In the beginning, there was Ning. And Zaadz. And Tribe. And a bunch of other niche sites that brought together people from around the country and around the globe because of their shared interest in a topic, hobby or activity. This was way, way back, in the early 2000s. The original social networks developed organically, grew around singular topics and were often no more than glorified chat rooms and community forums. But all of the foundational components of what we now know as social media were there.
And then along came Facebook. It changed how we thought about and interacted with our social networks. Instead of niche networks, you could get everything you wanted under one roof – regardless of interests, hobbies, topics and activities. The introduction of groups and pages especially moved the concept of niche networks to within the walls of the entire Facebook ecosystem, meaning you never had to leave the site, no matter what you wanted to talk about.
With its 10th birthday now behind it, Facebook is starting to show a little gray. Because of this, many people – young ones especially – are now on the lookout for the “next Facebook.” It’s a question we get asked often ourselves – what’s the next Facebook? What’s the next great global, all-encompassing social network out there we should know about?
The answer we give to this question – based on our experience and where we see the future of social marketing headed – often surprises: there won’t be a next Facebook. Instead, there will be a million little Facebooks. This is because a funny thing is happening – we’re seeing a strong and sustained resurgence in niche networks – highly targeted, topical and specialized sites that cater to enthusiasts of all different sorts of things. A return to the way it was in the beginning.
As this TechCrunch article points out, this is especially true for professionals; we’re seeing dedicated networks pop up catering to doctors, software engineers, academics, data scientists and even the military. But this swing back toward niche networks is true for personal interests as well, as any member of VampireFreaks.com or BirdPost or Behance will surely attest.
The next question, of course, becomes, what does this mean for you? While Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, brands certainly need to be aware of existing niche sites out there that may align with its products, services and values. As with many things, this trend brings with it both challenge and opportunity:
Challenge: Audiences become more fragmented and isolated, which can make targeting more difficult and labor-intensive. Targeting is easier on broad social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn because that’s where everyone is. But you can easily end up targeting a lot of people who may not be interested in you or your product. Conversely, finding your target audience via smaller niche networks can be much more time-consuming and less scientific. When you find them, however…
Opportunity: Members of niche networks are more likely to be much, much more interested in brands that align with their interests and passions. If you’re not a crafter, you probably don’t care too much to see what’s going on at CraftersCommunity. If you are a crafter, on the other hand, it may be your single favorite place to spend time online, which is why these types of audiences – though smaller – can be so valuable to brands.
So instead of asking yourself what the next Facebook is, the more important question to ask – and answer – for your brand is, which of these million little Facebooks is most important to my target audience?