For years I’ve been singing the praises of niche outreach and waiting to see niche social networking overtake general social networks (like Facebook) with the public. I’m sad to say it hasn’t happened as quickly as I would have liked. Too many people are still wasting too much time trying to be everything to everyone.

That said, niche social networking is here, and it’s been around much longer than some of you probably realize. Let’s explore niche social networking, what might be holding it back, and where things are going well for niche social networks.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better: The Benefit of Niche Targeting

 

The niche is where it’s at. That’s where you’ll find the people who care about the same things you care about, who share your hobbies or interests or industries, and who are looking for exactly what you’re offering. Are you reaching your niche? Or are you so preoccupied with numbers that you sometimes forget about relevancy?

That reminds me of my music PR days. Myspace was moving from a music-focused network to more of a general social network. Clients and other artists in my [real world] network thought this was great. More general users = more fans, right? Well, maybe on “paper.”

There were bands with 50k+ followers on the network. They thought they rocked. They didn’t. Bursting bands’ bubbles became a regular occurrence. I’d always come at them with a “Yeah? And how’s that working out for you?” When they’d inevitably ask what I meant I’d get more specific:

  • How many album sales has it gotten you?
  • How many sales on iTunes?
  • How many more people are going to your shows?
  • How many labels have contacted you (for those caring about such things)?

Other than a few who really got social media, built fan bases with a lot of direct outreach and interaction, and who did indeed get more attention or make more sales or end up with labels, the answer was usually “nada.”

Why? It all came down to who those followers actually were and how the band got them. Those large follower counts usually came from things like:

  • Following a lot of people manually, knowing people would often follow-back without really looking at your profile;
  • Using automatic bots to friend people for the same reason mentioned above (only quicker);
  • Other bands (not ones they’d actually played with or known, but just ones who wanted another set of eyes to see their show announcements — it seemed to be even more commonplace for bands to follow-back out of sheer courtesy than fans);
  • Spammers (the fake accounts who follow them just to try to get a follow-back to inflate their friend count).

The point is that it didn’t matter how many followers a band had. Those followers weren’t helping them reach any of the goals they were supposedly striving for. And really, then what’s the point?

A smaller, more targeted niche audience is the better way to go. You’ll never have the time to put in honest effort getting to know 50k random followers or virtual friends. You might be able to connect with 1000 or 5000, with that group being real fans or friends or whatever you want to call them. Those are people who want to hear from you, who care about your news, who want to find some kind of connection. Those are also the people most likely to come out to a show (or book signing or conference you’re presenting at) and the most likely to buy what you’re selling.

Of course it’s not always about sales, but you have some kind of goal. At least you should. Is your audience helping you reach them? If you haven’t moved into niche social networking yet, they might not be.

Niche Social Networking: Progressing or Losing Steam?

 

What's next for niche social networks?

 

 

I mentioned before that niche social networking is nothing new. Forums, message boards, email groups — these are all forms of social networking, even if they don’t always take the format we’re used to calling “social networks” today. I can’t help but wonder if these existing communities have actually held back the progress of niche social networking.

I’m not saying they have. It’s just something that crosses my mind occasionally. After all, they’re not bright and shiny and new anymore, so they often aren’t talked about as often as the big general social networks. Sometimes I wonder if more people wouldn’t be involved in niche networks and if we wouldn’t see many more niche networks pop up on the Web if people were talking about it more. Then again maybe that’s just because I’m not a fan of Facebook, can’t stand seeing them dominate so much of the discussion, and can’t wait to see them fade from glory (which I think is inevitable).

As little as I like general social networks, I do have to admit they have a roll to play in niche social networking. It is still possible to find a niche audience using Facebook or Myspace, or whatever network you prefer, even if they do invite more spammers and bots due to their sheer size. Is there a possibility that these mega networks are also holding back growth in niche social networking? Have we gotten to a point where it just doesn’t make much sense to try to compete with those numbers, as artificial as they can sometimes be? I really don’t know. But it’s something else to consider.

