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.
I tried direct messaging him on Twitter.
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.
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.