Social Media Marketing: Explore a Niche Network

If you’re already growing your email marketing list and getting exposure on Facebook and Twitter, try thinking smaller. There are tons of new networks with targeted audiences gaining popularity and generating buzz.

Some bigger brands are already finding success with niche social media sites. Niche networks make it easier to engage directly with your target audience. We’re not saying you should abandon the bigger sites like Facebook – they’re great for getting exposure to a bigger audience. But when you need to hone your message just right, niche networks are the place to do it.

Pinterest

Monthly Active Users: Around 3 million

Ideal for: Bloggers, designers (graphic, fashion, interior…), event planners, retail stores, crafters, restaurants, hair salons… Really, anyone whose business has a visual or instructional component.

Whole Foods posts recipes to their “Who Wants Dinner?” board.

Pinterest acts like a visual social bookmarking site, where users “pin” their favorite finds from around the web. Other users can like, comment on and share (“repin”) your finds, making the site socially interactive. Users can also follow the virtual pinboards you create, similar to Twitter.

You can use Pinterest for your business in a few ways. First – and perhaps most obviously – you can post pictures of your products, your store displays, your crafty creations, recipes, do-it-yourself instructions, whatever it is you make or sell.

Second, you can flaunt your brand’s personality by pinning content that catches your eye or inspires you online. Try getting your whole team involved with a personalized board for each person behind your brand.

Third, you can connect with your customers and target audience on a more personal level, responding to comments and mutually repinning content. Oh, that’s another thing: Your content can go viral when enough users repin it. And items pinned on Pinterest always link back to the original source (eg., your website).

Instagram

Monthly Active Users: Around 10 million

Ideal for: Retail stores, bloggers, designers, photographers, anyone in the fashion industry, restaurants, inns and hotels, travel sites, artists… Since Instagram is an iPhone app, it’s easy to share mobile content with your followers while they’re on the go.

Conversation on a photo that Burberry posted to Instagram

Instagram is part iPhone app, part photo sharing site, part social network. The free iPhone app adds artistic filters and borders to photos you take with your iPhone. You can then upload your photos to share them in an online stream that other Instagram users can follow and comment on.

Burberry, ModCloth, Laughing Squid and Photojojo are just a few brands that are connecting with their customer base through photo sharing. And it’s not all product placements, either. Burberry’s stream includes behind-the-scenes shots of fashion events alongside shots of everyday life – statues in London, rain on a windowpane, a bird perched on a post at sunrise.

Sharing some personal snapshots along with images associated with your brand can help develop your brand’s personality and make your business feel more approachable. If a picture is worth a thousand words, it could also be worth plenty of sales for your brand.

There is one drawback, however. Someone on your team needs needs an iPhone, as Instagram is only available for iPhone. If you don’t have an iPhone user in your midst, you can still achieve the same effect on other photosharing sites like Fotolog or Flickr instead.

Turntable.fm

Monthly Active Users: Around 223,000

Ideal for: Music-centric businesses like record stores, bands, smaller record labels, local non-commercial radio stations, concert venues…

Warped Tour hosts a listening party featuring artists on the festival lineup

Turntable.fm is a fledgling startup that’s part Internet radio, part listening party and part chat room. Once you open an account, you can create a themed music room to DJ for anyone who drops in to listen. You can also set up your room to allow anyone else to DJ or hand pick a few special users. The interface includes a chat window where everyone in the room can interact.

Although the site is young (it launched in May 2011), it’s already been used for some creative promotions – most notably the music and fashion coupon site 1band 1brand. 1band 1brand set up an exclusive room on Turntable.fm that was only open for a few hours. They teamed up with some bands who joined as DJs and ran trivia contests in the chat window.

If your business is involved with music, you can use Turntable.fm’s features to your advantage, too:

  • Bands, record labels and radio stations could host one-night-only listening parties for new album releases.
  • Set up a room with fun rules centered around your brand: DJs can only play songs that start with the first letter of your brand name or artists featured on your label.
  • Host an online party like 1band 1brand. Ask popular local personalities to guest DJ and kick off some fun interaction in the chat window.

Turntable.fm has the greatest marketing potential for music-centered businesses, but non-musical brands can get creative with some features, too. Your brand could host an online party for happy hour, when people are home from work and free to play on the site. Or a lunch hour dance party. Use the chat window to your advantage for contests and games.

Building Your List on a Niche Network

AWeber’s hosted web forms hold the key to building your email list on a niche network. Depending on the site’s features, you can:

- Link to your web form in your profile

- Mention your email list in a photo caption

- Announce the perks of joining your mailing list in the chat room

- Include the link in replies to customers, if it fits the conversation’s context

What Are You Exploring for the New Year?

Are you on any of these networks already? What’s your experience been?

If not, could you see yourself using any of the sites listed here? What other smaller networks have you found valuable?