The people we refer to as the Linkerati are those web users who not only own websites and blogs, and are not only prone to linking to compelling content, but whose sites carry strength and authority. They are the people whose accounts at social media sites are highly active, lending additional weight to that which they submit and vote on. They are web-savvy individuals who have seen a lot of linkbait and who often don’t want to link to direct marketing ploys. Upon visiting a social media site or reading a blog, the only reason why a member of the linkerati would take your bait and either vote for it or link to it is because it’s simply too good to ignore. The public at large may send links, chain letters and pictures in mass emails, but the Linkerati are a harder sell.
There are six types of people who regularly constitute the Linkerati. Sometimes, people fall into more than one category.
These are people who are actively involved in communities such as StumbleUpon, Reddit and Digg. They visit these sites every day, vote on content, submit content and add comments. They are powerful because their votes determine which content will become popular and thus be exposed to the largest number of people.
Most social media sites, including the three large sites listed above rank their users according to how much success their votes and submissions generally garner. The unfortunate thing about this crowd is that they can sniff out linkbait and they often detest marketing.
People who run blogs are prone to writing about interesting content they find elsewhere on the web. While millions of people have Blogspot, WordPress and Typepad blogs, some of them have never been indexed by search engines, carry no PageRank, have no links pointing to their sites and have little power. However, a percentage of blogs carry a lot of weight and their authors’ opinions are highly respected. This group includes the likes of Pete Cashmore from Mashable and Michael Arrington of TechCrunch: having these people, or their staff, write about your products, tools or content results in massive exposure. Links from these sites are very valuable. Of course, the more prominent the blog, the more difficult it is to convince the blogger to write about you. Paid blogging campaigns (where one has thousands of inconsequential blogs write about and link to one’s domain) can elicit huge numbers of links, and yet cannot compare in strength or significance to one link and one write-up from TechCrunch.
Many people do not think of the writers at these prominent websites as being bloggers: the word conjures up images of political activists, amateur literary critics, stay-at-home moms and their ilk. Often, people think of “bloggers” as a lowly form of the next category – journalists. However, blogging (call it “writing for the Internet” if the term bothers you too much) is becoming more important to the activity and culture of the Internet, and the best in the field are becoming more respected for their craft.
There are inherent differences between blogs, bloggers and traditional writing, most of which revolve around style, user interaction and subject matter. Bloggers are prone to editing their posts as new information comes to hand, adding strike-throughs to text that is no longer applicable and taking a less formal tone with their audience. Their bad reputation for knowing little about grammar, style or literary tradition is true for some of them and is completely undeserved for others. With so many people currently maintaining blogs, no one stereotype that applies to them all.
The difference between journalists and bloggers is usually their employer, although other notable differences exist. Most newspapers, magazines and television stations have websites where they post their stories, and some even allow readers to comment on stories in what was once typical only of blogs. Journalists, however, rarely change their stories once they’ve been published, preferring instead to print retractions or omissions if they’ve made an error of if new information comes to light. Journalists are almost universally paid for their writing, whereas bloggers are often operating for themselves or making their money from the advertising on their site, if they make any money at all. Bloggers also often have other jobs – that is, they run an online or offline business and they blog for the company’s website. Even though there are many times more bloggers in this world than there are journalists, you can guarantee that far more people declare themselves to be professional journalists or reporters than “professional bloggers.”
Another reason journalists are often given more credit than that of most bloggers is because they are, theoretically, impartial and objective writers. Bloggers have never claimed to be anything but subjective, opinion-based commentators. Journalists are also powerful because their reach is not confined to the Internet; their profession is more established and recognized by society and they are often published on and offline. Even the least web-savvy people seem to realize how easy it can be to have one’s opinions posted online, and thus appear to respect offline writers more.
Links and reviews received from journalists vary in strength and significance, just as they do when received from bloggers. A link from the New York Times, for example, is going to be worth much more than from the Puget Sound News. When dealing with online ventures, certain publications are more authoritative than they are offline: being reviewed offline in Wired magazine is great, but being featured in their online publication is extremely valuable. Because Wired is well known as a respected, authoritative technology publication, the sites to which they link (unless the links are nofollowed) are credited with some of Wired’s authority.
Researchers and Web Authors
People who publish their research online are quickly becoming part of the Linkerati due to the strength of the websites they generally use to publish their findings. Sites whose generic top level domain is .edu are credited with authority that they may or may not actually have. A gTLD of .edu indicates that the site belongs to an educational institution, usually a university. It is somewhat of a flaw in the algorithms of search engines to assign universal authority to .edu domains, as most universities allow all students and faculty to create pages on their domains, which can contain any amount of inaccurate, untrustworthy information.
Search engines also assign weight to .gov (government) and .mil (military) domains, as well as the non-US versions of these sites, such as .gov.au in Australia. The people who write for these sites are usually neither bloggers nor journalists. Also note than many researchers and authors do not have .edu or .gov sites. Some even contribute to sites like Wikipedia, where the links do not help for SEO purposes (due to nofollow tags), but can drive a lot of traffic and value.
Often respected authors, academics, scientists and business-people who publish online don’t realize their status as members of the Linkerati; their influence offline is credited to what they publish online, but they do not necessarily understand the way their status affects those to whom they link.
Although somewhat less visible to the public than blogs, the web is teeming with forums. Virtually every industry, hobby, religion, political affiliation and cause has dozens of forums where people discuss, argue and debate the intricacies of their chosen subject. Many online cultural phenomena have been spread by forum participants. Having your content discussed on a forum that relates to your subject is a great form of exposure, as you can guarantee that the people involved are interested in the content.
A recent piece of linkbait we released at Drivl was picked up and talked about in various college sports forums. While the piece did not receive a tremendous number of Diggs or Reddit upmods, the traffic to the page was huge and a lot of it was driven by these forums. We recently leveraged forums about the United States’ immigration procedure in order to market a post relating to the subject. Forum members are usually passionate about the forum’s subject matter. Like social media websites, forums usually reward constructive participation by assigning rank to members. In the example below, one poster is a Junior Member while the other is a Senior Member.
While rank makes little difference to a users’ actions within a forum (unless a high rank gives them moderation privileges), such a system is a great way to have people participate on a regular basis in order to improve their ranking. Forums are also specifically designed to let users know when new comments have been posted, thus encouraging discussion. Unfortunately, the tone of many forums tends toward argumentative and many threads turn negative. People are sometimes less than polite when concealed by a pseudonym, so viral content can be lambasted by forum participants in the same manner that it can be torn apart by commenters at social news sites.
The final group of people who can spread viral content are those who do so offline. This category is made up of influential people who are not active in any particular online community, but who reach the public through other mediums. Highly visible examples include people like Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and, to a lesser extent, Joel McHale of The Soup. Both host comedic commentary television programs in the U.S. and both talk about current events, viral content and social memes. Neither is personally involved in maintaining websites or blogs, but the things they talk about, the jokes they make and the content they promote is well-known.
Many less-visible people also belong to this group. In actuality, anyone who discusses online content in an offline environment is an offline connector: conference speakers, public officials, technology evangelists and politicians have all helped facilitate and spread viral content at one point or another.