Then we have issues like the recent business model change at Ning. Ning’s services (including their free one) enabled people to create niche social networks on just about any topic. It didn’t matter if the niche was profitable to the founder (so cost and return weren’t an issue before deciding to start one). With that changing, and social networks there closing, I see another potential strike against the niche social network.

Don’t get me wrong. There are other ways to start free social networks. There are ways to start inexpensive ones too (just the cost of a domain and hosting if you use WordPress and the BuddyPress plugin for example). But for a well-known site to cut off those social networks that aren’t necessarily in profitable enough niches to make paid services worthwhile, well, is that a sign of a larger changing attitude towards the “little guy?” I’m not saying any company should feel like they have to provide something for free. I’m just saying that if they choose to, and then they change their mind with little regard for the people involved in communities built on their service, that’s a trend I hope I don’t have to see continue.

Niche Social Networks Done Right

 

It wouldn’t really be fair for me to talk about the potential issues facing niche social networking if I didn’t also talk about some of the niche social networks that have done rather well.

I don’t know all of their exact member numbers, nor is that really relevant (you can’t compare A to B if they don’t measure “active members” in the same way). But here are a few of my favorite large niche social networks.

  • LinkedIn — I doubt any reader of Social Implications hasn’t heard of LinkedIn. I love the professional atmosphere in comparison to other social networks, and that’s why general networks probably won’t ever lure me to them for business networking. It’s where colleagues and clients are, and where they go to talk shop.
  • Ancestry.com — I’m a big genealogy buff. Ancestry.com might be thought of as more of a research site for some, but it’s actually a full-fledged social network. You can be connected to distant relatives, see the updates those in your network make to their family trees (to see if info was added that’s relevant to your own), and contact them with questions or to offer information. You can share videos, and photos, and scans of historical documents. If I were going to waste a day on any one network, it would be this one (despite the fact that their customer service has always been quite lacking – the network itself overcomes that to a degree).

    Ancestry.com's Member Connect
    Ancestry.com’s Member Connect Stream
  • Classmates.com — I don’t spend much time on Classmates.com, but I still find it to be one of the more interesting niche networks out there right now. Social networking has often been about keeping students in touch and reconnecting people with old classmates. But of all of them, I think Classmates.com does the best job. That’s because they seem to have more structure than most. They get members to include very specific types of information — high school photos versus current ones for example. That makes the site both a platform to reconnect, but also a nice little stroll down memory lane.

There are plenty of successful niche social networks out there right now. What are some of your favorites? What are they doing right? What could startup niche social networks learn from them?

41 COMMENTS

  1. The problem I see with niche social networking is often times the niche is filled with the competition. At least in real estate, that seems to be the case.

    • It doesn’t matter if your competition is there. Then you’d just look out-of-touch if you’re not. If the competition is taking part in niche social networking, there’s a reason for that — it’s where your target market or audience is!

      And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with networking with “the competition.” Remember, they’re also your colleagues. You can learn from each other, no matter how cutthroat an industry might be. Real estate is no different.

      You can’t really succeed in social media if you make it a point to isolate yourself.

      • Hi Jennifer, Colleen,

        I hope you don’t mind if I add my two cents in here as I agree with Jennifer. I encourage real estate agents to start thinking about collaboration instead of competition. Seller’s agents and buyer’s agents often benefit by working together because half a commission is better than none!

        Social Networking is even better. It is likely that only a small percentage of real estate agents are active online, have blogs or really know how to do Social Media Marketing well. You will benefit more from collaborating than from trying to avoid each other or considering each other competition.

        There is room for several successful agents in any larger area and no matter where you are it makes more sense to grow the pie larger than to fight over what you see as a limited pie. Two agents in the same area who support each other’s sites and blogs with links will BOTH end up at the top of the search engines and with the highest visibility while those worried about competition will be nowhere.

