. If other people will like what you have to offer, sharing it can actually help them out.

7. Only vote for what you appreciate. If one of your friends asks you to submit or vote for something that you think is pure garbage, respectfully decline. Your reputation is at stake based on what you vote for.

Common Types of “Friends”

In the world of blogging and social media, the word “friend” can mean many different things. Most social media and networking sites allow you to add other users to your list of friends, which can help you to interact with them in various ways, depending on the particular site. However, just because someone is on your list of friends, or because you are on theirs, doesn’t mean that a real relationship is being built. In most cases it’s not.

True networking requires more than just adding some one as a friend. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the different types of relationships you can have with other social media users.

1. “Friends”

As was just mentioned, you can add another user to your list of friends but actually have no real connection to them. This may have some slight benefit for you at some social media sites, but in the grand scheme of things, your goals should go much deeper than just adding friends to a list.

2. Official Group

You may be involved in an organized group that exists for the purpose of helping each other to get votes when needed. These groups can be run through email or through something like Google Groups. The group may or may not have rules about how many requests can be made, but members have the right to vote or not vote however they choose.

3. Unofficial Group

Unlike an official group that includes certain people, an unofficial group is nothing more than people who are connected or acquainted somehow that occasionally share voting requests with one another. Requests are frequently made by email or IM, and Twitter is becoming another common tool for doing so. In this situation it’s basically accepted and understood that requests here and there are acceptable.

4. Official Group Version 2

Many Digg users have lost their accounts at some point for trading or exchanging diggs with other users. In this case, users are making an agreement to vote for each other, it’s not a request that can be turned down. I believe this is against the terms of service of many social media sites.

Tips for Networking

Find the right people. If you’re looking for other people who would be willing to vote for your content from time-to-time, find others who are promoting their content with social media. Most of these people will be interested in you for the same reason.

Go beyond voting. Take the time to actually get to know others. Regardless of your purpose for networking, quality of relationships is always more important than quantity of connections.

Try to focus on your niche. Preferably, those who you are networking with should have content that is on a topic related to yours so it will actually be content the like and that you’re happy to vote for. Building strong connections in your niche can have huge dividends to your overall blogging success.

Focus on those who you respect. Try to get to know others whose content you really like. You don’t want to be getting emails from other asking for you to vote for a really poor quality article.

Don’t go overboard. The goal of networking for the purpose of social media marketing is not to have a list of hundreds of people that you can ask for a vote. You’ll quickly make a lot of enemies, regardless of how good your content is, if the see an email from you asking for something every time they open their inbox.

Don’t make social media marketing your sole purpose. Although this article is all about how you can improve your results with social media through networking, that should never be your only purpose for getting to know others. Social media is just one benefit of having a strong network, and it’s pretty clear to others when you’re just trying to get something for yourself out of a relationship.

Limit your requests. If you do make requests for votes to others, keep it limited to occasional requests for your highest quality of content. Making requests for every post you publish will make your efforts less effective when you need them the most.

Don’t focus solely on Digg. Most of the requests I get from others are for Digg, but there are so many other useful sites out there that are easier to target. Even with a strong network, Digg is still a long shot for most of us. That doesn’t mean that you should never try, but your work can have more impact if you also use some other sites.

On the Subject of Official Groups

Personally, I would stay away from any situation where you are exchanging votes where you don’t have the option to pass on a request if you don’t want to vote. It’s not worth being banned from a social media site for a few votes.

Some of you may be wondering where you can find groups to participate. I’ve never actually looked for one, but I’ve heard that they can be found with a Google search. However, I would stay away from a group that can be found too easily, because if you can find it with a search, so can a social media site, and they may decide that they don’t appreciate these practices. My advice if you are looking for a group is to do one of two things, 1) Reach out to others in your network that are active with social media and well connect. They may know of something. Or, 2) Start your own group with people that you know.

What are Your Thoughts?

How do you feel on the subject of networking and social media? What do you think is appropriate and acceptable, and what is not?

About Steven Snell

Steven is a web designer, blogger, and freelance writer.

6 comments

  1. I agree that Digg is beginning to lose its overwhelming presence, as other SM sites develop and expand. I have found that some of the most interesting and creative content gets promoted on smaller SM sites. I guess it’s because Digg is really tough to break into.

  2. April,
    Yeah, Digg is still valuable, but it’s far from the only option. And it’s all or nothing, so 99% or the traffic goes to 1% of the submissions. That’s fine when you’re in the 1%, but otherwise there is little gained.

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