Social Media--It's All Connected. Never Too Niche.

Is Your Small Business Niche a Fit for Social Media?

I’m feeling word-nerdy today, kids. So, let’s clarify some notions upfront before we get to your small business niche.

In my very first post within this hallowed domain, we talked about how not everybody has to have or “do” social media.

I encourage you to keep that in mind for today’s discussion.

Let’s Just Define Social Media, So We’re Clear, Okay?

Think bigger, people

Where “media” is the plural form of medium. As in channel, conveyance, method of representation.

Hence, newspapers were media before radio and TV were invented.

Long before that time, we had illuminated manuscripts hand-crafted by cloistered robed monks who did not call themselves artisanal or old-school.

Before that, hieroglyphs on papyri. And before that, cave paintings.

Here’s a free doctoral thesis idea:

Who had a bigger impact on their world: Gutenberg or Zuckerberg?

I mean, c’mon. The guy who invented the printing press and, thereby, the mass production of books, the spread of literacy to the common people, the elevation of civic discourse to include “the people” not just “the (feudal) elite.”

In this election season, is it too fine to draw a comparison between an apathetic (“illiterate”) voter populace and “the (corporate) elite”?

Democracy does not work without an informed and engaged electorate. Such plaudits we can begin to heap at the feat of the Gutenberg and his printing press.

But, Zuckerberg…
Dude runs a social network with more active monthly participants than any country on the planet.

In a very real sense, he has more constituents than Obama, Putin, Hollande, and any other “world leader” you care to name. His data collection capabilities make the federal census look like a feather flitting in the breeze.

It’s probably a thesis that’s already been written.

A working definition of social media

For our purposes, let’s cast The Social Media as any channel, tool, platform, or means by which people communicate across space and time, contributing to our shared pool of knowledge.

And, let’s limit it to people comms. Because, frankly, I think you could make the case that dogs marking trees and hydrants is, technically, a form of social media.

Point being that social media is not just Twitter and Facebook. It’s not just Pinterest, LinkedIn, Tumblr, WhatsApp, SnapChat, Instagram, Medium, reddit, YouTube, Vimeo. It’s not just IM’ing, DM’ing, PM’ing, texting, pinging, poking, or ahem, Tindering.

It’s not just participating in comment threads on other people’s blogs.

It’s not just Flickr and photo-sharing services for photographers. Or forums for freelancers to share their work and find clients. Or just job-posting sites like Indeed or Upwork.

It’s social selling platforms, like Etsy, Craiglist, eBay.

It’s local apps like VarageSale and OfferUp.

It’s Freecycle, too.

It’s not just customer review sites, like Yelp, Google Local, and Angie’s List.

Back when there were BBS’s–bulletin board systems–it was them, and and now it’s their ancestors. It’s discussion forums.

I used to belong to a great time-waster called the Cycling Discussion Email List (“The CDEL”), which served as a ride planner and peanut gallery for my bike riding friends. Even though I never raced, I used to lurk in the Texas Bicycle Racers Association forum — they were a funny bunch of fast people.

For semantic and historical reasons, email has grown up as a separate channel of content marketing and isn’t included in the social media umbrella. But it should be, given our definition.

That’s Fine, But My Business Is Way Too Niche to Fit in There

Is it?

Is it really?

I’ve been racking my brains for what would be an appropriately niche vocation that would not benefit from using social media as a component of their content marketing.

I’ve already talked about the the parable of the social plumber.

I’ve talked about pathology assistants who cut up dead bodies and parts removed in surgery, yet who happen to have booming Instagram accounts. Same with dermatologists, who do all kinds of life-saving medical work and have outstanding YouTube channels focused on popping things. (Strangely gratifying to watch, too.)

I’ve worked with Ayurvedic counselors who have worthwhile and profitable social presences. I don’t know if that’s niche enough for you — Do you know what Ayurveda is?

What about preppers? Do you know who they are? They have their own real estate agents, for Pete’s sake.

Ya Know What? Nothing’s That Niche.

It’s a numbers thing. There are just too many of us.

When I was a new transfer student at Texas A&M University, I called home to Mom and Dad sobbing to told them I couldn’t possibly continue there.

“Dear child, whysoever do you say that?”

“Well, it’s just that,” I blubbered, “they’re all blonde-haired and blue-eyed, and they’re all wearing khakis. I’ll never fit in!” Gasping jags. I was 17. What?

“Pumpkin,” they said, “A&M has 30,000 students. They can’t all be wearing khakis. Give it time. You’ll find where you fit.”

Shortly thereafter, I started volunteering with AIDS Services of Brazos Valley, and as you can imagine, those folks never wore khakis.

