Where are all the social networks?

social networks

By Mark Schaefer

A few years ago, one of the biggest predictions among social media gurus was that the social web would fragment. There would not be one giant company that would necessarily take down Facebook — it would come in bits and pieces as little social networks dedicated to special interests popped up that would chew away at Facebook’s audience.

So the question we should today is, if this was such a good idea, where are these niche networks? Why did this prediction not come true?

Where are the niche networks?

On the new episode of The Marketing Companion, Tom Webster and I lament the passing of Path. What’s Path you say?

Path started out in 2010 as a private networking app that let users keep just 50 friends. People tended to share more intimate news among close friends there. At one time it was red-hot and boasted 15 million users at its peak, but like most other social media apps, was smothered by the 800-pound-gorilla of social media, Facebook. Facebook “borrowed” several innovations from Path, notably stickers and reactions, which replaced the “like” button in 2015.

In fact, no meaningful social network has been able to survive in the Facebook era. Here is the reason:

I was recently talking to some people who put a ton of resources into a social networking site devoted to the LGBTQ community. It rapidly bombed because they realized too late that Facebook IS the community for LGBTQ. Facebook is also the community for airline pilots, dog enthusiasts, and people who love knitting.

In fact, Facebook can become an effective niche community for anything.

All you have to do is start your own group and away you go. Why would anybody want to spend the money to re-create technology that already exists and works really well?

The psychology of social networks

In addition to the practical and financial aspects of re-creating some aspect of Facebook, there is also a psychological hurdle.

In the “real world,” we like choice. We like to see lots of flavors of cereal in the grocery store, we enjoy doing research on different options for automobiles and we probably shop for clothes in several stores.

But humans seem to only have the mental bandwidth for just one choice when it comes to a social networking experience.

So our limited bandwidth for new platforms also works against a business plan that would take on an incumbent. This was probably the major downfall of Path.

Communities everywhere

The other important nuance here is that there is always an opportunity to establish a COMMUNITY, but you don’t necessarily need to build an entirely new technology platform to do it.

One of my students expressed frustration that her trade association had created a community platform but nobody was active on it. What was she doing wrong? I explained that there had to be other places already on the web where these association members were hanging out. Instead of dragging them to some place new, she needs to go to where the customers are already hanging out.

A customers of mine in the tech sector is doing this beautifully. Instead of building her own company site, she became extremely active in a pre-existing LinkedIn community. She’s not trying to “sell” anything there. She’s simply establishing herself (and by extension, her company) as the go-to resource in the business. She has been so successful, she has been asked to be a co-leader of the group.

So instead of starting from scratch, a more realistic business strategy would be to establish a new community on an existing technological platform.

You won’t want to miss our exploration of this topic on the new Marketing Companion episode. We also get into a cool discussion of my first ten years as an entrepreneur. Tune in!

Click on this link to listen to Episode 137

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Illustration courtesy of Flickr CC and Jessica Mullen

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