Gabbers + Garms: The Niche Communities of Facebook
By Jade French | Brand Editor
Are you a fan of the online art movement ‘Cybertwee’? Why not join a Facebook group about it? Really love renaissance themed paintings with hip-hop lyrics? Got you covered. Want specifically British humoured Simpsons references? Yep, it’s here. From feminism to the environment, young people are empowering themselves through Facebook groups and pages. These are global communities, covering everything from gaming, fashion, music, gender and identity – and, in many ways, they’re not created for marketers. These communities don’t ask for outsiders to understand how a meme can educate you on politics. And they’re not just platforms to spout opinion or update on today’s lunch (which is often how we view social media). These groups share thoughts and information, becoming libraries, marketplaces and support groups.
So what can we learn from being niche?
In many ways, Facebook groups are a marketers dream – thousands of people with interests specific to the ones your product appeals to, just sitting there, waiting to be spoken to. Well, kind of. Niche communities can be fiercely guarded, and definitely want to connect with people authentically. They don’t want to be explicitly sold to.
And it’s not just the audiences themselves who are savvy to marketers pitches – Facebook knows the value of their niche audiences. This can work two-fold, on the one hand when you’re boosting your content there are many ways to segment your audiences, but on the other hand the only way to reach them is to break out the social spend. It has been customary to almost dismiss Facebook out of hand when it comes to social strategy – Instagram and Snapchat seem much more alluring. However, with over 1.6 billion users Facebook is still king when it comes to sheer people power – and when you start to get niche and put a bit of cash behind it, the results can be great.
So, it’s worth digging into your budget, once you’ve found your groove you’ll find that niche audiences are usually passionate fans. To target an overlapping series of interests, it might be worth looking into Adstage, or this blog by Digital Marketer nicely breaks down how to nurture your audience for Facebook’s ads.
But remember – niche doesn’t mean individual…
Not by a long shot. “Exactitudes”, a project by Danish artists Ari Versluis and Ellie Uyttenbroek, exemplifies how no one style is truly individual. You might think being a barista in Milan, or a skater in Rotterdam, might make you a bit different from other baristas and skaters – but it doesn’t. The factors that potentially make up a unique identity or style, are shown to be the homogonising factors. Perhaps this is one of the reasons young people today are so willing to embrace brands instead of ‘subcultures’ – millennials are beginning to realise it’s their friends and interests that influence them the most.
Gabbers + Garms
One of Versluis and Uyttenbroek’s most interesting experiments is their first, conducted in 1994. Here, they took 40 images of different ‘Gabbers’, a unique subculture that emerged in Rotterdam in the early 90s. ‘Gabber’ is extreme, hardcore techno with a following in Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy, and until this art project, the shaved-head, pastel coloured tracksuit style hadn’t been identified as a trend in the making. By arranging their images into grids, the comparisons between each person (we assume claiming total originality for their look) are stark and uniform.
Interestingly, after the success of the project in the 90s and 00s, Versluis told The Cut it is getting harder to identify groups:
In Europe, you can go to Copenhagen or Rome or Berlin or Madrid, and young people all look the same nowadays. There’s hardly any real subculture. Everything is driven by the internet. We’ve started concentrating more on old people for our series because it’s very difficult to get a grip on the younger situation.
Yet, surely the point of the Exactitudes series is to comment on how people who oscillate around the same touch-points end up constructing a visually similar identity. Even within the brand worshippers, there’s nuance, exemplified in the Facebook group Wavey Garms (with their 39k followers). Here, if you post the wrong niche 90s-vintage-charity-shop-found brand, you'll find out pretty quickly as members rally to share their opinions. As founder, Andres Branco told us, these young people are not only connecting through a shared love of Moschino belts but they’re also empowering themselves to create online businesses – sourcing clothes they know they’ll sell out of quicker. It looks just like sportswear (kind of like the Gabbers of ’94) but it’s so much more. And if Versluis' point is that young people look like they’re all shopping from the same high-store chain, that too has become a subculture: norm-core, and those all-black everything sportswear joggers? They're obviously health goths.
Subcultures look different now, they're myriad and change quickly. They live and die on the internet, in niche groups who communicate to each other across the globe. Their lingo is specific, their interests vast and sometimes odd, but if you’re looking for an engaged group of Facebook users, it’s worth studying what the likes of Freddy Yolo, Spooki Scary Skeleton and Birds Tho are doing so right. To be able to tap into these groups, either for inspiration or as a brand initiative, is difficult to get right - but once you do, it can allow you to create rewarding, authentic and engaging campaigns.