It’s been a few, exciting short months since I decided to dive head-first into my social bookmarking project. After writing a growth update on my projects blog, I decided to expand on my experiences by writing this post, which I hope will help others decide on whether or not they should pursue the same venture, what to expect and what to get out of it. Here are a list of steps and hints I would adhere to if I were (and I probably will) to start anew.
Think of an idea
The first important decision is often the hardest one, in the case, it really isn’t. Social bookmarking projects tend to have a life of their own (left), and even if you wish to cater to a niche, and unless you have some rigid and active moderation, applicants will ignore your terms of service and attempt to feed you just about anything (more of moderation later on). Nevertheless, picking a niche may aid initial marketing efforts and search engine rankings, you can diversify and build from there later.
Harness the power of your social networks. I will be eternally indebted to the help and quality of the essential “first few” users who I lured from existing networks such as Hubpages. Not only are these the users who provide the highest quality content, they are also among the most loyal. If you don’t have a traffic-line to tap into, you may initially struggle to incentivize your fledgling site. Your first round of marketing should focus, almost on a vis-a-vis basis, once a handful of people see the usefulness of your site, it will grow whether you want it too or not.
Choose a CMS or social bookmarking platform. There are a number of free, high-quality platforms you can start (and end) with. I chose to use Drigg, a drupal based solution.The reason for this is that I could tap in to Drupal’s huge theme and module list, top-notch security and vibrant community. Scalability through memcache is also better than expected. There are a number of problems with Drigg though, namely:
A MIA developer (sporadically maintained by the community)
Working with Drupal can be a little complex for the code layman (if you are comfortably with PHP you can do almost anything!).
Database queries can really add up.
For those who want something simpler, you could try out Pligg, a very easy all-in-one solution for social bookmarking, but you will not have the safety, breadth and flexibility of Drigg. Thankfully, if you find Pligg to limitative, you can import its database directly into Drigg (the reverse is not true).
Dress for success. Theming is incredibly important for social bookmarking sites. There are literally tens of thousands of Drigg and Pligg clones out there, build by people who wanted to make a quick buck without working for it. The result? A whole lot of nothing. I decided to heavily mod Drigg’s base theme and functionality — I got rid of voting and replaced it with “views”. I found the fact that new sites, voting is a surefire way of letting new visitors know that there isn’t much going on. This is why I love Drigg!
Offer users incentives. Yes, social bookmarking (read: backlinks) is why people are there, but adding some sort of incentive can help grow loyalty and growth. I added both revenue sharing and a referral system, but of which did more marketing for me on autopilot that I was able to do myself. Both Pligg and Drigg offer modules that can easily integrate both these functions into your site, use them!
Have a marketing plan. A strong, initial burst of marketing can set the avalanche in motion, and trust me on this, the monster will not stop rolling. Make sure you offer exactly what visitors want. Usually:
- Do-follow backlinks
- Revenue Sharing
- Rapidly Indexed Bookmarks (more on this later)
- Free everything
- Ease of use
Everything else is fluff and should take a backseat to these priorities. Ideally, a new user should know within 10 seconds of visiting your site that they have access to all of these.
Search engine optimization. Users will expect a lot from their bookmarks. Not only will they expect their backlinks to be indexed rapidly (optimize your sitemaps and navigation for this, make sure that no single page is less than two clicks away from your homepage!), they will want their bookmarks to compete in the rankings as standalone entities. Also bear in mind that the majority of your users are web savvy, so make sure you know exactly what you are doing.
Hosting and scalability. This is possibly the most underrated point I have to make. In short, make sure you can upgrade your hosting package as the revenue and traffic pours in. Because somewhere along the line, you will have to. I currently use a Hostgator account and have had to upgrade already — despite having unlimited bandwidth and storage. A populated site will overload the server’s CPU. As content rises, make sure you also split your sitemap files and set a back-up schedule.
Customer relationship management. Anytime someone uploads a bookmark, or refers a new user, they are making an investment with you, and you should respect it. Treasure their work as if it was your own and you will be rewarded. Backup constantly, communicate with your users (explain downtime, warn of instability) and let them know their work is not likely to disappear over night. Setup multiple avenues for feedback, a contact form, a flagging system, a helpdesk, an FAQ and possibly even a support forum. Communication should be two-way (users will alert you to security issues, spam and bugs — its not all downhill in CRM).
Things to expect along the way (these are normal — no matter who you are):
- Security breaches
- Server downtime
- Search engine woes and penalties (you are publishing huge amounts of content daily — make sure you moderate or you will eventually be slapped, not only by search engines but by advertisers)
- Clowns and trolls (don’t let them bring you down or demoralize you)
- Spam (deal with it)
- Negative feedback
- Competitors posing as discontent users (negative word of mouth)
- Code errors that are beyond your knowledge or ability to fix (seek help, Drigg is great for this)
- Cyclical traffic (sometimes it will seem like you’re going downhill, keep at it)
That’s just for starters …. but don’t let it put you off!