Little Monsters Syndrome
My 80 year old Grandma has been on Facebook for a couple of years now. My uncles, aunts, cousins, old school friends and university classmates are all there. Facebook is the place where I hang out with my real life friends and family. I find out what’s going on in their lives, and tell them what’s happening in mine.
Twitter? Of the hundreds of people I follow, I know around 20 of them in person. Twitter’s the place I go to find news and updates. I follow people because they’re interesting, rarely because we have a personal connection.
On LinkedIn, I connect with contacts from my professional life. As a writer, I used LinkedIn to find new clients.
So what’s going on here?
It’s Little Monsters Syndrome, also known as the rise of the niche social network.
It’s the reason Lady Gaga can set up her own social network.
People use different social networks for different reasons. Social networks – even the main social networks – recognise this, and cater to different needs.
Facebook is the family and friends network. And it is the Grandma’s network. In 2010, FastCompany reported that over 74s are the fastest growing age group on Facebook.
Twitter is the busy person’s way to quickly tap into news that’s relevant to them.
Pinterest is for time-rich females who want to share gorgeous images.
Google+ attracts deep thinkers, due to its extra-long word limit on status updates.
LinkedIn is for business professionals who are determined to get ahead, and recognise the value of online networking.
Your Different Faces
Think of it this way. We all have different roles in life. Brother. Son. Father. Employee. Churchgoer. In each role, we act slightly differently. In each role we’re still ourselves, but we put different aspects of our personality to the fore.
That’s one reason we need different social networks.
But there’s more to it than that.
Nicher than Niche
As the big-name social networks get settled in their niches, cracks are beginning to open up for new niche social networks.
Sites like Yammer and 37signals provide closed, secure social networking solutions for businesses.
Ning, meanwhile, allows anyone to create a social network around anything for less than the cost of a Big Mac meal each month.
Why is this happening?
The reason is simple. We like hanging out with people who are similar to ourselves. People who share our hobbies, our political views, our career ambitions, or our religious ideals.
As we congregate with these people, we create what the experts call “communities of common interest”.
Pretty much as soon as the Internet launched, academics predicted (and found) that online, people hang out with likeminded people.
- Little Monsters is a community of common interest around artistic creation and Lady Gaga.
- Athlinks is a community of common interest around athletics.
- CyLoop is a community gathered around mixing music.
You get the picture.
Niche networks make us feel special. In niche networks, our voice and ideas matter. Niche networks are a place where we can fit in, a place to belong.
Contrast this to Facebook and Twitter. Here, your news feed is a mess of updates from friends and acquaintances, brands you’ve liked, and celebrities you follow. You’re blasted with quantity rather than seduced by quality.
Matthew Knell compares niche networks to a going to a specialist store.
“Let’s say if you’re a marathon runner, and are looking for a new pair of shoes. You may be fine going to Target, because they sell sneakers, but their selection probably isn’t aimed at you. You could try a Foot Locker, and you may have better luck, but you may be out of luck if you have flat feet, or a high arch, or need width.
“At the end of the day, many people go to a store where they have people who can share their expertise with running and know how to fit you best for shoes.”
At the mall stores, you get impersonal customer service, and products aimed at the average Joe.
At the specialist store, you get personalized customer service, and a product that’s perfect for you.
That’s what niche networks offer. They’re personalized, and perfect for you.
Are niche networks here to stay? You can bet your bottom dollar they are.
Is this new?
No. Communities of common interest are as old as the Internet.
Newsgroups and forums were the first social networks where people got together around common interests.
Niche social networks have been around for decades. And there’s no reason to assume they’re going away.
What Niched-Networks Mean For Your Business
The biggest point to note is that some social networks will be better than others for your business. Invest your resources where your target market spends most of their time. This might be Facebook or Twitter. But don’t automatically assume that these are the best. You could find more fertile pastures in a smaller, niched social network. You’ll get a bigger bang for your social media buck if you invest it where you know your customers hang out.
If you’re a big brand with thousands of customers, think about integrating aspects of social networking into your website. For example, a members only discussion forum, or social games that promote your brand.
Smaller brands can consider setting up a community or social network around their brand or product. This needn’t be expensive or time-consuming. An email newsletter, a blog or a Ning social network can create a sense of community around your brand, and you can start any of these for less than $5 a month.
Further Reading and Alternative Perspectives
Do we need yet another social network? Philip Ellis argues that niche social networks are elitist. He writes:
“Darting off to private corners of the internet reeks of self-enforced ghettoisation and in my mind can only serve to childishly exclude people who aren’t deemed committed or fanatical enough in any given area of interest.”
5 Reasons Niche Social Networks Are Winning New Users. Matthew Knell explores why and how niche social networks are blazing a new trail.
The Significance of Virtual Communities. Dr. Karen Evans explains how the Internet is changing the way we understand community, and how in a networked society communities gather around common interests.
The Social Network Tribes. Infographic from Jeff Bullas exploring how the main social networks are becoming niched.
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