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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Emergence of Vertical Social Networks

When it comes to sheer social networking size, the three giant social platforms - Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn clearly dominate the social networking doman - they are the undisputed leaders when it comes to networking with friends, current or former colleagues and business associates.

But do people really get truly engaged on these platforms? Does they participate in passionate discussions? (Well, do you?) Do these social networks make any positive impact on Joe’s adult life and to career? Or are they simply a means of passing time, a side entertainment?

If the latter were true and remained true, it would be a shameful waste of a tool with great potential. Think about it: how many doctors, lawyers, and other professionals are already on LinkedIn? How many sports buffs, homeschoolers, alternative music enthusiasts, avant garde artists, and other niche markets are on Facebook? These people are in social networking sites for a reason: they want to network with people like themselves and potential clients and buyers.

To cater to the specific needs of these groups, niche social networks keep cropping up. But the weakness of these small social networks is that they have trouble holding on to their members. Unsurprisingly, people who join social networks quite naturally drift to places where there are more people – that is, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The irony of it all is that when people move into these three giants, they often end up getting less engagement and less significant contacts from the specific group they wished to connect with in the first place. There are just too many other distractions in horizontal sites such as the big three.

There is a simple solution to this dilemma, the niche social networks now integrate with the giants - LinkedIN, Facebook and Twitter, whereby their connections/ or friends from the horizontal social networking platforms are imported and their posts on these niche networks are cross-posted (usually controlled by an easy to reset permission) to facebook, linkedin and/or twitter.  This way, people can network within their niche and yet maintain access to the rest of the world who are on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. In other words, the horizontal social networks are slowly but surely going vertical.

For instance, Ticlr.com uses your Facebook contacts to make it easy for you to send gifts to your friends and family. Gifts can range from personal services such as “Wash your car” to actual items such as flowers or sports equipment. And of course, there is the option to share your gift on Facebook and Twitter.

Another example: Tradesparq.com uses a person’s Linked contacts to add credibility to a supplier or buyer by putting the two business parties in contact with mutual acquaintances. It is an excellent social commerce model, and a good example of how a small social network links with a big one.

Through these collaborations and linkages, the lines between separate websites are slowly dimming. The Web is truly becoming interconnected. For social networks and social commerce, it seems that happier days are yet to come.

Yash Talreja, Independent Consultant

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