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October 20, 2007

Micro-Communities: Utilizing Social Media to Market to Qualified Audiences

By Li Evans

SMX Social:  Micro-Communities - Marketing To Your Qualified Online Audience

Harnessing_micro_communities On the second day of SMX Social, I had the privilege of being on a panel that spoke about micro-communities.  The panel included Rand Fishkin and myself while Danny Sullivan moderated.  Several of my colleagues were a little confused with the title of the panel, just as probably a few in the SMG audience are right now. So just what are micro communities?

First, before I explain that, let me start off by saying - the concept of Social Media is not new.  That's right, the concept of what exactly social media is not new.  The fancy term that has been coined "Social Media" and the new "Web 2.0" looks are what's new to this rather old advertising medium (old in terms of the internet that is).  Social Media has been around since the inception of the internet.  Think I'm a little nuts in stating that?  Stop and reflect a moment, some of the most powerful social media outlets for your clients, services and products have been around a very long time - Forums and Message Boards.

Forums and Message Boards are chalk full of relevant very honed content around particular subjects.  Whether its subject is about collecting comics, fan fiction writing, or making crafts most forums have a lot of "power" when it comes to value and optimization of your website (think age of domains, relevant content, etc.).  They also offer traffic from very qualified resources, and these are resources that really would be more interested in what you have to say.

So now, maybe you are getting an idea of what micro-communities are?  Micro-Communities are specific communities built around niches.  When it comes to social media it can encompass a wide variety of social media types from specific social news sites (BallyHype, Sk*rt), bloggers blogging about very finite subjects, specific communities (WebMD, Corkd), to fourms/message boards (Cre8asite, Rotten Tomatoes).  All of these social media types provide user generated content created by people interested in one particular niche.

Rand had a great list of all different types of communities in his presentation.  This listed consisted of websites that were designed to be "communities" around a certain niche. However, when marketing to micro-communities you need to look beyond just a particular website that caters to creating a community to one niche.  You have to open up the possibilities of reaching more people with your message, by only looking at "communities" per se, you limit your reach.  Micro-community marketing strategies should include social news sites, blogs and blogging groups, forums and message boards, video and photo sharing sites (think about photo groups and video subscriptions) and also communities.  Any where people "share" they are being "social".

My presentation gave a case study, how we effectively leveraged utilizing a certain aspect of social media to spread the word about a client's product.  The client is in an extremely tough niche to market.  This particular niche was over crowded, PPC spend was high and SEO is practically impossible other than for their brand name which no one knew about. After spending over 40k in PPC with lackluster results, the client needed a new approach, so we decided to take a much closer look at social media.

Several approaches were looked at, but we decided to first work with bloggers who were specifically blogging about their ups and downs with dieting.  We did a tremendous amount of research and read their blogs. We started with a large list and looked at several factors such as receptiveness, how often they blogged, what was their reach, and how many subscribers the blog had.  We decided to start with "smaller" bloggers (reach/subscriptions) first to minimize any negative backlash and also to learn from Womma_logoour approach.  Most importantly we followed the WOMMA guidelines.  Due to the industry our client's product was in, and the propensity for spam and being seen as a "slimy, unethical marketer", this was very important.

After a 4-6 week period, the project had greater success than the PPC campaign did in 3 months.  The goal was to give away free trials via an online form.  That was accomplished when after a blogger wrote about their experience with the product, they were then offered to offer their audience a free trial as well.  The most important thing we did with this project, beyond being upfront and honest, was that we NEVER asked a blogger to blog about the product.  We did not expect it, we did not ask for it we left that up to the blogger to act on their own.  If the blogger did blog about their experience with the product it was recorded, and we also interacted with the blogger's conversation. Whether it was a positive or a negative response, we always engaged in the conversation thanking them for their honest opinions and feedback.

In the end, when we finally handed the project over to the new marketing group our client started, the project was deemed successful by our client.  They actually had sales from this effort, where in the PPC campaign, there was none.  The client also learned a lot about the perception of the product and considered that a great take away too.

Taking the time, researching and being up front and honest about who you are is imperative to marketing to micro-communities.  If the community smells a "rat", they'll out you faster than OJ Simpson was outed for "stealing his own sports memorabilia" back.  Trust me when I say this, you mess up by not being upfront and honest, your campaign efforts are done.  People in these micro communities talk with each other.  Bloggers participate in forums, forum participants engage in social news, social news junkies scour the message boards for new information to post - get the picture here?

Micro-communities are a great place to market to qualified targeted audiences, but unless you invest the time and sincere efforts of engaging with a community, your strategy is doomed from the start.  The last thing I'd like relate about micro-communities is: remember, these communities tend to be a much smaller scale than Digg, Propeller or StumbleUpon, you shouldn't be after traffic if you are looking to interact with these communities.  Digg, Facebook,etc. all have broad and general audiences and can drive tons of unqualified traffic, micro-communities can turn out to be a much bigger "win" if your goal is conversions.

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On the second day of SMX Social, I had the privilege of being on a panel that spoke about micro-communities. [Read More]

Comments

I have experimented thoroughly with micro-communities. I have found their greatest gift to my sites is not in traffic as you said, but in a boost in domain authority. They link to my sites, and they do it freely and abundantly.

Still, you make an interesting point about hitting on all cylinders. Normally, when creating link bait, i use text and images. I guess I need to start incorporating video as well to include the youtubers and the like.

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