The Year of Specialized Social Networks
Watch for growing popularity of smaller social networks organized around a specific topic or interest in 2011. These networks which have become increasingly user-centric in addition to being topic-centric, offer users many benefits that they may not find on Facebook. Marketers can leverage this shift in social network affinity by creating content that is highly relevant and targeted to these smaller segments of users
By Michelle Fares, Associate Interactive Strategist
One trend to watch in 2011 is the growing popularity of smaller, topic-specific social networks where users congregate around an interest or hobby. Although some would argue that these networks (in the form of message boards and online forums) have existed for decades, the most recent specialized social networks are more people-centric than their previous topic-centric counterparts. This new combination of people-centric and topic-centric social networking makes it easier for users to develop online relationships built out of common interests. These networks have also evolved to include applications and tools which allow users to rate, review and track Web activities.16
Specialized social networks offer users many benefits:
- Organization. Users can organize their friends, colleagues and family members into different groups and exert greater control over who sees what pieces of information.
- Personalization. Since sites are focused around specific topics or even geographical locations, users are able to form more meaningful connections with each other and even meet in the real world.
- Separation. Users can have different social networks for their personal and professional lives, which can pre-empt potential damage if a post or set of pictures goes awry.
- Consumer privacy. Many users object to Facebook’s convoluted privacy settings. Specialized social networks let users share information only with people in a specific group of friends, limiting the access that everyone has to personal information.
One popular site that helps users organize their acquaintances and separate their social lives from their work is LinkedIn. The site lets members post their resumes, connect with past or present colleagues and communicate with potential clients and employers. Founded in 2003, LinkedIn currently has over 85 million members, including executives from all of the Fortune 500 companies,17
and receives over 6 million daily visits.18Yelp
Yelp.com is another example of a highly personalized social network. The site lets users create a profile to rate and review businesses in their hometown. The site taps into the geolocation trend, offering consumers valuable information based on where they live, and has over 33 million unique monthly visitors19
and a presence in hundreds of cities worldwide. Yelp reinforces its active online community offline through sponsored events and partnerships with local businesses.Implications and Action Items
One way for marketers to leverage this trend is to provide highly relevant content in marketing communications. Although these communities are much smaller than popular social networks, their users are interest-driven and more likely to respond when they see an ad that directly relates to them. Topic-specific social networks also have implications for consumers; new software and sites like Appleseed, OneSocialWeb and SocialGO are making it possible for anyone to start a social network with minimal expertise.16 http://tiny.cc/oraya
19 http://tiny.cc/ni5lg (pdf)