How and why niche influencers are as good as word-of-mouth IRL

With niche influencers growing in demand, we find out from lecturer on social media influence N.G. about the developing movement. A marketer’s marketer, ex-tennis pro, and Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur, N.G. has over 15 years of B2B and B2C marketing experience. N.G. writes about influencer marketing strategy as Dear Mishu Dad based on his experience as a brand owner and creator of the influential @DearMishuDad Instagram account.

I recently visited a good friend in the San Francisco Bay Area who couldn’t stop talking about a coffee shop in the city of Campbell that I “had” to try. This cafe was easily a 45 minute walk from his house, but this is a friend who I’ve known for over ten years and he knows how much I love a delicious cortado coffee. So he kept talking about the team, the experience, the quality of the roast, and their amazing cortado, that is (obviously!) a hidden menu item. I eventually decided to try it out.

Let me tell you, that coffee shop [Barefoot Cafe] is – indeed – amazing. And by going there, I got such a good bonus in my life: my cortado coffee was soooo smooth-and-yet-strong, the bar had such a good vibe (a lot of art!) and an amazing brand story.

Inside Barefoot Coffee.

People listen to people they trust — on that niche
I went to that coffee shop because of my friend’s recommendation – I know he shares my passion and view of what a good coffee shop should be (and what it shouldn’t be). And I know he’s as obsessed with quality coffee as I am. Would I have walked 45 minutes on the recommendation of someone who’s favorite coffee shop is Starbucks? No way. Not in your dreams.

And why is that? Because people believe people, and people TRUST people who share their passions. Brands? Not so much, especially when they recommend themselves.

It seems like we humans have evolved a bit beyond the days when advertising was king. We don’t like to be pushed to buy products anymore by the brand itself, and we’ve learned to skip, block, or just ignore ads.

Emily Doherty is an example of someone who has created a niche community via @endogirlgang – an Instagram account that grows awareness and support for women affected by Endometriosis. Emily captured by Elyse Potter Photography.

Instagram is a Concert of Niche Love
Now, it’s true that I followed this friend’s recommendation because I know him IRL. But in my online life, it’s even easier to figure out who the other people are who place a LOT of emphasis on the look, feel, and vibe of a coffee shop and its beans. Because OMG it’s so “visual” there, especially on Instagram, the most popular platform for niche communities. Following those people online, I’d be just as likely to be moved emotionally and even follow their recommendations, because this is a niche community of people who share my values and interests.

In our online lives, we LOVE it when someone we trust on a certain topic recommends something. And when someone we trust gets us talking about something we love, we’re going to join that conversation and — oh yeah — we’re going to engage.

I know this to be true, because I am fairly obsessed with Cortado Coffee and everywhere I travel I search for coffee shops that serve Gibraltar or Cortado Coffee and make a point of visiting, ordering, taking a photo, and posting my impression on social media with #whereismycoffee. I do that because I hope other people who share my obsession benefit from my recommendations the same way I benefit from theirs. Cortado coffee lovers — now that’s a niche community.

Instagram credit: Cortado Coffee

“The niche Infs” Bring on the Conversation!
When you share an interest, or an obsession, it doesn’t matter if the connection is in person or online. If the Inf (or “Infs” as I like to call them, because “Influencers” is a terrible term) community is small enough, we feel related, like family, and we are going to take each other’s recommendations seriously. We’re going to engage in a conversation around our niche, no matter what!

So that’s it — the secret formula for identifying online influencers is really very simple:

  1. Find someone who owns a social media account (such as twitter, Instagram or WeChat in China). And – very important – 
  2. See that they have great, great relationships with their followers. In fact, such great  relationships that they are trusted (over the course of months, if not years). And so when they start a new conversation about something that they and their followers care about, they are able to bring the unknown to the known and create a positive bias about …  you name it – a new product or brand or really anything.
  3. Make sure the relationship is built around a niche interest. Because when the common interest is specialized, followers are less likely to find people in their day-to-day lives who share the obsession. In this case, the online community is everything.

This type of influence happens most naturally with Micro-Inf, and lately, particularly with the new sub-category, called Nano-Inf, which means the communities are even SMALLER, more related, more family feeling, more connected to their base because of that small number and narrow niche.

By the way, if you’re wondering what counts as a Micro- or Nano-influencer based on number of followers, this is still under debate: anywhere between 50 and… 100,000 followers can be the target, in my experience. But no matter the follower counts, the leaders of these communities —  these “infs” — are the secret weapon for introducing new things, new points of view, and making people CRAZY about them.

Once Upon A Pumpkin’s Maggie Michalczyk has created a niche community around her love of pumpkin-based food.

Now how do I know that?
I know that Infs can build great communities if they identify a unique niche because I did just that. DearMishu, my Inf account, is inspired by the movie/book “Being There” and based on my dog. My dog is an Advice Columnist (that’s right… the 6th most popular in the world!) who answers questions about being worried, stressed, friendships, loss and career, from a dog’s perspective. Now that’s niche!

What is your niche?

Sincerely yours,

#DearMishuDad, Influencer on Social Media Influence

Image credit: Dear Mishu

N.G. is a frequent conference speaker and panelist, most recently seen at the Mobile Growth Summit (San Francisco), the Influential Summit (San Diego), and as a judge at the Influencer Marketing Awards in London. See him speak next at NCIDEA in Durham, N.C. (USA) on June 17 and MSG NYC in July.

You can find Dear Mishu Dad online at DearMishuDad.com, on Linked In via NGishere and on Instagram at @dearmishudad.

Main image featuring Emily Doherty captured by Greg Smith.

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