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Pitching 2.0 – Spreading the word through niche social news sites

By Brad Flora (bradflora@gmail.com [1])

It used to be if you wanted something in the news, you called a reporter or an editor and sold them your story idea. This still works for traditional T.V. news programs, newspapers, and so on. But in the new world of social media, you submit your news online and the users vote it up or down.

Social news sites like Digg.com and Reddit.com can deliver thousands of readers back to your stories if their communities latch onto them, but that’s a big “if.”  These sites receive thousands of submissions each day, and serve such large, general audiences, that it can be next to impossible for your submission to gain traction without you stooping to game the system somehow.

Fortunately, the web keeps evolving.  Over the last two years, niche-specific social news sites have popped up in places where communities of interest can share, rate and review the news that appeals to them.  The smaller size and greater focus of niche social news sites means your submissions are more likely to score with community members who are also likely to tweet, blog or share the news with other folks.

There are now dozens of these niche social news sites on the web today.  How can you tell if one is worthy of your time?  Here are three things to look for:

1. Don’t count votes, count comments.

With voting-based sites, it can be tempting to focus on how many votes the stories receive.  Web publishers know this, and popular-social news site software programs have features that let them artificially boost the number of votes on their articles.
What can’t be so easily faked, however, is the number and quality of comments being left by community members.  So look for this first.  A vibrant community site has lots of conversations happening in tandem about the stories posted to them.  No comments = no community = no real audience = not worth your time.

2. Detailed “About” page.

The next thing you want to look for is a detailed, transparent “About” page.  You’re looking for names and contact information –details about the site’s ownership as well as information about how it’s funded and supported.  Information like this is what sets fly-by-night community sites apart from the ones you want to be sharing your stories on.

3. Original, unique web design.

Finally, take a look at the design of the site.  How much does it resemble Digg and Reddit?  It’s become very easy for web developers to create near-perfect clones of those sites.  Meanwhile, creating a unique, pleasing design remains as much a challenge as it’s always been, and is a sign of a site that’s serious about building an audience.

And now let’s take a look at three sites that meet these criteria:

Tip’d – Financial News

Tip’d [2], launched in September of 2008, is a relatively new social news site that has already made a good start on attracting a community of financial wonks looking for stories about currency, commodities, private equity and personal finance.  Tip’d has an original design and a well-written, inviting “About” page [3] that introduces several members of its team. It also has a respectable number of comments on each story, ranging from 3-6 during a recent visit.

BuzzFlash.net – Political News

BuzzFlash.net [4], a member of the BuzzFlash network of progressive political news sites, is the social news arm of BuzzFlash.com, a Drudge-report-like editor-driven political news blog .  What is most eye-catching about Buzzflash.net, is the large number of comments left on its stories, often a dozen or more on hot topics.

Kirtsy.com – Women’s Issues

Kirtsy.com [5] describes itself as a portal to connect with “fab ideas, exceptional people,” and “excellent products.”  It is a social news site aimed at women who are active in social media.  The front-page stories offer a mix of home-brewed remedies, feminist commentary, celebrity news, dating advice, and cool-new gadgets.  Unlike other niche sites, Kirtsy’s front page often features a guest editor [6], a person of note selected by the site’s editors, who offers up some of their favorite links of the moment.  Kirtsy submissions don’t appear to have many comments on them, but the site’s editors seem to make a greater effort to keep up the quality of the front page. Half the front page is devoted to links chosen specifically by the editors.

Using these guidelines, valuing comments over votes, looking for detailed, accessible  background info, and examining the look and design of a site, you’ll be able to separate the must-use sites from the must-avoids.  These three rules are also useful when evaluating blogs in your niche.  You’re looking for engagement, transparency and a commitment to excellence.  Raw traffic numbers are a great, but can be very misleading.

Brad Flora [7] is a Chicago-based journalist and the founder of WindyCitizen.com [8], a niche social news site for Chicago politics, culture, and sports news