        • Why would we mind? Agree or not, adding your two cents is always welcome. πŸ™‚

          You have a good point about a small group actually using social media in that industry. From work I’ve done for SEO and IM firms, real estate agents and lawyers seem to be two of the biggest groups targeted, precisely because the market’s wide open and so many aren’t using social media and other online tools effectively yet. So if you are, it’s still relatively early in the game and you can build a presence before a lot of your competitors even discover those networks.

        • Hi Jennifer and Gail –

          I popped over to your site from http://www.growmap.com on a response Gail made on word of mouth marketing and social networking post.

          Gail, I agree with the above comment of having real estate agents working together. In the past I worked for 2 companies in sales (automotive engineering) that were both commision based. One company would NOT share information or contacts so we would all lose on commissions if that particular sale guy could not help his customer. The other company believed in comunication meetings and would share contacts meaning if one person couldn’t help a customer maybe another person could and did. This worked well and I bet you can guess which company is still in business and which one isn’t.

        • That kind of attitude baffles me. In the end, it’s about making the customer happy, even if it means you send them to someone else who can get the job done. I’ve found most referrals out tend to come back anyway because they appreciate the honesty when you let them know you’re not the best person for a particular project. And really, have these folks never watched Miracle on 34th Street? πŸ˜‰

  2. Hi Jennifer,

    I am expecting the same thing to happen: for people to eventually find their way to the niche community or communities that are most related to their primary interest and spend most of their time there instead of at Facebook or Twitter. I believe it would make sense to stay active on Twitter and use it to find and send new people to your favorite hang-out.

    It is unfortunate that Ning decided to do what they’re doing because there are existing communities there that have invested time and are already popular. I have news for many of the sites that are currently leaders in each niche: I predict that new communities that are more interested in benefiting their members than making money are going to leave them in the dust.

    The BloggerLuv community is where I believe a certain type of bloggers will hang out. HomeRefurbers is an excellent example of a diy and home improvement community; however, they are following the traditional business model of limiting how their members use their site hoping it will force them to buy advertising.

    I believe anything a community does to muzzle their members from too many rules to removing links to deleting helpful comments that mention business – all of them driven by the profit motive – will push the best and most giving members out. They WILL find a community that welcomes them.

    I sincerely believe that by letting members share information including recommendations and links communities will be stronger and grow faster. When you treat your members with respect and allow them to share links they are MORE likely to buy advertising from you – not LESS likely.

    • I agree that the Ning scenario was an unfortunate one. I don’t mind businesses trying to make money. In fact, I openly encourage it. When they make money, that gives them more of an incentive to put money and time back into the community. The problem (imo at least) is when money starts to replace a genuine interest in the base community (a point I think Facebook’s come to for example).

      The commenting issue is a tough one. When I was helping to moderate a huge community of online business owners, there were definitely rules about self-promotion. If someone was new and posted predominantly to link to their site for example, it was deleted. That’s spam. If someone added value to the conversation, they’d been a contributing member for a while, etc. then a link to their site wasn’t an issue. I think there needs to be balance. It’s one thing to want open communication. Actually having it is something very different (or can be). That’s a part of the issue Myspace faced regarding all of the Myspace marketing and resulting spam messages. Those “personal” commercial messages are often just the tip of the iceberg. Then come the automated variety when people see it’s successful. Then members get pissed off. Then the community they loved becomes just another spam-loaded waste of time. They leave. Another community fills the old one’s shoes. So I think it’s important to balance usefulness of content with any commercial add-ons from members. In a small community it might not seem that big of a deal. But when we’re talking tens of thousands of members (or more) all in the same niche, what previously seemed like “respect for the community” actually starts to look like quite the opposite.

      • I agree with you that businesses need to make money and by doing that wisely they can do more for themselves and others.

        IMHO, it is very obvious when someone is a contributing member and a link they offer provides real value that is highly relevant to what is being discussed versus businesses just trying to gain backlinks.

