Niche-Targeted Social Networks Find Audiences

Users Flock to Specialized Communities but Don't Abandon MySpace, Others

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Tanner Stransky, a 23-year-old editorial assistant living in Manhattan, has been a devotee of Facebook since college and has been on MySpace for the past few years as well. But recently he joined a third network, LinkedIn, which aims to be a career-oriented social-networking service for professionals.
OMG, Political opinion! Gather.com, launched this summer, is a social network for the NPR crowd.
OMG, Political opinion! Gather.com, launched this summer, is a social network for the NPR crowd.

More and more, multi-social networkers like him are becoming the norm, as the social-networking space, after being carried the past year and half on the shoulders of sites such as MySpace and Facebook, gets far more diversified. And whether the talk about an exodus from MySpace and Facebook is just a seasonal slowdown or truly indicates a trend, there's a host of niche-targeted social networks just waiting to catch the defectors.

Benjamin Sun is looking for a few former MySpace devotees. Incidentally, his company, Community Connect, has been around longer than MySpace and has been profitable for several years, thanks to a revenue stream that includes advertising and subscription revenues. Soon, he'll launch Glee.com, a social network for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender crowd. It joins his other sites, BlackPlanet, MiGente and AsianAvenue, which aim to attract blacks, Hispanics and Asians, respectively.

'Better to be niche'
"We believe it's better to be niche," he said. "Look at the real-world communities -- they're made up of pockets of people with similar interests." While social networks all look fairly similar now, he said, they're in a primordial stage. "They'll start branching out and super-serving the audience and giving value that you can't find in a general-market site."

At 1Up.com, a content-heavy social site where gamers trade tips, stories, opinions and gossip, the philosophy is that people don't need to choose a single social network -- they can be a part of several. Of its members, 50% also belong to MySpace, 18% to Facebook, 9% to Xanga and 6% to Friendster.

"If our members are blogging about general things, they'll do it on MySpace," said Sam Kennedy, editor in chief of 1Up.com, which is part of Ziff Davis Media Group. "But if it's gaming-related, they reserve that for 1Up because they get better reactions."

Drop in traffic numbers
A drop in traffic numbers has made headlines lately for the larger social-networking sites. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, MySpace's U.S. unique visitors fell 4% to 47.2 million in August, and Facebook's were down 12% to 7.8 million. But a Nielsen/NetRatings analyst wrote off the drop to seasonality and said a similar dip occurred in August last year.

Shawn Gold, senior VP-marketing and content at MySpace, said that there are definitely subcultures emerging within his massive social-networking site. And for users who want efficiency, one social network is certainly easier -- and MySpace is continuing to evolve its tools for self-expression, video, mobile and aggregation.

"The opportunity is MySpace's to lose by not evolving the platform," he said.

Tom Gerace is the CEO of Gather.com, a social network for what's been described as the NPR crowd. The site launched publicly in July and has about 90,000 contributing members today, he said. Already it's attracted marketing partners such as Starbucks, Amazon and Volvo.

"We're not trying to be the next Facebook or MySpace," he said. "They're doing a terrific job for the younger set. We're trying to go after people in the prime of their careers, people with disposable incomes, thought leaders."
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