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Why Niche Social Networks are Good for Business

Tue, October 23, 2012

The social web is huge, and it isn’t going away. But as social media fatigue sets in, a growing trend is emerging: some users are abandoning their larger networks in favor of smaller, interest-based social networks.

Here’s why the rise of niche networks makes sense—and why they’re good for business.

In social media, context, not content, is king.

Outside of social media, web content commonly answers a question someone is searching for. The primary function of social media content, however, is to provide context for a relationship. Facebook tells you what your friends are doing or thinking, which makes it a powerful tool for connecting with them. But our use of social media is evolving beyond who we’re connected to and what we’re doing to who we are and how we express ourselves to others.

The most meaningful relationships are formed around common interests.

This is as true online as it is offline. More and more people are flocking to niche networks to help answer specific questions, hone specific skills, get specific inspiration, and identify themselves as members of specific communities. These small networks are providing a value of expression that larger networks do not. For example:

  • Dribbble is a community of designers that allows users to upload what they’re working on (and past work). Other designers can critique, augment, and collaborate on designs, making it extremely meaningful for the designer that uses it.
  • NextDoor is a social network that connects your neighborhood. It’s a place to meet your neighbors, share advice and goods, and keep your neighborhood safe. This might be a lot more meaningful than a friend’s Facebook check-in at Applebee’s.
  • Even Pinterest can be considered a niche social network. It’s used less for one-to-one communication and more for gaining inspiration and expressing yourself through collaboration and sharing.

Specialization is better for business.

Since specialized segments are easier to target than broad ones, interest-based social networks are ripe for branded engagement.

For example, NextDoor might be a great place for home building companies or contractors to provide incentives for their products and facilitate word-of-mouth between neighbors. Graphic design software companies could provide tutorials and inspiration on Dribbble, creating more affinity for their products directly with their target audience. Many brands currently use Pinterest to their advantage by suggesting inspiring ways to use their products. You get the idea.

So even as Facebook keeps getting bigger, niche networks are proliferating. Users of the social web are shifting towards more meaningful experiences built around common interests—creating a great opportunity for marketers to develop more meaningful relationships with their audiences.