Today, it’s practically a given that a marketing campaign will entail some kind of Facebook and Twitter component. Another option is a niche social network that centers around a subject in some way tied to a business or organization’s interest.
For example, a book publisher might create a network specifically for literary enthusiasts, or a baby clothing seller might create a network around parenting issues. But is a niche network right for you?
In all cases, the social media platform used should reflect the fundamental marketing strategy. Niche networks are often used in situations in which an organization wants to limit membership. You might want to reach top tier customers you consider “influencers,” and generate in-depth discussions which serve as a research source, much like a focus group.
In other instances, niche networks might be created with the goal of giving people a forum to openly discuss matters that they wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable discussing in a more open forum such as Facebook. For example, a hospital might utilize such a network to connect doctors, nurses and patients. In these cases, a large, general audience can actually be a hindrance to a focused community.
Ownership and Control
Additionally, niche networks are often utilized in cases where a company or organization places high value on data and content ownership.
Often, such concerns are accompanied by a need to more tightly monitor and influence the kinds of discussions occurring via the social networking medium. General sites like Facebook and MySpace, of course, have the final say over content and membership, and marketers engage with those sites understanding that changes in policy may require swift changes to their marketing plans. If an organization wants to retain control over data and content, however, they may opt to create their own network. A note of caution here—some niche network creation platforms do not actually give their users ownership of the content they generate using their tools, so choose wisely.
Monetization and Branding
Organizations often turn to niche networks when they want to directly monetize their social media efforts, with basically unlimited freedom to secure sponsorship, set up online stores, manage advertising, etc.
Additionally, organizations may opt for a niche network due to branding concerns. With a niche network, there exists potential to completely tailor your network to reflect your brand in regards to everything from overall design to even the functionality of the tools it utilizes, making it an extension of the company in the eyes of the consumer, much like a company Web site.
The Integrated Approach
However, marketing via a niche network or mainstream social media channels are mutually exclusive endeavors. In fact, many niche networks are integrating with major networks such as Facebook—like islands to a mainland. By utilizing widgets that enable people to sign up and log in to their niche networks using their Facebook or Twitter details, they’re using these major sites to drive traffic to their niche sites. They might, for example, start a Facebook group, and then connect that group to their niche network.
Typically the level of interest required to get someone to join a Facebook group is lower than what is required to get someone to join and become active in a niche network. However, a certain percentage of those who join the Facebook group will also be interested in joining the network, where they can really “talk shop” with others who share their interests. Conversely, businesses that have already created successful groups may want to supplement them with niche networks, adding value to their members’ experience.
Dominic Wheatley is CEO and co-founder of SocialGO.