Niche Social Networking sites seeing traction

Last Updated : 21 December 2010, 05:25 IST

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Checking out facebook or twitter updates about a colleague's family outing, or the latest hangout of your friends somewhere in the US or being flooded by photographs of someone's office party or status reports on photographs that interest you least, might not really be everyone's cup of tea.

More and more were now gravitating towards niche social networking sites that allow people sharing similar interest, professional concerns or passion to network closely.
Sharing trivia about football heroes; getting serious over dwindling statistics on forest cover, discussing medical research published the latest journal, could all be shared and lived through the niche social networking sites, the internet platform for "meeting of minds".

"There is lot of hype around the Big 3—Twitter, Facebook and Orkut. But with changing user expectations, and with the advancement in the social media, there is a new trend emerging called niche social networks", an expert said.

"Niche networking is a step ahead to the general interests networking options. It actually directs you to the solutions for a specific interest. Say business and professional networking site which is a platform that helps you with the myriad solutions and information on multiple aspects of your profession and career", said Yogesh Bansal, Founder & CEO, ApnaCircle.com

"The changing user expectations and the advancement in the social media, is giving birth to the various networking sites which are specifically responsible to cater the Niche target audience in terms of their specific interests, backgrounds, professions and age group", he said.

"In popular social networking sites like facebook it is often found, that just 10 percent of all your friends or colleagues were really active or posting. The others are just consuming what is being posted", said Rahul Razdan, President Product and Operations, ibibo.com.
"Many really do not know what to really post. You might not have been to that `exotic' joint nor vacationed in an exotic place, so what do you really post about. Hence many just end up reading up what the few 10 per cent did", he said.

But niche social networking is all together a different game, you end up contributing and reading about what really tugs your heart and mind.

"With the changing industry requirement, there is a definite demand for niche networking sites" said Bansal.

According to the ComScore Study on Social media (of August' 2010), ibibo.com saw its user base jump from (July 2009) 15,62,000 users to (July 2010) 29,60,000 users. Shtyle.fm saw it jump from (July 2009) 4,07,000 users to July 2010 15,50,000 users while LinkedIn  (July 2009) 42,92,000 users went up in July 2010 to 44,32,000.

"A niche platform like ApnaCircle is helpful for the users as it helps them in finding the answer to their requirement. In addition, it also helps in creating a brand out of the professional and connects to the best possible options available in the market. ApnaCircle addresses the needs of the young professionals, who are looking for their very first job or switching careers or re-entering the job market after a sabbatical", said Bansal.

"Today we have more than 1.8 million users in ndia...Today, we have 100 million pages viewed per month and our reach is spread across 10 countries on 3 continents with offices and local presence", he said.

According to Rahul Razdan, though the niche network had a limited popular appeal, it was definitely more in terms of engagement of those logged to the niche networking site.
He said niche networking sites like ibibo.com actually were aspirational in some form. "Some could look for it to enhance one's social esteem" "It was like a mini profile case "One could own a car virtually, plant something exotic on a virtual farm and have comments about the same posted. Comments like this is cool or feedback about something gives a boost. "It is similar to a case of a caller tune that in some way wants to tell the caller what you are all about", he said.

Social gaming sites like ibibo.com also offer niche users like Indian social gaming users nuances that were Indian in context. "It actually catered to niche Indian taste", he said.
An Indian gaming user really did not know much about Italian mafia but could relate to an India mafia game, he said.

They could look for some variations of a card game played in Diwali. The site offered games typical of an Indian scenario like cows on the road and even included recent news topics like adarsh scam involving a virtual building with the name where the user could have a stake in, he said.

"It is like a local soap opera where you could add features and twists and turns to suit local niche appeal", he said, adding, a generic global social network could not really hope to address such issues.

"As a local social gaming platform we have worked. We have picked up traction big way", he said.

Moreover, many times one might not really been updating one's general social networking account or not be posting anything, but when it came to niche network, the common interest draws one to interact regulalry. What was niche now may really become mainstream later, he said."I believe both niche as well as general purpose networking sites like facebook will coexist for some time to come. In the days to come, niche social networking will serve the requirement of specific groups, which will provide them better value proposition, said Bansal.

"Today, there are many niche networking sites that are existing. For example, there are sites in verticals like gaming, sports, career, etc. However, in the days to come we will see a range of networking sites coming up to cater different consumer interests and needs. Verticals like music, movies and healthcare will witness lot of movement in the future", Bansal said.

"There is a possibility of further segmentation of these networking sites into different verticals & designations as well", he said when talking about professional job sites.
Niche social working sites were however, aware, that innovation was the key word and adding features and revamping the sites to suit changing demands was imperative.
"We have already added new features to the site as per the changing needs of the users. We have already introduced advanced address book, redone the navigations and revamped the forum area. We strongly believe as an entry point, the mobile phones are going to play a pivotal role in the future. Keeping that in mind we have already introduced iPhone application and subsequently we will be launching Android and Blackberry applications as well", said Bansal.

Echoing this view, Rahul says with mobile being the next big game changer, it was imperative to come out with innovations that suit the platform and sites like his were already working on the issue.

However, some choose to disagree on the niche networking getting more popular. "For people like us who attempt to target masses for our social awareness programme, niche social networking really does not help meet the target. For us it would be a general site that would work. Because the exciting part of internet at the end of the day is too meet new people and interact with a new set of community. It could get quite boring meeting the same people everyday", says Sudeep working for an NGO

Published 21 December 2010, 05:20 IST

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