Live Blogging: SMX Social Media – Micro Communities

While lunching with Danny, Vanessa, and gang (and discussing kosher vampires [Michael Gray: "Do kosher vampires only eat Jewish people?"]) at SMX Social Media, I was asked to live blog the Micro Communities session this afternoon. My first Search Engine Land post will thus consist of me recapping my boss’s presentation. Hooray.

Anyway, the Micro Communities session focuses on smaller niche sites that have a passionate community of members. The panelists for this session are Rand Fishkin, CEO of, and Liana Evans, Director of Internet Marketing for KeyRelevance.

Additional coverage of this session can be found at Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Roundtable.

Danny is asking if New Yorkers hate Huey Louis. Apparently all New Yorkers love Frank Sinatra. Danny said that all they have in LA is Randy Newman…and now he’s complaining about the LA something of Anaheim. I think he’s had too many Diet Pepsis. He’s pleased that Liana stumbled his live blogging coverage of SMX Social Media.

Rand’s supersized presentation is first. He’s covering An Introduction to Micro Communities in Social Media. He mentioned that he seems to always do “overview”-type presentations. Now he’s given me a shout out and enticed the audience to clap for my link bait presentation from yesterday. Hooray! He’s beaming like a proud papa. Warm fuzzies abound.

What are micro communities? They’re essentially vertical portals with social networking and media features. He’s using “” as an example of a llama-loving micro community. Micro communities have the potential to promote your brand.

Why go micro? Because of traffic vs. relevance (or quantity vs. quality). You can either try and approach a lot of users (at Digg, for example), few of whom will like llamas, or you can leverage a smaller but llama-centric community. Accessibility means your voice is heard. Micro communities encourage brand building opportunities. Micro community members are likely connected to other like-minded individuals, and they can spread your brand or message pretty far.

How does one discover micro communities? Through the search engines, of course! Search for terms related to your industry. While you might not see a community ranked number 1 all the time, if you consistently see the same site popping up for various searches you can deduce that the site is strong/authoritative within the community. You can also find micro communities via social media discovery blogs. He uses SEOmoz as an example, where Rand wrote a blog post about Sphinn when the site was launched. Social media and web 2.0 lists are also a good resource for finding micro communities, as well as recommendations and networking.

How do you determine if a community is right for your business? Rand recommends looking at membership numbers. Also, analyze the community’s topical focus, relevance, and “leverage-able” features. You’re going to want to know how you can leverage these communities. If there’s nothing you can do with them, you’ll have to do a lot of offline networking. He uses care2 as an example of how many features a micro community can provide. Care2 is a site about non-profits and charities. They do a great job of connecting non-profits together.

Next, Rand talks about WebMD. They have a community that lets you run your own blog, participate in message boards, and tag things (which rank well in the search engines). WebMD is great for medical professionals.

LibraryThing is a site that’s great for authors, publishers, and marketers who have produced their own books. He then moves onto Yelp, a local city review site (and client of SEOmoz). If you’re a small business, you can take control of your own listing on the site. You can also write reviews of restaurants and establishments. Since Yelp is so visible in the search engines, it provides great visibility.

Trulia is a real estate community that’s like a Facebook/Yahoo! Answers with blog features. It’s relatively large within the real estate realm. He stresses that you don’t necessarily need to find customers within these communities, but rather like-minded people and colleagues who can spread your brand.

PeerTrainer is a fitness community. You can mentor or peer people and essentially be their online trainer, and vice versa. It’s not a community for body builders, but rather for people like Danny. (Danny to Rand: “I can take you.”) It’s also great for trainers and people who run gyms and fitness clubs.

DonorChoose is a community for educators and students that allows you to blog, review things, leave comments, etc. He also mentions ThinkVitamin, but I didn’t catch what sort of micro community it was. Minti is another micro community that’s for parents. It offers advice, networking opportunities, and a bunch of other good stuff. RealEstateVoices is a real estate social news site.

