Why Niche Social Networks Like Empire Avenue Matter to Social Media Marketers

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Social media websites are filled with communities and large numbers of people, and most businesses decide to strategically market to the largest websites that exist: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  There are many more social networks outside of the “Big Three,” so for some companies it might make sense to look into targeting up-and-coming networks such as Google+ (although it is limited until Google releases Business Profiles) or, if you were a restaurant, to look into Foursquare marketing.

The central doctrine of social media marketing is that you need to be where your customers are, and sometimes these customers are spending more time on other platforms that might be under your radar.  That’s why it’s always worthwhile to spend sometime researching what other social networks your network might be and look into investing some time there to engage.  A good example is Ravelry, a social network for knitters. Empire Avenue is a similar type of niche social networking site for those that are active in social media.  With the advent of Google+ and it disruptive forces, many feel that these niche sites, which include Empire Avenue, will lose out to the growing competition for our limited time.  My own experience with Empire Avenue is that, with time, it is actually getting stronger as those who are members of the site find it enjoyable to engage with each other in a game that involves social media activity and true community begins to blossom.  Let’s take a deeper look into Empire Avenue and see as to why it matters to social media marketers.  This blog post will not cover tips as to how to play Empire Avenue as a game, but based on the feedback from this post I will be more than happy to cover my “gaming” advice in a future blog post. 1) Empire Avenue is Niche but Not Too Niche

Looking at Alexa.com statistics, we can see that website traffic to Empire Avenue is below the major 3 sites as well as the 3 largest social bookmarking sites: (all are 3-month global rankings as of 8/15/2011)

  1. Facebook #2
  2. YouTube #3
  3. Twitter #9
  4. LinkedIn #13
  5. StumbleUpon #104
  6. Reddit #126
  7. Digg #147
  8. Empire Avenue #2,177

A look at the below graph shows that Empire Avenue did have a spike of traffic in mid-April to late-May, which is exactly when I joined, and despite the emergence of Google+, its numbers are fairly steady in-between the 2,000 and 3,000 ranking.  This number means that Empire Avenue is still in one of the 2 to 3 thousand most popular websites in the world, meaning that it is niche but not too niche.  In other words, it hasn’t crossed the chasm yet, but it may some day be inside the tornado, should an event or series of events spark a tipping point in its membership. 2) Empire Avenue is Sticky

Facebook is exciting for social media marketers for many reasons, including the fact that the site is sticky and people spend a lot of time there.  Outside of Facebook, people are spending on average more time on Empire Avenue than any other of the above leading social media websites, spending even more time on average than on YouTube:

  1. Facebook 32.3 minutes
  2. Empire Avenue 25.1 minutes
  3. YouTube 17.8 minutes
  4. Reddit 10.1 minutes
  5. LinkedIn 7.6 minutes
  6. Twitter 7.3 minutes
  7. StumbleUpon 5.9 minutes
  8. Digg 4.1 minutes
The stickiness of such a site means that there are more chances to engage with a user in there on average when compared to a site where the visitor isn’t spending as much time.

3) Unique Engagement Platform

The fact of the matter is that  not everyone is active on all platforms all of the time.  If some of your target customers are on niches sites such as Empire Avenue, you have the opportunity to engage with them there in unique ways.  I won’t name names, but I have had the opportunity to engage with people that have never responded to me on Twitter, Google+, or even when I mentioned them in an actual blog post, but through the act of buying each other’s stock, joining similar communities, or even sending and receiving “Shareholder Mail” within Empire Avenue I have been able to interact and develop new relationships.  There is also something to be said when a company buys stock in you.  If you are a user competing in a game, that investment on a mental and emotional level is fundamentally different than when a company merely follows you on Twitter.  If social media engagement is like conducting an orchestra and finding out which instruments fit which people best, Empire Avenue gives you another instrument to add in to your social media marketing mix.

