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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.

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21 Responses to “2011 Social Media Fail of the Year”

  1. Tom Shivers (11 comments) Says:

    “What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.”

  2. emory @ clickfire (11 comments) Says:

    Is there a virus that goes around that causes social media site owners to ban their best users? I can understand Digg and Propeller and Mixx doing this out of paranoia back in their heydays, but a site like Blog Engage?

    “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.”

    David if you can be banned, anyone can. Most small social media sites would kill for an engaged contributer of content like yourself. It doesn’t make sense. You seem to be taking it well and moving on which is great. I guess we’ll never know the answer to this question: why?

  3. Ileane (8 comments) Says:

    David, this is a very odd situation and I’m glad you’re not taking it to heart. You and I have so many connections that this one won’t make much difference in our web of support for each other.

  4. Kristen (2 comments) Says:

    Wow, I had no idea that something like this could happen. Thanks for letting me know that there is a risk to social bookmarking…

  5. Ann (7 comments) Says:

    If there are so many free sites, why ever would anyone pay $200 and for something run so arbitrarily? Sorry you lost your money and your stuff. That sucks. But you are better off without such a community.

  6. Devesh (1 comments) Says:

    Hey David,

    That’s what I’ve been doing at Blokube – Building community. I think social bookmarking sites are all about community & engagement and that’s how they work. What if there would be no engagement part on social sites, than no one is going to vote or comment!!

    I really like the idea about RSS Syndication but i think Brian need to keep the balance between normal & PRO Users (something I am doing at Blokube).

    I just voted this post Blokube & shared all the social sites.

  7. Mitch Mitchell (10 comments) Says:

    Great post overall Dave. I’ve never really been a social bookmarking kind of guy, though early on I did sign up for Technorati & Delicious, and did sign up for another site of which I can’t remember the name right now, but met some nice people through it. I don’t count Twitter in this mix because I love the idea of live conversations at times, which I get here and there.

    I don’t like them for 3 reasons. One, I can’t figure out how those sites push my content better than I do, since I know most people aren’t reading my content there. Two, ranking systems in general are kind of arbitrary, and if there’s no way to really know how to “win”, if you will, then why bother? And three, because they can drop you at a moment’s notice without explanation. Frankly I don’t have that kind of time or the mindset to deal with it, running 5 blogs of my own.

  8. SMO Blogger (1 comments) Says:

    This is masochism on the owner’s part and you handled it with class, David.

  9. Sherryl Perry (1 comments) Says:

    David, that is very unfortunate and a warning to the rest of us. I wish you the best and I’ll continue to support you on the other sites that I’m on. (After reading this, I’ve picked up a couple of other sites that I hadn’t joined yet. So, thanks for the info.)

  10. Ming Jong Tey (3 comments) Says:

    Hi David,

    Just noticed your post from FamousBlogger and I am sorry about your situation. No matter what the rules and policy that have been stated by BE, I think communication is required between the users and the admin, in the case yourself and Brian, unless the users are just pure spammers…

    It is always up to the owner to setup the rule and the community (us) to decide if we are willing to participate. Like you mentioned, there are always other communities available for free.

    Personally, I don’t see anything wrong for asking friends to vote, if I think it is a quality article. This is a line in the sand, depending where you draw it…

    Cheers,
    Ming

  11. David Leonhardt (140 comments) Says:

    Hi Ming. You are not the first to mention “communication”, so I think I need to add some clarity to this. Brian DID send at least one letter to several members about voting beyond just their niche just a couple months back. I was a recipient of that letter, and I was surprised to be, because I had been voting and commenting across all niches, and for submissions of friends as well as people I did not know and who were in many cases not voting for my submissions. So I wrote back to Brian and he assured me that I was doing everything fine and that I was only included in the letter because I had voted for the submission he was using as an example. So I am not sure it would be fair to accuse Brian of not communicating. The problem, in this case, is something different.

  12. Justin Germino (3 comments) Says:

    I have seen the accounts banned and talked to Brian about it, I understand where he is coming from but I also understand certainly where some members who were banned are coming from. There is a communication breakdown, it is unfortunate it went this far to all involved. It hurts people who invest time in the site and hurts BlogEngage reputation.

    I acknowledged myself that voter manipulation existed and corrupted blogengage homepage when the same submitter had 5-10 articles on homepage but they always had same number of votes. Also the topics of the articles weren’t ones that resonated with the BlogEngage community where you typically see Blogging/SEO related articles really shine on the homepage.

    I don’t think anybody should be penalized for voting on something they thought was worth voting for or the occasional request as long as it isn’t a habit. Also there is the voting:voted ratio to consider, it’s an imperfect system and I am glad I don’t run an article directory site, too much of an admin headache to balance.

  13. emory @ clickfire (11 comments) Says:

    “I understand where he is coming from but I also understand certainly where some members who were banned are coming from.”

    There isn’t any reason to delete someone’s account unless they are violating the terms of service or some other stated rules. Even Digg gave users warnings before banning accounts.

  14. Brooke Campbell (1 comments) Says:

    Sorry to hear about your experience with Blogengage, especially after how much time you spent supporting them. Social bookmarking definitely has it’s place for branding, seo and getting perceived expert status. However, I think this kind of example drives home the importance of building up your own web real estate on your own website over that of someone else’s platform.

  15. leeu (1 comments) Says:

    Hahahaha, what a terrible…experience….don’t be bothered because of that….your life will not be better thinking of that…otherwise…you will just end up to nothing….That site is governed by its policies when you signed up…Best idea is….create your own blog site…and as you have said….you are the #3 top user….Maybe you can be #1 in your own….

  16. Nishadha (1 comments) Says:

    The first thing I did after reading this post was to check my account. It is intact but I’m not a very active user anyway. I joined BlogEngage way back in 2008, I’m sure I’m around the first 100 or near. It was a great community in the beginning and because it was super targeted towards blogging I really enjoyed visiting it too. But recently many unwanted stuff started coming to the front page, some posts just had one paragraph with an eBook offer and it was in the front page. So obviously users voting for their friends posts and rigging the system. Maybe Brian was trying to get rid of them and you were caught in the storm.
    I suppose the real investment from niche social bookmarking sites is the connections you have made and judging by the comments you have made plenty. So your effort wasn’t totally wasted :-) .

  17. David Leonhardt (140 comments) Says:

    @Nishadha I believe you are right on almost every count. The exception is that nobody was “caught in the storm”. The non-substantive posts are generally submitted through a paid RSS feed, and to the best of my knowledge, none of those have been removed. If anything, a number of people have suggested that we might have been removed to make more room for the paying customers.

  18. emory @ clickfire (11 comments) Says:

    I wonder. I’d have gladly signed up for the paid RSS feed service if it would have prevented my account from being deleted.

  19. nhiki (1 comments) Says:

    hey full of bitterness huh?lol just kidding

    this article is helpful for our fellow blogger the least they will be able to know the site they should be aware of…

    thanks for giving a warning.

  20. Andrea (1 comments) Says:

    David..I agree the fail #2. Though they are offering good service most of the users are freelancers and individuals who think about spending on it. I was a blogengage user long back but came out of no reason and think what I did was right.

  21. Jennifer Cunningham (1 comments) Says:

    Thanks for the tips. I would not like my links and followers to disappear. That’s a lot. I do need more traffic and it’s very time consuming to comment and not get follows. But maybe that is the most efficient way.

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