Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Niche Networks: Long Tail 2.0?

First - a sincere apology to all my readers for the silence in the past month. Some changes in my personal life and really fortunate times for my company have kept me pretty busy and away from delivering new content to ChasingChange. I'll be working to keep updates as regular as possible. Thanks for your patience!

And now for the fun stuff...

How many of you have heard the buzz term "lurker" or "stalker". Social media blogger, Shel Israel, has a very interesting perspective on this topic, offering his concept of "The Amplification Factor". Rather than using the term lurker, Shel calls these users "listeners". I dig that - it's much friendlier. Whatever you choose to call them, these users tend to observe dialog, and rarely make the jump to participate.

But wearing my agency hat, here's my issue with this audience - if my objective as a marketer is to modify the behavior of target audiences, it seems that this lack of engagement from the listeners would result in my messages missing the mark or not resulting in any subsequent action. Right?

But can MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn - all boasting millions of profiles - really provide metrics on user engagement? As a marketer, will reaching an audience of less engaged users on behemoth networks still get me the maximum return on my SMM budget dollars? Hmmm...

Enter the Niche Networks
In the past six months, I've been paying close attention to this evolving trend developing in the web 2.0 arena. While the market place is still heavily dominated by the giants, there has been an influx of smaller, more targeted networks that are gaining significant traction in terms of engagement. These networks deliver value in terms of specific functionality aligned with a robust social platform.

For the purpose of this article, I'm going to call these smaller, more topic focused social platforms, Niche Networks. Not sure if that's officially what they're being called these days, but then again, maybe no one's officially named them yet either!?! Who knows?

I Digress - The Long Tail and SEO

Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, has become fairly well know among business professionals in recent years.

In SEO world, this theory relates to the level of specificity in search phrases and terms, when consumers are searching web to find information on desired products and services.

The more generalized terms (or "head" terms) tend to draw the highest numbers of visitor traffic. For the purpose of this discussion, an example of a Head search term might be "Honda Civic". Firms like mine find that because of the generality of these search terms, a large percentage of the resulting traffic is not ready to convert into customers or leads, or even fully engage the site by going deeper into the pages.

On the flip side, long tail terms and phrases are much more specific. These may include a Internet user's geographic location, specific brands or even specialty services. An example of a long tail term might be "buy 2005 Honda Civic Columbus OH". These Long Tail terms do draw less traffic overall, but have tendency to result in high conversion rates. Why? It's not rocket science. The more specific the search term, the higher the chances are that a user will find exactly what they are looking for, and then be ready to act - or engage.

Long Tail 2.0?
So, going back to application of this concept to social media - these Niche Networks may never boast millions of users, but then again, that's not what their necessarily about. From what I can see, drilling down the focus of the platform seems to help foster real engagement and relationships within the subset of users who are all invested in the topic. It seems that this has potential to provide new opportunities to deliver relevant content, products and services to these audiences.

Finding Your Niche
I'm going to try something new. Over the next few weeks (and maybe ongoing if enough readers are interested), I'm going to examine some of these niche networks and ask for your feedback and opinions as well.

If anything, you may have the chance to be turned onto a new platform that will be targeted to your niche interests.

Stay tuned - more to come soon...

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