08 Feb The Evolution of Ravelry Part 2: Challenges & Advantages
Ravelry originally revolutionized the yarn and fiber crafts industry. A decade on, however, its place in the industry is shifting. Remember, when Ravelry went live, Instagram didn’t exist yet, and Facebook was still primarily the domain of college kids. A lot has changed since then.
Ravelry was originally created to be a tool for fiber crafters, but many of its members have used it as a social media site for a very specific community. It is, however, no longer the only digital gathering place for those interested in the yarn and crafts world. It’s always part of the mix, but other platforms are becoming the preferred venues for disseminating information, especially about product offerings and events in the world of fiber arts. For example, many designers now announce new designs or collections on Instagram, sharing the post to Twitter and Facebook. As Bristol Ivy noted, “knitters are fundamentally visual people.” In just over three years on Instagram, she has almost 20,000 followers, whereas her Ravelry group, Bristol Ivy Designs, also established in 2013, has 1850 members. Many crafters see a new pattern or yarn for the first time on one social media channel, then move over to Ravelry to get more information.
Some of the user interface (UI) features of Ravelry are beginning to feel a little old-school. For example, mobility. Only Pattern Search, Forums and your Message Box have a mobile view right now. Walk into any yarn store and you will see crafters squinting at their smartphones, scrolling madly as the magnified view of the Pattern Details page doesn’t fit easily on the device’s screen. There are apps by third-party developers that offer some of Ravelry’s features more conveniently on a small screen, but there’s yet to be a good way to have at all of that information with in-your-pocket accessibility. Read more about Ravelry’s own statement on this issue here.
People access websites via different devices depending on their intended activity. Basically, mobile devices are used for instant, functional information, and desktop/laptop used for more detailed or open-ended research, according to this late 2016 report. Ravelry is both of those things: instant and functional when you’re in the yarn store trying to remember how much of which weight of yarn you need for the project; detailed and open-ended when you’ve fallen in love with a yarn and you’re trying to figure out what you want to make with it. Other interesting statistics gleaned from the same report show that mobile’s share of the average person’s online hours continues to grow, and the younger the user, the more likely they are to access the internet only through a mobile device. Relying solely on your company’s Ravelry presence to reach your market risks leaving out these users.
Another user interface challenge is communication. While there is great community interaction on Ravelry, the bulletin-board style Forums don’t allow the conversational responsiveness of other social media sites. For example, most yarn companies have a group with a discussion board on Ravelry, but posting is sporadic at best. The Finished Objects thread is generally the most active, but discussion threads can languish for weeks or months without a post. Some of the challenge comes with that bulletin-board style format. Although you can click on a link to find the direct replies to a specific post, they are not visually nested. Many users struggle with “Reply to post” vs. “Reply to thread,” making following a discussion somewhat difficult. It’s not a flowing conversation the way it is on other social media platforms.
Complaints are one area a yarn company owner will want to keep tabs on the Ravelry discussion group. Ignore the company discussion board for too long and one customer’s question about a single product can turn into a pile-on of dissatisfaction that yarn crafters have with your products. Use the discussion board to respond to the question or complaint in a timely and sensitive way. By doing so, your company has just demonstrated to the original poster and to the Ravelry community that you care about customer service and you stand behind your products. Having representatives of the company interacting on the discussion boards also gives your customers an insider line of communication and reinforces the connection they feel to your brand.
What else can you do to make your group a dynamic extension of your brand? Ravelry is still a great place to promote your product (yarn or patterns) through group activities like a Knit-Along. Your brand could play a part in launching a designer’s career by sponsoring a contest on your group page. Yarn enthusiasts get excited by discovering new things they can make with their favorite yarns. You would need to work out the terms, but your company could publish the winning design with pattern sale profits going to the designer.
It’s worth your time to extend your social media campaigns to your Ravelry group as well. For example, if you post a weekly crafting tip on your Facebook page or Instagram feed, start a thread for it on your Ravelry discussion page as well. It keeps content fresh and moving on your group page, encouraging your group members to stop by and check out what’s going on more often. Invite them to respond with their own tips, their successes (or failures) when they try it, as well as their finished objects. Respond to their comments and questions to keep the conversation going, even as you realize that your members may not be fully fluent with the Forum format.
There are some things associated with fiber hobbies that Ravelry does better than any other social media platform, app or reference book available. What are they?
- Yarn information
If a yarn is in Ravelry’s database, you will be able to find out weight, gauge, materials, availability and, especially, how other people have used it. That information may be entered by users, with information off the labels from the skeins in front of them. But it also might just be from their memories. As a yarn company owner, you want to make sure that data for your various lines and products is accurate and up-to-date. Don’t rely on user-entered data–you want to control the information available about your products.
- Pattern information
It includes weight and quantity of yarn needed, as well as gauge and suggested needle sizes. You will also find yarn ideas for the pattern and other users’ notes, comments and photos of the complete object. If you’re a designer, make sure your designs are in the Patterns database. Pattern-searching is the most frequent activity of Ravelry members. Even if they follow you on other social media platforms, they will find and purchase your designs via Ravelry. The user-generated information should supplement the profile you want to create for your designs.
- Personal inventory
You can catalogue your yarn and tool stash, your projects, and your craft library, as well as projects you either want or intend to complete. While this feature is mostly useful for individual members, the aggregate statistics about yarns stashed or projects from a particular pattern may be of interest to manufacturers or designers.
- Community responsiveness
Join a group or post a question on one of the Big Six discussion boards and people will answer. In general, yarn crafters are friendly, helpful and welcoming, although the volunteer Moderators do work to keep obnoxiousness to a minimum, especially compared to other social media sites. Participating in those conversations as an ambassador for your own brand enhances that community cohesion.
We love Ravelry and we want it to have a bright future in the world of yarn and fiber. It’s the first stop we make to find out everything we can about a new yarn or a pattern that caught our eye. Yes, we could go to the designer’s or manufacturer’s own websites to get that information, but the fact that it’s all available in one place is one of Ravelry’s greatest strengths. Add to that the crafter experience with a yarn or pattern and there’s simply nothing else like it out there.
We also appreciate the way Ravelry has made self-publishing a viable option in the world of knit and crochet design. The gatekeeping nature of the major manufacturers and publications made it difficult for talented designers to break into the field. Ravelry members vote with their Favorites and Queues, critiquing patterns as they knit them and allowing the good designers greater exposure earlier in their careers. Cream rises to the top and the user-drive nature of Ravelry has allowed that to happen.
We’re happy to hear that Casey is actively working on improvements to the mobile experience and we look forward to the possibility of new data reports becoming available for the general public. On an individual level, we can all keep doing our part to keep Ravelry dynamic. Make a project page for whatever is on your needles right now!
Stitchcraft Marketing has all kinds of ideas about the craft, fiber and yarn industries. If you want your business to profit from our knowledge and skills, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we can make magic for your business.