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When we think of social media, we often refer to the most popular platforms like Facebook and Twitter. However, there are many other niche social networks that often appeal to a certain audience and content type. The likes of Google+, Yelp, Foursquare and GitHub have attracted strong communities with their unique features and content.
When Google set out to create its own social network, it opted to automatically create a Google+ account for every user of its hugely popular Gmail email service. This means there are millions of Google+ accounts, and some businesses have been able to tap into the Google+ network successfully.
The National Australia Bank uses Google+ to connect with some 5,600 followers. Its page displays information on everything from budgeting tools to debt consolidation and special offers from third parties (e.g. security software). NAB’s Google+ page, where it posts photos of its developer events and other innovations like the “bank in a box” concept for remote communities, has received nearly 1,750,000 views.
A spokesperson for the bank says NAB has maintained a social presence on Google+ since Google first activated brand pages on the platform. “It's important to understand the value businesses can provide for customers by offering a brand presence across all social media networks,” he says.
Since launching its Google+ identity, the bank has experimented with the Google+ Hangouts service and claims it is maintaining a “consistent level of engagement with customers”.
In addition to customer ratings and location information, the Miss Fox Yelp page provides visitors with a summary of opening hours and other shopper tips like parking and appointment taking. Visitors can also send a message to the store through Yelp, extending the reach of customer engagement.
Some alternative social networks, like GitHub, offer different types of services besides branding and location information. As its “social coding” slogan says, GitHub is a hosted collaborative development environment where work on software projects can be shared in public and anyone can contribute to them.
Australian company ozEstate developed a mobile app to ease finding, managing and viewing Australian property rentals. Developer Anthony Mittaz released the source code for the iPhone app on GitHub. This app integrates with realestate.com.au and allows users to use iPhone’s GPS to find nearby properties and to contact the agent just one click.
In addition to branding and collaboration, alternative social networks can be used to boost sales opportunities with events, deals and special offers. Another alternative social network that allows people to “check in” to a store is Foursquare.
In Australia, Foursquare has attracted big names as well as many smaller businesses like Sydney’s VIVO Café. Back in 2010, VIVO Café used Foursquare to host a “swarm”, where users of the social network were invited to visit the café in groups to unlock a “Swarm” badge that requires more than 50 people to check into a venue within a three-hour period. The goal was easily achieved with more than 100 Foursquare check-ins within two hours. VIVO Café Group’s Angela Vithoulkas said at the time it was the first café venue in the world to unlock a Swarm badge at an organised event.
“My main aim was to see whether a business could make money by promoting services through social media for zero dollars, and especially to see how Foursquare could be applied to a retail or hospitality venue,” said Vithoulkas.
VIVO Café’s experience shows that alternative social networks can be powerful for sales, marketing and community engagement, provided they are used carefully.