2011 Social Media Fail of the Year

Most posts that bestow a title like this focus on the biggest company that made the most visible boo-boo, like FaceBook or Twitter or Digg or StumbleUpon. But this post focuses instead on the social media site that put the biggest stick of dynamite under its own mission and went…

Because this is a long post, let me tell you what you will read here. You will read a rant, and you will read some advice that you can use in your social media strategy – what you can learn from the 2011 Social Media Fail of the Year. And if you don’t heed the advice, the rant might just become your own in 2012.

Without further ado, the winner of the the 2011 Social Media Fail of the Year award is… BlogEngage. The founder, owner and nanny of this social bookmarking website has frequently made clear that his goal for the site is to build community. Let’s see how well he has done that – and what it means to you and your blog.

My Story (and rant!)

Until two days ago, I was the #3 “top user” of BlogEngage.

Why did I leave BlogEnage so suddenly?

Because my account disappeared. At first, I thought it was a terrible programming error. I had seen this before. So I quickly sent a Skype message to Brian Belfitt, the aforementioned founder, owner and nanny.

No response.

I tried direct messaging him on Twitter.

No response.

Then I noticed something strange on Skype. Brian’s avatar was no longer showing on his profile. And his location was now reading: “This person has not shared their details with you.”

I tried direct messaging him on Twitter again.

No response.

Have you any idea how much work, how much community-building it takes to be the #3 user at a site like that over a period of a year?

  • How many submissions? Not just of my own posts, but of other blogs I had no “interest” in?
  • How many votes? Not just of my “friends” but of other intriguing stories?
  • How many comments?
  • How much reaching out and interacting to promote what I had submitted?
  • How many new members I had recruited for the website?

Do I still think it is worthwhile for you to invest all this time and effort in social bookmarking websites? Read on, as I have some solid, well-grounded advice for you on this point. But first, some background.

It was dawning on me that my account, and two others I noticed (at least one of which showed up in the “top users” widget of the site), had been purposefully deleted by Brian. Why? The most recent time we had communicated, he had told me that I was conducting myself as a model member of his community. I was totally puzzled.

The next morning, I discovered a blog post on the site: http://www.blogengage.com/blogger/take-your-time-and-make-your-votes-count/ . Yes, he had purposely removed a number of accounts in what appears to be a fit of frustration at how the community was conducting itself in a way different than his intention of how they should interact.

I waited for most of the day for some answer from Brian to messages I had sent now through three separate channels. Those who have been around social bookmarking for a while don’t expect explanations. For instance…

  • The most open secret on the Internet is how Reddit will disable your account for no reason, while making it still appear to you that your account is active. There is even a name for them: “Zombie accounts”.
  • Digg used to be famous for banning accounts for good reason and for no reason until about a year ago when Digg V4 was launched, and now the second-most open secret on the Internet is how Digg won’t even ban people anymore for setting up duplicate accounts.
  • And Newsvine says they will respond to you. They don’t.

But a small gated community (Yes, I’ll explain that later)? Where you are on a first-name basis with the sole proprietor? Who is your follower on Twitter? Who you Skype with? Who you email with? Would he really just delete his Top User #3 from his site with no warning? No explanation? In the words of Shania Twain, “You must be joking, right?”

Finally, not getting a response from Brian directly, I posted a comment on his blog. And in the five minutes between posting my comment and when it was removed, I grabbed this screenshot:

Yes, the message is slightly provocative, although I assure you it was VERY restrained. In fairness to me, imagine how I felt at having a year’s worth of work just wiped out by an erratic webmaster. And in fairness to Brian for removing my comment, if you had just done something this “special”, you would not appreciate having it pointed out to you on your own blog.

Three Reasons for Earning the 2011 Social Media Fail of the Year Award

Is deleting my account, and several others, what earns BlogEngage the 2011 Social Media Fail of the Year on its own? No. It is just the fourth of four blunders that self-sabotaged the site’s social mission.

