Social Bookmarking Sites: An Essential Online Marketing Tool

According to my e-mail service provider’s reports, a lot of subscribers to my newsletter skip my opening essay each week and going directly to a little item called “Just for Fun” that I include in every newsletter. Just For Fun is a link to a funny, offbeat or just plain bizarre item that I find on the Web.

It may look like I spend hours each week looking for source material, but my real secret is StumbleUpon, which is a popular example of the new breed of social bookmarking sites.

Social bookmarking is one of the hottest group activities on the Internet, and it’s capable of driving enormous amounts of traffic if your site is lucky enough to be selected. Over the next couple of issues of my newsletter, I’ll look at some of the more popular bookmarking sites and explain how they work. Although I caution against relying on raw traffic stats as an indicator of success, I recommend you make social bookmarking a staple of your promotion efforts.

Bookmarks have been around since the early stays of the Internet, having been included in the earliest browsers. Bookmarks are an easy way to keep track of information you’ve seen and want to return to, but as a standalone tool, they’re not very interesting.

Where they do get interesting is when you share your bookmarks with others. As I pointed out in an earlier newsletter, social bookmarking is kind of a human-powered search engine. As more and more people bookmark and comment upon the same content, a richer description of the content emerges. Also, web pages with a lot of votes can rise up the popularity stack, making them more prominent and more useful to interested people. Social bookmarking sites aren’t nearly as exhaustive as search engine indexes, but every single entry has been vetted by a person.

StumbleUpon is one of my favorite examples of this genre. Once you become a member, you can install the StumbleUpon toolbar and immediately begin flagging interesting sites. Your selections and descriptions go into a common area where others can see what you chose and why. As others vote for the same sites, those selections rise in the StumbleUpon hierarchy.

As a user, you can subscribe to stumbled sites by category. When you click the “Stumble!” button in the toolbar, you automatically go to a random site that has been selected by other members. Sites that have been favorably reviewed more often are more likely to turn up in your random “stumblings.”

It’s perfectly OK to stumble upon your own site. This isn’t gaming the system, because your selection only becomes important if other people vote for you as well. If nobody else finds your page interesting, nothing much will happen, but if you attract enough interest you can draw an astonishing amount of traffic.

I found this out myself recently when I stumbled upon an entry in a blog I maintain called Newspaper Death Watch. Apparently some other people liked my selection. That blog, which normally gets about 100 visitors a day, received more than 1,200 visitors in one day, nearly all of them from StumbleUpon.Not surprisingly, most of those visitors came and left in just a few seconds. But a few of them did stick around and the site’s average traffic levels increased about 20% after that one incident.

This was hardly a make-or-break event, but it’s one indication of how social bookmarking can quickly generate a lot of visibility for your website.

Finding Influencers On Social Bookmark And Network Sites

In the first five parts of this series on finding online influencers , we focused on individuals. But our search isn’t complete until we’ve visited the sites where people share opinions about and vote on the best Web content. These are called social bookmarking and social news sites, and they can give you a glimpse into crowd psychology that no other online service can. As in our previous examples, we’ll pretend that our business is a resort in Quebec, Canada. isn’t the most functional social bookmarking site, but it’s the most popular. Here’s where people save links to web sites that they want to remember and also apply tags to describe them. Tags are a little-understood but very powerful method of describing information. A tag can be any combination of letters and numbers; the choice is up to the user. Many search engines give tags special treatment, meaning that content that has been labeled with a certain tag ranks higher in the results. Tags are very popular with photo sharing sites, but they can be applied to any kind of information.

Social bookmarking sites are kind of like search engines, only the results are selected by the members. The more people who’ve applied a certain tag to a bookmarked page, the more likely it is that that page is relevant to that term. If you search on tag:quebec tag:travel on, for example, you get more than 450 results. Some are obvious, like the official government tourism site. But others may be new, like, a blog about Quebec restaurants, or 1000 Islands, a beautiful photo blog. makes it possible for you to see that 1000 Islands has been bookmarked by more than 350 people, which is a good indicator of influence. The person who runs this site is someone you might want to invite for a photo weekend. Also note that these sites didn’t come up in our search results.

Your trip wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Facebook, the hottest social network of 2007. Facebook’s adult, professional membership has made it a favorite of marketers and it boasts thousands of groups of all sizes. One group called “Coups de Coeur pour découvrir le Québec” appears to focus on Quebec exclusively. Its membership is small, but it may be worth joining just to keep an eye on discussion topics. You might also want to submit a friend request to the group’s organizer and ask how you can become involved. If you don’t want to jump right in, lurk for a while and see what the members are talking about. When you do enter the conversation, be sure to fully disclose your affiliation. Social network users don’t mind engaging in discussions with marketers, but they don’t like to be deceived.

What’s Next
At this point, you may have spent an afternoon or even entire day navigating social media and accumulated a list of maybe 30 to 40 potential influencers. And you’ve barely scratched the surface. Travel sites like,, RealTraveler,,, Where Are You Now? and all provide gathering places for travelers to share ideas and experiences.

You also haven’t tapped the emerging class of people search engines such as and These tools can build remarkably rich profiles of people based solely on publicly available information. Professional networks like, and also make it possible to learn people’s professional affiliations and even personal contacts.

If you feel like your head is about to explode, don’t despair. The social media landscape is seemingly endless, and new sites launch all the time. No one can keep up with it, and no one should try. If you make it a goal to explore one new network or search engine every day and to identify a couple of new influencers that way, you will make steady progress. You can also give much of this work to junior staff, if you have any, once you learn the ropes. However, I recommend against outsourcing this task entirely. Marketers need to learn the ways and means of social networks if they are going to interact with them. Younger staff members actually may be more adapt at using the tools, but they are less able to think strategically about them.

Now that you’ve got a list in place, initiate the process of reaching out to these critical people. That will be the subject of our seventh and final article in this series next week.