4) Social Media Influence is the Theme

One tactic of many a social media marketers strategy is to engage the “influencers.”  I won’t say that all of them are on Empire Avenue, but since the “game” is centered around your social activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, your own Facebook Page, your blog(s), as well as your own Empire Avenue activity, users are scored by their activity on each platform.  This information on social scores, which is broken down by platform, is then given for every user.  Not even Klout or PeerIndex break down “influence” scores by platform.

What do these scores look like?  A good example is to look at my social scores below.  They give you an example as to where I am most active and therefore more probable to respond to you:

  1. LinkedIn 89
  2. Twitter 64
  3. Facebook 50
  4. Empire Avenue 46
  5. Facebook Page 15
  6. YouTube 7
  7. Flickr 1

All of these scores are completely public for any user, so it gives you an idea as to which platforms social media users are most active on and as such gives a clue as to where it is best to engage with them. Furthermore, with Empire Avenue’s new profile pages user interface, you can get a snapshot tag cloud of each person’s interests.  Part of this is definitely user-generated, as users can determine their own interests or “tags” to add to their profile.  However, as you can see from my tag cloud, and the fact that Empire Avenue is connected to all of my social media platforms, they have undoubtedly created an algorithm to display those subjects which I am truly passionate about and often mention in my social media conversations: Would you say that this tag cloud is spot on?  Outside of Empire Avenue, are their any other free social media profile analytical services that can offer scores for each social media platform activity as well as generate easy-to-understand tag clouds for a given person’s interest?  I didn’t think so, but let me know if I’m missing any in the comments.

5) Companies are Already Investing

Believe it or not, there are some companies who believe in investing in the niche and already quite active.  Empire Avenue offers companies a variety of  ways to invest to attain mindshare for brands or directly engage with social media users in a variety of ways:

  • Buy “stock” in users
  • Promote your own “stock” by buying stock in others
  • PPC Ads of your own “stock”
  • Create a user community
  • Sell a virtual good which is branded with your company
  • Offer a perk or coupon for goods and services in exchange for virtual currency (“Super Rewards”)

To prove my point, I had a chance to interview one such company who is making an investment into social media marketing on the Empire Avenue platform and has already found, among other benefits, that the cost per impression for their campaign is competitive.  In his words, this is Jim Wendt, eCommerce Marketing Manager from Big Train, a leading provider of gourmet specialty beverages and delicious edibles, on why Big Train is investing in Empire Avenue:

My wife and I were hosting a invite-only “Eats and Geeks” (an exclusive group founded by Claudia Yuskoff) get together in July in Irvine, California. Attending that night were Calvin Lee, Chris Voss, Jim Alden, and other influential social media celebrities from in and around Southern California. Calvin and Jim spoke relentlessly about Empire Avenue. I had to check it out. The next day I did. I was hooked.

EmpireAvenue.com is clearly one of the stickiest sites ever. I also saw that early adopters were heavy social media users from around the world. After purchasing my first luxury item, I quickly realized the amazing potential to target well connected people. I reached out to the business development team at Empire Avenue eager to see what we could do test advertising in a compelling way. So on July 13th Big Train and Xbox were the first companies to promote branded luxury items on EAV (Empire Avenue). While Xbox offered badges for achievement, their price was very high. I wanted to lower the price of the luxury item even if it meant less impact on a user’s net wealth. The results? So far Big Train has reached over 45,000 EAV shareholders, and over 600 users have bought a virtual “Big Train Kona Mocha” in the EAv summer items shop according to the EAV team.

When you think of social media and integrated marketing, EAV opens the doors to direct engagement with some great people while providing interactive communities and off-shoot groups on Facebook. Big Train follows and interactions are up quite a bit across all of our channels – YouTube, Facebook, twitter, and our blog as a result. And with free shareholder messaging, there are some fun things we can do there. This week we launched a new protein coffee mix product line called FitFrappe™. By the time this blog is published, EAV will be updating our branded luxury item to promote our new products as part of a multi-faceted online marketing effort. On the day we launched Fit Frappe™, we offered a free sample pack care package to all shareholders that maxed out on Big Train. Not only did it boost our share price $2.00+, we created a fun way to engage with our influential shareholders. This in turn resulted in more tweets, more Facebook posts, and more Big Train website traffic, and more sales on our Facebook page ecommerce store.

