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Managing Emerging Brands, Dealing with PR Fallout

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It seems that 2007 brings us a “SEOs are teh devil” mantra from a multitude of newly crowned golden children of the web and to be perfectly honest it’s starting to annoy me.

No doubt the likes of Slashdot have already dealt with and got over the impact the SEO industry may or may not have on the operation of their site – having implemented procedures to deal with comment spam, crap submissions and the like, Slashdot is still doing fine.  So why are newer community driven big brand sites so anti-SEO?

There has been loads of drama surrounding Digg’s approach to the SEO industry, which has been driven largely by its user base that seems to be largely anti-SEO despite many top Diggers being SEOs themselves.  A notable example was Danny’s recent article being buried.

And now, MyBlogLog is getting in on the SEO witch hunt as well, after banning SEO Shoemoney for “publishing other people’s data on the site and urging readers to spoof them”.  OK, a fair argument, but ill-timed given that the SEO industry is still fist-shaking after the recent Digg drama.

Regardless of the specifics of each situation, what annoys me is that these large and popular sites are so inadequately handling the nature and reality of the web.  Both Digg and MyBlogLog offer a system where websites can promote themselves (submitting an article to Digg; making use of MBL widgets, profiles, etc), yet they seem to be handling the Internet Marketing industry so badly.

We’re not working in a new industry – SEO has been around for years now and it really unbelievably amateurish for such large brands to emerge offering services that are obviously attractive to the marketing industry, yet are unable to manage their online PR with any level of competence.

After burying Danny’s article, the Digg user base now finds itself having lost an insightful and informative article written by one of the industry’s most respected individuals.  How does this reflect on Digg?

Eric Marcoullier from MyBlogLog talks about “staying ahead of SEO-types who try to game the system” – no offence Eric, but you (well your company) created the system and it was blatantly obvious to anyone with two brain cells to rub together that this was the inevitable outcome on the back of the system’s success.  You created a marketing tool and now are complaining because marketing professionals are using it.

That’s like Google complaining because small businesses who self manage their PPC campaign don’t get as good an ROI or exposure as professionally managed campaigns.

Natural selection anyone?

Here’s an idea for Digg.  Realise that a community based on anonymous voting by a predominately tech geek crowd is an inherently flawed model that will reach a critical mass and then simply fail.  Either take your community and refocus it to serve niche markets which would make good use your users’ professional knowledge – or – adapt your system’s model to accommodate mass market use to avoid one social group dominating the results.

Otherwise your site is simply going to become (or stay as) a bitching ground for geeks.  We’re all adults here (mostly) – I think it’s time we moved on from the “majority rules and the rest gets binned” philosophy.

How about creating specialist areas for your users so their votes carry more or less weight where their own specialism and past voting history is appropriate?

Here’s an idea for MyBlogLog.  Profiles, stats, networking – regardless of how your corporate strategy defines your site, it is in fact a marketing tool for bloggers – within this market, SEO plays a very significant role.  To avoid this, ignore it, or even fight against it is an unnatural way to approach the issues you are facing.  Embrace the “problems” and reassess your strategy to incorporate new ways to turn them into positives.

Don’t like half naked chicks as avatars?  Then implement a review process. PokerStars.com does this for gamer avatars – you need to wait a few days for a review and you can only change your avatar 1 time after this, but there are no offensive images at the tables.  And I bet they got way more users than you do!

Don’t like comment spam?  It’s not 2002 – there are plenty of ways you can implement self moderation / community moderation features to kill it off.

Don’t like BS communities / profiles that don’t deserve to be there?  See above re: community moderation / review process.

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The main problem Digg and MBL have is that both sites are based on a LAZY business model.  They simply setup free and easy ways for people to contribute the content and have next to no internal review processes in place.  And now the sites have reached a critical mass of users that laziness has come back to bite them on the ass – and instead of doing something about it they are pointing fingers.

Change, innovate or be remembered in Friday Foo “what ever happened to” posts.

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