FAIL #1. The first was the famous RSS submission service (I believe this was actually in 2010, but it needs to be included as part of the pattern). I must say, this is a really cool tool and I had favourably reviewed it. Basically, subscribers have their blog posts automatically submitted to BlogEngage as they are published. They get an extra vote out of the deal, as well as removing the drudgery of submission. For people who have several daily blogs, this is very worthwhile.

Unfortunately, many people using this subscription are pure spammers, who use the service for hit and run bookmarking. They let the automated system handle the submissions and they don’t build the community.

  • They don’t come back to vote for others’ submissions.
  • They don’t comment on others’ submissions.
  • They don’t ask others for support – votes, comments, etc.

These are all three vital aspects of a “community” on a social bookmarking website.

Not all RSS subscribers are hit-and-run spammers. But most of the spammers you see today on BlogEnage appear to be RSS subscribers. They pay for the privilege to spam the site.

FAIL #2. The second was when Brian started charging for memberships. Don’t get me wrong, the site belongs to Brian and he has the right to do whenever he wants with it. And if he can find a way to make a living running it, God bless him. I also run a social bookmarking website for Canadians. I would love to make a living doing just that, so I can 100% understand his motivation.

However, Digg is free. Reddit is free. StumbleUpon is free. They are all free sites that bring huge value to users and lots of traffic to submitted pages. And because they are free, they attract more users to view the submitted pages. By creating a gated community, BlogEngage reduced the value of belonging to that community. When recently discussing Blogengage in a few of my mastermind groups, one person summarized:

This is just Hilarious! I am not a “member” of BE….never submitted or voting for anything as I really don’t see much value from BE (no traffic, low PR, no direct Home Page link) but just need to point out the hypocrisy of this “community” as most users are afraid their accounts would get banned.

FAIL #3. The third was when Brian decided to charge $200 for a special promotion package that included automatic publishing to the home page – by-passing the community entirely. No need to attract votes. No need to attract comments. No need to actually participate in the community. Pass Go, pay $200. Again, if Brian can get enough people to pony up and he can quit his day job, more power to him. It is his site. But again, this is not about building community; it is about by-passing community.

FAIL #4. Booting out some of your top users, for…for…for what? I can only surmise from the words and tone of his blog post that we were not building community in the fashion that the owner wanted us to. There was no mention of any terms-of-service violations. On most social bookmarking websites, they remove your account for submitting and promoting your own websites. On BlogEngage, I was one of the few who regularly submitted posts that I did not have an “interest” in, as well as those that I did.

By removing several quality members, BlogEngage has left the site a little poorer. As one of the others who was also deleted mentioned to me, referring to a letter he had received from BlogEngage not long ago: ”

The funny thing is that he said that our submissions were poor quality… most of our subs were way beyond the regular stuff over BE like ‘win $50 blogging contests’. Or post #465 on why CommentLuv is so great. Or win BE RSS subscription. “Affordable Web Hosting: Hostgator – Go ‘Gators!”

So once again, BlogEngage seems to be bypassing community to impose its own vision of exactly how people should interact with each other. Social media, or social engineering?

And by arbitrarily deleting accounts, BlogEnage makes it less worthwhile for members to waste time in building the community. As one person in another of my mastermind groups puts is, “True. Why should I just keep plugging away so that he can kill my account a few months down the road?” (I am still puzzled, though, with how we traveled with lightening speed from assertions that I was a model community member to deleting my account.)

Advice for Social Bookmarking Users

At this point, you might expect me to say “Don’t waste your time with social bookmarking, especially not BlogEngage.” Well, no on both counts.

I had written a very popular post on Who owns your Twitter account, the tweeter or his/her company? Spoiler alert: the answer is Twitter.

Lesson One from my rant above is that when you invest in a social bookmarking or social sharing website, you are investing in somebody else’s website. Don’t forget that.

What advice would I give current BlogEngage members?

1. Keep submitting your content. Yes, it could still get deleted at any time, but that happens all the time on the Internet. Your press release on a press release website can be refused. If the site is sold or shut down, your release is gone with it. Your comments on any blog disappear when the blogger sells the domain or shuts down. All my submissions at Mixx and Propeller disappeared when those sites shut down. These are still great ways to share content, build links, network and generally promote your website. Do it anyway. It is unlikely that Brian will delete every active user’s account.

