Home  › Marketing › Strategies

Harness the Power of Vertical Social Networks

  |  September 11, 2007   |  Comments

How to get started using vertical social networks as a marketing medium.

Social networks are everywhere. You're on them, so are your "friends." Your kids are on them, maybe even your parents. What was once a unique Internet idea is now a mainstream Web platform and is even the subject of future Cisco strategies.

In the past year, brands have looked to social networks to market to the community. This strategy has tended to be a natural, first-instinct reaction to the pressures of social media as brands look to ride the wave of popular Internet audience trends to maintain a state of consumer relevancy while keeping their share of eyeballs. In some cases, this has worked. For example, marketing to social networks can be beneficial to lifestyle brands people choose as a badge of social status.

All good marketers know to reach their customers where they live. Great marketers have a finger on the pulse of what's next. The long-tail theory (define) has shown there's sustained life after the big bang of mainstream appeal, and the same applies to social networks. Vertical-interest social networks are growing in popularity, as users join niche networks that appeal directly to their everyday interests and personal passions. While MySpace and Facebook are strong personal and anonymous relationship and expression platforms, vertical social networks allow people with similar interests to congregate and form rich communities of participation and conversation.

This isn't a radical change. In fact, it's a natural evolution. All communities eventually break into smaller tribes once they meet other members with specific interests. For marketers, this particular evolution represents an interesting opportunity to reach passionate, active consumers in a more targeted environment.

It's how you work with these new networks that could lead to a new form of marketing ROI (define). While it's always a good strategy to cast a wide net with broad-reaching media properties, it's advantageous to fish in a pond full of potential customers. A more targeted audience offers more opportunity for lead aggregation, feedback, and better targeted customer conversation.

But what if your brand lacks a natural fit with the communities of mainstream social networking sites? We're working with our clients to do more than market to the community. We encourage them to learn from the community by building community platforms that encourage audience participation. This will provide results that go a bit further than standard Web metrics. If our partners can utilize the networks to gain product and brand feedback, suggestions, and insight, ROI can go deeper and include an R&D aspect. Considering these networks are focused on specific activities and interests, feedback and conversation quality is often deeper and more insightful than typical survey and focus group comments.

How to get involved:

  • Find networks that appeal to your audience. You know who your audience is and what they like to do. Chances are, there are already a handful of online communities and social networks that appeal to their interests. Check out LibraryThing, Yelp, and Meetup to get your feet wet.

  • Check out the community. Don't just jump in, check out the community to see how vibrant it is. Are they active? What do they talk about? Who's there?

  • Learn what works. Get a meeting with the people who run the site. Let them tell you about their firsthand experience with their community. They'll know what works and what doesn't.

  • Don't market; create a conversation. Resists the urge to buy a banner or brand a page. Instead, find ways to encourage participation and see if you can get the community to come to you through conversation and criticism. Create a contest or sponsor an initiative to start conversations.

  • Be transparent. Observe appropriate marketing efforts and let the network know who you are. Once you introduce yourself as a voice of a brand, you'll be impressed with the quality of your responses.

  • Study through observation. Reports provide metrics, but if you really want to learn more, you'll need to spend time in the network.
  • And don't forget to have fun. Enjoy the constructive feedback you receive, and maintain your new relationships. In addition, don't forget that the Internet's anonymity may lead to some negative feedback. Don't take it personally!

    Chad is off this week. Today's column ran earlier on ClickZ.

    ClickZ Live Chicago Join the Industry's Leading eCommerce & Direct Marketing Experts in Chicago
    ClickZ Live Chicago (Nov 3-6) will deliver over 50 sessions across 4 days and 10 individual tracks, including Data-Driven Marketing, Social, Mobile, Display, Search and Email. Check out the full agenda and register by Friday, Oct 3 to take advantage of Early Bird Rates!

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Chad Stoller

    Chad Stoller is the executive director of emerging platforms at Organic Inc., a leading digital communications agency with clients such as DaimlerChrysler, Sprint, and Bank of America. In this role, Chad leads Organic's strategy on client communication platforms and Organic's Experience Lab. Prior to Organic, he spent 13 years at Arnell Group in various roles, including director of communications solutions, and was responsible for branded entertainment, new media, branded gaming, and marketing alliances. He has developed a series of award-winning programs, including the Cannes Lion winner, "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker," for Reebok and Jeep Evo 4 x 4 for DaimlerChrysler. Chad is also a regular contributor to Organic's blog, ThreeMinds.

    COMMENTSCommenting policy

    comments powered by Disqus

    Get the ClickZ Marketing newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!

    COMMENTS

    UPCOMING EVENTS

    Featured White Papers

    IBM: Social Analytics - The Science Behind Social Media Marketing

    IBM Social Analytics: The Science Behind Social Media Marketing
    80% of internet users say they prefer to connect with brands via Facebook. 65% of social media users say they use it to learn more about brands, products and services. Learn about how to find more about customers' attitudes, preferences and buying habits from what they say on social media channels.

    An Introduction to Marketing Attribution: Selecting the Right Model for Search, Display & Social Advertising

    An Introduction to Marketing Attribution: Selecting the Right Model for Search, Display & Social Advertising
    If you're considering implementing a marketing attribution model to measure and optimize your programs, this paper is a great introduction. It also includes real-life tips from marketers who have successfully implemented attribution in their organizations.

    Jobs

      • Recent Grads: Customer Service Representative
        Recent Grads: Customer Service Representative (Agora Financial) - BaltimoreAgora Financial, one of the nation's largest independent publishers...
      • Managing Editor
        Managing Editor (Common Sense Publishing) - BaltimoreWE’RE HIRING: WE NEED AN AMAZING EDITOR TO POLISH WORLD-CLASS CONTENT   The Palm...
      • Senior Paid Search & Advertising Manager
        Senior Paid Search & Advertising Manager (Smarty Had A Party) - St. LouisCompany Description: A warm, loving, [slightly wacky] startup, we view...