Social Media Plays Niche

Not-for-Knitters-Only: Ravelry’s 7 Marketing Lessons

Say social media network to most marketers and they think Facebook. This follow-the-shiny-object marketing overlooks many niche sites where marketers can engage with prospects, customers and fans who’re passionate about their interests in creative, non-obtrusive ways. Ravelry is this type of niche community with 600,000 knitters, crocheters and spinners, from 100 countries, who generate over 2 million pageviews daily. Ravelry was started by a computer geek to meet his blogger wife’s challenge to see how other knitters were using patterns she was interested in. Its bootstrapped beginnings and limited resources meant that early members had to wait to be processed in, adding the community’s allure.

A true social media network, Ravelry exists for the benefit of its community who are as passionate about Ravelry as they are about their fiber. Through crowdsourcing, Ravelry combines content, photographs, forums and blogs. Like Wikipedia, Ravelry has volunteer editors to keep information on topic.

From a knitter’s, crocheter’s or spinner’s perspective, Ravelry’s a dream come true. Members are generous and respond to requests and questions from strangers. It gives individuals a place to look for new projects, see how others have interpreted patterns, get advice, rate designs and fibers, and share photos of their finished work. Additionally, Ravelry provides tools for members to track their yarn, needles, books, project queue and finished objects.

Ravelry provides a built-in audience for their yarn-related blogs by allowing members to attach patterns and other content to related blog posts. By joining various groups such as “Ten Shawls in 2010,” whose over 3,700 members have the goal of making ten lace shawls this year, a blogger gains a ready group of people interested in his/her work.

For advertisers, spinners and designers, Ravelry provides a cost-effective marketplace. Of course, all advertising must be Ravelry-friendly. Knitters and designers can share their work for free or charge a nominal fee, under $10, in which case Ravelry gets a small percentage.

Ravelry has extended its reach offline by helping to organize and participate in yarn-related events around the world. Last weekend, Ravelry hosted two meetups and a party at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival, one of the biggest shows of its kind in the US. At each meetup, members received a Ravelry button with their name on it so that others could identify them as they wandered through the show. The meetups were sponsored by yarn companies and, in keeping with the yarn theme, the evening party had qiviut, cashmere and merino sponsorship levels. Ravelry’s Flickr page for the New York Sheep and Wool festival extended the camaraderie with over 1,900 photographs.

Ravelry-NYS Sheep & Wool Festival Meetup

© 2010 Ravelry-NYS Sheep & Wool Festival Meetup

NYS Sheep & Wool Party Sign

© 2010 Ravelry - NYS Sheep & Wool Party Sign

Further, Ravelry has made inroads into the hearts of local yarn sellers. Many shops now have an alcove where yarnies can check Ravelry to find appropriate patterns, check their needle collection and research techniques. For the cost of a computer and internet connection, the shop has a built-in sales person to help close sales.

When Ravelry decided to hire their first employee, where did they turn? You guessed it—their members. They had more applicants than they could handle and chose an active volunteer editor, someone who had deep knowledge and appreciation for the community.

7 Marketing take-aways

Ravelry has useful lessons for marketers regarding how to do social media right for any audience.

  1. Make participation frictionless. Overcome inertia by making it easy to share information and photographs. Give a few options but not so many as to cause inaction.
  2. Provide friendly support. While Ravelry members’ families and friends may not understand their knitting obsession, fellow Ravelers always provide positive feedback and support.
  3. Be a part of a community. On Ravelry, it is all about being part of a community who shares your interest. Members share as much as they wish but, like on other social networks, many people just lurk.
  4. Expand your knowledge. While anyone can use Google to get a knitting book or free pattern, Ravelry gives members a wealth of options and depth of information for patterns and fibers.
  5. Enhance information. By allowing individuals to tag, comment and categorize patterns and yarns, Ravelry provides a service to the community that enriches the offering for everyone.
  6. Support other businesses. Many yarn purveyors are small artisans, designers and store owners. Ravelry lets them target their audiences cost effectively.  Further, it allows members to build a small income from patterns more cost-effectively and targeted than Etsy does. A strong pattern on Ravelry that makes it to the top of one of their lists gather more buyers.
  7. Make it real. Ravelry takes online interactions offline for major fiber-related shows and provides support for local knitting circles.

As a marketer, how can you use social media to reach your target niche? Think in terms of helping your audience achieve a sense of satisfaction with their job, hobby or family.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

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