Published by Angus on 08 Mar 2010 at 05:30 am
Is your organization using niche networks as part of its social media strategy? If not, you may be losing out on a useful tool. But before you get started make sure you have enough bandwidth to take on a new effort.
Next month, WiserEarth will be part of a panel at NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, talking about the value of niche social networks. We thought we would share some of our ideas with you – just in case you can’t make it to see us in person.
What is a niche social network?
A niche social network is an online community that is drawn together by a shared location, demographic, or interest or combination of the three. Examples of niche social networks include:
- Kabissa (location-based – African NGOs, 3,200+ members)
- Kirtsy (demographic-based – think Digg for women, 200,000+ members)
- TuDiabetes (issue-based – people touched by diabetes, 14,000+ members)
They tend to have tens of thousands of members versus the hundreds of millions for mainstream sites. WiserEarth itself would be an issues based social network but we also have plenty of place based sub-groups.
Why use them to spread your message?
- Concentrated audience: Someone or some issue has gathered a community together related to your issue or cause. You don’t have to create the community from scratch, you don’t have to recruit them or maintain their interest. What a relief!
- Receptive audience: These are people who have self-selected to create a community around your issue. They’re much more likely to be into what your nonprofit has to say or is doing. They may even be well-educated about your issue so you don’t have to start explaining from the ground up.
- Higher share of voice: In a general purpose social network your message can get drowned out by competing voices and a deluge of advertising. In most niche networks you will be a comparatively bigger fish in a smaller pond and more likely to stand out.
- Easier to find leaders: It’s usually easier to identify and engage the community’s leadership. Also, they are more likely to be open to your offers of help.
How can you use them effectively?
- Search and select: Niche communities can be hard to find by their very nature. You can always start with a Google search but don’t forget to use group directories on WiserEarth, Ning, and Facebook. Also, make sure to ask respected members of your local nonprofit community. They may be members or even leaders of relevant niche networks themselves. Once you find twenty target communities, rank them for size, activity, relevance to your issue, location, demographic, and cultural fit. Then select the top three and get started.
- Listen. Listen. Listen: Sign up and take the pulse of the community. Read their community purpose and guidelines if they have them. What are you hearing as needs being expressed? Who are the leaders in the community? Can you see a way to contribute and empower?
- Engage, Engage, Engage: Based on your listening, start to contribute in a way that is appropriate to the community’s culture. Reach out to community leaders with ideas and suggestions on how you can help. Contributing on-topic content is usually appreciated. Look for ways to reciprocate when someone does you a favor. Be careful not to make it look like you are conducting one-way marketing for your organization.
- Don’t focus on the tool: Some of the worst-designed websites have some of the most effective and vibrant communities. Don’t be put off. You need to go where the community is, not where the flashy tools are!
- Experiment: Start out with a couple of prospective communities. Test the waters. See what responses you get with your offers of help and to your postings. You may be ignored at first but after a month of daily half hour engagement you should start to have two-way conversations. If you’re not ‘feeling the love,’ move on to the next community on your list – just make sure to leave a forwarding address.
When to start using niche networks?
Most nonprofits have a certain amount of bandwidth to dedicate to their social media strategies. Usually that includes Facebook and sometimes Twitter but little else. If you don’t have the capacity to actively engage elsewhere, then don’t – its takes time and some effort to get results. However, don’t forget that even the largest social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are actually comprised of numerous smaller sub-communities linked together by things like Facebook Fan Pages or Twitter Hashtags. So you can always start where you are if your organization won’t let you expand further.
What are the drawbacks?
There are no real drawbacks. You don’t have much to lose except a little bit of your time. Who knows, you may find niche networks revitalize your social media efforts, bringing high quality traffic back to your website, and helping you recruit new members and volunteers.
We hope to see you at NTEN’s NTC.
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