He then talks about DeviantArt, which has been around for a while but is still a great micro community. Artists can have portfolios online and communicate with each other and display their work. It’s also a good place to go if you’re looking to hire a designer.

SportsShooter is an example of a photography micro community. Threadless is a t-shirt site where you can submit your own design for t-shirts. He talks about how two local (Seattle) t-shirt designers got their designs on Threadless and now have their own line of clothing. Cork’d is a micro community for wine geeks. Imbee is a Facebook for kids. Holy crap, there are a lot of micro communities, and I’m starting to fear that Rand is going to cover them all.

Virb is a site for bands–you can share photos, videos, blogs, etc. Wayfaring is a secondary tool for social media. You can create maps and then share them. One of the most common uses is if you’re bar hopping for a bachelor or bachelorette party or mapping out a trick-or-treat path for Halloween. CouchSurfing is an evolved version of hitchhiking. You basically volunteer your couch to people who need to crash at your place, and you can do the same when you travel. I don’t know about that one…

Wikihow allows you to create “how to” content in a wiki-type format. Helium is a similar site, where writers can contribute content and get paid for it. They can also leave comments. Etsy is one of Rand’s favorite sites. It’s like an eBay for handmade goods, but it’s not an auction system. He loves how the site is structured–it’s “perfectly done.” You can showcase your products on the site and connect with other people who make handmade goods. Avvo is a community for lawyers. You can have a profile, link to your website, all that good stuff. He has a funny story to tell about Avvo, but he’s running short on time. I bet it’s a bunch of “dead lawyer” jokes.

There’s a bunch of other sites, like FoodCandy, Sphinn (the micro community for us Internet marketers!), the Stranger (a Seattle newspaper), and eBay (which has a community that was recently launched). Rand went through a ton of micro communities. I think the audience’s brains are full. Too bad for you, Liana! Just kidding. She’s up next.

Liana is covering how to market to your audience using micro communities. Remember the good ol’ days when you could optimize your websites for search engines, throw in a lil’ PPC, and have instant website success? Well, other folks are catching on and thinking “Hey, I can do this stuff!”, thus crowding up our space. Not cool. Liana talks about some highly competitive markets (pills, porn, casinos, travel, hotels, etc) where search marketers need to put a new “sphinn” (yes, she actually threw that pun in there) on their strategies.

She provides a case study of a client in the diet industry who provided meal replacement beverages and bars. PPC was outrageous and SEO would be extremely difficult. Her client only ranked for his brand name. His PPC campaign consisted of spending $40k in 3 months, which averaged out to $800 per lead.

Liana recommends fishing where the fish are. Go to where people are talking about your industry or niche. She approached “fat bloggers” who do “fat blogging”, networks, message boards, communities, and a ton of different areas. The topics within these communities are very concentrated, so links from these sites are very topical and targeted.

For her client, she planned a strategy. First, she identified bloggers and those who had blogger influence. She gauged the fit for the client. Then, she planned contact by personalizing the communication to avoid being salesy and choosing an offer that is compelling enough to entice bloggers. After that, she contacted the bloggers, first by starting small to limit any negative reactions, then by refining her approach and slowly building credibility. She learned from her mistakes and re-tooled the approach accordingly. Lastly, she monitored the results by keeping track of blogs to follow the number of posts and comments. She followed how the conversation spread to other blogs and sites.

Liana stressed following WOMMA’s guidelines for being honest, ethical, and transparent, and cited the Walmart flog story as a cautionary example of what can happen when you’re not open and honest. After her campaign was launched, she listened to the audience and analyzed feedback. The results of the case study were interesting. There was $600 in sales, a boost in brand exposure, traffic increases, and SEO benefits. Her client was pretty happy.

The bottom line is that online marketing strategies need to adapt in order to succeed. I think that’s a pretty good mantra for this entire conference. Embrace social media! It’s chock full of social goodness!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Social Media Marketing


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