When small businesses contemplate a social media strategy, Facebook and Twitter get lots of attention. However, niche social networks and online communities offer additional opportunities for brands to connect with consumers in an environment that’s highly targeted and often less congested. Let’s look at how different brands are using Instagram, Pinterest and Foodspotting to reach out to potential customers in novel ways.
Instagram: “Mod” photos take center stage
Instagram is a photo-sharing app that makes it easy for anyone with an iPhone to snap a photo, apply a filter and share it with friends on Instagram and other networks, including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr. The filters offer an added sense of creativity and color correction: perfect for amateur photographers.
ModCloth, an online retailer of vintage and retro clothing from independent designers, joined Instagram this summer. After creating an account, ModCloth discovered a strong pre-existing fashion community.
“Many of our employees, including our co-founder and CCO Susan Gregg Koger, were already huge fans of the platform. So, we were very enthusiastic about joining in on the conversation and we found their mission similar to ours,” says ModCloth’s Alicia Barnes. “We want to make fashion accessible to all women, and Instagram makes beautiful photography possible from your iPhone.”
ModCloth shares Instagram images a few times each day, everything from marketing campaign images and photo shoot accessories to bloggers and staffers donning Modcloth’s trendy clothes.
Pinterest: Pin your way to the top
In addition to assimilating into Instagram’s fashionable, photo-centric community, ModCloth found similar success with Pinterest, a virtual design “pinboard.” On Pinterest, people can “pin” items they find on the web, everything from recipes and home décor to DIY crafts and style inspirations.
ModCloth joined Pinterest in the fall of 2011, but it’s already one of ModCloth.com’s top unpaid referral sites in terms of traffic and revenue. Why? According to Barnes, it's thanks to “product photography and blog content that resonates with their audience." ModCloth has approximately 7,000 pins tagged on Pinterest, and 99 percent of them are from advocates of the ModCloth brand and products, she adds.
Foodspotting: Taste and tell
According to locals of Gainesville, Fla., the city boasts a wide selection of independent restaurants—hidden gems that residents new and old may need help discovering. As director of social media and marketing for apartment company Contemporary Management Concepts, Melanie Ling wanted to use her love of food to create new connections with local residents and differentiate her property selection from the competition. Then, she discovered Foodspotting, an app that draws attention to specific dishes offered at local restaurants.
Ling realized the service could help CMC connect with local businesses and residents, both key referral sources, while also providing a "value add" to existing residents. As she explains: “The food here is really good. Why not start sharing it as content for the blog and our residents?”
In addition to sharing more than 150 photos on Foodspotting, Ling took the food-focused concept a step further by writing restaurant-review blog posts and hosting an “eat up” for local Foodspotters (another helpful way to connect with potential residents and referral sources).
Ling says incorporating Foodspotting into CMC’s online presence has helped the company develop relationships with local businesses, some of which have referred new employees to CMC apartments.
Tips for going niche
Thinking about how your business can leverage one of these niche networks or a network like Tumblr, Turntable.fm, Tout or Streamzoo? Members of these communities won’t respond well to advertising messages; instead, take the time to understand the networks’ specific cultures and then determine how to assimilate and participate in a manner that supports overall goals, such as increased brand loyalty and awareness.
According to Barnes, “Participation should be consistent and authentic, behavior that makes sense for site etiquette. These niche communities, as strong as they are on their own, cannot exist in a silo. For them to truly succeed, they must be part of your larger brand story and be supported by the other channels.”