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Bigger Not Always Better in Social Media

enge-eric
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While much of the recent focus on social media marketing centers on the big social sites, such as Digg, StumbleUpon, and del.icio.us, search marketers would be smart to spend some time learning about micro communities.

Unlike the larger general-purpose sites, the traffic from a micro community will be vertically focused on your niche, which makes for a big bonus. While these communities get the label of "micro", some of them are not really so small at all. You can get tons of useful traffic from them by matching the nature of your content to the right community.

At the recent SMX Social Media conference, SEOmoz's Rand Fishkin and KeyRelevance's Liana Evans discussed the concept of micro communities, and ways marketers can utilize them to drive traffic to niche sites.

For many businesses, search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising are not enough. SEO takes a long time, and PPC prices are getting more competitive all the time. In competitive markets, this may be impractical for a smaller business. Niche social media sites can help drive more traffic beyond what those methods can bring.

Evans presented a case study that showed how using a community of bloggers in a niche market can greatly increase the visibility of a business. Her example was for a site focused on meal replacement products. From an SEO perspective, the site was ranked only for its brand name. They had also tried PPC, and spent $40,000 in 3 months. That campaign netted less than 50 requests for a free trial (more than $800 per lead), and 0 purchases. Things were not headed in the right direction.

Evans worked with the client to implement a social media campaign focused on "diet bloggers," those blogs that discuss ways to lose weight. The idea was to reach these people, and see if they would be interested in trying the meal replacement product. The offer was very straightforward. All that Li and her team asked for was that people try the product. No request was made to write about the product.

The campaign was a great success. One of the bloggers who tried it really liked it, and even ended up being featured on the home page of MSN. This created a great deal of visibility, and illustrates one of the key principles of social media marketing: be prepared to lose control. It's OK that a blogger took the idea and ran with it. Their interest and commitment to the product is one of the best brand statements that you can imagine.

The results of the campaign were far superior to the original PPC campaign. They were able to deliver 308 trials, and 98 percent of the people receiving the trial drank the sample. They also got $600 in direct sales, and a big boost in brand exposure. Of course, a number of links were also received, and this provides SEO benefits as well.

There are a few key elements that made this campaign a success:

  • Identifying the right targets for the campaign – bloggers who write about dieting
  • Tailoring an offer to them that was "undemanding" – try our product for free
  • Going with the flow – letting the bloggers go where they choose

So how do you find the right social site, with the right target audience for your project? One smart way to do this is to leverage the search engines, naturally. If you have a nursing site, try searching on related terms, such as "nursing community" (note that this query brings up several interesting prospects). Fishkin recommends this method as a first step to find out what's out there.

Fishkin also offers the following niche communities:

Arts & Design

  • deviantART - focused on the arts
  • Urbis - artist and design community
  • ThinkVitamin - for web designers, developers, and entrepreneurs
  • SportsShooter - for sports photographers
  • threadless - t-shirt designs community
  • VIRB - art and design of all kinds (including web design)

Business

Food & Wine

  • BakeSpace - share and swap baking recipes
  • FoodCandy - network for talking about food
  • Cork'd - one near and dear to my heart, review, cellar, and share wine

Health & Wellness

Kids & Parenting

  • DonorChoose - community for public and private schools
  • Minti - parenting
  • imbee - Facebook for kids 7 - 13

Shopping

Other

  • Care 2 - community for non profits and charities
  • Librarything - share and review books
  • Wayfaring - create and share maps
  • CouchSurfing - network of people offering up couches to sleep on for travelers
  • Helium - human powered knowledge portal

Once you find the right community, you can then begin working on your strategy for becoming a part of it. If you want to know what to do next, here are 11 Guidelines for Social Media Success.

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