Soon, companies will likely see that the major social networks do not deliver value – and then they will move to niche social networks. Here’s why these underdogs are worth marketing spending.
Twitter has been reporting low growth while announcing yet another way to push advertising down users’ digital throats. For years, Facebook has been turning into just another ad network – and Mark Zuckerberg’s new ten-year plan involves, in part, more of the same. Nicole Brown of Social Media Week explains:
In summary, he wants to have multiple Facebook products — WhatsApp, Messenger, Search, Video, NewsFeed, Oculus, and Instagram — each connect 1 billion users. Once those have reached mass scale, then he’ll start to aggressively monetize them.
At the same time, a new Forrester analysis suggests that marketing spending on Facebook and Twitter is essentially useless. Forrester analyst Nate Elliott told the Wall Street Journal:
It’s clear that Facebook and Twitter don’t offer the relationships that marketing leaders crave. Yet most brands still use these sites as the centerpiece of their social efforts — thereby wasting significant financial, technological, and human resources on social networks that don’t deliver value … It’s time for marketers to start building social relationship strategies around sites that can deliver value.
Pay attention to that last sentence. For many reasons, companies will likely begin to see soon that the major social networks do not deliver value – and then they will move to niche social networks because they do deliver value.
Why might niche social networks be more valuable?
First, niche networks that are private can offer more privacy (although most niche networks are still often public). Following the document leaks by Edward Snowden on the government’s purported data collection on Americans, four out of five people changed their social media privacy settings. Sixty-nine percent of people are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the issue.
Second, niche networks cut out the intermediaries of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, and prevent whatever coordination they may have with governments and private companies. In time, more people will leave those networks to avoid (at least in their minds) having such information disclosed.
Third, niche networks are, by definition, groups of people who are intensely interested in a certain topic. People will be able to discuss the topic at hand without countless clutter and posts on other subjects getting in the way (as on Twitter and Facebook).
Take the example of vegetarianism. Say person A lists that characteristic in his Facebook profile even though he does not take it too seriously. Now, say person B is very active in a niche social network that is all about vegetarianism, and he posts there multiple times a day. For a marketer who sells to vegetarians, person B is much more qualified than person A.
In other words, niche social networks have the potential to offer much more value to both users and marketers than general interest ones such as, say, Facebook. First, here are some major ones that should not be ignored:
- Care2– 16 million people who care about living a “green lifestyle”
- CafeMom– 1 million mothers (who are a very valuable B2C demographic)
- Kaboodle– A community of people who love to shop
- Gentlemint– Deemed the “Pinterest for men,” it is all about guns, cars, and more
- ThirdAge– A social network for senior citizens
- BlogHer– Another network for women
Healthcare social networks
As someone whose marketing and communications firm has numerous clients in the healthcare space, I pay attention to social networks there because one third of medical professionals use them to discuss healthcare. Here are a few that may interest people in the industry – or those that market to them:
- Doximity lets doctors connect with other doctors and medical school classmates as well as network for job opportunities
- Sermo is a way for physicians to discuss cases, clinical policies, and the management of their practices
- Curediva is a community for women who are suffering or recovering from breast cancer
- Connected Living is a social network specifically for senior citizens that focuses on healthy living
Developer social networks
In the same way, I also research developer social networks. For obvious reasons, developers of mobile apps, websites, and other online properties are more likely than the general population to discuss their fields on the Internet. Here are just a few places where developers hang out:
- HTML5 Rocks is a community focused exclusively on this new coding language
- Forrst is a place where developers can share designs and codes to get feedback
- Masterbranch is a job networking site for developers and those who want to hire them
- Bisquits is a private, invitation-only social network where developers can create, find, and save codes into personal libraries
- Stackoverflow is a long-running Q&A site where developers can ask and answer coding questions
Obscure Social Networks
Convert with Content, Traffikd, About.com, Raven Tools, and Genius Startup all have extensive lists that people – including marketers – may find interesting. Here are a few that piqued my curiosity:
- Dogster and Catster – Who doesn’t love animals? Whether you love canines or felines, these two sites are focused on pet owners
- Gaia Online is a world for people who love anime, gaming, and comics. People can create their own specialized avatars and interact with others with similar interests
- Instructables is a “DYI” (Do It Yourself) community in which people share ideas, tips, and best practices for doing almost anything under the digital sun – without needing to hire an expert
- Car Gurus is a place for people to discuss anything relating to automobiles as well as buy and share them
No one likes ads. It’s one reason that most of the major social networks – especially those that are public – will eventually collapse because they will always be forced by investors to find ways to make more money.
Niche social networks and online communities do not have that problem. So, the next question must be: How, then, can marketers reach those communities in effective ways that are not outright selling and spamming? I invite your thoughts in the comments.
The views expressed are of the author.
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