Aside from their monumental success, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube all have one thing in common: they're incredibly broad.
These traditional social platforms don't focus on one social media element; they try to cover everything. Facebook, for example, offers tools for communication, marketing, social sharing, networking, e-commerce, photo and media sharing, polls, user-generated content, and much more. It's a comprehensive social network.
But that's exactly the issue. Which is why we're currently seeing a shift toward more niche online social spaces.
Although traditional platforms such as Facebook use some personalization features and attempt to become more contextually relevant to each individual user, those efforts aren't enough. People want tools that are going to provide relevant content or experiences right from the get-go. It's too time-consuming to sift through a trove of information to find what they're interested in.
As a result, people across all channels—B2C and B2B included—are flocking to niche online communities that cater to their specific interests.
And it's not just about the usability and convenience, though people have grown wary of large platforms. In the wake of events like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, data privacy and security have become a huge concern.
Users are interested in more than just a tailored community. They also want platforms that can offer better privacy and security—think Telegram, a Cloud-based instant messaging service designed with privacy as a primary feature. That focus on privacy and security means there's plenty of room for new platforms to thrive.
Other platforms, including some big players, are starting to buy into the idea of a niche community. Quora, the question-and-answer website, recently announced a feature called Spaces, which is meant to create discussion groups around specialized topics. Meanwhile, LinkedIn announced a feature called Pages, which will allow businesses to share more types of information, engage employees, and make it easier to build online brand communities.
Those changes illustrate the magnitude of this trend.
Why niche online communities?
Online communities and interest groups are undergoing something of a revolution, thanks to the demand for more niche offerings, and things are changing rapidly.
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian discussed the oncoming change during Business Insider's IGNITION conference. "We've hit peak social," he said. "Where the platforms that are one too many, where we follow individuals, have [...] run their course, and we've reached the ceiling." He added: "What people seem to be clamoring for more and more now is community."
Accordingly, a plethora of new platforms and apps have taken hold in the market, including WhatsApp, Athlinks, Dribble, Dpadd, Snooth, and even something a little sillier like Stachepassions.
Gina Bianchini, founder and CEO of Mighty Networks and Ning, said it best: "There is no Facebook Killer." No single company, app, service, or platform will take the crown. Instead, the biggest success will be reserved for a mix of communities and platforms—specifically the ones that cater to niche interests.
People from all walks of life are coming together as a community to embrace specific interests and activities. Nextdoor is an excellent example: a free and private social network built specifically around the idea of local neighborhood communities. Through Nextdoor, people who live near each other are coming together to form an online, digital community right alongside their physical community.
This trend presents an incredible opportunity for marketers and businesses to home in on the idea of creating supportive communities of like-minded people. Digital brand niche communities are more valuable now than they've ever been.
All types of companies are participating
Niche social platforms and online communities are cropping up in the B2C and B2B spaces as well. LinkedIn's Pages feature is the premier example of this. However, many other platforms are also registering huge growth.
For instance, Bank of America has established more meaningful relationships with local companies thanks to its Small Business Community. Via the platform, business owners can pore through useful tips and advice from experts, engage in discussions with other community members, and even ask more relevant questions through a connected forum. It's a powerhouse for local and small business owners who are often looking for guidance and support from similar professionals.
Here are some prominent brand communities.
Barclaycard's community is all about insider travel stories and experiences, and members share firsthand insights and tips. They also earn participation points, which can be redeemed for free miles, e-gift cards, and other rewards.
A key feature is the real-time interactive map that displays member travel points alongside their write-ups. It's exactly the kind of dynamic, engaging experience that keeps users returning time and again.
CIO.com's Executive Council
CIO's community is meant for CIOs, IT leaders, and like-minded executives. It's a safe haven for all involved, allowing them to share experiences, communicate, and gain insights from others within their industry.
Believe it or not, the community has already been around for 14 years, and it's still going strong. Global leaders love the support it provides, which also trickles down to their organizations.
The Lenovo Experience community was developed for the company's data center group—called LenovoX. People join the community to hear about rising trends, innovative tech, current events, and information from "difference-makers" or major influencers.
Through the platform, users are delivered news about Lenovo as a brand, data center events, modern security, and Cloud computing. It's important to note that there's no marketing or discussion on Lenovo's products specifically. Only devices or tools that would aid in direct communication—for press, analysts, customers, and partners relating to data center solutions—are ever featured.
So, although Lenovo is the driving force behind it, people are still willing to participate and engage because it's an open community on a specific niche topic.
So, what's the takeaway?
Necessary components of any business success strategy, especially if you want to thrive in today's landscape, are a mobile mindset paired with content, a relevant experience, and convenience for the customer. The ideal solution for delivering those disparate elements is to establish a digital community.
Keep in mind that it's not enough to just throw together an app or digital community space; you must provide something that is actually relevant to your target audience, as in the examples in this article.
The rise of niche online communities and digital online networks provides a glimpse of things yet to come. The future will be all about these community-oriented, user-serving platforms. After all, why should people use a network that doesn't offer them the best value in return.
What will you do to keep up?
More Resources on Niche Online Communities
You may like these other MarketingProfs articles related to Customer Experience:
- Why VoC and CX Can't Be One Size Fits All
- 10 Ways to Improve Customer Experience [Infographic]
- Three Steps to Personalizing the Overall Customer Experience
- How B2B Marketers Can Leverage Voice of Customer for Business Growth: Nate Brown on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]
- The Top Challenges to Providing an Exceptional B2B Customer Experience
- Balancing Consumer Trust with Privacy-Safe Targeting: Three Tactics