StumbleUpon Etiquette Guide and Best Practices

While not acknowledged or acclaimed by most social media marketing “experts,” StumbleUpon is a fine tool that can bring lots of traffic — both the targeted and untargeted kind — to your website. But with all other social networks, there are rules of engagement that are determined by the community.

Brief Overview of StumbleUpon

Since everyone is mostly raving about Twitter and Facebook as of late, I’m going to briefly define StumbleUpon and explain how it works. More information and tips for usage can be read in The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web. This description of StumbleUpon has been taken from the book:

StumbleUpon [is] a social content discovery engine with bookmarking features. StumbleUpon is different from many other social sites in that it works via a toolbar installation on your browser. Once it gathers personalized information from you (hobbies and interests), you can start surfing with StumbleUpon to find brand new sites that are related to your interests as suggested by other users on the service. The more active you are on StumbleUpon, the more opportunity there is for you to grow your network and expose your own content to more and more StumbleUpon users.

Great, now we have that out of the way.  This post is going to touch upon other parts of StumbleUpon, especially user behaviors that I’ve observed recently.

I’ve personally found StumbleUpon to be a great tool to find good and exciting content, and I’ve even made some friends through the “toolbar.” Relationship opportunities on StumbleUpon are endless, especially since it’s a social bookmarking service based on interests.

StumbleUpon Etiquette Guidelines

One of the most powerful elements to StumbleUpon is the ability to share stories with your friends as long as they are subscribed to your favorites. Truth be told, most people accept every incoming friend request they receive. The motivation behind this is the desire to broaden one’s reach, even if the subscriber is sending them completely off-topic content. As someone who always has incoming stumbles awaiting my perusal, though, I think there are some rules of thumb (no pun intended) that should be followed at all times.

  • Avoid pushing all your stories: What would you do if you never really subscribed to the New York Times because you just weren’t that interested but you received an endless stream of New York Times stories in your email inbox all day long?  You’d probably get sick of it, right?  Exactly.  Therefore, while I appreciate that you have a great design site that you update 5-6 times a day, please don’t send me every single uploaded photo.  And you there with the SEO/tech blog, that goes for you too. It’s just overwhelming and selfish.  Instead, find the cream of the crop of your content, your best works.  Give people the opportunity to navigate through your site to find better content.  If you send them 5 stories everyday, they’ll never have time to actually go through your site to find gems because their StumbleUpon activity is limited to clearing out their toolbar of pending Stumbles.
  • Diversify the sources you send from: To follow the previous bullet point, spice it up a bit.  I don’t want to get news.yahoo.com stories 5 times a day from the same Stumbler.  It shows that you have a vested financial interest in Yahoo News. (This is not a real example, readers.)  There are some Stumblers who do this very well.    Others just don’t get it.  If you can’t diversify the sources you send from, at least do us a favor and don’t do it so frequently.   Once a week is good, but don’t do it any more than that.
  • Use the toolbar, check your inbox, and give back to the community: StumbleUpon’s success, at least for sending out and receiving stories, thrives on its toolbar.  I see right now that I have 13 pages waiting for me.  If this number exceeds 99, you could be in for trouble and get caught with hundreds of crap pages to wade through.  Don’t let it exceed that number.  As much as I hate some of the stories being sent to me, I know I have to get through the queued items in my toolbar to avoid an INBOX_FULL message.   The INBOX_FULL message typically appears when a Stumbler sends another user stumbles, but users cannot respond to the original Stumblers because their toolbar is full with hundreds of sites being queued.  Personally, I think this does a disservice to the StumbleUpon community and StumbleUpon should absolutely disallow this behavior.  Until then, there will be users who take but can’t give back to the community.  If you want to build a genuine relationship that benefits you in the long haul, accept other stumbles.  Don’t expect me (and others) to want to help you if you have no time to help us.
  • Look what other people are Stumbling and submit similar content: Over the past few months, there has been one user who has sent me Stumbles relating to her home improvement store.  Typically, if you can put an interesting spin on that content, that’d be great. However, these pages are not social content.  They’re category pages (sink repair, anyone?), articles about chisels, and random junk that no average person really wants to read.  She’s not alone; I got some high-level machinery equipment store stumbles from a guy who I subsequently unfriended based on the sheer spam of it all.  (No, I do not need a core bit or a granite blade, thank you!)  If you don’t realize what other people are submitting to StumbleUpon, don’t bother using it.  If you take time to see what other community members find interesting, then you might get inspired to craft content that would be interesting to the social internet at large. Still stuck? Check out these viral ideas.
  • Don’t send other social networking vote requests through StumbleUpon: StumbleUpon is a network of content that you believe someone else is interested in.  It’s not a way to pawn for votes on other social networks.  Not everyone has accounts on the social sites you’re asking for votes on.  And if you’re using StumbleUpon to solicit votes on Digg, do you think Digg doesn’t notice?   If your content isn’t good enough to succeed on those social networks on their own, StumbleUpon isn’t going to help you.  If you want success on your Digg (or other social network) submissions, you better to do it under the radar.
  • Send well-designed content you really believe in:  It’s not just a matter of sending the content of the page itself.  Design and aesthetics of the page are of paramount importance.  This could be a small item like the font or header design — you could even do AB testing to confirm.  If it looks like you put effort into making the entire page beautiful, you’ll see results.  If your page looks like it was slapped together in Frontpage, you better realize that you’re not getting a “thumbs up” from most of the your site’s visitors because you are showing implicitly that you don’t care.  You can be a brilliant writer with a great essay.  If that essay was slapped onto a website with a cruddy design, nobody will care.  I know I certainly don’t.

