We often receive requests to create social networks for professionals in a particular niche. Our clients assume that a network tailored to doctors, sportspeople, cooks, salespeople (the list goes on) is a million-dollar idea. But after doing some research, it turns out that the seemingly unique concept is nothing but the umpteenth Facebook.
So what’s the trick? What will make a loyal Facebook user uproot themselves and switch to an unfamiliar, untried platform? If you want to create such a platform, that’s the question to answer before you plunge into the unknown.
At the very bottom of this lake of uncertainty, you’ll find total confidence in the viability of your idea. We’ll help you get there. But let’s first speculate on why the idea to build a niche social network is so tempting.
Why it’s tempting to create a niche social network
Facebook has lost 15 million users in the US during the last few years according to a report from Edison Research. Here are the reasons.
Irrelevance. Users are getting lost in a huge amount of irrelevant content, and their circle of friends is rarely limited to like-minded people.
Personal data leaks. Facebook has tarnished its reputation with privacy flaws. In 2018, a quarter of US users deactivated their accounts after revelations that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had used Facebook users’ personal data without permission. Additionally, a Delete Facebook movement has been gathering pace ever since it was revealed that Mark Zuckerberg held informal dinners with right-wing politicians in October 2019.
Plenty of spam and fake information. Facebook is swarming with spammers. In the fall of 2019, Mark Zuckerberg admitted the network had removed 5.4 billion fake accounts. A significant number of them represented scammers and spreaders of fake news.
Difficulties with business promotion. Due to Facebook’s algorithms, it’s hard for business users to be noticed by their target audience. This makes promotions ineffective and expensive.
And it’s not just Facebook that’s experiencing troubles. In 2016 and 2017, Twitter came under fire due to harassment cases and its purported role in US politics. In 2018, the platform deleted almost 70 million fake accounts. The company used to publish a wealth of monthly statistics about its growth, but as its user base stabilized and then began to drop, it stopped providing most metrics.
These trends are promising for small and medium-sized social media networks trying to break into the industry. These new networks can thrive if they ensure data security, form close relationships with their users, and provide useful features and relevant content. But unfortunately, things are not so simple.
Why building a niche network for professionals is Russian roulette
You never know if your personal social platform will be adopted by people with applause or simply neglected. Google and Apple, companies with seemingly endless resources, both failed with their social media attempts. iTunes Ping, Google Buzz, Google Wave, and Google Plus have all dissolved into oblivion. Here are the most common reasons.
The dizzying variety of existing solutions. You think your idea is unique. But did you know there’s already an unimaginable number of professional networking sites? They cover just about every niche you can think of. There are networks for truckers, writers, and those in the coffee industry.
The inevitability of rivalry with big companies. Despite losing users, the biggest social media platforms are still powerful. The undisputed leader is Facebook, with almost 1.66 billion daily active users. And Facebook allows users to create communities around interests. It’s very likely it already has tens or hundreds of public communities based around the idea of your service. There’s also LinkedIn, which is the largest professional social network. It boasts great tools to connect with colleagues, find jobs, and more. Do you have what it takes to offer a better alternative?
Promotion challenges. So you’ve built a terrifically useful and insightful platform. But it’s too early to pop the champagne, as you’ve won only half the battle. A great service won’t promote itself. This “strategy” doesn’t work in today’s crowded online space. Do you know why Google Wave failed? The main reason was a lack of promotion, as it was an invite-only service.
Now that we’ve given you a bitter pill of truth, it’s time to sweeten it with an effective approach to checking your idea’s viability.
How to check if your niche network idea is worth implementing
Many businesses prefer to skip the research step and choose to act on intuition. This is a mistake, and it’s what separates the amateurs from the professionals. Thorough research and data-based decision-making is time-consuming, but it’s critical to understanding your target audience. Test the viability of your idea by answering the following questions:
Who are my target audience and my competitors?
Check how many similar solutions exist and how many users they have to identify the total demand and the competition. Your purpose should not be to follow rivals in the same niche but to identify a niche your rivals have overlooked. If there’s a high supply, separate a wide niche into smaller ones.
For example, say you want to build a network for psychologists. But during your research, it turns out existing solutions will be hard to compete with. In this case, narrow your focus and check how things stand with military psychologists, rehabilitation psychologists, etc. You might also divide your target audience based on:
- Age (psychologists in their first 5 years of practice)
- Location (psychologists on the US West Coast)
- Gender (women psychologists)
- Minority groups (Spanish-speaking psychologists in the US)
Goodwall, a startup founded in 2014, has successfully applied the niche-in-a-niche strategy by developing a LinkedIn for students. This LinkedIn-like network helps US high school students and graduates get in touch with their peers and take advantage of scholarship and employment opportunities. Taha Bawa, the co-founder of Goodwall, says that the idea to build such a network helped the platform quickly grow to over 1 million users, and its growth is accelerating.
