Social networks are more popular today than ever before, but what has been getting attention recently is the rise of a new type of social network. The highly specialized professionally developed social network is the newest trend in online communities.
I. Characteristics of the Original Social Networks
- Mass Appeal
The big social networks these days try to have a mass appeal- reaching all job seekers, all health care professionals, etc. Social Networks like Facebook and MySpace, for example, try to appeal to all young people regardless of location, income, interests, etc.
- Broad Focus
Since the original networks are trying to appeal to very large groups of people they do not have a specific focus other than to promote the sense of belonging to a community and encourage contribution to said community.
- Content is Largely Participant Generated
Broader social networks can flourish when the owners do not have to be responsible for the entire project of managing and maintaining the network. By relinquishing some control to participants, owners of these social networks can grow them into giant entities.
II. Characteristics of the New Social Networks
- Highly Targeted
New social networks are emerging that do not try to include everyone- in fact they find success in excluding some people. For example, a social network based around say mothers with breast cancer is able to draw membership by offering relevant information about dealing with breast cancer and also a support network of other mothers or other families in the same situation. By excluding people suffering from say heart disease or multiple sclerosis the group can have a real purpose and develop a solid community because they are not trying to tackle too broad of a topic.
- Niche Topics
Many times social networks develop around niche topics- unifying people who previously felt like there were only a few people that shared their particular interest or characteristic. These networks can range from personal characteristics to leisure activities to past life experiences.
- Content is Mostly Developed for Participants
More specialized sites tend to draw more specialized opinions- in other words the opinions of experts. This creates an upward spiral- expert opinion draws more participants and as more participants join there is more pressure to have highly relevant expert opinions, and on and on. As Joseph Natale, Vice President at Children with Diabetes says, “You have to have great content, research and real-time updates so that people feel as though the site will offer something new and different every day. The content must be accurate and trustworthy.”
As a business owner there are great opportunities with each type of social network. By understanding the difference between the original social networks and the newer forming social networks you can properly structure your efforts and align your business for success in one or both types of networks.
I. Opportunities within the Original Social Networks
- Advertise to reach a wide diverse audience
- Sell your products (if the network will allow you to do so) to generate lots of new customers
- Get people talking about your company and products and your brand awareness can expand quickly
II. Opportunities within the New Social Networks
- Gain exposure with your core target customers
- Develop content to gain credibility in your industry
- Generate an intensely loyal customer base
For recent survey results regarding further benefits of utilizing social networks visit eMarketer.
-Kate Pierce eCommerce Specialist