StumbleUpon Best Practices

StumbleUpon has its own algorithm to determine whether an item gets viewed often or not and by who.  While nobody knows the StumbleUpon algorithm, the following is suggested.

  • Don’t thumb up everything: Be selective with the incoming content.  Don’t thumbs it up just because someone in your network sent it to you.  That likely reduces your influence as a stumbler that StumbleUpon would want to trust.  I can’t believe that people actually thumbs up the Digg pages that are sent and the granite blade product page.  Seriously?!
  • Participate often: If you actually clear your StumbleUpon toolbar, you won’t anger someone with an INBOX_FULL message because they simply won’t get one when sending you messages.  Participation ensures that you will be able to build friendships and get more people who would be interested in seeing what you have to share.
  • Review pages often: Give your two cents on content, both newly discovered by yourself (add pages to the StumbleUpon database!) and by friends.  Let people know that you’re serious about the network so that they want to associate themselves with you.
  • Write a unique review: If you really care about the content you’re promoting, show it by writing a real review for the content rather than letting StumbleUpon pre-populate the review field with a “from the page” blurb. Putting effort into the review shows that you want other people to see it. If you can’t spend 10 seconds to write “great post,” don’t spend any time at all. (Thanks Kristi!)

StumbleUpon is a great network and can be hugely powerful if you use it properly.  Like all social networks, you need to give of yourself and think about what the community wants.  It’s not just about you. If you think about the greater good, you can be a very powerful influencer in the StumbleUpon community.

Want more social media etiquette guidelines? Hop on over to my earlier post.

Did I miss anything? What other StumbleUpon missteps have you encountered? What other suggestions would you make?

32 Comments

  • Great write up Tamar, I was just asked about some good advice for Stumbleupon, now I know where to point them.

  • Great list of guidelines! Thumbs Up from me! :-)

  • Gerald Weber says:

    Thanks a lot for using me as an example in this post. Very nice of you. :-)

    I really don’t get it when someone sends me Bob’s Lampshade store via share. I mean it really baffles me. Also the sending other social networks requesting votes on StumbleUpon is very annoying. Especially when they request several at one time. For example “hey can you Digg, Reddit, mixx ,Prop and of course stumbles are appreciated.”

    Excellent tips. Hopefully some of those that don’t “get it” will be enlightened by your post.

  • Mike Wilton says:

    Great post Tamar. It’s funny how I never thought about the rules of engagement when it comes to a site like StumbleUpon. StumbleUpon has become one of those tools I either use when I’m bored, want to share something fun with friends or colleagues, or simply forget to put a lot of effort into because the toolbar makes it so easy to thumb up or thumb down something without even having to give it a second thought.

