Establishing that social media is good for contacting many customers en masse is easy. It can catch a lot of people and its appeal is broad. Except when it isn’t.
Many businesses are finding the often cited “long tail” approach to marketing pays them handsomely when they aim for specific niches in social media. There are businesses that have used the new networks for recruitment, for finding investment and for numerous other purposes. To have your eyes opened search Facebook for Marriott Hotels; you’ll find not only a recruitment video, which is commonplace enough, but also a game in which players’ role-play different tasks in hotels and end by applying for a job online should they so wish.
For most people the idea of role-playing making a bed or working in a kitchen would sound ferociously dull; this of course is the essence of niche marketing – it doesn’t have to appeal to loads of people, just the right ones.
A number of companies have found that turning to a subsection of their social media contacts has paid handsomely when they are looking for funding. Stateside there are many companies doing this in the technology niche. In the UK organisations such as CrowdCube have enabled smaller businesses to raise as much as £100,000 by selling tiny stakes in their business to masses of individuals. At the time of writing three businesses including CrowdCube have been funded this way and publicized the opportunity, gaining more investors, through social networks.
Not everybody opts to use an aggregator like CrowdCube. Scottish brewery BrewDog went straight to its customers and members of its social networks – Facebook page members, Twitter followers and people on its own forums – to attract the £300,000 it needed for a new facility in a scheme called Equity for Punks, same as it had done with some success two years previously. It completed the latest round of investment ahead of schedule in early 2012 and co-founder James Watt attributes that success to social networks.
“Social media has been a major influence on the success of Equity For Punks,” he explains. “Thousands of craft beer fans rushed to promote the campaign via Twitter and Facebook when it was announced, providing a huge boost in investment.” In fact over the months that the shares were available the business acquired almost 6,000 new investors. “Our scheme is the first to be executed via e-commerce in Europe, so promoting it digitally was imperative,” continues Watt. “We wanted to utilise our influential social media profiles to spread the word beyond traditional media, we even broadcasted an alternative Queen’s speech on Christmas day that immediately resulted in a glut of investment that saw the final two per cent of shares sold. It’s certainly helped us in a big way, we even had to close Equity For Punks early as we reached to £2.2mil before the deadline, which rocked.”
Clearly, however, a business needn’t be looking for investment or indeed be wanting to “rock” particularly when it goes in search of niches. There may be no need of a niche activity like investing – it may be a simple matter of looking for niche customers.
Michael Barber was tasked with sourcing new business for his employer Neuxpower, which makes file compression software. This isn’t going to appeal to anyone but people with the largest compression needs for the moment, and on joining the company he realized that niche marketing was the way to sell it. “One example is bid management professionals, these guys deliver huge word and PPT files to win multimillion and billion dollar projects,” he says.
So he had to approach a niche and also approach one in a B2B environment, which is typically a weak area for social networks. “Using social media to engage B2B customers is tough, we know that the consumers of our software in this niche use Twitter a small amount but the LinkedIn groups are very popular with this audience,” he says. Getting LinkedIn right was therefore key. “Our approach to LinkedIn is to contribute when it’s relevant, but our future strategy involves developing content that fits this audience’s wider needs as well as looking to create some ambassadors within these groups, which due to high levels of advocacy is progressing nicely.”
In future there will be other niches, he says. “What would follow would be an analysis of their social media usage; where do they talk about what they do? How can we contribute to that forum?”
There are different approaches going on here. One is to turn an existing customer base into a segmented niche by asking specific questions. 6,000 new shareholders is an impressive record in anybody’s terms, particularly in the current economy and even if many of them hold under £1,000. It would of course be ridiculous to claim that this is the majority of Facebook group members or Twitter followers. The other is to go out and look for external niches and exploit them constructively.
Both have proven successful in the right context. And since they use social media rather than any other sort of marketing it’s pretty clear that they will be paying for their staff’s time working on the niche campaigns but keeping other costs down.
The long tail is a phenomenon of the Internet age, but one that is expanding thanks to the rise of social networking. The large social networks can of course be mined for the niche customers your business is looking for. However, the long tail could also influence the development of the social networks themselves.
Exclusivity could become a watchword in this environment with highly specialised social networks developing to cater for increasingly focused consumers. For corporate users of social networks this could deliver a highly qualified customer base that simply could not be reached via traditional marketing methods.