2. Don’t invest in the community. Yes, Brian says that is what he wants you to do, but when your account can so arbitrarily be deleted, it is just not worth wasting your time. Invest in your own submissions, that’s it.

What advice would I give non BlogEngage members?

Don’t join. Digg is free. My Zoomit is free. Fwisp is free. HealthBuzzing is free. BizSugar is free. Blokube is free. NewsMeBack is free. Tipd is free. BlogInteract is free. Cloudytags is free. All of them are great social bookmarking sites. If everyone charged, it would be different, but why on earth would you pay for less value and more risk?

What general advice about social bookmarking?

Social bookmarking is still absolutely A.W.E.S.O.M.E. – a great way to spread your content around the web, to be active and visible, to build quality links directly and through other bloggers and website owners and social media lovers that see your content. If your content sucks, social bookmarking is not all that useful. But if you have great content on your website, go for it!

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I have already shaken off this minor setback. Most people are both good and stable, and most social bookmarking venues, micro-blogging sites and blogs are amazing places to interact with others on the Internet. Good for traffic. Good for SEO. Good for networking. Good for building a reputation. Good. Good. Good.

And most will never vie for the coveted Social Media Fail of the Year award.

Social Media Coups and Bombs

I participated on a panel in a blog post by Geoff Cudd on 8 Sneaky Social Media Tricks: Are They Worth Your Time? The views intrigued me, so I decided to do a follow-up and ask the same people (and a few more) the following two questions:

1. What is the most amazing social media coup you ever did, or have ever seen done?
2. What is the dumbest social media fail you have ever done, or have ever seen done?

Some of them responded, but not everybody has had either a major disaster or a smash success with social media. Like so many other things, social media is a great communications tool that yields results over time based on hundreds and thousands of interactions, one at a time and incrementally over time. But there were a few coups to report and there were a few lessons to be learned, so here are what they shared with us.

 

 

FROM Geoff Cudd of Don’t Do It Yourself

COUP: I’ve never been a big Twitter fan and had always seen it as the equivalent of walking around a park with a megaphone telling random strangers about how wonderful you are. But a year ago, I changed my opinion when I stumbled upon a new business partner by exchanging tweets. In under 140 characters we managed to identify that we had complimentary services and setup a time to discuss partnering. We hit it off and developed a very beneficial partnership.

Lesson: Don’t ignore innocuous tweets. They could result in long term partners!

BOMB: In one of my ventures I actually had a product development team working for an entire year creating a toolbar application that would allow you to share web-based sticky notes through social media (similar to Evernote). The concept was great, but we spent all our energy focusing on the product and not the social media relationships that would be required to give it that initial boost of traffic to spread adoption. Before you know it, we had very few users and we ran out of time and capital. We had to give up and turn our efforts towards other guaranteed-revenue related activities.

Lesson: For a social media product, you’ve got to plan out your marketing strategy early in the product lifecycle and get user input as soon as possible. I won’t share any numbers, but I’m willing to guess that I have the title for one of the more expensive mistakes on this panel!

FROM Andy Boyd of Money Release

COUP: One of the best I’ve done so far was an infographic for an ink cartridges company. As you can imagine, ink cartridges is a bland product that very few people, if anyone is actively interested in. This meant that I had to do something out of the ordinary in order to have a hope of getting some traction. So I came up with the idea of printing out the internet, and how much ink and paper it would take to do so. I am an avid documentary geek, with a particular interest in programs like Discovery’s Extreme Engineering where they often use animated graphics to visualise the scale of a project, e.g. this building is equivalent to the height of 10 Statue of Liberty’s, or there’s enough cable in this aircraft to wrap around the world twice. In the end we came up with a really cool looking infographic packed full of factoids about printing the internet.