    Your post has definitely made me reconsider the ways I use StumbleUpon.

  • Yup Mike, that’s how I prefer to use StumbleUpon too, but my toolbar is always filled with pending links so it’s not as enjoyable anymore since I always have to get the junk out of the way. If people would use common courtesy, this wouldn’t be an issue to me. I plan on mass-purging the offenders soon.

  • BuddhaBen says:

    Great post Tamar (and might i say…love what you’ve done with the site!) However, what about some advice for brands who wish to utilize SU. I manage an account for a small brand, and our Inbox is constantly full. I agree that getting the “Inbox Full” message is discouraging, and i never want to give other users the impression that we don’t do our part. Do i really need to click through the hundreds of shares we get every day? if so, i’d hate to blast through them for efficiency’s sake and not provide genuine feedback in the form of thumbs up/down and reviews. Do you know of any tools for businesses, or even individuals who experience the same issue? Any way to filter out all the crap we get?

    thanks :-)

  • Ben, good question. I think that’s not even business-specific, though. We all face the same dilemma.

    In social networking, to be a real community member, you need to play your part. You need to give in order to receive. You need to be wholly altruistic. There will be times when you’re promoting your stuff but you should spend a lot more time building bridges and cultivating relationships. If you’re not ready to do that, you’re not ready for social media. That’s what it’s about here.

    My advice is to choose your friends carefully. Don’t just accept every incoming friend request just to broaden your exposure. That way, you’re more compelled to want to give back to these guys. I’d bet that there are a lot of people who sent you pages who have the INBOX_FULL message. Start responding to their messages on the toolbar and prune out the guys whose messages “bounce.”

  • One other thing I would add is this: Please mark spam stumbles and flag spammers. Keeping garbage out of the system makes for a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

  • Great advice, Brian! The last time I tried to do that, though, I had to revert to StumbleUpon v3 to flag a spammer. I see that they added that facility to the new version. I’m so glad it’s there! Clearly it shows that the option is severely under-utilized.

  • Kikolani says:

    I agree that it is a bit frustrating when people share a Digg or other social network link through Stumble. Sometimes I’m a bit careless, and I see a good topic via the description and thumb it up, just to realize it is a shortened URL from Diggbar, Owly, etc.

    One interesting thought that popped up in my head when I read the following:

    “What would you do if you never really subscribed to the New York Times because you just weren’t that interested but you received an endless stream of New York Times stories in your email inbox all day long?”

    If you subscribe to the New York Times, then you would expect to receive updates from the New York Times. As a matter of fact, if I subscribed to the New York Times and they started sending me new posts from Perez Hilton, I might be annoyed by it.

    So maybe some SU self-promoters consider someone subscribing to them on StumbleUpon similar to being subscribed to via RSS, email, etc. – they believe the subscriber subscribes because they do want updates from that person’s site, just like a RSS feed would deliver only updates from their site.

    There are actually a few websites I don’t subscribe to via RSS because I subscribe to the blogger on Stumble and actually rely on getting their new post via the share. So long as I’m not getting 5 posts a day from their site, it isn’t a big deal to me.

    I think it is really a matter of perception – why you signed up for StumbleUpon, why you subscribed to a person’s account, etc.

    Also, what do you think of reviews where someone just pulls an excerpt from the page? I have been trying to do my best to review more sites, but end up just doing the excerpt as a review, and saving my unique comment for the actual comments box?

    ~ Kristi

  • Great comments, Kristi.

    So maybe some SU self-promoters consider someone subscribing to them on StumbleUpon similar to being subscribed to via RSS, email, etc. – they believe the subscriber subscribes because they do want updates from that person’s site, just like a RSS feed would deliver only updates from their site.

    I think you’re right. At the end of the day, though, it’s believed that that stuff gets devalued in the long run if you’re explicitly on SU to promote the same content. If you want a lot of people to see the content, push out varied sources, not the same stuff.

