Is it ok to market to a niche group on twitter?

I have recently experienced the joys of talking utter nonsense with a bunch of people I have never met before. If you’ve not done it I highly recommend it!

By using hashtags on Twitter you can connect with thousands of people who share your obsession – which is especially useful when your real friends don’t  want to know!

For me, it was the Danish detective drama The Killing that got me into it – 20 hours of idiosyncratic crime noir with subtitles that I couldn’t stop consuming until it was all gone. The show finished at the weekend and Twitter was alive with fans preparing Danish-themed dinners in the hours running up to the big finale, sharing theories about who done it and discussing the clothing of its  stars.

So many people gathered together around one topic – that is a niche audience to die for! So is it ok to market to a niche group like this on twitter?

Companies trying to exploit twitter hash tags – by which I mean the groups of people who coalesce to tweet around one topic using the # symbol – have had a very bad press recently and rightly so.

There have been a couple of examples where corporate tweeters have hi-jacked disaster or breaking news hashtags to promote their products. This would have been poor judgement if they were trying to sell something relevant like tents for example, but in these instances the products had absolutely nothing to do with the topic being discussed! That strikes me as beyond tasteless and a fundamental misunderstanding of how to market using social media. Read all about those cases here.

So, would it be ok to market to people gathered together around something less controversial – like sport for example?

I think it is a judgement call and each person is going to draw their line in a slightly different place – but I think it is important that a line is drawn.

I, for example, can’t stand being put on a mailing list just because I have exchanged cards with someone at a networking event. You may say that in taking your card I have shown an interest, I may say that I was only being polite.

The key is being relevant and non intrusive. If a product has a perfect fit with the topic – if it something that a number of the group will actually want, then you are providing a benefit and not intruding.

For example, my Danish cop drama has a charismatic central character who wears Nordic woollen jumpers – they are central to the cult of the show. If I was a supplier of these jumpers, then I think it would be perfectly legitimate for me to let fans know how to get hold of one and to post a link to my website.  Equally, if I were going to knit them to order in time for season two, then Saturday night would have been the perfect time to get the word out  while all those fans were preparing to watch the final episode – filled with sadness and a big jumper sized hole in their lives!

I think it helps to be a genuine fan and a natural fit for the group you are talking to – perhaps someone who would be using the hashtag anyway. Nothing smells worse than an interloper coming in with the intent to exploit. People can sense when you are not genuine. If you are going to target sports fans, be one yourself and let people know about useful stuff, in the same way you use Twitter to pass on useful content.

So, my conclusion?

Using hashtags to deliver marketing messages to a receptive audience can work really well with a tight fit but it comes with a risk. Can your brand live with being branded a charlatan if you get it wrong?

Would you risk it?



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