Paul Hanrahan
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In this mini-series we’re taking a look at niche social networks – online spaces for people to share the special interests, passions and challenges they have in common. If you’re looking for an overview of the benefits of niche social networks, check out our first article on the topic here.

With the unstoppable rise of huge online networks like Facebook, some niche environments have been forgotten about. But they’re still out there.

For cultural institutions, looking at segmenting audiences, based on their interests, isn’t just about increasing revenue, it’s about opening opportunities and broadening inclusion for as many groups as possible. New Family Social for LGBT families….  Hands Up for Trad music discussion forum… VeganForum for all things vegan… name a demographic and you will find a corresponding online community.

Let’s get specific. Which niche social networks could your organisation make use of?

Location, location, location

Let’s say you’re a small arts institution with an upcoming event focused on local history. Sure, it’s worth exploring audience targeting on Facebook or Google Adwords, but there are free options out there as well, like the social network Next Door.

Next Door targets the people you really want to reach – those people who actually live in the community and are on the lookout for things to do.

Some local communities also have existing online networks. One Culture Republic colleague has Denniston online for their neighbourhood. They remark that “although the UX may not be the slickest, the content is what matters to people in the community.”

Finding these spaces shows you’ve taken the trouble to meet people where they live.

Who do you trust?

People instinctively trust others who have lived through the same experiences as them. Niche online spaces allow people to share tips, advice and stories directly with their peers, rather than relying solely on official or traditional sources.

For disabled people in Scotland, resources like Access Scottish Theatre and Euan’s Guide are building invaluable communities with tips and advice on planning cultural activities. You can offer a lot of useful information to help these visitors have a successful experience. We have a full article of indepth advice on how to start.

Broadening horizons

Stereotypes about how we reach different demographics are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Older age groups might be statistically less likely to be active online, but that’s changing rapidly.

Recent ONS figures show that recent internet use in the 65 to 74 age group has increased by 68.7% since 2011. U3a – the University of the Third Age – is a brilliant online community focused on connecting retired and semi-retired people. This learning co-operative offers new avenues to access educational, creative and leisure opportunities, building digital and real-world social connections.

We’re not saying it’s time to give up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like, but rather keep in mind those niche networks that cater specifically to one of your target audience. It might be more effective to reach out and connect with people here, rather than hunting them down among the masses on the larger networks.

Main image credit: U3A Freshers' Fair, St. Joseph's Catholic College by Vieve Forward (CC BY-SA 2.0)