Niche social networks find their place, but how will they add value?

20 January 2012 – 4:07pm| by Charley Caines

Last month saw the launch for Luluvise, a niche social networking site created specifically for females. Described in the Sunday Times as “Sex and the City meets Facebook,” by its co-founders, Alexandra Chong and Alison Schwartz; the site aims to take the girly face-to-face gossip elements of real life and transfer them into a social format online. This is just one in a string of niche social networking sites that have popped up over the last year and the trend is only increasing. So is niche the future of social and if so how can it be harnessed by brands?

With social media now coming into its adolescent years, we are really beginning to see the transference of subcultures into the online world through niche social sites. For brands, it’s a dream come true. Whilst it can take time to find the right platform with a reach worth investing in, once you have – the captive audience are all in one place. The quality leads which could potentially be generated from advertising or developing an ecommerce profile within these networks could be huge.

Better still; create your own like Premier Football Club Manchester United. After identifying a fan base of more than 500 million fans worldwide, they created their own platform, where fans could interact and engage with each other and the Manchester United brand. This enabled the club to tap directly into their target audience (in particular the Asian market), gaining full access to the conversation, using the platform as a market research tool and a testing ground. Similarly Manchester City FC has invested considerably in digital and in particular social. Both cases have seen success, perhaps due to the consistency it allows, from tone of voice to content; you can’t really fail if you’ve got it right once and have a loyal legion of fans.

As is the case with many trends, you have to separate the wheat from the chaff. Niche networks are emerging rapidly, and whilst users are plugged into the social world they are selective about how much of their time they are willing to commit to each site, how many more sign ups they’ll do and scrutinise subconsciously over the value they’ll get.

When exploring Luluvise as a user you realise after just a few moments, that there is little long term value. Initially it’s a bit of fun, pooling in your male contacts from Facebook and rating them amongst your female friends – cruel, but fun. Yet that seems to be all it is, its basic set up mimics Google+’s circles and dedicates itself to some light man bashing in the form of Wikidate. Is this not just an aggregation of every other dating app on Facebook and is the demographic just too broad to generate success as a niche?

Then of course there’s MySpace, the niche of niches. It’s fair to say it’s no longer part of a user’s habitual social activity and no longer sits with the bigger boys. But why? It played to its niche and possessed the key elements of a successful social site.

If you get it right, niche social sites could be incredibly valuable. They already sit within the landscape and are used successfully on a smaller scale in conjunction with live events (‘Event Streaming’) as well as on a larger scale alongside the big four. They are undergoing a process of refinement and maturing and they are here to stay. But aside from giving users a concentrated channel to interact, is this enough of a contribution to the social experience?