Nowadays social media are critical elements of each and every successful online campaign. Without a presence on Facebook and Twitter, your reputation is endangered not only because you clearly don't get social media (#fail), but also because you have no level of control over what others are saying about you.
We have bad news though. Profiles on Facebook and Twitter are no longer enough. Launching a relationship with niche audiences online is the second step in establishing a successful, innovative campaign. But these niche audiences can be easily targeted through social networking sites centered around a particular theme. There is a wide variety of those, including female-oriented networks such as iVillage, gay social networking communities such as Jake, parents-oriented ones like CafeMom, black social networks like Black Planet, or hubs for movie-lovers like Flixter, to name just a few.
The abundance of social networking sites means that if you dig deep enough you will find an outlet on the web that gathers your niche customers, no matter what you are trying to market or how you are trying to sell it. You may question the benefits of investing your time and money in developing a relationship with a niche social network, but I'm here to convince you otherwise.
First, you are working on increasing your visibility online. Depending on the elements of the partnership you set up, your content may appear on various online platforms owned by your partner. The elements of the partnership may include paid media elements such as customized homepage takeovers, the creation of a brand-endorsed profile for your product, email marketing, or participation in the partner's newsletter. Remember that most of these social networks also have Facebook and Twitter profiles through which they can cross-promote the partnership and help you reach another tier of the audience on these major social networks.
One great example of this type of partnership came when Sony Pictures Entertainment promoted the film "Julie and Julia" by teaming up with BakeSpace.com, a cooking-themed social network.
"Julie and Julia" depicts the life of chef Julia Child, contrasting it with that of Julie Powell, a blogger who aspired to cook all 524 recipes from Child's cookbook. The target audience for the movie consisted of web-savvy culinary bloggers, mommy bloggers, and women in general. BakeSpace, which touts itself as "the world's first recipe exchange and social network for people passionate about food, cooking, and baking," was a great choice, target audience-wise. The partnership included the creation of a "Julie and Julia" profile, endorsed by the site itself. If users became friends of the "Julie and Julia" profile, they were entered to win an advanced screening pass to the movie, which attracted new members to join the network but also generated digital word of mouth (WOM).
The official profile also included a Media Box player, which carried pictures and videos from the movie, thus fulfilling the page's promotional purposes. In order to cater to the interest of the audience, the profile utilized My Recipe Box to share Julia Child's recipes. The My Fridge section, acting as a Facebook wall of sorts, opened the door to conversation with fans who posted there. In addition, the background of the "Julie & Julia" profile was an adjusted version of the movie poster, announcing the date of the premiere of the movie.
Sony Pictures also ran banners on the homepage and across other sub-sites, with the ads carrying the trailer and clips from the movie. At the same time, BakeSpace mentioned the movie on its official Facebook Page, thus ensuring cross-promotion. Overall, Sony Pictures managed to target its primary audience, cater to its needs, and establish a strategic relationship that suited the company's needs.
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The second benefit of a partnership is the fact that you are engaging in the wonders of targeted marketing. After you have identified a social network that suits the profile of your target audience, you may assume that the members of the community will be more than likely to engage with your brand and your product. After all, these users have already clearly expressed interest in a particular product or lifestyle by creating a profile or visiting the selected social network. As long as you are following the etiquette of the social network, your presence there will not be considered intrusive. In fact, your presence may result in lively interaction and relationship building.
To prove that point, let's look at "The Cove," a documentary about the dolphin slaughter in Japan. The filmmakers partnered with Care2, a social network for activists, because its members matched the audience profile of the movie. The partnership included few interesting elements. For one, the production company Take Part developed a petition targeting President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki, asking them to address the dolphin slaughter in Japan. The petition was also available in Japanese for Japanese citizens, who could then send it to the Prime Minister and Minister of Health.
In addition, Care2 developed an interesting call-to-action strategy. The end of the movie included a message asking viewers to sign the petition, either via a mobile version of the petition site or by visiting the suggested URL. The company also created widgets in both English and Japanese that included information on the movie, along with the names of all the supporters of the petition. That widget could then be integrated into Facebook or MySpace profiles in order to generate digital WOM.
By partnering with Care2, the film's marketing team not only reached its target audience, but also managed to advance the movie's cause by creating online petitions and reaching internet-savvy activists.
Another reason to engage in such partnerships is the fact that if done right, these innovative partnerships can also serve your brand management. By building the previously mentioned relationships with the target audience, you are showing that you actually know your customers and are genuinely interested in fulfilling their needs. You are also showing that you understand digital media, which is always a plus in the eyes of your web-savvy customers.
Do not underestimate the importance of niche social networks; this may be where the most passionate discussions related to your brand are taking place. Join, listen, and respond. If you're lucky, finding your online/social media brand ambassadors may be just a step away.
The last, but not least, reason to consider partnering is that affiliations like this may not cost you much. If a social network is willing to discuss bartering opportunities, it may choose to endorse your product if you simultaneously promote the site in your campaign. Association with your brand might act as an incentive for the social networking sites to partner with you on a promotional basis, thereby allowing you to save some money.
Just a few words of caution before you decide to go ahead with striking such a partnership: Not every social networking site out there is a good fit for you. Before you go ahead with your plan, conduct thorough research on the site and inspect important numbers such as community members and unique visitors. Pay attention to the site's buzz, as you don't want to associate yourself with a site with bad reputation.
Remember, the most important element of these partnerships is that the members of these social networks should match your desired audience. Pay attention to details such as audience demographics and community characteristics, as well as the tone of conversation on the site and among its members. Do not set up a presence on irrelevant social networks simply for the sake of being there.
Be rational when choosing your partners. Once you are in a promising partnership, optimize your presence on the social network by engaging with its members. Just like on Twitter and Facebook, interactivity is the key to your success.
Joanna Janus is social media manager for Mammoth Agency.
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