Vertical communities; up and coming or doomed to drop?

June 19, 2007

There’s a lot of debate online at the moment about vertical communities and whether they are the future of social networking. Vertical, or niche, communities are aimed at particular interest types or centered around some kind of focus or need of the community.

The first question to come to my mind is whether web users really have the inclination to join multiple networks centered around their interests? In my view this is best served through the Facebook groups’ model, using an existing large network of users and allowing them to segment and join mini-networks as they see fit. This need is already filled by the Facebook/MySpace’s of this world.

So is there a place for something more niche to cater for those who don’t want to join the large, established social networks? Yes there is, but it needs to offer more to the user than purely social networking tools.

Vertical web portals are a highly successful business model; I should know I’ve built many and am member of a few. These however are built around the information and services they offer to the community rather than purely on the social network building blocks of connections to friends. Value added services and content are what’s required to make a success of a vertical network, and of course, being first to market will help dramatically!

Entice users through a combination of timely and relevant content with services that are relevant and useful and you will (if executed correctly) have a ready made audience who will be prepared to network. Making the network/portal sticky is key, your users aren’t going to keep coming back purely for the social networking aspects as they have access to much better facilities with other websites.

Of course there are also the advertising and monetization factors to take into consideration (as I assume you wouldn’t be doing this just for the love, although I do know of some who are). A niche user group is extremely attractive to advertisers and can lead to much more lucrative partnership deals than the large networks where the community is much broader. You’re niche network platform could be just the audience that a large advertiser needs to tap into, so ensure you optimise the site to allow for future partnership and sponsorship opportunities.

So if you’re thinking about creating (or already running) a niche social network, bear this in mind. Build in all the social networking tools but focus on the content and value added services. Get that right and you’ll find your network will build organically as the users find likeminded people to connect to and share ideas and opportunities.

There’s plenty of room for more niche networks if they are well thought out and executed!

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