Finally, while EAV is a cool and has amazing potential, it is just one piece of integrated marketing efforts. This promotion will be happening in conjunction with a KLOUT Promotion, blogger giveaway, online press releases, and trade show efforts. Big Train is certainly becoming more progressive in order to tap into social media to create better relationships with customers, build awareness, and have some fun (while selling more products in return.)

The interesting thing is that Big Train is primarily a B2B company, servicing the retail and foodservice segments worldwide, and does not sell directly to consumers.  Why would Big Train want to reach out directly to consumers?  Jim’s answer:

For 20 years we have had a push strategy – make a product send to distributors – classic B2B model. We are now also trying to engage directly with consumers – understand what people want in beverages, and ultimately support a dual B2C and B2C strategy to help our B2B customers be more successful (offering the products customers want) and get consumers to ask more for Big Train (pull strategy to build on our retail and foodservice channels)

Jim’s speaks about one of the intangible benefits of engaging in social media: Getting direct feedback from your end users. For that purpose, even a niche social networking site like Empire Avenue can be invaluable in the high quality feedback that can be provided simply by engaging.

If you haven’t joined Empire Avenue yet, I think it’s time you look into it and at least scan the profiles of users to see if some of your target audience is there.  Just click on this link to join Empire Avenue and explore for yourself. The heavy players are very active throughout social media, and just by looking at their profiles as mentioned above you’ll get a feel for what platforms they are most active on and what topics they are commonly discussing.

If you’re curious, because of the above circumstances, I decided to do my first social media campaign for my new LinkedIn marketing book not on the larger platforms but on Empire Avenue as part of my own series of social media experiments (my “shareholders” will be notified of the details today directly on the platform through “shareholder mail”.)  If quality and relevance in social media is more important than quantity, it shouldn’t matter what particular platform those individuals are on because everyone is already a member of most of the major platforms, right?  That was my thought process, and by targeting those that are truly active throughout social media, I felt it would aid in not only getting the word out about my new book, but also in building long-term relationships with others like myself who are truly invested in social media – and in Empire Avenue!

Would love to hear your feedback on if your company invests in niche social networking websites or your own feedback on Empire Avenue.  Please chime in!

Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professionals strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer


Author, @MaxYourSocial | Founder @msocialbusiness & @socialtoolssmmt | Trilingual Social Media Strategy Consultant, Coach, and Speaker
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Neal Schaffer
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  1. says

    Neal, this is a very strong piece. I never considered the point of:

    “If quality and relevance in social media is more important than
    quantity, it shouldn’t matter what particular platform those individuals
    are on because everyone is already a member of most of the major

    This overview of Empire Avenue has certainly convinced me to join in.  As for Google + I’ve yet to jump into that sphere as I’m more interested in staying grounded in my current social media marketing and outreach efforts…

    As you know, we are building #SMMGR Magazine and currently have some great experts on board.  But I’ve noticed the engagement from some has been less than others. Now that I know heavy social media users are highly active on EAV, I’m much more inclined to take on another platform as I believe it will serve our short and long term business goals with the magazine.

    Thank you very much for this new insight!

    • says

      Thanks for the comment Chase. Yes, this is why I chose Empire Avenue to be the place where I launch my own first social media campaign for my new book. One word of caution: A lot of people sign up to Empire Avenue and disconnect like they do on Twitter. Look at their Empire Avenue Activity Score. If it is over 40 they are pretty engaged and usually active on a daily basis. More Empire Avenue tips to come in future blog posts!

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