        Many sites that sell advertising seem opposed to businesses ever mentioning what they do in the course of sincerely answering what is being asked. THAT is ridiculous. They are the very people who know the most and can share it to the benefit of all the members.

        I believe the solution is to provide wise members with moderating capability. Who does the moderating is key to what kind of site you’ll end up with because if they are anti-business or overly judgemental then they’ll go overboard and become censors and run off the strongest contributors or create their own little power trip niche.

        The larger the community the more essential it is to have people who can remove spam instantly as they come across it. That capability, though, must only be given to those who are fair-minded and have a clear vision of what is junk and what is valuable.

        • We didn’t care if people mentioned they were in the business — that just makes sense in showing that you know what you’re talking about. But if they were new and it blatantly contained a sales pitch, then it was out. But that’s also because we had a dedicated marketplace in the community with its own contribution rules to keep the commercial nature out of the larger conversations (members actually seemed to want them more separate; not less).

          As for moderating, it’s not always as easy as it sounds to find people. We were definitely understaffed. But whenever we’d find people interested in moderating, there were usually issues — public wars with the competition in the community, they’d abused the community and violated existing rules themselves (spamming, attacking others, creating duplicate accounts to scam people by hyping up their products as though they were a happy customer, etc.). So while we’d expand whenever we could find good people who were crazy enough to want to do it, it never would have been enough. But that’s where a certain level of open community moderation comes in — making it easy for people to report problems like PM spam, post spam, abuse, etc. where the actual moderators could then review it and act much more quickly than if we had to go around searching for all of the problems as well. But even that was open to abuse where people would report others just to try to get sales threads deleted and such. Really, the bigger the community, the more “children” you have to deal with, and finding those “fair-minded” folks you mentioned is a challenge at best. Of course that was just that particular niche. I have no doubt that others would have very different bases to pull from.

        • Unfortunately that is an issue that I have seen in every forum or community I have ever been involved in and I’ve been moderating and teaching in forums since about 1999. I used to say it is like being a Kindergarten teacher.

          I agree that there needs to be a function where general members can flag objectionable entries and of course you have to ignore those who abuse it. I almost suggested having a way to just ignore them but that creates other problems.

          The communities that really succeed are going to be those that cultivate the best moderators and reward them for their contributions because of how valuable they are to keeping them growing.

        • “like being a Kindergarten teacher” — I love that. πŸ™‚

          It’s crazy sometimes. Within the course of a day you can have someone say how much they love you for being strict and keeping the spammers / scammers at bay (important in business-oriented communities), and then have someone refer to you as a “nazi mod” when they get a slap on the wrist for being one of those spammers, etc. lol Kindergarten… circus… zoo. All apply.

  3. I’d never viewed Ancestry as a social networking site…

    I think there’ll always be space for niche networks, but they just won’t be able to branch out unless they suspend their restrictions. Look at Facebook when it stopped being a students only club.

    • And that would miss the entire point of a “niche.” It’s not about branching out. It’s about cutting back, focusing on a more highly targeted group, and leaving the generalist ambitions behind. Yes, Facebook could grow exponentially by going generalist. But they probably also cut their lifespan by doing so. They’ll get old and be replaced just like Myspace and the other general networks before them. Niche networks have historically had much longer lifespans. And unlike creators who are primarily focused on money, the true niche networks are more often started by people with a genuine interest in the niche or at least connecting those who share that interest.

      Then again, sticking to a niche focus hardly means you won’t make money. Ancestry (which I’d consider a pretty clear social network, especially in more recent years with an emphasis on connecting members even more than before) had $108 million in revenue just in the first half of 2009 for example. Not on par with FB on a single year’s revenue, but for one that’s been able to stand the test of time, and that probably won’t be going anywhere any time soon, I’d call that a pretty good business model for the little ole niche concept.