Knowing your target audience will also help you come up with an effective monetization strategy, as you’ll be able to speak to your users’ pain points.
What monetization strategy will I use?
Make sure you decide on a monetization approach long before building your service, as it’s challenging and time-consuming to add monetization functionality after the launch. Here are ways to get revenue from your social media service:
Targeted advertising. Making your social network free for users but offering targeted advertising opportunities is a traditional but effective strategy. This will attract businesses that consider your users as their target audience.
Paid subscriptions. On modern social media channels, the user is the product and the advertiser is the customer. But that’s what irritates users. If you ensure your users that they are your customers, they’ll probably be willing to pay for access to your service. But make sure your users are assured that you provide only valuable content without a speck of advertising.
Business solutions and premium services. This business model requires your platform to provide users with sophisticated functionality. LinkedIn is a great example of this model. The network provides a range of premium features including recruiting and marketing tools.
How will I make my social platform secure?
An industry networking service that’s both useful and secure has a fair chance of finding its way to fame and fortune. Unfortunately, a completely safe social platform doesn’t exist yet. But there are those that take users’ privacy concerns seriously, including Telegram, WhatsApp, and Reddit. These services offer privacy features such as:
- P2P encryption
- The ability to opt for complete anonymity
- No user information collection
- Complete support for VPNs, anti-spyware, and antivirus software
- No personal data required
Read also: Core Elements of Data Security
Are there any regulations my network has to comply with?
In most cases, social networks don’t have to meet any legal requirements and are self-regulated. But we suggest you double-check if you create a professional social network in a regulated industry.
For example, if you develop a healthcare-related platform, you’ll have to comply with HIPAA to let users share protected health information. But HIPAA is terribly difficult to comply with, as it requires certification, working only with HIPAA-compliant contractors, and meeting complex security requirements.
Doximity, a networking service for medical professionals, chose to become HIPAA compliant. On the contrary, its main competitor, SERMO, isn’t. Consequently, SERMO has no choice but to require users not to identify their patients when discussing medical cases.
How will I crash test my service?
A minimum viable product, or MVP, offers a viability crash test for your idea. But it’s a common mistake to invest much effort and money in an MVP. Goodwall, actually, is an example of a working approach to developing an MVP.
They started off with nothing more than profiles. Once they saw traction, they developed the product by adding social networking and content functionality.
How will I ensure traction?
The general rule of thumb is to spend about as much time promoting your network as you do building it. Once you’ve decided on your target audience, learn as much as you can about their needs, desires, and the places they can be found — both online and offline. You can also:
Collaborate with industry influencers or connections. That’s what the internet entrepreneur Reid Hoffman did to attract users for LinkedIn. Reid gathered a team of his old SocialNet and PayPal colleagues. When LinkedIn launched, these colleagues invited reputable connections they’d created during their previous professional activities.
Choose a specific geographical area to start. Facebook began at a single university. Uber launched in a single city. LinkedIn targeted Silicon Valley only to reach a critical user base.
Find partners with the same target audience. You can connect with those who want to attract the same audience and collaborate on marketing to minimize your expenses.
Let’s explore the last and most essential question to ask yourself to check if your idea is viable.
How will my network differ from traditional social networks?
There are two key factors that will develop momentum in attracting users to your platform: highly relevant content and tools.
Engaging and useful content
Here are some approaches to ensure your platform’s content is relevant:
Surveys. Conduct regular surveys to collect user feedback and make sure your improvements in response to the collected data are on the right track. For example, the healthcare-related network SERMO periodically surveys its online community of physicians on a variety of topics. Insights from these surveys guide the creation of articles and other in-platform content.
Partnerships. Partner with influencers or specialized organizations that can provide you with unique, customized content. SERMO has partnered with Pfizer, a pharmaceutical corporation. This collaboration gives SERMO users access to Pfizer’s clinical content to help them make informed decisions. SERMO’s competitor, Doximity, has partnered with the Society of Hospital Medicine, which shares content from its publications to the Doximity newsfeed.
Encourage users to share content. Incentivize users to produce their own content. For example, Stack Overflow, a developer community, awards users with badges for sharing helpful content. Badges are granted in five categories: questions, answers, moderation, participation, and other.
Specific tools for helping users in their work
Simplify your users’ lives by providing in-platform tools to perform specific work-related tasks. Successful professional social platforms offer a variety of effective tools.
For example, the mechanical engineering hub GrabCAD offers a free CAD library where users can download and upload CAD models. The developer community GitHub provides users with software packages to use in their projects.
As you can see, you should check the viability of your idea for a niche social network. This will most likely help you save money and nerves. When you’re ready, we’ll help you provide your audience with a long-awaited, unique, and user-friendly solution.