Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
If you thought all social networking activity took place on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google Plus, think again. There is a preponderance of niche social networks that appeal to nearly every interest and taste, many of which are ripe for small businesses to inhabit and participate.
One factor contributing to the growth of niche communities is that major networks like Facebook and Twitter have become increasingly noisy and overcrowded, making it much harder to gain attention. Plus, Facebook has decreased the reach of organic posts from businesses, presumably in an attempt to grow advertising revenue.
Even though niche-specific networks contain a smaller subset of customers and prospects than their more popular counterparts, your marketing efforts may prove even more profitable. It’s a matter of going deep, not wide.
Some networks resemble LinkedIn, allowing members to associate for business purposes. Others have less overt business intent, but can still be used for marketing, empowering business owners to answer questions, showcase their expertise, and connect with potential customers or clients in a peer-to-peer fashion.
To give you a taste of the kinds of niche networks that exist, here are ten, arranged in alphabetical order, each representing a different industry or demographic. If none of those listed serve your niche, search for your industry using the term “social network” (e.g., your industry + social network) to find one that does.
ActiveRain is a social network for real estate agents, brokers, home stagers, inspectors, and lenders, founded in 2006. Numbering nearly 284,000 members, it is the largest and most active network in the real estate industry. Members can network with each other, create blogs to share their knowledge and expertise, and participate in groups.
Alignable’s goal is to connect local companies in a way that leads to long-term relationships, generate more word-of-mouth referrals, and unlock access to the collective wisdom of the local business community. Business owners can post promotions, join local groups, share insights, and learn from each other.
Founded by an attorney, Avvo’s mission is to help people find legal help more quickly. “At Avvo, we provide you with detailed information on lawyers and legal issues so that you can make the choices that are right for you,” said the Avvo website. Users can rate and review attorneys, and lawyers can claim their profile, for marketing purposes.
4. Catster and Dogster
No greater group of “passionistas” (or should I say “petsanistas”) exist than dog and cat lovers — and they are well represented by companion social networks Catster and Dogster. Pet owners meet to ask questions, share knowledge, post photos of their pets, and build relationships with like-minded people.
Despite its rather odd-sounding name, Deviantart is the largest online social network for artists and art enthusiasts. It numbers more than 35 million registered members and attracts over 65 million unique visitors per month. It is also a platform for “emerging and established artists to exhibit, promote, and share their works with an enthusiastic, art-centric community,” according to the site.
Doximity is the leading social network for physicians. More than 60 percent of U.S. physicians have verified memberships on the site. It serves as an industry-specific adjunct to LinkedIn, enabling doctors to network with other medical professionals in a secure, closed environment.
Nextdoor is a private social network designed to build and strengthen local communities. Part Craigslist, Yelp, and Facebook, more than 75,000 neighborhoods use the site to get to know one another, exchange local advice and recommendations, organize events, and find trustworthy local resources, such as babysitters, plumbers, and dentists.
(Although Nextdoor does not currently offer a way for businesses to participate directly, it has expressed interest in doing so in the future.)
Up to now, the oil and gas industry has been reluctant to embrace social media. That is beginning to change, thanks to Oilpro.com, a network designed to give industry professionals a place to exchange ideas, share knowledge and expertise, and stay on top of the latest news and trends. The site numbers more than 500,000 members.
ThirdAge is a social network that addresses the health and lifestyle concerns of Baby Boomer and Senior women. It is representative of a class of networks that includes Eons, Gather, and TBD.
Untappd is a mobile social check-in and discovery network for craft beer enthusiasts.. Users can check-in at bars, write a review of their favorite beers, and see what their friends are drinking. Brewers can claim their profile to engage with fans, analyze customer trends, and manage their portfolio.
With the growing prevalence of niche social networks, it’s time for small businesses to look beyond sites like Facebook and Twitter and commit a larger portion of their marketing efforts and budget toward participation in and, where possible, sponsorship of these highly targeted, interest-specific online communities.