By adaptive - December 10th, 2014

Engage with customers in their specialised spaces to build richer brand relationships and loyalty

In the first part of this series we examined how the closed loop, or niche, social network has become increasingly popular. This week we are uncovering how these networks can be harnessed to effectively build a brand identity within highly focused customer groups, and some of the dos (and don’ts) around interacting with these potential customers.
Think of the niche networks as plugs, stopping up the holes that the great social networks leave behind. These are spaces where consumers meet in secure surroundings to talk about issues, activities and themes that are tightly focused and specific. 
The number of niche networks on offer has soared exponentially over the past few years. If you look for lists of the most notable or the best, many of them include well over 60 of these targeted social groups with significant numbers to their names. They are ingenious and include sites such as Swig for cocktail drinkers, Doximity for physicians and those in the medical profession, and Spiceworks for the IT community.
It’s easy to see why these social spaces are a rich ground for organisations to flourish as they have the potential to engage with consumers that are a perfect fit for their brand, products or services. However, there are some risks involved – these niche networks are considered a private place where consumers can relax and talk about their interests - organisations barrelling in to sell products or muscle in on commentary will find they don’t receive a warm welcome and could in fact damage their brand image with the very consumers they wanted to reach.
“With more and more companies sending out generic information across multiple platforms, the consumer is more discerning and increasingly adept at finding the information that appeals to them,” says Liam Ryan, Head of sales at Call Pro CRM. “In the niche social network, brands can provide the right content at the right time to specific contacts, expand on information, and optimise promotions and new product features. While every contact may not be ready to purchase immediately, it is imperative to build an engagement in the meantime and put down the groundwork which is more likely to convert a lead in the future.”
Marketing Technology Landscape

The Do’s of the niche

For brands to thrive in these smaller and more focused environments, they need to first ensure that their conversations are relevant. Messaging should look at ways in which the organisation can benefit the user, providing advice and positioning the brand as a solution rather than as a business trying to sell at the unwary.
“The business should really understand the audience as the benefits of a closed loop social network are relevance and community,” says Will Green, CEO, Apurimac Media.  “Assign a campaign or community manager that understands the audience and uses the network regularly. It’s a good idea to set objectives and review these regularly as there are few things worse than undirected resources.”
Michael Baretta, Managing Director and Founder of [dot]Good adds: “The key to successful closed loop marketing is timing and effective content management. Content that would otherwise be viewed as invasive is often welcomed by the closed loop user.”
Consumers on the receiving end of targeted and relevant material are far more likely to engage with the brands. The niche social network grants the organisation access to a wealth of information about what its users like, want and need - brands need to use this to ensure their communications are focused and precise.
“Brands and marketers no longer have fixed formulae on how to reach, let alone engage with, today’s consumers,” says Prakash Patel, Chief Strategy Officer of Fogg Experiential Design. “They can be anywhere and everywhere. By understanding the new consumer and their behaviour, using the same networks as they do, by understanding where they are, what they are doing and saying, by using data and content in context intelligently, brands can genuinely engage in their world."
It’s not exactly rocket science, but it can be easy to forget that the business is a guest and needs to behave like one, rather than be the boorish uncle at Christmas lunch. 
“Monitor what people are talking about and offer solutions or advice, don’t actively sell your product, but be open to having a sales conversation offline if anyone asks a specific question,” adds Gavin Hammar, founder and CEO of Sendible. “Focus on the benefits that your brand can provide to the community and join conversations that you can add real value to, and respond with feedback that showcases your company culture.”
Of course, along with all of the things the brand should do, there are the things that they should not…

The Don’ts of the niche

“Don’t use a one-size-fits-all strategy. One of the pros of a niche network is the first move advantage and the newness of the audience. However the cons are that it needs investment and time to measure success from a pure cost and benefit perspective,” says Green. “Don’t spread yourself too thin by doing too much with too many closed networks, and avoid being unapproachable. A brand belongs to its customers.”
It goes without saying that listening is a key tool for gaining a niche network advantage, and ignoring user feedback is not. Ignoring what the consumers have to say in the forum can alienate the organisation and negatively impact the reputation of the brand.
Baretta adds: “Don’t delete or hide posts, even if they are stating incorrect information – rather offer a justification or correction. It’s also worth avoiding harping on about a point and to offer clear and definitive responses.”
According to Ryan, it is essential that corporations use tools that enable broadcasting across multiple platforms and use the metrics from these broadcasts to monitor contacts over a period of time.
“Make sure you reliably monitor metrics and don’t use some method of nurturing to maintain engagement,” he concludes. “Also avoid generic, untargeted content!”

Driving the brand into the niche

Adhering to the intelligence of social engagement will take a brand a long way towards crafting a rich presence on their selected networks. However, it is also a space that has its own rules and the brand needs to be cognisant of these from the outset.
“Always respect the community or niche group you are joining. Remember these tend to be passionate people who really care about this topic or group,” says Patel. “Follow the network and its members first and understand how up to date it is, and speak the same language so you are appropriate, acceptable and personal.”
Throughout all interaction on niche social two rules hold true – relevance and personalised. Be a human face for the business, rather than a business with a human face and the customers will respond and engage.
In the third and final part of this series we will be looking at how to select the niche networks best suited to your business, which platforms to use and how to be an effective presence across them all.
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