Ravelry.com – Visibility Lessons from a Great Social Network

Posted by Hayley Wolfcale, SEO Analyst Others have written about the powerhouse that is Ravelry, a social network dedicated to knitting, crochet and other fiber-arts enthusiasts. In light of Ravelry hitting 4 million users on February 28th, it’s time to revisit the site once dubbed the best social network you’ve (probably) never heard of.Ravelry Logo

Ravelry specializes in yarn related handicrafts – knitting, crochet, spinning and weaving are its main subjects, but knitting in particular (with more than double the number of knitting patterns than crochet) dominates this social space. Embroidery and cross-stitch lovers need not apply. The genius of the site, owned and managed by couple Jessica and Casey Forbes, is its ability to remain visible and relevant through an intense degree of specialization. Appealing to one class of crafters has allowed this team to build a dynamic social network. Ravelry utilizes visibility by helping knitters keep track of patterns they would like to make, projects they are currently working on, and the yarn in their “stash” (knitter parlance for yarn collections waiting to be turned into marvelous sweaters, hats, scarves and almost anything else). Additionally, Ravelry maximizes participation by making site participants visible through a complex cross-index of these items, so that when examining a pattern you can also immediately see how many people have made this pattern, what kind of yarn he/she made it out of, and how they rated the pattern. Raverly Site Page This, for the Muggles out there, is an invaluable tool when choosing what to make out of all that precious yarn stash. Knitting is not an inexpensive habit, with yarn that can range from futuristic acrylic to handspun, hand-dyed rare fibers and a considerable time investment for every garment. Thus the quality of a pattern’s instructions or the substitution of another yarn are important considerations before beginning a project. Personally, I find other knitters’ examples of finished garments most useful: I may fall in love with a pattern from Vogue Knitting (yes, that Vogue) only to find that when real people (i.e., not models) wear it the shape is less than flattering. Yarn is similarly cross-indexed: when looking for a particular brand and model of yarn you can check what projects have been made with it and how many people have it in their stash. When new knitting patterns come out from publications like Vogue Knitting and Interweave Knits, the patterns are added to the collective. Vintage patterns, some as much as 90 to 100 years old are even added (further back patterns were largely unstandardized and incredibly difficult to translate). More recently designers have been able to add their patterns directly to Ravelry and been able to make them available for purchase without users leaving the site! Ravelry was born in 2007 when Jessica Forbes grew tired of constantly trying to re-discover knitting patterns and their myriad derivations in the amorphous knit-o-sphere of the Internet. She asked her husband Casey, a programmer, if he could build a system she and other knitters could use to make patterns they liked visible and accessible. What Casey originally imagined as a project of a few weeks quickly gained so many followers – more than 30,000 in the next year alone – that Casey left his day job to maintain the site. The couple knew they had something big but had to find a way to monetize it: they poured their own money into it until they discovered solutions. First, ads were an easy way to bring in money. However the Forbes wanted to maintain the focus of the site – only knitting and fiber related ads would be accepted. This narrowed their ad revenue but kept users happy with ads that were tailored to their hobby. Ravelry merchandise quickly became popular as knitters bought “HELLO, my name is:” pins on which they could write their own Ravelry handle – a particularly helpful way to advertise your pseudonym at knitting conventions and industry shows. Today, with pattern sales, Ravelry has really hit its stride, priced to compete with other pattern sale platforms and making a percentage on each sale. As of January 2012 Ravelry has sold more than 1 million patterns. You may be thinking that this doesn’t sound like any social network you’ve heard of, but I haven’t told you about the forums yet. Knitters were so happy to come together over their shared passion that not only do the forums include help for new knitters, yarn advice, and opinions on needles, but also threads on pets, babies, slow cooking, faith, atheism, fandoms and charity work. Stringent moderators and the shared hobby keep posters more genial than they tend to be in the wider web of anonymous blogs and forums. When Jessica Forbes was pregnant she was repulsed by the aggression she saw on mommy-boards but found common ground with the other knitters discussing their pregnancy and child-rearing experiences. Ravelry’s intense degree of specialization has helped it rule the online knitting community. Not only does it maintain relevance to knitters, sparing them from “Suggested Posts” and thoughtless corporate tweets, it allows them to boost their own content by publishing original patterns (for free or for sale) and providing links to users’ blogs and websites. Even if you aren’t declaring your own proprietary pattern to the other Ravelers you can still share projects and other posts by linking your blog to your Ravelry profile. You can also Favorite patterns that you love and individual projects by other Ravelers that catch your fancy. You can find the forum that accompanies a pattern and ask other knitters for help if you need it. Visibility, interaction and participation are built into every facet of the site. With its ever-growing number of users, it doesn’t look as though Ravelry’s popularity is about to waver anytime soon. Unlike other social networks with extremely broad focuses, Ravelry’s specialization defines the community and strengthens ties within it. The Forbes have built what was once a weekend hobby into a nexus for the knitting community that makes enough revenue to employ three other people. If your clients are looking for ways to increase their share of voice and visibility it might pay to show them examples of how Ravelry not only created an extremely useful tool but fostered participation that has created bonds between knitters from every corner of the world. This article was written by Hayley Wolfcale, who has been knitting since she could convince her grandmother to teach her.  Known in college and graduate school as “that girl who knits in class,” fellow crafters can find her on Ravelry.com as HerMajestysWombat.   Images courtesy of Ravelry.com Sources Consulted: http://www.freakonomics.com/2011/02/25/a-young-reader-asks-is-there-an-elitist-oligarchy-in-the-underworld-of-knitters/ https://www.quantcast.com/ravelry.com#!demo&anchor=panel-GENDER http://moz.com/ugc/unraveled http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/07/a_tightknit_community.html http://blog.ravelry.com/2012/01/25/how-does-ravelry-make-money/

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