Business ideas for 2015: Social network

With mainstream social networks saturated, 2015 sees a shift to niche social platforms as internet users look to connect with specific audiences

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Despite the likes of Facebook and Twitter holding the market share, demand for niche social networks is growing as more people move away from the generic mainstream to community sites which cater to their specific interests and hobbies.

In a report on digital trends published last year by Hotwire and 33Digital, the rise in niche social networks was said to be a major “step forward” in the UK’s digital maturity. The report noted a “definite shift” in users turning away from established networks due to privacy concerns, “social media fatigue”, and an increase in mobile-first apps.

While we’re not promising that by starting a niche social media site you’ll become the next Mark Zuckerberg, a niche social platform is a low-cost and low-resource opportunity which has some commercial potential as it tackles many of the problems that major social networks face such as overpopulation, quality of content, and under engagement.

Starting a social network: Why it’s a good a business idea

The internet is as much a utility as gas or electricity and it’s now easier than ever to create your own social network.

Whether you’re looking to build a social network for beauticians, lawyers, mothers or even the celebrity obsessed, there are now a range of new technologies which enable you to create your own social network quickly and for an affordable price. SocialGO and Ning are just two examples of successful web builders which can be a used to create a social networking site.

The endless list of potential niche sites also means that while the number of successful social platforms continues to grow, there are still gaps in the market for social media innovators to capitalise upon. Take the early-stage success of SportLobster for instance.

Launched in April 2013 as a solution to enable its founders Arron Shepherd and Andy Meikle to get their “sporting fix”, Sportlobster is a sports social network which allows users to predict results, write sports blogs, read news and share opinions on the latest sports trends. A simple yet effective idea, the platform has attracted over $1m in funding from Wychwood Capital Partners and industry names such as Michael Owen and has thousands of daily users. The start-up’s ability to scale in such a short time frame is evidence of what other, similarly structured, niche social platforms could achieve if the right audience were targeted. Another sports social network is mobile-first BreatheSport, which was launched by Barry Houlihan, named a Young Gun by Growing Business in 2006.

The prospects for niche social networks isn’t restricted to standard written posts, content and feeds either; there is a big market for video social networks – think interest-driven YouTube-style sites – and you can take business inspiration from companies such as FightMe. A social platform which allows users to challenge others to beat them on tasks and activities such as singing, gymnastics or even beatboxing via 30 second videos, FightMe is another start-up going places having recently raised an additional $1.35m to support its growth.

Social network business opportunities

Creating a niche social network won’t necessarily provide enough income for you to leave your day job but offers a great part-time business opportunity and one that can potentially be developed into a full-time venture as your social community grows.

Niche social networks, depending on the niche, can be a marketer’s dream as they offer access to a ready-made, highly targeted audience so with the right paid advertising, social platforms can be highly lucrative. For example, a social network for pet lovers would provide a logical advertising slot for a pet food company while an advert for a nappy business would work well on a parenting social platform.

From an advertiser’s perspective, particularly if they’re selling a unique product, they can potentially gain better leads and have better conversion rates on a niche platform by connecting to a smaller, targeted audience of say 1,000 users compared to a fragmented user base of 100,000 users. Despite the potential revenue opportunities, you will need to be prepared to put time in first to grow your user base in order to monetise the platform later on – remember Facebook only started making revenue a few years in.

You should also keep in mind that a social community is only as good as its members so marketing strategies such as word of mouth, social media, radio, banner ads, and leaflets may all need to be implemented in order to attract site engagement and you will need to build these costs into your business plan. Internet users are also often very fickle and can get bored easily so you will need to ensure you have fresh content; shares, videos, discussions and the like, being uploaded on a regular basis to keep your community engaged.

In terms of popular industries for a niche social network, three of the most popular interest areas already are parenting, gambling and education so to ensure your platform has the best chance of success, you should either steer away from these sectors or aim to do something better than the established players.

Who else has started a niche social network?

From obscure platforms such as Vampire Freaks; a social platform for vampire fans, to the more commonly known social networks such as Mumsnet, there are lots of alternative social platforms that are rapidly making big names for themselves.

In the last year alone we’ve seen the launches of a handful of fast-growth-potential niche social networks including; an online to offline social platform that aims to create friendships by helping to connect people through shared interests, and The Dots; a professional networking platform described as a ‘LinkedIn for creatives’. Fuzmo is another rising social platform which was set up to cater for the millions of users who search for and share pictures of cats and cute animals.

Insider opinion

Andy Meikle, founder and CEO of Sportlobster, says that the increase in “tech savvy” consumers is creating new demand for fresh and unique social networks:

The growth of social media has been enormous over the past few years and with more and more people now connecting online, it comes as no surprise that users are beginning to actively search for new, unique or niche social platforms to use. Consumers today are also more tech savvy than ever before; they are continually on the quest for the latest tools to help them engage in content sharing, and this level of demand is showing no sign of slowing down.

“This increased demand from consumers was one of the key motivations behind the launch of Sportlobster. We understood the frustrations, both of consumers who were looking for new and exciting social networks to join, but also of sports fans, who were continually being forced to hop between news sites, download different apps or use multiple social channels just to secure the tailored content they were interested in.

“We wanted to create a social platform, which addressed both of these issues. We wanted to create a one-stop shop for the sports fan – somewhere fans could receive the latest news, share content, follow sports players, engage in debate and build relationships with other fans. We quickly realised that a sports-focused social network offered the perfect solution to these consumer problems, whilst also addressing a real gap in the market.

“The success of Sportlobster, as a social network for the sports fan, has been phenomenal. In fact, after launching the business in April 2013, we were able to reach the one million user mark in just over one year – faster than the likes of Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr. Over the past month, we have had 2.7 million unique visitors to Sportlobster and a total of 6.6 million page views.

“This success not only confirms that there is a market specifically for the platform that we have developed but, more broadly, I think it also demonstrates the growing demand from consumers for social networks which are fresh, unique and innovative.”

Published Jan 2015

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