Six businesses that should hire Diggers

NICK DOUGLAS — The users of Digg.com are a horde. But so was the ass-kicking fighting force of Genghis Khan. And remember in Mulan, when Genghis's A-team pops out of the snow after an avalanche buries their army? The top users of the net's biggest social news site are like those guys: superpowerful...well...somethings. Don't insult these people by offering them a dollar a digg; don't hire them away to a lamer version of the site they love. Here are six jobs at which Diggers could excel.

First off, while Digg stopped keeping a "top user" list, there's a third-party list of the top 100 (and top 1000) users, updated daily. Just click a user name, then "Profile," to find a user's e-mail, site, or IM name.


Powerhouse blogger
Halfway down the top 100 is Nathan Makan, who's voted up over seven thousand items in the two years since he joined. His blog reveals that he's a teen, and he can put together a good sentence — a good paragraph, in fact. There's a good chance he'd be open to writing for pay, without demanding the wage of an overpaid journalist or spoiled "pro" blogger.

They don't just write about tech either. Digg now has a healthy collection of top news, "oddly enough" news, videos, and sports stories.

Top Digg users look at dozens — hundreds, even — of blog items each day, so they have a good grip on blog activity. If they spend time in Digg's comment threads, they also have a sense for how a crowd will react to a story. And they damn well know what stories make it to the Digg front page (and thus reap tens of thousands of pageviews). A Digger thus perfectly serves the needs of a commercial blog.

How to approach: Don't cold-call. Take a look at the stories they dugg and find someone who diggs and submits the same type of stories you need written. Now e-mail them. Many Diggers are also comfortable with talking business over IM. Explain that you've checked out their work; they'll be glad to know you're not indiscriminately trolling.

How much to offer: Industry blogging rates vary from $6 to $15 for a post, depending on length, difficulty, and the blogger's experience. Leave yourself some negotiating room, but remember than these users probably got approached for sleazier, lower-paying services in the past. Many of them are on the way to tech jobs that will pay $80-200k a year. Don't dick them around. Start with at least $8 per post or $15 per hour.


Forum master
Digg isn't just for clicking through; it's also the home of hundreds of conversations each day, carried out in the comment threads for dugg stories. Now, Digg is not known for carefully moderated discourse, but that's predicted by the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, and it's the reason you need a mod for your forum or the comments on your high-traffic blog. Thanks to Digg's comment-rating system, most clever, helpful, or insightful commenters rise to the top (just click "sort by most diggs"). You can find any user's comments from their user page. Mark a user as a friend to see which comments by others they liked.

How to approach: Again, let them know you've done your research. Make it clear this is a business message, 'cause otherwise "I read all the things you write" can sound creepy. Let them skim your forum before they reply; moderating requires more dedication to the host site than blogging or reviewing. (That's why many forum owners find unpaid moderators from the forum's existing ranks.) It's unwise to hire a forum moderator this way before the forum's even full of messages. Remember not to talk down to the Digger just because they may be a teenager. If you don't trust their judgment, why are you wasting their time?

How much to offer: Start with $10-15 an hour, less if they're already a member of your forum or blog. Be careful in your search, since high turnover is particularly annoying when you have so much to teach a new moderator.


Savvy reviewer
Largely a subset of the powerhouse blogger, a reviewer from Digg is familiar with the latest gadgets and services. They've seen a headline about every major release and they know what CNET, Wired, Gizmodo, and Engadget say about the features. So even if they haven't played with every product, they've got a vicarious zeitgeist that can inform them when you hand them an mp3 player and ask for a review. But if you think it's cute to ask them to end each review with a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down," they'll give you a "thumbs in your eye sockets."

How to approach: Same as above.

How much to offer: More than a regular blogger. Reviews are worth more, sentence per sentence, since they require hands-on research. Letting reviewers keep the goods may be plenty of compensation, but disclose the gift in the final reviews.


Deep-digging researcher
Not every Digger can write. But the rest may still be diligent readers, or even just good at spotting a promising story. They're used to sifting through a stream of information for glints of quality. They can provide back-end research for blogs, magazines, and businesses. As with bloggers, find ones that are into your target topic.

How to approach: Do even more homework; explain exactly what you need from the researcher. Your offer is probably more complicated than hiring a blogger, where everyone knows the basics of the job. Be willing to interact through e-mail and IM more than phone calls; the average Digger is a good multi-tasker and one-line messenger.

How much to offer: If you don't know, try $15-30 per hour.


Demanding beta tester
Like the savvy reviewer, the demanding beta tester has seen what your industry has to offer. Now instead of reviewing your product for someone else, they're doing it for you before it hits market. They're interested in being the first to see new tech, and they're unafraid to tell you how many ways you screwed up. Diggers are often impatient, demanding, and quick to judge: great qualities in someone pushing your product or service to the limit and telling you how it went.

How to approach: A Digger won't be stoked if this responsibility comes with a non-disclosure agreement — but that's what you're paying them for. Still, see if you can loosen up on that. After all, if you deserve free publicity, why not let them give it? Just don't go too far and bribe them. This will backfire. Again, minimize non-online communication until you learn what they're comfortable with.

How much to offer: As with reviewers, giving them something to keep may be adequate pay in itself. But ask yourself if your beta-stage product is really worth that much, and whether an unpaid tester is all that motivated to give real feedback. You may want to offer a one-time sum that works out to $10-20 an hour.


No-bullshit consultant
As I've mentioned, Diggers are known for their bluntness, and they're not fans of bull. And given all the abilities covered above — an eye for hot stories, experience with research, the ambition to rise to the top of a million-member user group, and a working knowledge of consumer tech and headline news — they probably know something your business doesn't. They at least know enough to fill an hour or two, plus question-time.

How to approach: Flattery. Don't patronize, but do know that the average Digg user may be surprised to hear someone offering them money just for "giving opinions." Let them know their advice is respected. Again, don't make a big deal out of the age thing. Do let them know if they're in your 18-24 target market or whatever; give them some understanding that this is a real business proposition.

How much to offer: Sadly for you, happily for them, everything's twice as expensive on a consultant basis. You're only pulling them over for a few hours and you want them in person; ask their rates, but if they don't have a ready answer, edge them to the $30-60/hour range at least. They're adding up the same totals you are, and they need to be aware you're paying for good advice, not an hour of poorly-prepped dicking around. Make them aware that cost includes prep time, and pay their travel costs as well. A well-paid Digger is a happy and helpful Digger.


Nick Douglas also writes for Look Shiny and Prezzish (where Digger #43, Ian Blue, does daily research).