We’ve written often here about social news sites like Digg, Reddit and Netscape that give users control of what appears on the sites’ homepage through voting.  Until a few months ago, these sites were really geared towards techies, so they were largely ignored by politicians and advocacy groups. 

Now that these social news sites have built an audience and expanded their focus beyond technology news, political groups are starting to pay attention.  And by “starting to pay attention” what I really means is “starting to manipulate.” 

I’m on a lot of political email lists.  A lot.  WIth increasing frequency, these emails from politicians and political groups are asking recipients to vote for their content on social news sites like Digg in addition to asking me for money or to write a letter to the editor or call talk radio.  Here is an example of a typical call to action.

Right or wrong, these social news sites are becoming an emerging battleground for political campaigns and advocacy groups. 

 Given that, it should come as little surprise that some are accusing the think tank ThinkProgress.org of trying to manipulate Digg, Reddit and Netscape by group voting. 

I’m sure this sort of thing happens more often than we know about. 

First, these social news sites are communities.  It is inevitable for people who are new to these communities (like most political folks) to take missteps.  They simply don’t know the unwritten rules of how to behave.

Second, it is the job of advocacy groups to get the message out so it makes sense that social news sites would become part of the strategy.  Like anything else, some people will go about promoting stories on these sites the right way and some will go about it the wrong way.

The head of Netscape, Jason Calacanis, has written a great blog entry outlining three rules for anyone thinking about participating in these social news sites.

  1. Be involved beyond stories that link back to you site.
  2. Be up front about who you are.
  3. Be fair with the titles and descriptions of your stories.

He also sums up the problem with what ThinkProgress.org is doing quite nicely

“Right now ThinkProgress looks like a spamming group because they are only involved in their own stories. That’s like coming to dinner party and only talking about yourself–folks will hate you. Folks will not invite you back to the party. Folks will think you’re small and selfish.”

Like with all new media, I think there is an opportunity for candidates and advocacy groups on these social news sites. But like with blogging and MySpace/Facebook and Second Life, the opportunity can only be realized if you actually become a part of the community. 

If you just drop in once a month and don’t respect the culture of the community, you are going to end up doing yourself (and the issues you advocate for) more harm than good.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.