How to Publish A  Story That Explains How to Use Social Media to Juice Your Story’s Popularity


I paid to have my latest Wired story promoted on social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, to try to show that a lot of the metrics* we use to measure a story’s success are bullshit. It worked. When the story went live today, the page appeared with more than 15,500 links on Twitter, and 6,500 likes on Facebook. The story is a part of Wired’s Cheats package for the latest issue of the magazine. It needed to go live online at the same time readers encountered it in print, and it needed to have all those social shares set up in advance. 

The entire package was going live at once. I could publish my story a little bit early, but the timing needed to be very close. I wanted all the public-facing stats (like the 15 thousand links and Twitter and 6,000 Facebook shares) to be live by the time the text appeared. Certainly, if someone found it in print or on the tablet, it needed those metrics to already be there. To make that happen, we cheated. 

This morning (or last night) at a little after 1 am, I added the story text, set it to the current time, and hit update. Now it showed up in RSS readers and I could openly tweet it form my main account. (I had originally used a secondary Twitter account I have for testing 3rd party stuff to link to it and score retweets.)

So now, the story goes “live” and as if by magic it has tens of thousands of social shares listed on it the instant real people start to encounter it. It worked. 

*As is site traffic, to a very large extent. My original idea was to use a botnet to throw traffic at it, but Wired’s lawyers said “no, no. Don’t do that.“ 

And, of course, people tend to associate lots of shares with an article’s significance or influence. Consequently, by ‘cheating’ ahead of time a content owner can add a false gravitas to the content in question. I’m curious to know how search companies that, in part, use social signals to surface content deal with this kind of ‘hacking the social.’

Search Neutrality

Google’s recent decision to integrate its social services into its search product has led to (another) round of outrage. There’s some speculation that the FTC and European Commissioners could launch anti-trust investigations, on grounds that Google is leveraging their search monopoly to unfairly muscle into other markets. Many of the popular tech news and gadget blogs are in an uproar (perhaps knowing it will lead to page views), with Gizmodo proclaiming that Google’s recent action “wiped out all those years of loyalty and goodwill it had built up” because while the new Google search service is

…ostensibly meant to deliver more personalized results . .. it pulls those personalized results largely from Google services—Google+, Picasa, YouTube. Search for a restaurant, and instead of its Yelp page, the top result might be someone you know discussing it on Google Plus. Over at SearchEngineland, Danny Sullivan has compiled a series of damning examples of the ways Google’s new interface promotes Plus over relevancy. Long story short: It’s a huge step backwards.

I actually use Bing a lot – it’s the default (and sole option) for native search on my phone – and I hate it. HATE IT. It’s really an incompetent search tool at this point. Google, even after integrating social results, works far, far better. Nevertheless, I get the complaints surrounding the anti-trust issues and even agree with them, to a point.

What is that point, you might ask? Well, there has been a long-standing discussion of whether we need ‘search neutrality’ along the lines of ‘network neutrality’, on the basis that people increasingly find sites via search rather than directly plugging in URLs. Thus, Google’s new approach could be seen as constituting a violation of so-called ‘search neutrality’. So, where does the question or issue arise? It’s when we ask this: do search algorithms, or sets of search algorithms, function as networks do – are they ‘dumb’ algorithms meant to get us and data from point A to point B – or do they constitute a form of creative expression, of speech? If you see the algorithms as speech then the notion of ‘speech neutrality’ seems awkward: such neutrality would insist that individuals/corporations moderate their algorithmically-derived ‘speech’ once they reach a certain size.

Whether there are anti-trust violations from Google’s integration of their social services into search will remain to be seen. The more pressing question, however, is whether we see algorithms along the lines of speech or raw data transmission from A to B. I suspect that this question will be addressed or discussed in anti-trust cases and that is where the real action will likely take place.


Real-Life Examples Of How Google’s “Search Plus” Pushes Google+ Over Relevancy

Pretty well required reading at the moment if you’re interested in the consequences of Google integrating their own social products into their search results. I’d really recommend reading the whole thing but, if not, at least take a glance at Danny Sullivan’s takeaway:

 It’s not Google’s job to be sticking it to anyone with its search results. Those results are supposed to be showing what are the most relevant things for searchers out there. That’s how Google wins. That’s how Google sticks it to competitors, by not trying to play favorites in those results, nor by trying to punish people through them.

The Google+ suggestions are indeed search results, to me. Right now, they’re search results on who to follow on Google+. I think they could be better search results if they were who to follow on any social network, anywhere.