Small Business Niche: Hypothetical and Real-World Examples

Real-World: Spiceworks Community

Okay, so there are people in this world, and maybe you’re one of them — working in a very small organization, you’re chief cook and bottle washer already.

Then the office says, “Okay, we need somebody to spec out and get quotes for some new tech that will help us do what we do better.”

While you were out fetching everybody’s sandwich orders, guess what? By unanimous vote, you get to be the one to do all that IT stuff. Fun.

After all, if you want something done, give it to a busy person, right?

Now, you’ve got to build your own crash-course on IT and what you need, how much of it you need, how much it will cost, where to get it, and what to get with it.

Enter the Spiceworks Community. For people tasked with IT who didn’t necessarily go to school to study it. Seems pretty niche to me?
Dig this! Spiceworks created its own social media, yo.

The Spiceworks Community is a moderated forum of “…millions of IT pros… a place where IT pros trade tech tips, show off their awesome projects, share real-world advice from the IT trenches… and have a laugh.”

Beside the obvious intellectual and practical support, the Spiceworks user community enjoys local meet-ups, on and offline friendships, and more than one Spiceworks user-fan has been so pleased with their experience got tattooed with the companies the orange T-Rex mascot.

So, that’s a real-world example of an international virtual social media. Meaning, it actually exists. It is attended by real people all over the world. But not in person (except for the Meet-Ups). Online. Right?

Now let’s consider a hypothetical (doesn’t exist, as far as I know) in-person, local example, with international virtual components.

Petronella’s Pocket Watch Repair and Appraisal

This one comes to mind because I inherited two old pocket watches recently. I can’t decide whether they’re priceless or worthless.

I need to find a Petronella to appraise them for me. And, hopefully, tell me that I can retire now because they’re worth a bloody fortune.

If Petronella’s service shop wasn’t a hypothetical, I’d find her through a Google search. That’s where social signals meet SEO to boost her business page and Google-Plus-Place-Whatever-They’re-Calling-It-Now to the top of the SERP (search engine results page).

Here’s some of what Petronella has done in The Social Media to improve her SEO, gain a wider audience, and drive sales (in no particular order):

1. She contributes, under her business name, logo, and persona, to reddit subthreads on antiques and pocket watches.

2. Similarly, she answers questions on Quora. In fact, she has several Google Alerts set up to help her cherry pick corners of the internet where her expertise will be most valued.

3. In her brick-and-mortar storefront, she has door decals and other signage to request current customers rate her on Yelp and Google. She might give discounts to first-time check-ins on Facebook and Foursquare.

4. Yes, she’s claimed her business page on Facebook. Sure, it can be a huge pain, but it’s better than not claiming it. If she didn’t, FB would kindly auto-gen a page for her every time someone checks to see if she has one. And that dynamically generated, unclaimed page will prominently display links to her competitors. Gee, thanks FB.

5. She regularly adds new content to her website, specifically, on her blog. I know, I know, that’s not social media, that’s content marketing. I’m being thorough, okay? Go with it.

  • She films her work with a GoPro, edits for make-pretty, adds a share-alike soundtrack, posts it to her YouTube channel, and embeds the YouTube link on her site.
  • She shares before and after photo essays with appropriate tags. These get picked up by complete strangers somewhere out there on the interwebs and posted to Pinterest and elsewhere, leading back to her site.
  • She writes an ongoing feature on identifying antique pocket watches, using examples from customers with their permission. Better if the customers themselves have a social presence of any kind, because then they’ll share it to their own networks.
  • Say, just for grins, that she’s part of the Doctor Who fandom, and every year she treats herself to some cosplay at the local Doctor Who convention. She totally uses that as blog fodder. I mean. Obviously.

6. As a professional tinkerer, and consummate marketer, she participates in her local Maker community, in person, and in their online forums. Whether it’s MakerSpace, or perhaps she lives near a TechShop branch, or she teaches a yearly series for fun at her local community college.

All of this in-real-life participation is gratifying in and of itself, naturally.

Plus, her super small business niche piggybacks off their established social media channels.

7. Who knows? Maybe she moonlights in steampunk designs, too.

Know This, Fair Reader: None of This Happened Overnight

Have you ever heard a comedian or singer-songwriter on the late show circuit refer to themselves and their currently skyrocketing career as “a thirty-year overnight success.”

It’s organic. It takes time. All things worth building take time to build. Otherwise, they’re called bubbles or castles in the air or houses of cards. They are not sound long-term investments. Neither on Wall Street nor in your small business’ social media presence.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay user, TBIT. CC 0; Public Domain.

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Suzanne Hoenig is a strategist and writer helping small businesses, nonprofits, and private practitioners craft their marketing copy, grow their online and offline community, and navigate the changing tides of social media and digital content marketing.
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