Six Social Media Lessons From Our 2014 Niching Contest

Screen Shot 100Throughout the month of April we ran a contest called So You Think You Can Niche? 2014 inviting people to submit 120 character (yes, that’s 120 characters, not words!) niches in a meme format, laid over a photo of themselves – extra points for non-selfies. Because … too many selfies! 
 
Participation in the contest far exceeded our expectations with 126 entries (we thought 75 would be awesome!), over 1000 “likes” and more than 2600 comments – what?! And, though I made the blunder of not noticing how many “likes” my facebook page had before the contest, I am pretty sure the contest added 200 people there too.
 
We’re almost done the exhaustive job of tabulating results from this spectacularly successful adventure, but before we do our last review, confirm all the numbers and announce the winners, we thought we’d share some of the things we’ve learned from this process.
 
There is much that I learned from the contest about niching but I wanted to share some of what we learned about the technical side of things.
 
1) Facebook Pages are a terrible promotional platform but an excellent conversational platform.
 
For me, this was the biggest lesson.
 
For all of the reasons laid out in the following video, facebook pages are a terrible marketing platform. You are much better off building your email list, using youtube, twitter, instagram, pinterest or other forms of social media that your people follow. Facebook shows everything you post to a fraction of your followers and only shows it to more if people actually interact with it. And, if you want to make sure everyone sees it? You need to pay them. It’s a brutal set up. So, while I recommend having a facebook page so people can find you easily online, I don’t recommend them as a core marketing strategy in the same way I would with other forms of social media. 
 
Having said that, facebook pages provide an excellent forum for people to have conversations about things. Why? Well, for this contest in particular there are a few reasons that standout.
  1. Most people are already on facebook so that eliminates the barrier to entry of having to sign into a new forum and remember their username and password. 
  2. People know how facebook works. It’s not a whole new interface to learn. This is a big deal. If you try to get people to use a new system and they have to think about it at all, most people will just drop off. 
  3. You can tag people on facebook to draw their attention to things. In this case, when I gave people feedback on their niche, I could tag them most of the time to let them know I’d done that.
  4. Facebook has photo albums built in and you can comment on photos. This is so huge. Last year, when I ran this contest for the first time, I just used my blog and invited people to post their niche statement in 120 characters in the comments below. And then you could comment on people’s niches right there. It worked but it kind of broke wordpress. Over 1000 comments later it was incredibly hard to find what you’d posted or that person you’d been meaning to comment on. I knew that, this year, I wanted to make the contest image based so it would be easy to organize the submissions into a single album (making them easy to find and link to) and easy to comment on.
Facebook is designed for conversations in a way that would be impossible to replicate at this point and the whole goal of this contest was for people to not only post something for my evaluation but to encourage everyone to comment on each other’s work and learn from each other in that way.
 
This means that the average submission got at least 16 comments on it. 16 pieces of honest and useful feedback from their peers. 
 
And, if your goal (and I think it should be) is to become a hub then the goal must shift from simply talking at people to engaging in a conversation with them. But if you really, really want to be a hub, then you need to think about ways to make it easier for them to talk with each other. This contest did that. Creating a facebook group on a relevant topic, or for your group program does this. 
 
Facebook pages suck for marketing but they’re brilliant for creating a space for conversations.
 
2) Contests can work to engage conversation. This contest is a glowing example of some great community engagement between people who work and offer a wide range of services and products, offering genuine, useful critiques and engaging in useful, respectful, productive conversation. 
 
Contests have a lifespan. There’s a day they will end. There are prizes. These thing encourage people to actually go and get involved in commenting. A note: make sure you offer prizes for not only the best submissions but the best and most comments. If the goal is to encourage conversation, then you need to reward that too.
 
Of course, you can simply do the kinds of contests where the person with the most ‘likes’ on their photo wins, but I’d invite you to consider the potential power of not just making it a popularity contest but, also, a learning experience. 
 
3) Images/memes work well. This is, in many ways, no surprise. While words matter and a well crafted niche will enlighten a reader as to what you do or offer, a great image helps to grab attention. Adding your niche over a colourful, happy, striking, appropriate (etc) photo can really help with face and business recognition.
 
And you no longer have to be a Photoshop professional. There are many apps that allow you to pop some text over a a photo, as you can see in the variety of niches submitted. Here are just a few (of the many out there) that allow you to add frames of different shapes and dimensions, to overlay text, to use photo effects, to edit images and to collage more than one image together: DipticBeFunky and Frametastic.
 
I judged 100% of my scores on the words entirely though I couldn’t help but notice the power of the right image and the right design to help bring the words to life. 
 
But don’t just think of memes for contests. More and more businesses are getting on this whole notion of creating memes for their business as a whole. Simply a great quote followed by the name and website. If they’re good, they get shared far and wide and can act as a path to your website. 
 
Speaking of which – this also means that headshots matter. Getting a professionally done headshot is, in my mind, a must. You can trade services for it, but get it done. And this photo must capture, somehow, as much of your platform as possible. If your business is about inner peace – can the photo capture that in you? If you have a rebellious, spunky vibe – then your photo can capture that. If you work with herbs, the photo can be of you at a table with some plants and tincture making material etc. 
  
4) An integrated social media approach works best. This contest lived in an album on my facebook page. But if I’d relied only on that page to promote it I would have had maybe five entries instead of 126. This is crucial. I think the future of social media is not necessarily about any new ‘facebook killer’ social media site but, rather, the integration of them all in your marketing approach.
 
In this case, I wrote a blog post describing the contest. I emailed me list of about 10,000 people with the link to the submission form. The photos were then put up by my assistant Susan. Once enough were up, we’d email the list again with an update on the contest and some of the best examples from the contest to inspire people. Every time we emailed the list, we got more submissions.
 
My email list was how people heard of the contest, facebook was just the place the conversations happened.
 
A huge blunder I see people making these days is trying to build up their social media following and ignoring their email list. Your email list is, and will, for the forseeable future be, the workhorse of your marketing. You are not in control of changes that get made to facebook or twitter. And they make changes all of the time. Not always for the better. Facebook events are wonderful but not everyone is going to see them. Your emails are the most likely to be seen. 
 
Having said that, an integrated approach works best. To promote this contest we:
  • created a blog post for it that notified people subscribed to my blog
  • emailed our list
  • tweeted about it
  • told my colleagues about it
  • created a hashtag for it and gave people prewritten tweets and facebook messages to share that directed folks back to the album or the blog post  
5) The point is to learn, not to win. In a few cases, it seemed like some people had asked their friends to come and give them a 10. Which wasn’t the point of the contest. The point was to get honest feedback on how strong their niche was. 
 
6) Being kind matters. A simple but import idea. When offering constructive criticism it genuinely helps the receiver to stay open and consider what’s on offer without feeling attacked. There were numerous great examples of this in the comments on the niches. And this matters. If you’re hosting a conversation and it gets unpleasant, people will leave and not come back. That’s not good for your business. It’s bad news for becoming a hub. It’s why clubs have bouncers and a zero tolerance policy on harassment or violence. You want to make sure your home is a safe home for people to be in. If it is, they’ll come back again and again and again.
 
Stay tuned for the results, we are working as fast as we can. An invitation to resubmit your niche will arrive soon as well, allowing people who are interested to apply their feedback, distilling and clarifying their niches even further.
 
Warmest,
Tad and the Marketing for Hippies team

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