With the seemingly endless number of social sites popping up all over the web, venturing into the world of Social Media and community voting sites can be an exercise in masochism, if you’re not careful. Every site has its own community, its own culture, its own etiquette and its own set of rules & regulations that users are expected to adhere to.

Unlike many social voting based sites, like Digg and Reddit – which tend to have an inherent hostility toward the search marketing industry – Sphinn, which was started by the team at Search Engine Land, caters specifically to the Internet marketing community. Much like other voting sites, the ultimate goal is to generate enough votes to make it to the “Hot Topics” page, which will expose the content to the biggest Sphinn audience.

Being that Sphinn was created by, is moderated by and its community is made up of Internet marketers, it’s no place for the faint of heart. As a rule, the community is somewhat suspicious of newcomers initially and there are some dues to pay before you’re welcomed into the fold. Spammers, the thin-skinned and whiners need not apply. Don’t believe me? Here’s a taste of what my first few weeks at Sphinn were like…

Rookie Mistakes

The first post I submitted to Sphinn was “Must Have WordPress Plugins for Newbies”. The first comment left was deemed negative enough that Sphinn’s moderators decided to remove it and the user’s account was ultimately cancelled. As you can see from the remaining comments on the post, while some are quick to jump on the “YOU SUCK” bandwagon, there are just as many (if not more) who will stand up in your defense – IF the content is worthy of defending.

My second post to Sphinn was “SEO Consultation Ruining Industry Reputation”. As before, and despite the fact that I didn’t even submit the post myself, there were some who elected to – once again – take some pot shots at a newbie. Luckily, the comments roll off me like water off a duck’s back…if you’re not quite as resilient, I’d suggest you tread lightly into the pond that is Sphinn.

Sphinn Comments

It gets better…

Sphinn CommentsSphinn Comments

I’m sharing my experience with my initial foray into the Sphinn community merely to illustrate the point that it is not for people whose feelings are easily hurt, those who aren’t prepared for a healthy debate or those who don’t understand that there are times to discuss an issue vehemently and times to just walk away. Personal attacks are quickly identified by Sphinn’s moderators and users are typically not around long after they prove themselves unable to work & play well with others.

Even highly respected members of the search marketing community aren’t immune from ridicule at Sphinn, if they hit on a nerve the wrong way. A post written by Kim Krause Berg, “Who Wants to Hire Top Twitter Users?”, generated some contentious conversation and even garnered a Desphinn, as well as an unusually personal comment, from another industry rockstar:


That’s the thing about Sphinn…when you’re dealing with the search marketing community, who you are isn’t nearly as important as the content of the post. If those in the community disagree, they have no problem sharing their point of view.

What’s a Desphinn?

Since I mentioned “Desphinn”, I should explain what it is. If you’re familiar with Digg or Reddit, I’m sure you can figure out for yourself what a “Desphinn” is. It is similar in concept to the “bury” or “down vote” priciples that Digg and Reddit employ. It is important to note that a Desphinn does not equal a full Sphinn – meaning that if the submission has 10 Sphinns, a Desphinn does not take it down to 9 Sphinns. Every two Desphinns is equal to one Sphinn.

It’s also important to note that the Sphinn community doesn’t seem to take the same level of twisted joy in down voting content that users of other social media and voting sites do. While there are some exceptions, the community at Sphinn tends to be less apt to Desphinn content unless it is clearly horrendous and/ or contains wildly inaccurate information. Spam isn’t typically Desphunn – it is merely reported as spam and then removed from the site entirely.

Something else that makes Sphinn a little different is that seven day “probationary” period. During the first seven days an account is active, you don’t have the authority to Desphinn a post. I assume that is Search Engine Land’s attempt to prevent someone from creating multiple accounts with the express intent of targeting a specific post with Desphinn after Desphinn. That’s pure speculation on my part…but that’s at least part of the reason I’d have adopted that policy.

Getting Into the Club

Unlike many other social media and voting sites, the moderators at Sphinn are quick to put an end to a flame war. If the exchange isn’t constructive, they won’t let it go on for long. And if users don’t respect one another and act like adults, it’s likely that their accounts will be closed down. As they should be. This isn’t Digg. This isn’t Reddit. And they – as well as members of the community, for that matter – don’t want it to be.

Sphinn seems to take a great deal of pride in the quality of its content. It is not a place for spam. It is not a place for “sell your timeshare” posts. Users are quick to report such submissions as spam. If the article isn’t specifically about an Internet marketing or search related topic, it has no place on Sphinn…and it won’t be there for long. It will never make it to the Hot Topics page and your time is better spent submitting it somewhere other than Sphinn.

I’ve been hanging out at Sphinn for about nine months now. I’m certainly not one of their top users, but it’s a community I’m now comfortable and somewhat recognized within. Most now recognize that I’m not a spammer, I’m not there for self-promotion, and – perhaps most importantly – I’m not a complete search marketing imbecile. It took some time and effort, but it happened. It likely would have happened more quickly had I not stumbled over some speed bumps along the way due to my own ignorance.

That said, here’s some advice: spend some time reading and commenting on the content at Sphinn before submitting anything. Get to know a few people who have been around the community longer than you have. Read what they read. Comment on the posts. Comment on the comments. Participate in the conversation. And, while you’re at it, start leaving comments on the sites that Sphinn’s posts come from. Participating at Sphinn is great, but participating in the discussion on the blog itself – rather than just on Sphinn – is how you start down the path toward actually befriending the posts’ authors.

Reading someone’s blog and leaving useful comments is the quickest way to build a rapport with them. And isn’t that the whole point of any social site to begin with…to share information, increase your understanding of a topic and build a rapport with people? You can fast track your hazing at Sphinn if you can prove to be a contributing member of the community at large – not only at Sphinn, but throughout the search marketing blogosphere. The more places people see your name (and your face – DO NOT USE THE DEFAULT AVATAR), the more quickly you’ll earn their trust and their respect.

Had I been given that advice in the beginning, I might have had a much better experience at Sphinn initially. To be perfectly honest, had it not been for Jill Whalen, Kim Krause Berg, Tamar Weinberg and a handful of others giving me some worthwhile and constructive feedback initially, I might have walked away from Sphinn altogether. When your first experience with a site’s community is being called a keyword stuffing spammer, it’s pretty easy to get discouraged. Learn from my mistakes.

So, to recap:

  1. Introduce yourself to the community by participating in discussions in comments BEFORE submitting your own content
  2. Spend some time commenting on other blogs in the search marketing blogosphere – if people recognize your name and avatar from other sites, they’re less likely to be suspicious of your intent
  3. Don’t submit topics that aren’t search marketing related
  4. Don’t resort to personal attacks or leave flaming comments that contribute nothing constructive to discussion
  5. Understand that a thick skin is necessary and if you don’t have one…well, you probably shouldn’t be involved in any social community online if you don’t have a thick skin – I’ll just leave it at that
  6. Upload your own avatar – using the default avatar will raise suspicion that you may not be who you claim to be (that is true of ALL social sites, by the way – Sphinn, blogs, Twitter, etc.; register at www.gravatar.com and make your life easier)

Alysson Fergison is a writer, blogger and SEO who has provided hundreds of hours of SEO consultation to small business owners throughout the United States and Canada. As the owner of SEOAly, Alysson provides affordable small business search engine optimization services, such as SEO audits and keyword research

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