Paul Hanrahan
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Over the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at niche social networks and the opportunities they present to connect with targeted audiences -but what does the future have in store?

Compared to larger networks like Facebook, these niche networks have already filtered out everything that isn’t related to members’ interests and passions. So if your production or event is relevant, there’s a valuable direct connection just waiting to be made.

We’ve looked in detail at what these networks are and offered some tips and ideas on how cultural organisations can make the most of them. Today we’re looking to the future. Will niche social networks continue to be relevant? Or are they already being subsumed by the likes of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube?

Are niche social networks under threat?

It would be fair to say that the user experience offered by niche networks isn’t always as slick or polished as that of Facebook or Twitter. These may be smaller companies and subsequently their development budgets will also be smaller.

As a result some commentators are already declaring niche social networks dead. User numbers may be small, but arguably they were never designed to be that big in the first place. It may be more likely that what we are seeing is the consolidation of niche interests within the larger networks.

Making a space for yourself

For cultural organisations looking to reach out and connect with audiences online, the challenge is to find the niche communities on their own networks and on the larger networks. There are several approaches to consider.

Forums

Arguably the original niche social network, forums are still relevant today. In fact, it’s easier than ever to set up your own forum and it’s a great way to take back control of content and discussions.

You can connect with your followers in much the same way as a closed Facebook group, but on your terms. Apps like Tapatalk are making forums relevant again by allowing you to create a seamless mobile experience for your members. Does this link to the growth of messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Slack?

Remember the blogosphere and personal brand

Most likely, if you’re involved in, or at the head of a cultural organisation, you have something to say on the sector and your place within it. This medium is a good place to publish pieces that demonstrate leadership and expertise.

You can also share some of your thoughts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and your company, or personal, blog. Building up your profile (especially if you make use of the relevant hashtags and keywords) will mean that some niches within the larger networks will actually find you. 

Niche spaces will always exist online

One of the things that defines the internet is its sheer scale. Users will always need to filter out unwanted content and interactions so they can pursue their interests. The tools they use to do so may change, but the approach itself won’t.

To this end, for the arts and culture sector, it’s more a case of keeping up to date with where niche spaces are located. Are your target audience in niche groups and accounts within the big networks? Or on their own sites? Or, perhaps the most likely scenario, a mix between the two?

Main image credit: DCS_5298 by Steven Lam (CC BY-ND 2.0)