Niche networks can help fill your social void: here’s how

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Does your audience really need another social network?

On Facebook alone, you can wish a friend “happy birthday,” post photos, share a Spotify playlist, and even send beheadings (yes, really). From Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn, the major social media platforms we already use really don’t leave anything — or anyone — out, and that’s the problem.

Your audience doesn’t need another big social network to compete with Facebook, but there is room for smaller niche networks to provide a way to share the content we care about and make connections with our real friends.

“Friends” aren’t a one-stop shop

According to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, humans are limited to just 150 friendships. That’s the number of stable, real relationships we can maintain, yet many people have two or three times that many “friends” on Facebook. These are people with whom we have no real relationship, so what to share or post to get the desired social gratification is unclear.

Instead of posting the things we find valuable, we often post trivial pieces of content to avoid being judged by a 500-person audience. In turn, sticking to the social media status quo barricades social media users from having genuinely fulfilling social interactions.

When users have so many people from separate silos of their lives in one place, there’s no real way to filter their experiences. Selective sharing, such as with Google+ circles, is tedious, so users have begun to differentiate between social networks to share different types of content and experiences. There might be more censorship on Facebook, where your “friends” include your boss and kids. A user might share more personal photos on Instagram, where she has a small following of photography lovers.

Niche social networks can provide meaningful experiences

This trend tells us that consumers are looking for more genuine, personal experiences from their social media tools. There’s plenty of room for new social networks to appeal to niche markets — markets that are not yet satisfied with the current social media offerings. Take Lululemon, for example: Neither yoga nor yoga pants are anything new. However, Lululemon saw a market of health-conscious women not yet satisfied by Nike’s or Champion’s mass-market appeal and seized the opportunity by creating an exclusive experience around the yogi demographic — one that satisfies consumers because it caters to a community united by a common interest.

Similar to Lululemon’s success, several niche social networks have already seen success providing a specific experience to a smaller community:

  • Ketchup is an app that alerts smartphone users when their phone contacts are within a certain distance, paving the way for more real-life interactions. Sure, you can block certain people, but you’re encouraged to delete them from your phonebook instead to differentiate between real friends and acquaintances.
  • Keek lets users communicate with fast-paced video “status updates” and respond with videos or text. The 36-second video allowance (as opposed to the six-second format on Vine) lets users share more blog-like posts.
  • MyFitnessPal is an app that helps users track their fitness goals, nutrition, and calories. It integrates with Facebook, but it also has a built-in community that allows users to share and compare their progress with a smaller circle of trusted friends.

Challenges for niche networks

As with any business, it’s hard to get noticed when you’re small. Smaller networks must clearly define their role in social media, as opposed to the bigger networks that target a wide audience. Decide how your offering is different from what already exists by identifying your target demographic and their needs. Then, build an experience for users based on common interests. Once you identify what resonates with your community members, they’ll refer their friends and keep coming back.

Perhaps most importantly, niche social networks must decide whether to integrate with larger networks. Small networks built on top of existing platforms reap the benefits of wider exposure, an existing customer base, and stable technology with a proven track record, but there are drawbacks, too.

Integrating with larger networks like Facebook poses risks, such as changes in the bigger network’s policies and integration rules. The larger network is in control, and social tools that try to compete directly will run into problems.

Some networks have found success building an independent platform that connects with large social networks, such as MapMyFitness.

Whichever route you choose, realize that there are endless opportunities for new networks to find a niche within the social media realm. Even though Facebook “does it all,” users are seeking out more narrowly tailored social channels that can provide a more enriching experience. And, whether you have five real friends or 150, a niche social network provides the opportunity to have more genuine interactions with the people you actually care about.



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