  4. I, too, love niche social networking. I’ve found that for my target audience (professional organizers), not a lot of niche social networks exist or are still active, so I spend about half an hour to an hour per day searching for forums and blogs and any networks that seem still active and accepting members. So far, Twitter and LinkedIn have been my niche networking sources. I currently follow 27 people on Twitter: a small group of people that belong to my target market. I am able to interact with them every day and to subscribe to all of their blogs. I’m looking at building an equally small niche following on LinkedIn. Just focused on making the changes with Twitter.

    Niche social networking is a crucial move for us freelance writers–we can establish our authority, help our target market run their businesses, enjoy good professional conversation, and get more clients.

    • It sounds like you’re in a situation where the larger networks actually might make sense — when the niche networks just aren’t there yet. Of course there’s another option. You could be the person to build one. πŸ™‚

        • I believe that we – as those who are ahead of the demand and see what we need – have to work to create our own niche communities. While that may mean something like what Ning used to support it could simply be bloggers who interact regularly.

          As Jennifer suggests you can do that with a Group blog and that is working for many niches including those interested in Social Networking and How-to-Blog.

          A simpler way to do it is by using the CommentLuv plugin that makes it easier for readers of one blog in a niche to find others who are interested in the same subjects. Over 20,000 bloggers already use CommentLuv and we are working to make the ComLuv site easier to use for collaborating.

          Bloggers who are on the cutting edge like you and Jennifer and many others I already collaborate with should also have non-public discussions. We have a private forum where we do that and some of us are members of Third Tribe as well. Those interested in joining us can ask for additional information using the contact form in my blog.

          Obviously you and Jennifer are exactly the kind of people we would like to involve in determining the optimum ways to accomplish goals and define best practices. We also have talented collaborators who are able to create what does not yet exist.

        • Blogs are definitely some of the best niche “networks” these days, even if not in the traditional sense of a social network — both on-blog community interaction and cross-blog relationships with others in the niche.

  5. It’s hard to beat the features and number of people participating in the larger general social networks, but I can see how connect with people with my specific interests may be a better investment in my time — if only I could find a good one. Time is so limited that people have to choose carefully which of these networks they participate in. The only non-mainstream niche social networks that I’ve seen any kind of take up on are local ones set up on Ning. I didn’t think they’d take off, but the couple I now of – an Irish wedding industry network and a regional business network – have done pretty well for the members.

    • When it comes down to the numbers of contacts you make and clients you close deals with, I think niche social networks win out in the end. Sure, large social networks have tons of features and tons of users, but “tons” aren’t the number of your target clients you’re reaching.

      I understand having a hard time finding niche social networks to meet your target clients. I’m having a hard time with that myself.

      • Exactly. Here’s what I used to tell clients when they’d spout something like “But X network as a bajillion users!”

        1. How many of those users are legitimate (not spammers or bots)?
        2. Of the legitimate users, how many are actually active?
        3. Of the legitimate active users, how many are within your target market?
        4. Of those in your target market, how many are actually interested in networking with your company (as opposed to strictly personal networking)?
        5. Of those left, how many really give a rat’s ass about what you have to say (as opposed to promoting their own sites, products, or projects)?

        It’s amazing how small those mega-networks can actually be for many brands and individuals (especially those using them for business networking).

    • Take a look at the response I just posted to Jessie for a better idea of why those numbers participating can actually be pretty irrelevant. Here’s another way to look at it:

      When you join a niche social network, the narrowing down of the audience is already done for you. You know going in that these are relevant folks you want to network with / market to. When you use larger social networks, that falls on you. You essentially have to create your own niche group within the larger one (and potentially have to deal with more bots and other spammers who aren’t truly involved or interested in the niche, because larger overall numbers naturally seem to attract more spammers).

    • It doesn’t have to be tough. Keep in mind, niche blogs can even be like mini social networks. I find that in the writing niche for example, there’s a great overall network through blogs — both your own and through interacting with other bloggers. It’s a nice little web that just keeps on growing. πŸ™‚

  6. I really like Facebook. *ducking* For my writing business, it would be a waste of time but for my Army ventures, it is well worth it. I think it depends on what your niche is as far as which community will best benefit it. My presence on LinkedIn has very little effect on my Army community but will hopefully prove to be very useful for my writing business.