Shortly after it launched, it went viral. Really viral. Thousands of people tweeted it. It was picked up by lots of the top blogs and hundreds of smaller publishers. Hundreds of thousands of people viewed that infographic. And to the best of my knowledge, it’s still getting links today.

BOMB: I haven’t had a campaign backfire, but like any social marketer I’ve had my fair share of flops. That’s the thing with marketing content – you never really know if it will work. Back at the time when getting promoted on Digg actually mattered, I used to spend a lot of time on there promoting my work. When Digg was at it’s prime, it was probably one of the most exciting times to be a social marketer. You could launch a linkbait, watch it hit the front page, hope your servers will stay up and just wait for the links to roll in. The problem was that you could push something for 24 hours, only for it to be buried at the very last minute just when you thought it was going to be promoted. When that happened, and it happens a lot when you’re promoting content on a commercial website, it s probably the single most demoralising thing about being a social marketer.

FROM Emory Rowland of Clickfire

COUP: What comes to my mind is an accidental coup that my friend, the owner of a conservative political blog and myself, the webmaster discovered back in 2008 that helped me truly grasp the nature and power of social media. Someone had discovered an interesting blog post that my friend had made (more about this later) and submitted it to StumbleUpon. Of course, I wouldn’t have noticed it but for the sudden influx of visitors the site began receiving in the tens of thousands that continued for about 2 months. Here are some specifics:

  • StumbleUpon sent around 42,000 visits and listing 46 user reviews.
  • For the year, StumbleUpon ended up sending three times the traffic that Google sent (the site ranked for the head term, “liberals”).
  • My friend received offers to appear on a Sirius XM Radio show and a Pajamas Media TV show.

From that day forward, I took StumbleUpon seriously to say the least. But, the funny part is that this social media marketing victory pretty much violated every SEO rule in the book.

  • The post was not submitted or promoted by anyone affiliated with the site. It spread naturally.
  • There was no onsite or offsite SEO strategy or measures taken other than the default SEO-friendliness of WordPress.
  • The post title contained a blatant misspelled word.
  • The post was only 180 words in length.
  • The post constituted duplicate content. It turned out to be a meme appearing on many other sites.

BOMB: Let me make it clear that I did not actually do this, but seriously thought about dressing up as Matt Cutts for Halloween.

FROM Hesham Zebida of Famous Bloggers

COUP: My best Social Media coup started with organizing blog contests, entries in the contests usually receive high tweet rates as participants compete with each others to collect more points during the promotion period to win the blog contest, which means a huge exposure for my blog.

BOMB: My big fail and the most silly idea I ever had was when I decided to start an underground twitter exchange network, it’s the worst idea ever.

FROM Tom Drake of Canadian Finance Blog

COUP: My biggest social media coup was working my way up to top domain on Tip’d. I had been blogging for about a year before I really got into using Tip’d. So I had quite a few old posts that I would submit on the weekend and hustle on twitter to get votes, often just needing 4-5 votes to get published to the front page. Being the top domain might be more than just bragging rights, since many users now give me votes without as much begging involved.

BOMB: My biggest social media fail was trying to use Reddit for the first time and getting labeled as a spammer almost immediately. I thought I was submitting my posts, but I’d click on “text” thinking I was leaving a description, but apparently this took out my links and made it look like some very random statements being made by a bot.

FROM Miranda Marquit of Planting Money Seeds

BOMB: We had a custom infographic made for Moolanomy. It hit the front page on Digg, back when Digg was cool, and it exploded elsewhere. It ended up with tons of comments, and thousands of views. It was back when infographics were just becoming the big thing, and it really emphasized the importance of being a little ahead of the curve. Plus, it was a somewhat controversial topic (buying vs. renting), and the infographic left out a few things. Actually, it might have been the fact that the graphic left out some things that generated so much buzz and conversation. It was valuable insight that sometimes you can get a lot of a traffic when people see something “wrong.”

FROM Tom Shivers of Capture Commerce

COUP: Papa John’s conducted Papa’s Specialty Pizza Challenge the summer of 2010 and the findings were very interesting. Consumers were asked to create and submit recipes for interesting new pizzas.

