We all know about Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Most of us know about Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat. But are you familiar with Ren Ren, Elftown or The Sphere?
These are all niche social networks and while most serve a limited purpose, some could provide your business with a powerful presence in a very targeted market.
There’s no doubt that when it comes to social networks, Facebook is the main game in town. It has the broadest appeal, the most users, and the biggest engagement. If a business is even remotely interested in maintaining a social presence, it will be on Facebook.
LinkedIn too has emerged as the social platform of choice for professionals and the B2B domain. It’s an important tool for networking, recruiting, and increasingly as a content hub.
Whether it is through professional forums or thought leadership posts, LinkedIn has now become the online meeting point for business people around the world.
Its $US1.5 billion acquisition of instructional video site Lynda.com last year is one more sign of LinkedIn’s intent to corner the market when it comes to engaging with the professional classes.
While Twitter’s future is a little cloudy at the moment, with plenty of talk about the need to better monetise the platform, it is still the go-to point for plenty of businesses in regard to getting the message out there quickly and engaging with customers.
As with LinkedIn, it’s also a recognised platform of choice for media, marketing and communications professionals, so it holds a certain power in potentially getting key messages to influencers.
Of course, there is also YouTube, which is an absolute must for any business producing video content for sharing.
But beyond Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and even beyond the next tier of platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and Tumblr, there are literally hundreds of social media platforms that tap into all sorts of market segments and user groups.
Country or language specific platforms
Many of these platforms target, or are used by, people in a specific country. For example, there’s Cloob, which has about a million users in Iran; IRC-Galleria, which is a social platform for Finnish speakers and has more than 500,000 users; and Mixi, which is a Japanese social network used by an estimated 24 million people.
Unless you or your company does business in these countries there’s probably not much point using these language-specific platforms.
But with more businesses taking advantage of global markets there might come a time when getting to know the local culture and engaging with consumers in a particular country might make a presence on such networks worthwhile.
However, with China becoming a key market for many Australian businesses, it makes sense to at least start looking at the big Chinese social platforms such as WeChat, Sina Weibo, QZone and Ren Ren in the context of a strategic marketing plan.
Niche interest platforms
Then there are the social platforms that target niche interests – and some of these are pretty interesting!
Elftown is targeted at fantasy and sci-fi fans, especially those who are into fan fiction and art. You can take a walk down Elftown’s Main Street to get a feel for the site. It’s quite old school looking and unless your business is specifically connecting to consumers in this category, you’re not going to get much from it. Elftown does have the Elftown Mall, which allows businesses to advertise their wares. It’s all a bit kooky and adorable really!
Somewhat at the other end of the fantasy spectrum, you can find sites like The Sphere. An invite-only and exclusive private members social network, The Sphere’s “objective is to make even nicer and easier the daily life of the well off. Its population target is the top executives with high purchasing power, who can’t spare the time to fix up their social life”.
Founded by Belgian businessman David Manoukian, The Sphere positions itself as an elite, upmarket site with strong ties to the upper echelon of the arts, fashion and business worlds. Hollywood star Eva Longoria is one of the site’s ambassadors.
Find your niche
As with Elftown, unless you’re moving in the circles of The Sphere’s user base, there is no point bothering to join.
But the point is there are hundreds more of these niche and targeted social networks out there that might give you the traction you’re not getting on bigger, mainstream sites.
The quality of interaction and reach you might get on a niche site could conceivably make it more valuable to your business than plugging away on Facebook and hoping its algorithm works for you.
The social media space keeps evolving, and we’re seeing examples of that in the growth in platforms like Snapchat among younger users, fragmenting to some extent the stranglehold of Facebook in that particular demographic.
Fragmentation and segmentation are key markers of mature industries and social media is undergoing rapid maturation, leaving the space potentially open to new and more targeted platforms in the future.
Fi Bendall is CEO of The Bendalls Group, a business that leads STRATEGY : ADVOCACY : MOBILE delivering the business acumen to drive effective positive results in a disruptive economy for the C-suite. Fi has recently won a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence award.