What news orgs can learn from the Digg near-mini-revolt

by Shawn Smith on January 24, 2008

Note before reading: I’m no Digg samurai, only a social media ninja! Please correct me of any misstatements, and forgive my oversimplifying the issue

You may have heard, Digg.com restructured it’s algorithm. If you’ve ever dropped a crossword puzzle from your newspaper comics page or gone through a redesign, you can probably guess – users don’t like changes.Digg users ticked, execs respond

In fact, several top Digg users mulled staging a boycott of the social bookmarking site until Digg powers-at-be met their demands (which the users hadn’t yet figured out at that moment).

To make the long story short, the users created groups, got together with other users on chats and wrote blog posts which hit the front page of the revamped Digg.com criticizing the changes.

Thedrilldown.com, a weekly tech podcast, reported these complaints among the main sources of Diggers’ malcontent:

  • Lack of communication and disregard for the Digg community
  • Lack of transparency
  • Repeated and flagrant disrespect of its top users

Sound familiar?

Users of a site, readers of a publication and viewers of a program all form connections with the news orgs they grow to trust (Yes, I’m calling Digg a news org! – Deal with it) . When changes are made, users expect to know about it.

First Lesson: Be up front (read: transparent) with your users to head these type of issues off at the pass – avoid alienating your user evangelists.

Because Digg shut down its site for some time without warning users, and then just popped up with unpopular changes, users felt betrayed. The security of being a popular Digg user became a thing of the past, spurring rabble rousing (some may call it).

So what happened next?

The discontent prompted Digg’s head honcho’s Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson to start talking with Diggers on user-generated podcasts and Skype messaging programs. The big cheeses played damage control and listened to users.

Talk about a concept! Not all Digg users are yet satisfied, but the actions by Rose and Adelson went some way in calming some users.

Lesson 2: If there’s a conversation going on, join it!

Your readers/users/viewers are likely talking about you and what decisions you make. If your news org does something to upset readers, believe that users are sounding off – even if you’re not listening. The Spokesman-Review does a great job of confronting issues raised by their readers in their blog “Ask the Editor.” Try a similar approach and let users in on the action going on behind the scenes.

Lesson 3: Start talking to your audience before you make changes

So you want to make changes to your newspaper/site/tv newscast? But now you’re a little concerned about a similar mini-revolt? Don’t worry, just start talking.

Example: The Grand Rapids Press was thinking about dropping one of the two crossword puzzles in its paper. But which one would create the least heartache from angry pencil-pushers? Instead of taking a wild leap, the Press looked to its readership to figure out the issue – the post received a number of emails and 24 comments.

Lesson 4: Report it, bloggers!

You know who got the scoop on the Digg algorithm changes and the user backlash? Not the NYT. Not WaPo. It was bloggers who broke it. You might expect that bloggers would break news about an upheaval at a popular website. But why not print/video/digital reporters? Beatblogging puts the smackdown on traditional reporters who missed this one. Where were they? People use the internet too, MSM. It’s not just for us robots, anymore!

Do you know of any other lessons we can all learn from the Digg episode? Holla back!

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January 24, 2008 at 6:34 pm

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