    As far as moderating, it is the most frustrating part of running a community. It can be difficult to find good moderators who are willing to put up with some of the BS they are subjected to at times. I have one who has been with me for nearly six years and I don’t even know how many others who thought they wanted to do it until they saw what it was like behind the scenes. It is certainly no picnic!

    But the benefits of having the community far outweigh the pains associated with moderating it. It gives me a chance to interact specifically with my niche. I even delete those who aren’t active at least once every 60 days. It ensures we have a community that participates instead of just a member number that looks pretty to advertisers.

    • lol No need to duck. It sounds like you’re going about it the “right” way — knowing where it is, and isn’t, the best option for a particular audience or market.

      I hear you on the moderating front. People get this glowy image that it’s going to be a blast to have some control. Um, no. The main reason I decided to stop moderating that one large community was that I was tired of the threats (threats to destroy my business, etc. if someone got banned for breaking the rules and scamming others, people tracking down my personal contact info to call me when they had issues with the forum rules, etc — no joke). It was fine when we used to get rid of people making serious threats against mods and members, but then things changed and it was decided that should essentially be dismissed. And frankly there’s only so much drama I’m willing to tolerate. That crossed a line.

      On the other hand, I agree that in general the benefits outweigh the annoyances. But for me that was less true when moderating someone else’s community. If I’m going to deal with abusive little twerps, I’d rather do that within my own. πŸ™‚

  7. I’ve been really scraping the web looking for niche social networks for some of my sites I’m trying to promote. I’ve always been a fan of engaging in communities, building trust and actually ‘networking’ on these sites – unlike a lot of my peers who choose to just sign up and drop links. I’ve found a fair few dog networks (for my dog-related site) and handmade/crafting networks for a site I’m optimising in that niche too.

    Of course, as you point out, you can really get involved in conversation with others’ in your networks and brands should take note and join, engage, listen and improve/develop. Few do though, with the exception of some brands on Twitter…

    Great post, I enjoyed it πŸ™‚

    • Carly — I’m glad to hear you’re the type to actually spend time getting involved in the communities you join as opposed to just “link dropping” as you put it. Oh, if only everyone did that. πŸ™‚

      I’m also glad to hear you’ve had some success in finding relevant niche sites where you can network with others interested in dogs. Congrats and keep at it! πŸ™‚

  8. Jennifer

    Great to remember the niche networks which, as you say, are nothing new yet totally relevant. With giants dominating the social networking space, niche networks play an important role and wrap a specific context around one’s online activity (whether its business, a specific area of interest etc). I would hope that, rather than being overshadowed by the ubiquitous social networks, niche networks continue to flourish and meet some very specific networking needs.
    I interviewed Ivan Massow, founder of Jake (one of the first social networks) earlier this year – you might find it interesting in the content of your post: http://wisdomlondon.wordpress.com/2010/02/19/can-niche-social-networks-compete-with-the-big-boys/

    Kate

    • Thanks for sharing the interview Kate. And I agree with you — I very much hope that niche social networks remain strong and continue to grow rather than bowing down to the larger generic networks. And given that even the biggest of the bunch were once truly niche networks themselves (and some still are, or are going back that way), I think there’s plenty of hope to be had. πŸ™‚

    • I’ll agree with you on LinkedIn. And Twitter is definitely a good source for spreading news in a social environment. Personally I’ve found Twitter to also be the best social media tool for maintaining a lot of casual professional relationships. Blogs I find to be better for more meaningful discussions. And email even moreso on an individual basis. But you can’t always stay that deeply in touch with everyone you want to professionally. Twitter lets you keep in touch with more people more frequently by imposing limits. That said, I wouldn’t try to use it to maintain deeper relationships with colleagues that I know a bit better.

