Our participation in online social networks seems well beyond the status of a ‘fad.’ In some parts of the world, people risk censure − if not their lives − to post important information on such platforms as Facebook and Twitter. These social networks are the current heavy hitters, of course. But what about developing people’s interests in your nonprofit’s causes? Or engaging a peer group already predisposed to support your charity’s fund drive? The hard fact is, the best-known social platforms might just be too big for that kind of conversation. And we might just be witnessing the start of a tidal shift away from the bigger-is-better mantra of social outreach toward niche conversations among like minds. Could these more concentrated communities really be worth the effort of building a presence on yet another social network?
Speaking most broadly, social-media experts are noting the growth not only of topic-specific networks but also of nationally-focused ones as well. Note ‘SalamWorld,’ an Islamic social platform meant to provide a better-focused Facebook-like experience for Muslims and Arabic speakers. Or Untappd.com, which caters to the connoisseurs of beer. Sasha Pasulka puts down the rise of these micro-networks to the success of Facebook; which is to say, the success of Facebook has made it rather less useful as a means of communication.
Facebook’s results just aren’t that relevant anymore; one could say they’ve gone the way of Google, but at least Google had the good sense to IPO before that happened. And perhaps the Google comparison is generous. I recall another social network, once poised for greatness, now reduced to a stream of “funny” photos and spam. I switched to Facebook five years ago, after MySpace became too much noise and too little signal.
The hard fact is, most of us cull our incoming tweets and Facebook posts pretty severely before we start paying attention to what’s left. For a nonprofit or small business, your messages might be getting the axe before they have a chance to engage your audience. Sure, it strokes the ego to have thousands of followers. But do they volunteer, send donations, or buy your product?
The advantages of focusing on a so-called ‘niche platform’ are many, and perhaps the most important is that your audience is there precisely to look for the information and appeals that your organization is sending. Paul Gillin describes such an exchange of like-minded interests a “no waste” interaction that allows the entire audience to “speak the lingo.” Rather than spend valuable time on the backstory of why your project is so important (and perhaps being ignored on the wide-open social networks), you can get right to the point.
Now it is true that ‘niche’ can be in the eyes of the beholder, and what was niche can now be overwhelming (think ‘LinkedIn‘). Moreover, a network like Wiser.org might at first appear as a nicely interactive website, not a networking platform − so a bit of research can be required to find the niches you want to fill, enrich, and engage. But the advantages can be huge because you will be talking to others who have performed similar efforts and are thus already invested in the topics your organization wants to engage in. And finally, nothing is stopping you or your peers from focusing on the niche network and sharing that focus via best-known networks that are much broader, if rather shallower, as well.
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Written by: Christopher Gardner, PhD