    Also, what do you think of reviews where someone just pulls an excerpt from the page?

    Good call! I should add that to the original article above. I never do the “from the page” reviews. Those aren’t genuine.

  • Frank Jovine says:

    Tamar,

    Thank you for the share and I know I am one that can use a little SU boot camp.

  • Philip Ze says:

    From my SU experience, never ask friends to thumb up when shares contents with friends. Just say something about the contents, I believe this is good enough to gain the vote.

  • Ramkarthik says:

    Great post Tamar.

    It is frustrating to get tons of stumble requests everyday. I’m not a top user and yet, I get a lot of requests. I thumb up every request to a link that interests me and sometimes few ‘not-so-interesting’ links.

    The worst thing is when you go out or don’t access internet for a few days and come back only to find many pending requests. I can’t imagine the numbers which a top user (like you) would get when you go out for a couple of days.

    I’ll also add this:

    Some people have this habit of sending a private message for a stumble. I don’t know if there is anything worse than this.

    Hope the people who are using SU the wrong way will read this post.

    And thanks for the reminder about reviewing pages often. I rarely do it these days. Will have to start reviewing again.

    - Ramkarthik (karthik26 in SU)

  • Gerald Weber says:

    @Kikolani,

    “So maybe some SU self-promoters consider someone subscribing to them on StumbleUpon similar to being subscribed to via RSS, email, etc. – they believe the subscriber subscribes because they do want updates from that person’s site, just like a RSS feed would deliver only updates from their site.”

    Keep in mind that sharing only a particular website or blog is a very common reason for people being banned from SU. I had a friend that was banned from StumbleUpon last year and wrote a post about the incident. Here is an excerpt from the letter that was sent to my friend after being banned:

    Members may submit links from personal or business
    sites to StumbleUpon, but when we receive
    complaints from other members — or when our
    software detects an abuse of our system — we
    suspend access to the accounts in question pending
    further review.

    We take this step to preserve the quality of
    content in our database. When members repeatedly
    submit content from a single site or a small group
    of sites, it undermines StumbleUpon’s mission of
    discovering and sharing Web sites with others.

    If we determine that a member account has been
    used for unauthorized promotional reasons, we
    generally do not restore access to the account.
    If and when access is eventually restored to your
    account, we’ll notify you via email at this
    address.

    If you have any additional questions, please
    review our Terms of Service and Community Rules:

    So the fact that StumbleUpon routinely bans people for sharing the same site over and over should indicate that this is not the best way to use SU. At least it’s not the way the SU powers that be want it to be used.

  • Kikolani says:

    @Tamar

    I like users who submit more than just their sites as well. But there is a strange balance between people who share too many times because they want to have a blend of their own stuff and other people’s as well without offending some of their subscribers. I have been asked why I shared so and so’s items, but not theirs, and it really comes down to I’m paranoid about becoming one of those people who, after someone comes back from vacation, they get five things in a row from me in the one week and just unsubscribe because it’s too much.

    As far as the reviews “from the page” I do those a lot. I think that sometimes they are more valuable then someone writing “great post” as their review. At least if you grab an applicable part of the article, it helps people see a real piece of the article that (hopefully) gives a short glimpse of the main point of the article.

    @Gerald

    I thought the main problem that resulted in banning was thumbing up your own content and then sharing it. Granted, I have gotten a little share happy with some of my posts and thumbed them up just to share them with my subscribers, but most of the time, I wait for someone else to do it first.

    I have read that banning can happen simply from you thumbing up the same sites routinely, even if those sites are not yours, and that is something I disagree with. I think there are lots of blogs out there that put out great content in every post, and if I choose to stumble them because I want to save those posts on my SU history, then I shouldn’t be banned for it. I also only thumb up content that I am sure other people would find valuable as well… and I don’t think I should have to stop doing so just because I find valuable content that happens to always come from a particular set of domains.

  • I have been asked why I shared so and so’s items, but not theirs, and it really comes down to I’m paranoid about becoming one of those people who, after someone comes back from vacation, they get five things in a row from me in the one week and just unsubscribe because it’s too much.