      How do you think Twitter fares in that department? Or do you think it’s primarily a news source and not so much about conversation in your case?

  9. thanks for sharing. I agree with you β€” I very much hope that niche social networks remain strong and continue to grow rather than bowing down to the larger generic networks.
    I think there’s plenty of hope to be had.

    • I agree completely. As more people realize that the big networks are there to collect info about them more than to actually connect them with others, I suspect they’ll find niche communities more appealing. They tend to have more substance and more targeted features. And the bigger ones have been around for quite a while and don’t seem to have any intention of “bowing down” to any larger networks. That’s the benefit of being specialized though — the big generic networks cannot be everything to everyone. So yes, there’s definitely plenty of hope on that front.

  10. Interesting, I’ve never put that much thought into it… I know it’s 1 year and a half latter, but here’s my 2 cents…
    The way I see it is, I don’t want 15 social network accounts, I don’t want to open an account every time I want to connect with people that have the same interest as me. This is where Facebook is king. I can find people that share my interest, from Facebook. I mean, who isn’t on Facebook? Even my grandparents are on Facebook! The example of the music bands or authors: if I see a friend of mine likes a certain band or author, or anything, I’m more likely to look into it and actually pay attention. I think if someone is looking to get a niche social network going, it would be best to get a niche forum going instead.

    • That’s an interesting way of looking at it. It might be a perfectly adequate strategy for someone with a casual interest in social networking, but I don’t see it working for people looking for more serious networking with a niche audience. First, a lot of people are not on Facebook. A lot of users are not active. Plenty I know personally are only still there for the games for example. Many others are there for personal networking — friends and family as opposed to heavier networking with strangers who might share an interest. And just because someone lists an interest it doesn’t mean they feel like talking about it on Facebook. There’s a big difference between a generic network user saying “I like art” and someone joining DeviantArt to share theirs and connect with a group of people who are truly passionate about the subject matter. For business users there’s no competition. If they want to reach a dedicated niche audience, they should be seeking niche-oriented places to connect. Larger networks would work better for huge companies with much looser targeting (like someone trying to market cars or a new soft drink — things the bulk of the population might be interested in).

      You mention bands and authors from the perspective of a buyer. And that makes sense. You’d care about what friends and family recommend. But that’s also very different than a group of authors who want to network with each other or fans who want to get to know authors or bands on a more personal level. The larger the general network, the less time they’re going to have for you personally. That’s why we often see more constructive conversations on smaller networks — they’re targeted and people aren’t so preoccupied with building one huge follower count so they can focus more on one-on-one communication.

      I should also note that forums are social networks. What many people think of as social networks now really stemmed a lot from the old forum model — user profiles, public and private messaging, the ability to share anything from links to photos, etc. They simply look different and now networks add more features (like games) to keep people coming back for more so they can monopolize attention spans (valuable for ad revenue).

      So while your strategy sounds like it might be a great fit for you if you want more casual use and you aren’t focused on a specific niche audience, for many others that need deeper connections with highly targeted groups, it isn’t as likely to work.

  11. Didn’t know about the Ancestry dot com social network/research site — sounds cool, Jennifer. Haven’t done genealogy for years but was once a rabid aficionado. Perfect example of a hard-core, devoted fan, niche community. I’m afraid I have gone soft, and haven’t updated Family Tree Maker for many moons. You have inspired me to check if technology can extend any of my “brick wall” lines!

    • Ancestry.com is actually the same company that puts out Family Tree Maker. The nice thing is that if you’re registered on the site, you can have the online tree and the FTM tree synched now. They had that capability with some very old versions, then got rid of it for some reason. Thankfully they reintroduced it — in the 2012 version I believe. It’s amazing what you can learn. In my research, I found out that my brothers and I were actually born with dual-citizenship (U.S. and German). No one in my family knew about it before. But I did the research, filled out the paperwork, and now have my citizenship papers. I’m always learning new and interesting things. πŸ™‚

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