Sure, everyone has heard of Facebook and Twitter, but what about Feed the Bull or Tweako? Yes, you can talk about sports on your old college roommate’s Facebook wall, but what about squaring off with strangers on a site like YardBarker?

These types of niche social networking sites are what the social media industry has started to develop into; general sites about anything and everything are now fading into the background simply because everyone has them, especially the 18-26 year olds, who have had Facebook for 6 years or more and are finally getting over it.

Much like GPS units, cell phones, or laptop computers, technology like social networking, which starts out as super-exclusive and only available to the select few, transcends its unavailability due to the rise of popular demand. Developers then work around the clock to make sure everyone has access to it, and in the end, it becomes outdated and ordinary because anyone has it or can get access to it.

This is where marketers always fail; they get too excited about the boom in popularity and the potential revenue it brings, yet don’t remember the unyielding fickleness public opinion.

In an industry where the customer base makes a company millions only to have it in ruins 10 years later (MySpace), anticipating the ‘next big thing’ is about as easy as picking a clever Twitter handle that hasn’t been taken yet.

How Niche Social Networking Communities Can Unite Millions

If the actuality of the Six Degrees of Separation wasn’t hard enough to believe, add the Internet, email, and social media and everyone you’ve ever met is mostly likely connected to any one random person in the entire world.

Once we get past the mind boggling fact that we are all connected to everyone on earth, the basics of social media and where it is headed all goes back to the basics of communication, which are:

  • Keep an Open Mind
  • Observe
  • Listen
  • Show Comprehension by Understanding

People want to be heard and understood. They also want to understand others and connect with them on an intimate level. The human nature aspect of wanting to connect with others who share your interests and listen to what you have to say is really what has made social media so successful — it simply gives you an outlet to tell people what you think and how you feel.

Drilling down to the core aspects of what a user wants to talk about can help them have more detailed, extensive conversations with others who understand where he’s coming from. Whether it’s Celtics Winning Percentages or How to Make the Perfect Sourdough Bread, having a niche social networking site is what allows users to find people who do what they like to do.

The Downside Of All-Inclusive Social Networks

While there may be a few Facebook or Twitter users who enjoy thousands of new users a day to potentially meet and interact with (and who may also be able to see their information), the overall growth and breadth of the Internet is unappealing to some.

Facebook started as a site only for Harvard students, then Ivy League Students, to all Colleges, to finally anyone with an email address. While one can commend Facebook for their want to provide wall posting and picture tagging sharing to all, is it really what the majority of internet users want? After having the internet in our daily lives for about 15 or so years now, aren’t many users ready for a new experience?

Facebook, All Grown Up

Facebook group

At least Facebook was smart enough to realize that niche social networking sites have a point- get to the basics of what you want to talk about with people who are interested in it too.

Only connect with others you directly know on a first name basis or who can be seen at work every day or at your apartment playing poker every Friday night.

In October 2010, Facebook announced their new Group structure as an attempt to combat the growing disinterest in general social networks, calling their blog post on the subject, “New Groups: Stay Close to Groups of People in Your Life“.

According to the aforementioned blog post, “When a group member posts to the group, everyone in the group will receive a notification about that post…information posted in my new groups is only visible to group members by default…” Other features include group chat and sending messages to a group as a replacement for a typical email mailing list.

While these features are new to us, pre-teens that will eventually begin to use Facebook will pick them up as if they were always there. Thus, the beauty of ever-developing technology.

Super Exclusivity: Where Are We Headed?

Entrepreneurs and web developers realize the potential of super-exclusive social networking sites; Path.com only allows you to connect to 50 people, CollegeOnly goes back to Facebook’s original idea of only allowing college students, and The Fridge allows you to post pictures and status updates that are only visible by certain groups, chosen by you. These types of super-exclusive social networking sites, in addition to niche sites based on certain industries, interests, or common topics, will continue to flourish.

Internet users will also start looking for smarter ways to get personalized answers from experts to questions they can’t seem to find concrete, condensed information on just by typing in a few search phrases into Google or Bing.

