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Kinky Business: Styling Content for Niche Audiences

Posted by Sharmin Kent

October 17, 2012 at 7:30 AM

The Internet gives millions of people a way to connect with each other, create communities, and identify and address needs that aren’t met in the “real” world. But online communities can build markets for products and services as well: Creating those markets often requires targeted content that speaks to niche audiences. With the right content presented at the right time, small online communities can grow—and for niche markets, that can translate into an increase in potential customers.

Nowhere has this been more demonstrable than in the natural hair products business: Products for women of color who decide--whether for politics or for personal style--to wear their hair without straightening it with heat or chemicals.

Oyin Whipped PuddingI’ve got my own “nappy-to-happy” story: After spending a stupid amount of money and time every month to keep my hair straight, I did the Big Chop in my late teens and I’ve been rocking a soft, moderately sized afro puff ever since. My hair has never been healthier, and taking care of it is much cheaper than paying for an expensive relaxer every four weeks. I’m not alone: The number of black women who wear their hair naturally in the United States rose to 36 percent last year—a 10 percent leap from 26 percent in 2010.

Untangling the natural hair community

Reliable information and resources for newly transitioned natural hair are a lot easier to find these days. But I switched in the late nineties, and it was tough. Not only did I have to fight my thick, super-kinky hair after years of subduing it with relaxers, there weren’t a lot of local resources available. More than once, I walked into a salon and got little more than a panicky “I don’t know what to do with this!” from a baffled stylist. Once my hair grew out, searching for products that kept it healthy and under control was damn near depressing. That left me with only traditional black hair care products that were heavy, greasy and ineffective. So, I did what any other girl desperate for advice would do: I turned to the Internet for guidance.

After strolling through the Google SERP for “natural hair,” I found a list of message boards and product lines made for heads of hair like mine. Nappturality was the first blog I found that spoke directly to the needs of kinky and curly hair owners--everything from getting over the initial trauma of doing a Big Chop to protecting, caring for and styling kinky locks during the dry winter months. Women all over the country put their heads together and demanded products and resources that met their needs.

Styling custom content

So, how did online content shape the way women of color approach natural hair? How did a niche audience change the hair care product game from the ground up?

  • Old school message boards, like NaturallyCurly.com, helped build the foundation for the natural hair community. In large and coastal cities, women had plenty of knowledge to share online with people in smaller towns or areas with fewer women of color.
  • Blogs made it easy for natural hair experts (or trendsetting product junkies) to reach more readers. Bloggers like Afrobella and CurlyNikki share their favorite hair care techniques and products through blog posts and tweets. Bloggers also serve as guinea pigs for products people might be eager or hesitant to try on their own.
  • Social media has recently played an integral part in connecting women with the online natural hair community. Small online groups have blossomed into a host of Twitter hashtags and Facebook Groups , helping develop existing social networks to focus on the everyday business of caring for natural hair.
  • Video tutorials have become popular resources as well—which is especially important for women whose mothers, aunts and sisters used nothing but hot combs and texturizing creams to treat their own hair.

Oyin snack packThis kind of content isn’t created by large corporations looking to build a market—instead, real women with real hair swap their stories and advice. It means women can trust the information they get online; it also means their needs can have a direct impact on the variety of products and services available to them. I still order my go-to brand, Oyin Handmade, online—but a growing number of brands like Carol’s Daughter and Shea Moisture are offered through Sephora and Target, filling out what used to be embarrassingly small “ethnic” hair product sections in mainstream retail space.

The lessons I’ve learned from being a part of the online natural hair community range from the personal to the professional. In addition to finding and supporting wonderful small businesses, I’ve learned that consumers are a brand’s best advocates. Whether you’re a blogger or a naturalista starting your own products business, a few tips can help you find and keep an audience:

  • Meet your users where they are instead of making them come find you. Some will, but some won’t—and that could be worth money to you.
  • Offer space for people to talk about what they need. Even if a user mentions a product that isn’t yours, there’s a chance the next person will mention you and buy. Oyin Handmade’s blog posts address every reader, from newly naturals to seasoned pros.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new products in front of an audience. So much of natural hair care used to be trial and error, and those brave sisters who went first saved lots of us money, trouble and tangles. Afrobella’s videos are especially fun and chock-full of good info.
  • Finally, be honest. NO ONE wants to be “sold” on a product. They want to know how it helps them. Concentrate on what your brand does, not what it is. If your product or service is worth raving about, there are customers who will do that for you.

The large and growing natural hair online community isn’t a monolith. It’s as diverse as the women who belong to it. And the community helped women like me learn to love their kinky hair, as well as how to care for it. It’s a testament to how powerful online communities can become, and how they affect change--both online and in the real world.

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