For me, it’s a no-brainer. When visiting a new city, I check into a hotel I’ve researched thoroughly on TripAdvisor, then digitally check into the hotel using foursquare, before searching for a 3.5+ rated restaurant on Yelp for a quick bite. Unwilling to take a chance on bedbugs or bad service, I set up my entire experience of unfamiliar places based on niche social media.
Whether you’re social or not, your customers are already online talking about you—good or bad. And if you’re not familiar with any of the SoLoMo (social, local, mobile) brands mentioned above, your business may be missing out.
Niche social sites range from review-based apps to true social networks specialized to one’s industry. Unlike Facebook or Twitter—which have large, unwieldy audiences—niche social networks and websites are inherently self-targeted. Mommy-and-me businesses can better reach their audiences with Pinterest whose users are 80 percent women, half of them moms. Nonprofits seeking donations or other types of support can use Causes, whose visitors are less likely to ignore a philanthropic plea than one’s network on Facebook. What niche social networks lack in monstrous numbers, they make up for in concentrated engagement. “Get small. Think big,” is how marketing expert Seth Godin sums it up in his best-selling book Small Is the New Big. “You can decide to own your niche, to go deep instead of wide,” Godin explains. “If you build a list of people with similar interests, this tribe of fellow travelers will support you as you support them.”
You don’t, however, want to go too small, and you don’t want to waste time on a social network that doesn’t serve your small business. Here are some niche social media websites or apps that could help your business improve everything from fan engagement to productivity.
Nonprofit organizations, rejoice! Since its founding in 2007, the niche application Causes says it has inspired more than 170 million people to help more than 500,000 unique causes. Create a petition or pledge, raise money and manage email lists, all at no cost. Only registered nonprofits are allowed to create a petition, but they can feature it in any number of user-created causes. For example, a petition created by Save School Music! was one of the top featured actions under the education causes category.
Being one of the largest applications on Facebook gives Causes a solid reputation that encourages sharing and offers peace of mind that donations will be securely processed.
You should be a user if... you’re a local nonprofit, charitable business or anyone looking to garner philanthropic support.
Available on... Causes.com
FYI... Even if you’re not involved with a nonprofit organization, Causes’ Birthday Wish tool is an easy way for concerned citizens to rally friends to donate to a personalized fundraising page in lieu of birthday gifts.
Goal-setting social network 43 Things takes personal development to an interactive level. Users list 43 goals or hopes, which are then connected to other users’ goals with similar phrases or ideas. Document your progress, explore others’ objectives and “cheer” them on: 43 Things helps hold you accountable to your goals via healthy peer pressure. For even more ways to be socially accountable, each individual goal can be shared to Twitter, Facebook or email.
Its usefulness is best described in 43 Things’ own tagline: “Changing your life is hard. Doing it by yourself is harder.”
You should be a user if... you want to include social media in your personal development goals.
Available on... 43Things.com, Apple App Store
FYI... Want to complete a bucket list item or goal with a business partner, friend or family member? 43 Things allows you to “invite” someone to join you on your goals. Everyone involved in the goal can share updates and track each other’s progress.
Doximity is a social network for health professionals. Although most users are medical doctors, you can also find physicians’ assistants, dentists, nurse practitioners and chiropractors active in this thriving online community. With more than 10 percent of U.S. doctors on the network in just a year and growing, according to Doximity, this site or app lets you find office numbers in seconds and exchange ideas with colleagues. Users also receive a free digital fax line so you can send and receive faxes from your smartphone and say goodbye to cover sheets.
Unlike other professional networks, Doximity keeps privacy laws in mind by using HIPAA-compliant messages so that healthcare providers can discuss real patients.
You should be a user if... you’re a healthcare professional and/or own or operate a clinic or practice.
Available on... Doximity.com, Android market, Apple App Store
FYI... Users can earn honoraria from Doximity partners (like big pharma or insurance companies) for research, second opinions or legal consulting, with an average rate of $500 an hour. More than $100 million of honoraria was paid out during 2011 for physician input, Doximity says.
Undoubtedly the most talked-about niche social network today, Pinterest allows users to “pin” photos or videos with click-through links onto a “board.” You end up with curated and original pin boards of anything from recipes and do-it-yourself tutorials to a portfolio of nature photography. It’s second only to Facebook in social media referral traffic and has proved to be a valuable tool for branding or traffic-building.
Even if your business isn’t image-driven, anyone with a blog, a company website or an e-commerce store can benefit from Pinterest. You might see a better boost if your website or brand is associated with any of the following: tutorials, recipes, gifts, interior design, hobbies/leisure or fashion.
You should be a user if... you’re looking to cultivate your brand and build traffic to a blog, business or website or sell a product or service with strong visual appeal.
Available on... Pinterest.com, Android market, Apple App Store
FYI... Don’t forget to a) test your pins (there’s nothing more frustrating to followers than trying to follow a broken link) and b) include a “Remind me when this item is restocked” option for low-stock items on your e-commerce site. It offers a great way to build your email list.
Called “the Facebook for information technology professionals,” Spiceworks refers to itself as a free community of more than 2 million information technology professionals. Because almost all of its users work for small to medium-size businesses, Spiceworks is a great place to research product or service reviews, troubleshoot problems and connect with fellow systems administrators. In comparison to anonymous reviews on Google, reviews on Spiceworks have the advantage of coming from those with IT expertise and a small-business background.
Besides connections to other IT professionals, Spiceworks also offers webinars, advice from product experts and future certifications.
You should be a user if... you’re an IT professional, manager. Small-business owners looking for quality IT input also benefit.
Available on... Spiceworks.com, Android market, Apple App Store
FYI... More than just a professional social network, Spiceworks also has local meet-up capabilities and an eccentric IT humor section—knowing that it’s a network of IT professionals, you can imagine how eccentric.
Although technically more of a user-generated website, TripAdvisor is the self-proclaimed “world’s largest social travel network,” and the website says more than 100 million travelers have planned a trip with it. And with its 12-year reputation and impressive international presence, chances are you’ve tapped TripAdvisor’s services to look up a tourist attraction or hotel.
Like Yelp, small businesses with review pages on TripAdvisor can reply to ratings and reviews. TripAdvisor also has an integrated cross-platform experience that prioritizes your Facebook friends’ reviews.
You should be a user if... you’re in the tourism, hospitality or food industry, or own a local business near a tourist attraction.
Available on... TripAdvisor.com, Android market, Apple App Store
FYI... It’s good TripAdvisor etiquette for business owners to reply to glowing comments by thanking consumers for their patronage. And, as always, treat angry reviewers with care and an abundance of apologies.
This social networking-based reviews site reported an average of about 78 million unique monthly visitors in the second quarter of 2012. Yelp’s users review anything from beauty salons to car repair shops on a five-star scale, with cross-platform integration that allows fans to export business check-ins to Facebook or Twitter and receive special offers for doing so.
Business owners can “claim” their own business’s existing reviews page to respond to negative reviews. Because users avoid businesses rated less than three stars, Yelp can be a useful public relations and marketing tool in addressing poor ratings and bad customer service experiences. Siri, the iPhone assistant program, also uses Yelp to provide local suggestions, making it a must in your social media efforts.
You should be a user if... you’re in the food, hospitality or service industry, businesses with products or services specific to their locales—eclectic clothing boutiques in a city’s Bohemian district, for instance.
Available on... Yelp.com, Android market, Apple App Store
FYI... Don’t hound fairly favorable reviewers for an extra star if they happened to give your business three or four stars, and never make excuses in response to a negative rant. Keep your customer service basics in mind—apologize and offer to make it right—and your ratings should flourish.