Case Study: How NOT to do social media – Digg, The BNP and Operation Outreach.

April 27, 2009


, Case Study: How NOT to do social media – Digg, The BNP and Operation OutreachWhile playing around on Digg yesterday I began to notice a lot of stories in the upcoming section that were either from the BNP website, or were from blogs sympathetic to their cause.

For the uninitiated Digg is a social news site where people share interesting stories by submitting links and voting for stories that they find interesting. Digg has the potential to send huge amounts of traffic to links that prove popular, raising their profile considerably. For this reason many site owners try to ‘game’ Digg in order to increase the level of traffic to their websites.

The BNP (The British National Party) for those people unacquainted with their politics is a “far-right whites only political party based in the UK. (Paraphrased from Wikipedia)

While I don’t want to get into a political debate regarding political views, a study of the submissions being made to Digg read as a good study on how NOT to do social media.

Concerted Effort?

After a little digging (no pun intended) it became clear that there has been a concerted effort to submit as many pages from the website as possible with little regard to their quality, topic or relevance. Some submissions for example are simply candidate profile pages or navigational pages with very little content. Submitting poor quality pages such as these are a sure sign of  some form of suspicious voting activity.

The Digg search function makes it easy to isolate all articles being submitted from a specific domain – all submissions from can be viewed here.

Using date filtering it’s also possible to view when the articles are being submitted – over the past 12 months there have been an average of 212 submissions each month. Compare this to The Conservative Party with has 32 submissions from their website, and the Labour Party website which totals just 7 submissions during this entire 12 month period, the number of submissions is far above what you would expect from a political party. In fact, even The Sun, the UK’s highest circulation national newspaper has only 1000 more submissions over the time period.

Reading through some of the comments on the stories I found some postings by a couple of regular Digg users that indicate that I’m certainly not the first person to notice this unusual activity.

For anybody who doesn’t know, the BNP has recently made a big push into Digg and other social media sites, enlisting members to vote up their press releases on a daily basis.


Doing a search of BNP submissions I found the following comment:

“Operation BNP Outreach is proving to be a huge success – keep up the good work, comrades.
By 6 June, with lots more hardwork and a fair wind, we should have our first MEP!
VOTE BNP – you know it makes sense!”

This ‘Operation outreach’ seems to be what is causing the trouble.


Poor Submission Selection

This first lesson to learn is that topic is everything. Submitting poor quality stories will not get your submission onto the front page of the site. Of the 3036 submissions just 5 have received more than 100 votes. Compare this number to popular front pages submissions which frequently run into thousands of votes.

Wrong Target?

In all probability the BNP submissions will have minimal impact at Digg as on the whole users of the site tend to be at the opposite end of the political scale. During the US elections the user base was well known for ‘Digging up’ positive Obama submissions, with one entitled “Digg this if you voted for Obama” receiving a huge 38,443 votes. Submitting controversial far-right political material is unlikely to generate success as the majority user base will ‘bury’ articles far before they come close to reaching the front page.

Clumsy Tactics

The submission and voting tactics that are being used also arouse suspicion, with the same users submitting content from the site over and over again and voting on each other’s submissions – not always suspicious activity on its own, but when couple this is a distinct lack of submission and voting activity on other domains it begins to look more and more like a deliberate strategy to promote content from a specific domain – which incidentally is against the Digg terms of service.

What Can You Learn?

As a business owner social media is a powerful medium if used correctly.

  • Create great content, give knowledge and expertise away for free. In social terms, content really is king.
  • Make sure you choose the right audience. Write for your users and submit to sites that are consistent with these topics and demographics.
  • Submissions from your readers are more powerful, getting your network of staff to submit everything on your site is easily noticed.
  • Interact, get involved with real users of social sites. Network and communicate, you will find that relationships are what breeds social success.
  • Don’t be tempted to cheat or get involved in schemes to promote your own stories. This kind of activity is almost always spotted.