April 26, 2008 Phil

A tight “Knit” Community

Social networking is not just for kids! Knitters of the world are all over it thanks to Casey and Jessie from Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2004, Jessie who is an avid knitter started writing a blog sharing her thoughts on knitting and looking for input from others who share the same passion. By 2007 she had over 440,000 followers. Recently, with the help of a number of community members, Jessie and Casey fundraised enough cash to built a social networking site called Ravelry. Launched in November 2007 and still in beta release, ravelry.com has over 100,000 members and is growing by more than a 1000 per day! It has a waiting list of 6,800 people who are chomping at the bit to get in the door.

I don’t have the skill required to join this group nor the interest beyond its marketing implications. A friend of mine, who really enjoys knitting, brought it to my attention. She was compelled to tell me about it even though she probably knew I had no interest in knitting. As she described the site you could hear this real sense of genuine excitement in her voice. It was almost like she had met this new friend who shared the same interests. In reality she had met over 100,000 new friends.

When you arrive on the site its façade is very simple, but much like an iceberg, the bulk of its mass is underwater. The first step to seeing this involves putting your name on a waiting list. When I looked at the site there were 6845 people at the pearly gates waiting to be accepted into knitter heaven. People are waiting 6-7 days for there invitations to be processed. Meanwhile, as they chat amongst their social circles, the anticipation of becoming a member is creating all kinds of word-of-mouth awareness for the site. Yeah, I know, hard to imagine people getting that excited about knitting, but believe me there are millions who love it and this site is their Facebook. Go to blogsearch.google.com and search “ravelry”, bloggers are buzzing about the site’s stickiness.

When you get inside the walls you can understand why there is a line-up at the door. Thousands of free design patterns, groups of people blogging, sharing common interests, and forums with 1000’s of postings on 100’s of different topics. The site is already a thriving online community with a massive resource base and it’s only 6 months old. It is a great example of how online communities can be used to facilitate sharing in a very productive fashion. From a marketers perspective this is a farm of information that is primed for harvesting.

100,000 plus enthusiasts in a community that is designed to facilitate two-way communication. If you’re a multi-million dollar yarn company focused on building brand and innovating this has to be on your marketing radar. It’s a huge opportunity to build relationships with the people who have the ability to influence your brand. At a bare minimum you should be listening. The smart brand would be investing.

Why? With all the ambient noise in traditional advertising channels it ‘s hard to reach the true influencers who become champions for a brand. Online communities like ravelry.com are at the forefront of a wave of change. Consumers are tuning out all the noise marketers are making and looking for ways to eliminate irrelevant messages. They expect marketers to know what they want to hear when they want to hear it. Brands that use mass mediums to spray their message all over the place are finding it much more difficult to reach the their core customers. Online communities are helping them connect with their customers and build real one-to-one relationships. The Internet has turned up the volume on the voice of the consumer. Brands have to start listening else they will quickly become extinct. In an early blog post I noted a great example of how one of the world’s most coveted brands, Starbucks is leading the way in this arena. (i.e. www.mystarbucksidea.com)

Communities like ravelry.com have purpose that extends beyond socialization. They are aggregates that collect influencers who, thanks to a certain level of social anonymity, are often ready to engage in a conversation with brands that they perceive as relevant to their interests.

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