Are Niche Social Networks Harming The Big Names?

Do you remember MySpace?

For a brief period just over a decade ago, MySpace were the reigning kings of social media. Every teenager had their own profile that they could use to interact with people. They could share their photos, their tastes in music, and let each other know what they were up to with regular bulletin updates. Today, however, MySpace is a graveyard. All that is left are the tombstones of embarrassing high school selfies and ‘top friends’ you haven’t spoken to in years. It exists only as a cautionary for social networks that have found success. And the morale of this tale? Success can be fleeting.

Facebook and Twitter must fear that the same thing will happen to them, and their fears will only have escalated with the bad news about their usage of late. The former saw a drop in the young teen market, which is arguably the website’s bread and butter. The latter had fewer timeline views, suggesting people refresh their accounts less regularly, while some markets saw a traffic decline of up to 41%. The calendar for social media that businesses have had gone awry. So what is sending these social media juggernauts into decline? Arguably, it’s the rise of smaller, niche social networks that cater more towards a specific group of internet users.

The Problem With Facebook And Twitter That Niche Social Networks Fix

Twitter and Facebook are good tools for finding and communicating with people who share your interests. Let’s say you’re interested in movies. On Twitter, you can find fans, bloggers, websites, magazines, journalists, etc. to follow. Soon, your timeline becomes a personalized hive of discussion and debate about cinema which you can engage in. The same goes for Facebook. You can join groups or like pages that have their own communities, all of which are talking about the things you love.

However, the problem with these social networking sites is there are hundreds of these communities all congregated in one place. So when a niche social network like Letterboxd comes along, one that is tailored exclusively to film buffs, it’s easy to understand why many movie fans would migrate from Twitter to this new home. No longer are they part of a small club within a big community; they are the club and they are the community. Plus, the experience is tailored more for their specific community than Twitter or Facebook. Letterboxd, for instance, lets users apply star ratings to films they have seen and create lists to share with their friends.

The same thing has happened for literature lovers in the form of Shelfari, which is parented by Amazon, and for current and expecting mothers with CafeMom.

What Can Facebook And Twitter Do To Save Themselves?

The data speaks for itself. As Twitter users lost their passion and Facebook dropped their users, the likes of the aforementioned Letterboxd grew in popularity. Between 2012 and 2013 the amount of entries made on the niche social network went up from 700,000 to 11,000,000. We have also wrote about the rise of instant messaging apps that have become one of the most popular methods of digital conversation. These are, after all, a form of niche social network for people who use Facebook and Twitter precisely for communication.

So what exactly can Facebook and Twitter do to save themselves?

Facebook have already taken steps towards finding a solution by introducing Facebook Paper. This is their new iPhone app that allows its users to customise their wall with topics that interest each particular person. These include personal statuses and articles from big-name publishers, decided by both algorithms and human editors. It tailors the experience of using Facebook to your own particular likes and dislikes. Has it been successful? Not particularly. Flawed by the fact that you have no control over the news sources, it quickly fell out of the 100 top free apps on the app store. But it’s nonetheless a step in the right direction. Twitter haven’t yet initiated any major changes to make their social network less generic and more specific.

It’s this customisation that will likely become a major part of big social media websites in the years to come; making the websites less like one enormous community and more like an accumulation of small ones based on what each member uses it for. If the likes of Facebook and Twitter continue to ignore the demand for this, it’s likely that they’ll be defeated by the combined power of niche social networks and meet a fate no different from that of MySpace all those years ago.