With the boom of account sign-ups at Quora and Aardvark, it is obvious that Internet users today want personalized information from a real person who is knowledgeable, not a list of thousands (or even millions) of search listings based on a haply-strung search phrase. The Internet just got a lot more personal.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Search & Social

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About The Author: is the Senior SEO Manager for the agency, Red Door Interactive.

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  • http://uglytechandbusiness.wordpress.com Steve Spencer

    With all due respect, I don’t buy it. I have seen several article (and even business plans) that makes this claim… that people are leaving established social networks in droves to go to niche networks. But neither this article, nor any of those plans that I have reviewed have credible numbers of any kind to back up those claims.

    I would love to see something that shows that any niche social network is growing at the pace that Facebook is, even for the younger demographics that you refer to here. Heck, I’d love to see anything that shows that ALL of the niche social networks combined are growing that fast. (bear in mind that I you have to fair in tese numbers, and represent them as raw numbers rather than percentages, and to exclude networks that don’t actually steal user base from Facebook, but are just other networks, like foursquare, etc.)

    As for the claim that this younger, bleeding edge market stays bleeding edge, and abandons things once they become mainstream, I think this is belied by the fact that the youth have not abandoned SMS as it has become more mainstream. Quite the contrary, their usage of it has grown. This younger demographic is willing to be bleeding edge to find the best solution, regardless of market trends. But it doesn’t appear to mean that they abandon a mainstream technology simply for being mainstream if it is still the best solution.

    I’m not saying that I know for certain that none of your claims are true. what I am saying is that there appear to be strong indicators to the contrary, and this appears to be a claim that many have made with little data to back it up.

  • http://www.SarahCarling.com Sarah Carling

    Niche social networks are hardly new though, forums and closed groups have been around much longer than twitter & facebook, heck even the AOL chatrooms were a form of social media based on user interest. This seems to be nothing more than a shift in the perspective of marketers (and more savvy online marketers have known this all along) that the easiest way to tap into a market is through a related market, not through trying to target everyone through a generic medium.

  • http://www.blueglass.com Jordan Kasteler

    @Steve – It seems you have a desire to see quantitative metrics in high volume. You’re not going to find that. What you are going to find is more engaged and action-driven visitors from targeting niche social.

    Should niche or bread be chosen one over the other? No. Is one better? Depends on the campaign and goals but 9 times out of 10 they should likely be used in combination with one another.

    As to compare anything to Facebook, good luck. But let’s turn the clock back a few years, for awhile MySpace had phenomenal growth and a lot of marketers saw large potential there for particular campaigns. Anything can come crashing down at any given time even Google or Facebook. All it takes is a community uprising from something liked leaked privacy, data, etc to overturn everything.

    Bottom line, it’s not safe to put your eggs in any basket.

    @Sarah – Yes, that same principle could be applied to anything in social media marketing. Essentially, social media marketing is offline marketing in newer mediums in a lot of regards. Demographic targeting is always an offline marketing focal point. When available, psychographic targeting is even more ideal for any marketer. So when given the opportunity, yes, at any medium a marketer should opt for that.

    To the point of the post, many Internet marketers often bypass the smaller communities for the bigger fish (e.g. Facebook/Twitter). So while not a new concept at all, not a new channel or medium, still a new option for many Internet marketers that never looked closely before.

  • http://nut-a-tut.blogspot.com nuttynupur

    Wish our brains could automatically update with every Facebook version. Sigh. Will we have to grow younger, a la Benjamin Button?

  • http://www.changeagents.in Neeraj.Raje

    Steve makes a very valid point. However, looking at the noise in your current and popular social media sites, one can assume that there is a need for such niche platforms where you don’t speak to your friends, relatives or colleagues but with like-minded people around a specific topic.

    I however feel that this can happen currently only through isolated groups on the popular networks with easy privacy controls since most people would not like to create more identities. Hope you are right Jordan.

 

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