In the social media world, where the go-to tools are dominated by big numbers and bigger names like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pintrest, niche social networks can be a hard sell. When you think “niche” you think small, specialized communities, and many of them are. But what more of them are is a way to connect to a passion user who is, under the right circumstances, waiting to connect with organizations that speak their language.
Simply put, a niche social network is a social network that exists to connect people with a particular interest – a hobby, a religion, a lifestyle – with other people who share their interest. Most typically, they are community focused and provide tools that help members of their communities organize, learn about their interest or connect with others locally and globally who like the same things they do.
When I talk about niche social networks, I often ask if anyone in the audience has a hobby that their friends/significant other/family are just plain tired of hearing about. Inevitably, a few hands go up, and I encourage those people to see if there is a niche social network for their hobby. Note that not every special interest or hobby has a social network. More typically, we see multiple sites & blogs devoted to the topic that have social network like features.
It’s one thing to talk about niche social networks, but what really clicks for marketers is when they see a niche social network in action. In the next few posts, I’ll be highlighting two of the niche social networks we use around our house, as well as a few others that have caught my eye. In part two, I’ll look at Ravelry, a social network for knitters, crocheters and other fiber enthusiasts. Since its inception in 2007, Ravelry has grown to over 2 million members of all skill levels and has kept them by providing services that most knitters & crocheters feel they can’t live without. Most impressive for this marketer is how they balance taking care of their community with working with businesses.
In part three, we’ll look at Untappd, which is a mobile social network for beer enthusiasts. (You’ll often find niche social networks using the phrase “_____ enthusiast”.) They’ve taken a growing market and created a way for beer lovers to track what they drink, what they want to try, meet with others who share their love of all things hoppy and connect with those who make the beer.
Finally, in part four, we’ll look at how an organization or a business might go about using a niche social network in their own market, including finding them, learning the ropes and making them part of your overall marketing strategy.
I talk a lot about niche markets in social media. Speedway Motors is a parts shop for racing cars & hot rods based in Lincoln, Nebraska, that has done a great job catering to their niche market on general social media channels, but also on niche social networks. I’ve known their ECommerce Manager, Betsy Branscombe, for years, and I recently talked with her about what she does with Speedway, how they manage their content, and what their challenges are in the future.
What’s your job title at Speedway and what do you do?
I’m the Ecommerce Manager here at Speedway Motors, which basically means that I get to play online all day long! My team controls and monitors the content published online about Speedway Motors. We get all of the products on our website, build our landing pages and publish and review content on all of our social sites.
Speedway has an incredible presence on Facebook and YouTube – and you’re on several other social channels like Twitter and HubGarage. Why do you think you’ve been successful on social media? Is it the niche you’re in, the customers you have, or a combination of both?
We are so fortunate to have an amazing group of customers who are extremely passionate about their hobby. What we have found is that providing the right content to the right audience our social audience has grown naturally. We have actual customers as fans, but we also just have fans as fans! As long as you are providing valuable content (and not pushing your product), people will gravitate toward your site and will follow your updates. Our social channels also give our customers and fans a place to talk about their own projects and vehicles.
Speedway is on a number of different social channels. How do you make the decision to start on a social network?
We only put forth effort on channels that offer something new and different. Twitter was a natural fit for race updates – immediate, real-time standings and results. Facebook is a great fit for publishing photo albums from car shows. We couldn’t ask for a better place for publishing how-to’s and last-minute victories than with video on YouTube. Each channel needs to provide something different, while keeping it all fresh. It’s a constant juggle, but that’s what makes it fun!
Where do you get your content from? Do you have one person in charge of generating it, or do you have multiple people?
The great thing about having our headquarters attached to a retail store is that people drive up with their vehicles and we get to take glamor shots! It makes great content. We also try to be timely, we post for holidays, we post about current events, we follow a similar monthly calendar that any email program might have. But since we’re so large, we have 8 admins, naturally that can create a little confusion on who is posting when if you don’t have any sort of process. We have all of our posts/content go through one person. It’s a way of double checking grammar, spelling, etc – but more importantly – it regulates what is getting published when and keeping track to ensure we’re not over posting.
Why do you like online marketing and social media?
It’s constantly changing! When I started working in this channel, ‘pages’ didn’t exist on Facebook. You couldn’t tag people in statuses and people still didn’t understand the concept of PPC. I love communicating and including people – those are my strengths – so this job just fits naturally in my skill set.
What’s your background? Did you deliberately focus your career in online marketing, or did it just happen out of an interest in the space?
Honestly, it was a complete accident. I started out as a Management Trainee at First National Bank of Omaha. My job for an entire year was to learn about every business unit in the bank and to find one that I loved and had an open position. I discovered their online marketing department within FNBO Direct (their high yield online savings account) and fell head over heels! I was writing newsletters, running social media campaigns and finding great people who challenged the standard way of doing business. I had great mentors and I’m thankful for the love and passion they taught me for the online space. It’s literally changed this finance major’s life path.
What do you see as your organization’s biggest challenge in 2013 as it relates to social media marketing?
As our social audiences continue to grow, it naturally takes more time to cultivate them and give the responses that each individual status deserves. I think our biggest challenge will be time management. How do you continue to provide the one-on-one experience you’ve given everyone since the beginning, when you have more than 75,000 people potentially requesting your attention?