David vs Goliath: How Niche Social Networks are Kicking The Giant’s Ass

Sometime this week we will experience a first for Twitter.  You will be able to (Drumroll please…) tweet photos!  Well, actually you’ve been able to share photos all along but now it won’t require a third party app to do so.  And yes, this is still big news even though sharing photos has been a component of the Social Network landscape since the hay day of MySpace.  As each social site grows, they continue to adopt each other’s’ winning features – much to the detriment of their individuality.

Say my alma mater, Santa Clara University, decides to have an alumni event at a San Francisco Giants game.  Do I Check In using Facebook or do I use Foursquare as I enter the ballpark?  Do I post pictures of my $4 hotdog to my friends on Facebook or for thousands of Giants fans to envy on Twitter?  At the end of the game, after a triumphant Giants victory do I share my elation on Twitter, Facebook, or maybe LinkedIn under the SCU Alumni group.  I should post it to the SCU Alum Facebook page.  No wait, maybe their Twitter page with a #SFGiants.  Oh crap, doesn’t SCU have an Alumni page on Foursquare?

In an attempt to compete with each other, the Social Network titans are actually diminishing the distinctions between each other.  The wake of this homogenization has given rise to what may be the next generation of Social Media: the niche market.  There are now dedicated sites for everything from dolls to beer.  If you’re an avid reader, you may have more luck visiting goodreads than asking your Facebook friends for a book recommendation.  Aspiring designers who dream of one day hearing Project Runway’s Tim Gunn telling them to “Make it work” should check out BurdaStyle (no hashtags required).

Instead of emulating the big boys of Social Networking, Path has gained notice by emphasizing their dissimilarities.  The second question in their FAQ section is “How is Path different from Facebook and Twitter?”  It won’t allow you to have any more than 50 friends, which quickly eliminates self-promoters and anyone collecting friends and followers like baseball cards.

Niche sites offer a highly concentrated experience for the user – quality over quantity.  Rather than broadening the scope of their services, the big names in Social Networking may be wise to focus on specialization.  Would it be so awful if they just stayed in their respective lanes and committed themselves to what drew users to them in the first place?  Why can’t Twitter be used primarily to compile news and information from the masses?  What’s wrong with only using Facebook to share your vacation photos with friends and family?  You could Check In on Foursquare and further your career on Linked In.  After all, no one wants to meet their boss in the same place where friends post comments about their party antics, and people don’t want to seek professional advice on the network where they gripe about their boss.

The titans of Social Media aren’t leaving their thrones anytime soon.  Even Path asks you to follow them on Twitter.But as the distinctions between networks blurs more each day, they should start viewing the niche networks to size up the incoming competition.

Image courtesy of http://ow.ly/auoPv 


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