5 rules for marketing in niche social networks

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Cutting through the clutter

As with all wildly popular trends, social networks aren't immune to consumer backlash and burnout. And we're increasingly beginning to see such trends emerge in the land of social media. The clutter of information and features on the big social networks -- Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, and others -- has become too much for some consumers to take. In fact, it's not all that uncommon nowadays to hear from friends who have given up on communicating via big social networks completely.

It's sad, really. For some consumers, what was once an experience steeped in an ephemeral sense of discovery -- the newness of an online domain organized and personalized just to our liking -- has now become vast, all-encompassing, commoditized, and impersonal.

Beyond the user experience, the big social networks also present challenges for marketers. Large horizontal networks can be tough to leverage as targeted marketing tools because they have so many diverse users. They have the scale, yes. But brands trying to find their voices in these networks are easily drowned out by the rest of the noise.

Enter niche social networks. Although they don't boast the gargantuan user numbers widely touted by the Facebooks of the world, these little communities are likely to play a big part in the future of online marketing. They work differently, focusing on specific passionate groups of people who congregate around a targeted subject. And they play by a completely different set of rules than the big guys. 

If you're looking to cut through the clutter of the big networks and tap into your niche online audiences, here are some rules to live by.



Blaise Nutter
Blaise Nutter September 4, 2009 at 2:25 PM

To both Bernard and Jonathan, I totally agree that niche-niche has been around for awhile. When working on the article, in my mind I was definitely comparing these new social networks to the discussion groups of old. And I think these rules apply now, just as they did fifteen years ago when the net was just taking off commercially, and that we can't forget these small networks/groups just because they're not the current Big Thing (like FB or Twitter).

Doug Schumacher
Doug Schumacher September 4, 2009 at 1:04 PM


I noticed your comment below. The niche social nets vary greatly in terms of size. That's one of the challenges. And it can be tough to estimate, as tools like Compete don't work for individual groups inside a larger network.

But you can look at activity, and estimate total size based on things like number of posts, and the number of people commenting, to get a sense of the visibility and impact of a single post.

Hope that helps.

Jonathan Moody
Jonathan Moody September 2, 2009 at 8:48 AM

Thanks for flagging up a point that needs making. I also echo Bernard's argument that niche communities are nothing new and add the point that they are often a major influence on purchase decisions. Where better than a community (forum, mesage board or even blog) dedicated to a particular car model or even type (say compacs or SUVs) for getting the low down before buying a car? Many "fan" groups on social networks are not so active and often don't contain the level of debate expertise that some communities have.

Bernard Yin
Bernard Yin September 1, 2009 at 3:15 PM

With all due respects "Niche Niche" has been around for a long time even in older school systems like Yahoo! Groups. All in all, these 5 rules are excellent guidelines. Good job Blaise.

Blaise Nutter
Blaise Nutter August 31, 2009 at 5:53 PM

Hey Steve and Todd,

Thanks to both of you for the kind words.

And Steve, I have no idea how many people use all the niche spaces at this point. I think it was last reported that Facebook had close to 200 million users, which isn't that much when you consider all the people who are online globally. Is there any accurate way of estimating how many people are using the niche spaces? I don't know, but it's an interesting thought...

Todd Havens
Todd Havens August 31, 2009 at 5:44 PM

Solid piece here, Blaise. It's nice to see marketing protocol acknowledged for the niche networks (and there are lots of 'em!) since they deserve to be recognized, too.

Steve Dodd
Steve Dodd August 31, 2009 at 10:12 AM

Hey Blaise, this is a really good post and raises some interesting points for people to consider. The big guys usually get all the attention but quite often, the accumulated user community in niche spaces is bigger than the big players. Do you have any idea about how many users are in the niche world verses say a Facebook?

Thanks for the great thinking and solid advice.