    I’d be curious to know how often you share content if this question about “why didn’t you share mine?” comes up. Do it because it grabs you. If it’s that noticeable, maybe you share too much.

    Here’s what I’d recommend – discover new pages often. Share a LOT less.

    At least if you grab an applicable part of the article, it helps people see a real piece of the article that (hopefully) gives a short glimpse of the main point of the article.

    Good point. I’d say then to summarize the article, but not to use the “from the page” wording at all. I think that diminishes the power of your review.

  • Gerald Weber says:

    I have read that banning can happen simply from you thumbing up the same sites routinely, even if those sites are not yours, and that is something I disagree with. I think there are lots of blogs out there that put out great content in every post, and if I choose to stumble them because I want to save those posts on my SU history, then I shouldn’t be banned for it. I also only thumb up content that I am sure other people would find valuable as well… and I don’t think I should have to stop doing so just because I find valuable content that happens to always come from a particular set of domains.

    I have also heard/read this in some blog post and I don’t think that it’s entirely accurate information. Basically if it looks to SU like you are using StumbleUpon for the sole purpose of promoting a single site or a small group of sites that is what will signal a red flag, and that’s the main reason SU will ban you, or at least one of the main reasons.

    In other words even if you stumble a particular site you like regularly, it won’t be a problem if you are stumbling and participating in the community by stumbling other sites, leaving reviews and sharing different sites from different sources. On the other hand, If you are promoting a single site or small group of sites and not otherwise engaging/participating in the StumbleUpon community this will leave an obvious footprint and there is a good chance the ban hammer will come down.

  • impressions says:

    Oh, this is awesome.. Thanks for the guidelines you’ve shared. it does helps a lot, I know I’m one of those who could really use this.

  • Kikolani says:

    @Tamar

    I actually do thumb up, discover, and review more sites than I share. This week, for example, I’ve thumbed up 50+ pages, reviewed 7 (most sites I thumb up are blogs, and I just prefer to save my comments for the post itself vs. the reviews), discovered 7 pages, and I’ve shared 3 pages to all my subscribers with plans to share maybe 2 to 3 more by Friday.

    Typically I share my own posts and posts on StumbleUpon itself. I feel like this is working out well, considering I have a growing number of subscribers vs. a declining number. I stopped sharing additional sites due to the difficulty of having to click 400+ usernames, but now that the share all feature is back (for now) I will probably share more often, but still no more than 2 a day at the absolute maximum with only about 3 of those being my own sites.

    @Gerald

    I guess while I do stumble a lot of the same sites, I do also go outside of those and thumb up / review other sites too, so I’m probably ok. Thanks for the insight though… I certainly wouldn’t want such a great history on SU banished.

  • If it works for you, that’s great. :)

    I personally think that 2 times a day is too frequent, personally, but that’s my choice — and it’s your choice to share that often. Perhaps it’s because I NEVER get a break from SU. I always have inbound Stumbles from people. If it were any other way, I’d have a different preference, but like I allude to in the article, it’s like that number on my toolbar never goes away.

  • Dany Vilela says:

    Thanks for sharing such a good article on Stumble Upon! I am from France, and believe me, the community of Stumblers is really small over here!

    Please check my profile and subscribe if you like my bookmarks!
    http://www.stumbleupon.com/favorites/

    Regards!

  • Dany, you sort of forgot the link to your StumbleUpon page. :) You linked to a generic page everyone sees when they log in.

  • Joan Stewart says:

    Hi Tamar,

    Thanks for this write up, being a member of the online community for just over a year I must be honest, people indicate “it is good to join XYZ”, nobody strips it down as to how to actually use the site correctly.

    For me, this is now happening in hindsight, having loaded and joined, I find myself backtracking, checking the etiquette and only now beginning to slot the various applications into my business correctly.

  • Thanks for this article. I’m currently exploring stumbleupon right now, mainly for traffic, I’ve read a lot of good feedback from people who have use the site. It’s good that I’ve read your article, clearly no one would like to be slapped, so it’s a great deal to know how to use and even take advantage of the site properly.

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