Niche Social Networks have been a hot topic on this and many blogs for a few months now. Their popularity has been increasing exponentially to the point that businesses who are normally behind on the internet are now starting to take notice and find out “what is social networking and what can it do for my business?”
It is in the wording of the question itself that the problem lies.
First, here is a brief explanation of what a social network is done Twitter-style in 140 characters or less:
Niche social networks are websites where people with shared interests can network with each other, share thoughts and ideas, contribute resources, and be a part of a virtual community where they can interact with people anywhere in the world.
Okay, it was longer than 140 characters. Still, niche social networks are sweeping the internet and businesses are starting to take wholesale notice. The problem is, many are approaching it wrong. They are looking at it as “how can I get more business from it” instead of approaching it as “how can I help contribute to my industry and my customer base by offering a genuine resource, and thereby potentially increasing business as a result?”
For this example, we will look at the car business. For the most part, social networking in the car business has failed. Many dealers have tried to get into it by creating MySpace and Facebook pages. Some are putting social networks on sites like Ning and GoingOn. In almost every case, the focus is sales, plugging in the inventory, or talking about how great the dealership is. It isn’t working.
If a dealership (or any other business) really wants to participate in Web 2.0 by offering a social network for their client base they need to take it a step further. Here are some pointers:
- Keep it Local, Publish Global – A good niche social network for a car dealer will be centered around their community but offer tools, articles, videos, and photos that can appeal to anyone. Why? Keeping it local has obvious advantages, but you want anyone who comes to the network to be able to gain something from it. The more people involved, the more content there will be. Fresh content, even from people out of the market area, can keep the locals coming back for more.
- Offer Resources and Fun, not Sales Pitches – People might be interested in the nice trade-in that came in last week or the 0% financing that the manufacturer just released. Might. They will almost definitely be interested in things that pertain to them whether they are buying a car or not. Humorous stories, videos, and photos arre crowd pleasers. Tips on car maintenance, buying advice, and local auto clubs can keep them coming back. Features on local events and charities touch the community in different ways. The sky’s the limit, but keep it centered on benefits, not sales.
- Avoid MySpace and Facebook – This goes against what many recommend, but here is why. Both Facebook and MySpace are antiquated formats that get spammed a lot and are, in general, unattractive. People who use these networks regularly are used to them, but new users trying to join your network will probably be unimpressed.
- Promote it with Customers – Someone buys a car. Why have them on your social network? You want them there because they will give the best content. People who are happy with a purchase may be willing to tell the world about it. We know the ones who want to complain will find a venue, so why not give a place for positive statements? Give them the URL and encourage them to join.
Any of these examples apply to other businesses, not just the automotive industry. Translate them to your business and you have a chance to really tap into areas of the internet where you aren’t currently present.
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