A panel of qualified judges selected ten semi-finalists based on overall appeal, taste, creativity of the name, and interest of the story. The judges then selected three finalists from the semi-finalists. The top three pizzas were put on the regular menu and finalists had one month to hustle up sales of their pizza creations, each was given $1000 to promote their pizza. The top selling pizza won a cut of the sales up to a maximum of $10,000 plus $480 of Papa John’s pizza each year for 50 years.

Interestingly, the pizza that got the most Facebook “likes” did not win. “Papa John’s Cheesy Chicken Cordon Bleu for Gulf Coast Animals” by Barbara Hyman, started out ahead of the other two pizza contestants and never relinquished that position during the entire month, selling about 108,000 pizzas, or 45% of the contestant pizzas sold.

Papa John’s VP of digital marketing said Hyman’s pizza had two powerful hooks: the Cordon Bleu name was familiar and easy to remember, and her cause was framed as a way to help animals harmed by the BP oil spill, a timely and emotional pull.

Hyman made alliances with other businesses who helped her promote the pizza and pledged to match her charity donation if she won. She said, “People didn’t seem to care about the money I could win, but their interest peaked when I talked about helping wild life covered with oil.”

Six lessons from Papa John’s about crowdsourcing product creation:

  • Challenge customers to win a product creation contest by providing motivating incentives
  • Utilize objective criteria and judges to select the finalists
  • Give finalists marketing tools and resources to promote their product creation
  • Gauge success by product sales and not by any other kind of criteria, like voting
  • Promotions that involve donations to charity or a good cause can easily win out over promotions that focus on the contest itself
  • Contests promoted with social media creates audience engagement for the business

Read more: Crowdsourcing + R&D = Winning Product Design

BOMB: A couple years ago I decided to utilize mommy bloggers to promote a line of rocking horses. I interviewed several and decided on one because she had a big promotion coming up for Mother’s Day weekend and my rocking horse would be the grand prize of all the giveaways going on. Basically contestants could get more entries by tweeting, liking, linking to the website and sharing the contest with friends. At the end the winner of the rocking horse would be chosen by random number.

I sent one rocking horse to the mommy blogger so she could review it; another rocking horse would be sent to the winner of the contest.

Hundreds of people entered the contest and it was interesting to watch the tweets and likes fly, but at the end of the day the site didn’t get many links or as much publicity as I had hoped.

  • Although I did get some nice things out of the promotion, I also learned some lessons:
  • Mommy blogger contestants are in it for the free prizes and that’s about it.
  • Be careful if your product is a much higher value than most of the items that are being promoted on the mommy blogger’s site.
  • Contests won by random do not tend to engage contestants with the brand during or after the contest is over.
  • The mommy blogger did link to the site but it was a bit excessive, meaning it was sorta obvious I had asked for links (Google probably ignored most of them).

FROM David Leonhardt (that’s me) of SEO writer

I know you are curious to know what my biggest coups and bombs were. The reality is that my coups have mostly been in the realm of sustained success, one small step at a time, getting my content and client content to “pop” on social bookmarking websites week after week after week after week. Likewise, my bombs have been incremental, getting banned at Reddit (presumably for submitting some posts that were self-promotional), at the former Propeller (for who knows why?), at the former Shoutwire (for who knows why?), at the Newsvine (possibly for trying to join too many groups at once?) and at Digg (for who knows why?).

But if I was to name one coup and one bomb, it would be the same: creating Zoomit Canada. It was a coup because running one’s own social bookmarking website brings so many social media advantages, making you a bit of a leader and opening plenty of networking doors. It was a bomb because I never did manage to attract anywhere near the kind of attention to make it what it was meant to be (but there is still time for that, hopefully).

I hope you have learned some valuable tips from the coups and bombs we have shared here today. Please feel free to share your own in the comments section below.

Blogging Fail – how to tell a spam blog

If you have old material, sure, go ahead and recycle it. But it looks like somebody was so eager to spread around their old material, that they didn’t bother recycling – they went straight to reusing it.

(Good thing this is not toilet paper!)